Friday, March 24, 2017

A Tale of Two Cups

The three of us traveled together to Crescent City to celebrate our brother's life
and mourn his death with the people he spent his days with. When we stopped for
coffee on that rainy day, Jill noticed these beautiful cups. She said "let's get two of
these, so when we are home we can call each other and drink from them and have
coffee together." Bob bought them for us.
Once we returned home, we talked on the phone more frequently than we had in
many previous years. We discussed some of the difficult things about growing up in our
family, about losing two of our brothers only six months apart. About some of the fun times
we had together when we were young and best friends and roommates.
She in her early twenties. I in my late teens.
We sang Caberet on the phone together one afternoon; our theme song from those days.
We used to talk about showing up at Denny's in Costa Mesa at three in the morning and
breaking into that song, dancing in the aisles and waking up those seemingly dejected
humans who found themselves there. I wish we had done that, but even planning it was
good for our spirits. It acknowledged that it was ok to consider doing something outlandish,
and that calling attention to yourself for being different might not be a bad thing.
Two sisters discovering who we were.
Sometimes we would just text "I'm having coffee with you this morning" with a picture
of the cup. We had coffee together through Hugh's heart surgery and her cancer
diagnosis. Through her illness and her move to Placerville for those bittersweet two months
when again, we saw each other every day and were best friends.
I keep both cups here now. This morning I pulled one down as I sometimes do,
to have coffee with Jill.

©2017Sheri Hoeger

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Loving Myself

This month, I'm participating in Quest 2017 with Tracking Wonder at Participants will answer twelve prompts from visionaries and thought leaders in preparation for 2017. This is the second prompt, from Susan Piver:
Do you love yourself enough to stop working on yourself yet?
Who would you be in that case?" #loveyourself

When I was young, I frequently heard girls demean other girls as being fake. I remember thinking that it was impossible to be fake. Fake what? A fake person? If one tried on the values of others for size, or to impress someone, isn't that also an expression of who they are in that moment? Isn't that fakeness part of their genuineness?

I feel the same way about Susan Piver's question "who would you be in that case". One would be a genuine person who has struggled through some tough questions that one had the courage to ask ourselves. The act of working on ourselves IS part of who we are. 

That said, because some of us don't formally seek guidance and information about self realization does not mean it isn't happening. It happens day in and day out as you live. Life is the best teacher.

In my family, there were few expectations. Not for grades, education or for careers. Not for great or even mediocre accomplishments. There were only expectations for religious faith (which I eschewed, much to my family's dismay), and general good citizenship. We were expected to behave and be kind. We were told to be true to ourselves, but that got sticky when we did so and they were not in agreement. 

When I got out into the world, I realized how unusual that was. As I spoke to high school students and young adults who were attending college and getting degrees and planning careers that were sometimes scripted by their parents, I wondered why mine didn't care about that. It seemed like they just wanted to get us "settled" as soon as possible so they wouldn't have to be responsible for us anymore. There were six of us, so I'm sure that was a consideration. We were encouraged to develop some skill that we could "fall back on" but there was never any focus on having something to leap forward with.

The scripting in our family was more subtle. I remember my mother's rage when I broke off my engagement to an older man when I was in high school. She was furious, most likely a reaction to her fear that I would not be able to take care of myself. But, I did know how to take care of myself even then, as evidenced by that decision. It seems so odd that not marrying the wrong man was one of my first rebellious acts. 

A few years later when I was ready to marry a young man they didn't know well and didn't particularly like, I made another rebellious act. (Just that statement seems funny because I am a mild-mannered, quiet person and the thought of my being rebellious is ludicrous, but revolt it was.)  We decided that we would not get married in the Catholic Church, in which we both had been raised. We did not believe in the doctrine or the social restrictions and it felt hypocritical to get married in the church solely to appease our parents. You may imagine how that went over. But again, I knew how to take care of myself--my true, authentic self from an early age. Out of the six of us, ours was the only marriage that has endured the test of time. I believe it is in part because we knew our own minds and stood up for that. We set a precedent for ourselves and our families that became part of the fabric of our lives. To our families' credit, they eventually accepted our decision even in their disappointment. It is powerful to know that you can love and be loved without having to walk the path someone else envisions for you. 

The self-confidence these experiences inspired gave me the courage to trust myself and my abilities. It has made me become more compassionate and empathetic to the struggles of others. My life experiences have been varied and profound. I have never really struggled with who I am, I have just always known. The very few times someone told me I couldn't do something it made me even more determined to do it. I have spent some time and energy wondering if my lack of interest in questioning myself meant that I was bereft of depth somehow, but have decided to just accept it. I have lived my way into the question of why and how I want to share those experiences, and the lessons I have learned from them. Over the last year or so I have explored reasons for and ways that people tell their stories in preparation for the telling of my own.

Perhaps my parents' seeming neglect of setting expectations was intentional, inspired wisdom. It allowed for exploration of creativity and knowledge and connection for its own sake. I know it would please them, but it was never to please them. For me, the question is do I love myself enough to keep working on myself, to never become complacent or so arrogant that I don't think I can learn from others. My answer is yes. I will behave (mostly), be kind, and be true to myself.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Missing Me

We lived for 10 years on two acres of gently sloping land in the Sierra Foothills, forming an intimate relationship with the many plants growing and living and languishing there. Since we downsized to a small house on a small lot in town, people have frequently asked if I miss it. There are some really great things about living smaller, especially within walking distance of our historic downtown. It was time to simplify our finances, our workload and our stress. For those reasons and more, it was the right decision. But the answer is yes. I miss the privacy and the space but mostly I miss the relationship to the flora and fauna that thrived and waned and expired there. I miss living so fully in the midst of her cycles. I think that place misses me too.

The following was written in response to a prompt last December when participating in Tracking Wonder's Quest 2016, a thought-provoking group writing experience. Her lessons comfort me, gently recalled by leaves in the breeze, the rainbow twinkling in a back lit drop of rain clinging to a branch, the cacophony of frogs croaking along the side of the road in early March... 
They miss my daily stroll, my checking in on them to see and feel and smell how they have changed. The wild flowers miss my knowing where they will come up in each year's spring and how I make the rounds looking for the first signs of them. The Japanese maples miss my hand-picking every single pine needle out of them, some of which have pierced their leaves, impaling them as they dropped. I removed them even though they were adorable, like miniature icicles hanging there suspended. I enjoy a disordered order, but the maples must be allowed their grace. They miss my loosing their helicopter seeds from the porch to watch them twirl down and down. They even miss my shears--sometimes delicate, sometimes ruthless. The paths miss my rake, unearthing them every fall even though only I really knew or cared that they were there. They miss my boots slogging through the meadow so that I can relieve the labyrinth of fallen branches after the storm and walk it's circles once again. 

The hydrangeas miss my clippers and the chance to come inside to stand in all their glory. The bamboo misses my vigorous shake, oak leaves tumbling over me with a rattle. The moss misses my touch, so dry and scratchy in summer and spongy-wet after rain. Their impossible green misses my gaze and my wonder at its brightness. 

The ponds miss my contemplation. The wisteria misses my drinking in her intoxicatingly sweet fragrance. The trees miss my excitement when they rain leaves in the fall breeze all across the yard or when the steam rises off of them in the morning sun. The acorns miss my annual collection, especially the ones with the velvet golden hats. I know they all miss me even though they are being taken care of properly. No one could have loved them quite like I did.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

William Morris Revisited

Much of art is about the process. Sometimes you already know the process you will use for a project. Sometimes you have to invent one to accomplish your goal. This was one of those projects. I wanted to create a reproduction of a William Morris tapestry from the early 1900's. I have always loved this style of design, and planned to display it in my own living room.
I started with a large panel, painting it a muddy purple color. After measuring out exactly where my tapestry would be placed, I taped off and applied Proceed Smooth Absorbent Texture and dragged a wallpaper brush through it vertically and horizontally to create the texture.

The trouble was how to transfer the design. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the rough surface complicated things. My solution was to cut a stencil of the darkest dark throughout the whole design. I used a product called QST for my stencil, which is similar to interfacing material available from fabric stores. It can be cut with either an xacto or a stencil burner, which will remove a slight amount of material. Perfect for the fine lines I wanted.

 Did I mention it was large? I wasn't dubbed “The Mad Stencilist” for nothing. It took me about 3 days to cut the stencil. Here you see it layed out on a 3 x 6 foot table.

When it was finished I aligned the design and used my airbrush to apply raw umber paint through the stencil to the tapestry surface. Once that was accomplished, I painted the various elements using a limited palette of Yellow Ochre, Oxide Green, Red Oxide and Raw Umber, all in Proceed Slow Drying Acrylics. These are paints that were formulated to have open time, which allows one the ability to move the paint and pull off some paint before it dries. That was very useful in revealing the texture as needed. The panel was sewn at top and bottom to accommodate rods for hanging and stabilization.

This was an unusual project, and though it was laborious, I have enjoyed the results for a number of years. I hope you enjoyed seeing my process for it, and can use some of the information included for your own projects. Happy painting!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Gems of Santa Barbara

After a long absence, we visited Santa Barbara last summer and discovered two amazing places 
not to miss on your next foray to the Central California Coast. There is a lot to see in 
Santa Barbara, with beautiful beaches and a great zoo. The historic downtown is 
beautiful, with Spanish architecture, tile walkways, and those wonderful red tile roofs.

When our B&B hosts said not to miss the courthouse downtown, we said "Sure, why not! 
We are going to be right down there anyway." Little did we know what we were in for, 
especially this mural loving traveler who has spent much of her career studying, admiring and 
and executing decorative painting and mural techniques. 

This building was dedicated in 1929, and I will let their website tell you more about specifics. 
I'm going straight to the eye candy! 

I am always so astounded at art 
and architecture of this scale
and so enjoy seeing unusual treatments, 
such as that of the sky in this mural. 
The underlying diamond pattern was
a unifying factor, and even though the 
brushwork was so apparent, it completely 
reads as sky when you are in the room.  
If that wasn't enough, we spent an entire afternoon enjoying the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens.
Contemplating a joyous balance of planted and natural foliage, we embarked on a 
wonderful walk through a creek-fed ravine, sat for long periods on private benches and sketched 
to my heart's content. It was just what we needed to decompress after a busy weekend in LA.

If you're in the area, these are definitely worth the effort to see. Happy travels!

Sheri Hoeger

Monday, January 18, 2016

Symphony of Wonder

“Find a quiet, private place. Then, follow these instructions for the first day:Imagine your best possible self at the end of a specific day in late 2016. See yourself in a specific place where you can reflect upon the day and the year. A favorite chair, a deck or balcony, a mountainside. (This is only a portion of the prompt from Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder, but it is the part I latched onto.)

It is late September and my quiet place has a symphony of its own. I am sitting in the shade of an oak on the edge of the river, the sun glistening off of its currents, it's water rushing around rocks and boulders, trying to catch up with itself. At first it sounds like one big roar, but the longer I sit, the more nuances I notice within it. I start to play my game to find how many individual sounds I can detect. The gurgle as it wraps around stones that are close to me, a trickle here, a plunking there, where the water underneath is a little deeper. A sifting where it meets the sand. A bird calls, another calls back. The breeze lifts the leaves and clatters them above me, sings beyond me in waves that I can see coming. And going. 
The full experience of the symphony is auditory, olfactory, tactile and visual. All of my senses are engaged, especially my sense of wonder. I am concurrently observing the colors and textures and light. Movement that makes me a little dizzy if I track the water in a certain way. But the urge to drift along with the flow is irresistible. So many reflections. It is darker and bluer in the slope to the white foamy crest. I choose a favorite patch and try to determine what color is caused by the rocky bed, and what is caused by the reflection of trees and sky and clouds. Of dirt and stone above the surface. They are inextricable and exist only in that moment. There is always a surprise. A hue that seems more vivid than one would expect. It is my favorite. I savor it, and try to imprint it on my brain, as it will soon change with the light. 
It is only after this initial revisiting, this reconnect with my life's metaphor, that I can recline and let my mind drift over the last months and consider how and where I have done my best work, and what it has meant and to whom.
During the month of December and into January I participated in Quest 2016, conceptualized and beautifully executed by Jeffrey Davis of Tracking Wonder. Jeffrey gathered 13 visionaries, thought leaders and individuals widely recognized in their fields and arranged for them to give us a prompt to consider, and respond to in whatever creative way we chose. As they days flew by, over 300 of us struggled to keep up with the pace of the schedule, as a lovely comraderie developed. Each of wrangled and wrote through our own struggles with the questions we were asked. Struggles with responding and with examining the life experiences that demanded attention and recognition as we worked to articulate how we envisioned our best work and our best selves for 2016. After the initial guest prompts were delivered, Jeffrey presented us with some exercises for synthesizing our responses for clarity and some additional prompts. It is not too late for you to join Quest 2016. I found it very thought-provoking and it has helped me to clarify my purpose and my direction for 2016. It did not lead me to any resolutions, (which have never sat well with me) just to deeper understanding and some lovely new connections with like-minded people. 
My word for 2016-CONNECTION!

Sheri Hoeger

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Thank you very much, Mrs. Abbott

When I was a girl of eleven, it was somehow arranged that once a week I would go to the home of Mrs. Abbott down the street in order that she might teach me how to sew. By hand. 

Mrs. Abbott had just one child, a teenaged boy.  She had an English accent and a very tidy home, with her sewing kit neatly stowed at the end of the sofa. 

Mrs. Abbott showed me how to cut the fabric with the pattern pinned to it so it wouldn't slip around. Each week I stitched a white apron with big brown polka dots, a gift for my mother. The fabric had a little waffly texture to it, and I remember adding some lace trim to the pocket and the hem. We sat mostly in silence, Mrs. Abbot and I, as she showed me how to keep my stitches even and how to tie a knot that wouldn't show or pull through. It was the first time I realized how lovely sitting and working in silence can be. As the 5th child of six, I was used to noise and chaos from morning to night. I didn't know until then, that there was another normal. A tidy and quiet normal where you could hear yourself think. 

I was thinking of her last week as I sewed an apron for my granddaughter. I use a machine mostly, but can still whip up a stitch when I need to. My home has never been as tidy as Mrs. Abbott's, but I still love to work quietly alone or alongside another. You never know what lessons are learned when you offer your time and expertise to another. I still hold those unintended gifts, like buried treasure.