Saturday, September 28, 2013

Three Blank Pages

I’d rather a room dripping with paint like a Jackson Pollock. This classroom felt sterile and prisonlike. The walls were bare, void of anything inspiring. The lingering smell of newly painted walls mingled with burnt steak from a restaurant nearby and fogged my head. Maybe I was in the wrong room. This had to be where juvenile delinquents earned a diploma, not where art was taught.  

A woman glided in draped in what looked like large scarves for a skirt. A twisted one in a different paisley pattern wrapped around her head, securing her dreadlocks in place. Tassels swung as she moved, and her cheeks caved into two dimples when she smiled. 

She passed out packets of four papers: the first one had the directions; the next three were blank. 

The woman swooshed to the front of the room.

“You will have two hours to finish three drawings. Be creative and demonstrate your drawing skill as well. There’s a lot of competition this year, but you’ve made it this far. The judges from our faculty will choose the top three artists to receive a full scholarship here at the School of Visual Arts. Please title your work. Okay, you may begin.”  

Two hours seemed more than enough time, but my heart pounded as I read the directions: Draw a scene on each page, from the past, present, and future. Each scene must repeat an element or object in a different way. I glanced at the clock. Ten minutes had passed already? Think, think. I waited for an idea to burst into my brain, something so unique and creative the judges would instantly pick me as the winner. 

Fifteen more minutes passed, so I informed my brain that this wasn’t funny; I needed enough time to draw. Was the paper growing? The white empty space expanding? I’d swear it was. And the clock hands moved faster than normal…thirty-five minutes had passed. The only pencil mark on my paper was my name. The boy next to me scribbled away like his pencil was on fire. He wasn’t the only one; to my right, to my left, in front, and behind, pencils wiggled at every desk. I was alone in my blankness.  So I danced my pencil around as if it were drawing. Tick, tick, tick…how does anyone think or draw under this pressure? I prayed silently: “Okay, Lord, do you want me to be a math teacher? I’m about as creative as a worm right now.” 

Wondering what the guy in the blue Mohawk and cheek piercings was drawing, I stretched my neck and leaned just a bit in his direction. In my pink plaid shirt, next to his black ripped jeans and chains, I felt too, too pink, as if I wore pigtails and bows. He turned his shoulder to cover his paper. “Relax, buddy, you can’t cheat on an art test. I’m not about to copy your skulls, even if they are amazing with the rose vine weaving through the eye sockets.” 

Suddenly, as I stared at my white cloud of paper, I had an idea that didn’t completely stink. A test. I’d draw a boy taking a test today, in the 1800’s, and at the end of life. 

The present was easy; I drew Mohawk boy taking a test from an odd angle of an empty room. For the past, I drew a one-room schoolhouse; in a close up view, through the window, a boy—without a Mohawk—was hunched over, taking a spelling test. I didn’t have much time to get into detail so the drawings were mostly contour with a hint of shading. I had ten minutes to finish the futuristic scene. Angels surrounded a boy who leaned over a cross and held a paper with one question etched on it: “Do you believe?” His pencil hovered over the yes and no box. 

As I sketched the final scene, my heart rate slowed down and peace replaced the pressure I felt to win. My bold question wouldn’t score many points in an art school, but maybe one for heaven.  

A few kids finished early and left after the first hour. No doubt, they turned in masterpieces of creativity. I stayed until the woman of many scarves announced: “Time’s up. Please bring your packets to the front.” 

I knew it wasn’t my best artwork, and was a bit corny, but at least it wasn’t blank. 

Inspired by a true story.




Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Home Again after the Storm

 Long Beach Boardwalk destroyed in Hurricane Sandy 2012

I like Long Beach, and I’m thankful it’s home. Last summer, as I rode my bike along the red path overlooking the bay, I thought the same thing. Living in between the Atlantic Ocean and the bay is like living at a vacation spot. The beach is beautiful with soft sand and rushing waves. The boardwalk is great for running, biking, or walking with a picturesque view. I can bike anywhere and don’t need to depend on a car; everything seemed perfect in Long Beach. Then Hurricane Sandy flooded our town. The ocean met the bay and filled our homes. Water filled our basement and continued to rise two more feet on the first floor. Those who stayed, like my husband, lived through a scene from Titanic. Well, almost.

Like many Long Beach residents who evacuated, we returned to a ruined home. Everything wet had to be tossed out to prevent fast growing mold; the streets became lined with ten-foot mountains of garbage. Brand new washers, dryers, ovens, and mattresses waited their turn for the crane monsters to lift them away. The surging water had smashed the boardwalk and carried sections of it blocks away as if a bomb had exploded.

The National Guard drove army trucks filled with emergency supplies to central areas.  The Recreation Center became a storage place for donations. We filled yard bags with needed supplies, towels and warm clothes for all of us. We wore our donated FEMA clothes, happy to have more layers as the temperature dropped in our drafty house. Nothing was the same. Even the evergreen trees turned burnt orange from salt water. It didn’t feel like home for more than half a year.


But I have to thank God for blessings today. Samaritan’s Purse Ministries is going to fix our home sometime around mid-October. Shortly after Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, Samaritan’s Purse volunteers came to help our town and set up their offices at our church. I’ve heard of their ministry through church and knew they travel all over the world to help where natural disasters occur and help the poor, but never thought we’d experience their help personally.

Another special aspect of how this ministry works is that they depend on volunteers and even our family will be required to volunteer and help with another family’s home. It will feel good to encourage someone else going through a similar experience. Hopefully this will be something we can continue even when our home is done.

God is so faithful. Even though our hope and faith sometimes wavered, He had a plan. Going through hard times does bring blessings we could never experience otherwise. It opened our eyes to have compassion for others who experience a similar loss and to appreciate the wonderful people who care and go above and beyond in helping and providing for the needs of others. Every act of kindness during that difficult time brought tears to my eyes and prayers of blessings for them in return.

I intend to update posts of the progress in our home. Can’t wait!


Our living room being gutted a month after storm

                                                        Where’s my kitchen?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Where's My Kitchen? 3rd place Winner of Faithwriter's Best of the Best 2013

Fragments of “Clair de Lune” mingle with the steam of boiling noodles. My quiet kitchen is transformed into a music classroom as Stephen, my oldest son, practices his keyboard and classical guitar in his favorite room of the house. The gentle notes transport me to the scene of a foreign movie. I sit on a wooden stool in a stone cottage and shell beans. Sunlight streams through the open window until a beep pierces the air . . . the fire alarm jolts me back to reality and I bang it off with a broom. His steak is done. 

The reality is that this is not my kitchen anymore. 

I used to like eggs. Ever since my nineteen year old aimed to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger I’ve had to endure the smell of eight eggs boiling every morning. Sulfur gases spiral through my nostrils as he peels the shells, leaves six yolks to roll around the plate and pops two in his mouth. Stephen devours eight egg whites, a bowl of oatmeal, and a bowl of bran flakes, and I wonder if he is really my son. 

I used to like being in the kitchen.  

The heavenly scent of a cake rising, the comfort of sprinkling cinnamon on toast, the sizzling sound of chicken cutlets frying. My favorite scents have been replaced by the smoke from burning steak. Stephen doesn’t seem to mind that it’s ninety-three degrees outside and even hotter in the kitchen. He needs to eat and eat and eat. 

I can’t help but ask him, “Why don’t you cut back to six eggs so a carton will last two days?” 

He looks at me like I’ve asked him what two plus two equals. “That’s not enough,” he answers while mixing his protein shake. 

When I was his age, I was obsessive in the opposite way of counting calories and eating only enough to keep from passing out. I can’t relate to the concept of wanting to gain weight. 

“This is how it works,” he explains, “I need to eat a protein food every three hours and after working out to gain the most muscle mass.” 

Two hours after his power breakfast for champions, he’s in the kitchen. Again. Stephen bakes plain chicken and boils brown rice, overcooked rice that smells like popcorn. He consumes a portion that could feed a poor family of eight. I want to tell him. Sometimes I do. He just shakes his head and says, “You don’t understand the science of body building.” And why should I?  

I wonder if he’ll ever leave the kitchen. 

Something must be wrong; I hide boxes of bran flakes. Stephen has his own box that he’ll gobble through in two days; mine will last two weeks if he doesn’t find it. I get mad when he steals my flakes. Backpedal one hundred or even fifty years: Moms wore aprons and served their sons hearty meals to grow strong. They didn’t say, “This is your grain, so stay away from mine.” Yes, something is wrong with our kitchen. (It’s supposed to be mine not a six foot tall non-stop eating musician’s.) 

The kitchen does not look like my kitchen. 

Dirty dishes and clutter spread throughout the kitchen like gangrene. The shiny counters of the previous night are decorated with used spoons, empty boxes, bowls of cemented oatmeal, crumpled paper towel balls, protein powder dust, egg shells, and even the skull of a pepper. Every cabinet stretches wide open to catch a breeze. The floor catches whatever rolled off the edge of the counter. 

But was an empty kitchen a better kitchen? 

When I’m not complaining about the lack of counter space for two cooks, we talk, share our creative interests, our hopes and dreams, and share our beliefs and faith. I need to close my eyes, enjoy the chords of melody, and drift back to the days he cooed as I fed him oatmeal (that didn’t turn to cement.) When I open my eyes the anxiety of the kitchen chaos returns. I want my kitchen back. 

So I try to remember priorities; the Mary and Martha lesson with a twist. 

I’ve a healthy muscle-bound lad who cooks, fills our home with music and loves God—more important than the trail left behind. 

The kitchen has become a good place to pray and learn…a little about myself, a little about my son, and a whole lot about patience, pride and protein.  

Truth: I still want my kitchen back.



Monday, September 2, 2013

Family Fun Day

Gene's birthday at Eisenhower Park

Could every day be today?


A day at the park

with husband and kids,

swinging a wiffle ball bat at wind swept pitches

until we tire of the outfield heat.


We switch to soccer under the cool shade of the oak trees

and kick the ball to win;

shins collide,

elbows meet ribs,

accidents, of course.

We remind the young—

this is not the playoffs.


Eventually one side wins,

And we collapse on the crunchy grass.

A strong gust tosses leaves across the field

And our faces.

Foreshadows of fall.


Sweat soaks our shirts,

drips down bare backs,

and calls for ice cream sundaes

with extra toppings.


This day with our family

Is another memory to remind me

Of God’s blessings.