For the Children

pexels-Source 1photo-556669

I absolutely love working with children and teaching them new things. Many years ago, likely in my 30’s, I served as a volunteer to teach illiterate adults how to read. It never had occurred to me that when people grow up not knowing how to read, many of them have also missed most of childhood’s best parts. They have missed not only the wonderful children’s books, generally because they had no one to read to them, but they have also missed out on a lot of wonderful childhood experiences, like being able to go trick or treating or making a costume for Halloween, or having someone help them to learn how to carve a pumpkin.

I know many of you wonder how this could happen. Think about the migrant workers, the homeless people (and yes they often have children living with them), and even my own parents never finished high school. So I went to school, but because I could not depend on my parents to be able to help me with my homework, I honestly struggled with understanding how to do my homework, and when a child cannot do well in school, they often also struggle to fit in socially.

I was bullied a lot because I wore clothes from thrift stores, ate day-old bread from the special store that was so cheap in those days, and I did not know how to make friends or talk to others. To top it all off, I quit school in my first year of high school. I had gotten married instead of choosing to go to Germany with my mother and father during the time of the wall I believe. And so I found myself pregnant, and in those days, pregnant girls did not go to school, at least not where I lived.

But some miracles happened for me. Despite the fact that I was extremely shy and had difficulty with school subjects except for writing, I really did love to read. Thank goodness it was something I learned on my own early on, partly from not wanting to go outside and play with the other children because they bullied me at home as well as at school.

Although my mother had taught me absolutely nothing about having children or anything that was physically personal, when my daughter was born, not only did I breast-feed her and my two boys at a time when women really were not doing that, but I read to my children every single night, and I decided to teach my daughter to read when she was close to two years old. I made some little index cards, and on one side, I wrote a word such as hand in big letters, and on the other side I drew a picture of a hand. I showed her the word, and then said the word, and then showed her the picture of the word, and I would also hold up my hand and say the word. No one taught me how to do this. I just figured it out on my own. Now she had a hunger to learn, and I am telling you honestly that she was trying to potty train herself at six months old in one of those little chairs for that purpose, so I guess it was the same way with learning.

One night I had put her to bed, and I had given her the little Golden Books that she liked to have me read to her after I had read her a story. Out in the living room after awhile, I heard her talking in the bedroom, and went in to see what she was reading. She was holding her book and “reading” all the words and turning the pages at the appropriate times. I could not believe what I was hearing! How could she be reading these words when I had not taught those to her yet? I sat beside her and asked her if she would read me the story, and I watched her carefully and to this day, I remember her not missing a single word, but I realized that she wasn’t reading all the words. She had memorized those stories page by page!

I would not be able to follow my children’s education. I will just say that it was truly a traumatic event for me, and shocking for someone still so shy and lacking confidence to try to stick up for myself. I had never smoked, never done drugs, never drank alcohol, or did anything but to be a mother. She was four when they all disappeared. I did not know where they were until some 28 years later, when I located at least my daughter through the Salvation Army, at that time for just $10, after barely two months. I had not been able to provide much information as I suffered from severe amnesia and PTSD. I discovered that she was a published writer, an artist, and even a fine quilter (I did those things too), plus a lot more that I never did (such as riding bicycles in marathons, etc.) She was only four years old the last time I had seen her. We were reunited but I never saw the boys again. They were too young to remember me.

In later years of my life, I would get a degree in Archaeology and just a few years ago one in Criminal Justice, and I would have careers and even my own businesses. But my favorite career of all has been working as a substitute paraeducator, aide and uncertified teacher for special needs children with physical/developmental and emotional challenges. And I became a volunteer senior tutor for illiterate adults, a tutor for children and adults, as well as a mentor/advocate for challenged adults, particularly for artists trying to establish careers.

It was during those years that I learned how illiterate adults not only frequently cannot read if at all at the lowest levels, but they have also missed out on their childhood memories – parents reading to them, helping them to celebrate rites of childhood, or getting to do things many of us take for granted such as trick-or-treating, or even getting to carve a pumpkin or make a costume. In my case I was shy and my parents could not read at a high enough level. They too had missed out on those experiences many children do have so they didn’t know how to do those with us either. We did do some things, but because I was so shy, I didn’t do as many as my brother did.

I think for the remainder of my life, I will tutor illiterate adults when I have an opportunity, and help them experience the things they missed out on earlier in life. And I will volunteer to help others who have some form of physical or other challenges as well. I can honestly say that I don’t regret any part of my life, even those times that were painful spiritually and otherwise. It has all been good. I could not have the compassion I do now for others if I had not struggled my own self. And I will remain a student of the world for the rest of my life too. I love learning, and often as I sit pouring over something I have read, I look back in my mind’s eye and see that little beautiful daughter of mine delightedly memorizing and “reading” herself one of the stories she loved.

Talking About Art

Anne’s VERY early quilt of Pumpkins. The most innovative thing is that I used men’s shirts for the borders – WOW!!!

Is my pumpkin quilt art? Why isn’t is as valuable as as earlier work I made that had a higher value? I am known for my art now (this is fiction, not truth). I have won awards in big name exhibits and shows (also fiction).

I think you can see in the piece above some of the answers. But is this true of all art? Absolutely. Art can be and eventually is inconsistent in overall style or quality for most artists who have big names. They put their ALL into pieces for a time, and then perhaps they burned out, or because they already have big names, they could ease up a little and still command good prices. Not true. All artists, not just the big names, have times in their production when their work either changes styles, perhaps to a style that is less labor intensive, or perhaps they don’t produce as often as they were. It can happen in a lot of different scenarios. The thing is that if we are realistic and honest about it, not all art by an artist is the same quality nor does it necessarily command the same values. It is human nature. Now we may see great works of art and believe that a very famous artist DID produce the same quality all the time, but remember that many artists have had workers who worked with them on a particular painting or sculpture.

We have artists like Basquiat, and Andy Warhol and I am sure any of you can think of others. Perhaps you liked their rebellious response to fine art. Perhaps you see it as something new and refreshing. To be sure. But was it? I mean, Campbell Soup labels have been around since I was a child. So every time your mom bought a can, did you stop and think, “WOW! Now that’s art!!!” Both these artists had their names made by gallery owners and publicists who sold them to the public. It’s their job and they did it very well. Both the artists led colorful, unconventional lives. Now people in the art world often like this. It is the opposite of anything they might do or be in their own lives, and there is something about such lifestyles that attracts them to it. It’s kind like fashion. What attracts people to want to buy fashions worn by women with absolutely no facial expressions, who appear all to be suffering from anorexia, wearing, say sweaters with sleeves two feet longer than their arms as they walk rigidly down the runways? Are the people in the audience anything like this? Anything about this scenario remind you of “The Emperor’s New Clothes?”

I attended a minimalist painter’s exhibit many years ago. The comments of the audience taught me all I needed to know, plus my eyes confirmed what I saw. People were commenting on the brilliance of this painter, and how it took him six months of being alone in his studio to create a single line painting – that’s right, a single line on an entire canvas. Some art collectors really don’t know that much about what they are collecting. They collect pieces because someone tells them those pieces are valuable and will continue to increase in value. And like some people who want to be part of the “in crowd,” they pick up ideas here and there form others or from galleries, whose success is based on the sales they can get from their exhibits, and they know well who will bring people out and whose works will sit there. They have to constantly try to bring in new works of a type that are different from what people are used to seeing. And they also know that if the pieces have higher prices on all of them and the represent the work of one or perhaps two painters or sculptors at best, they will likely sell better in communities that are “art savvy” because people will respect that if they are looking for something to invest in.

Around Christmas, I will put up a photo of a piece I created years ago and then took it all apart even though it had been accepted into a good venue. The truth was that I didn’t accept it because I considered it was not as good as other pieces I had created earlier, or pieces by other artists that were accepted. Today when I look back on that piece, I often feel sad because it was what my mind was thinking of in terms of creativity at the time, and it said what I wanted it to say in the way I wanted it to.

Respect your creativity at any given point in your life. Comparing it to other pieces is not a healthy activity. You need to respect the fact that you had the courage to get out materials and create something at that moment. You are not a failure because a piece of art or a piece of writing doesn’t measure up to other pieces you or others have created. The only failure is the failure to even try at all. Go ahead. Be brave. Show off your worst writing example or your worst painting or sculpture. Don’t look at your art in terms of awards, money or other superfluous things. Make creativity your joy just the way a baby feels joy at discovering its hands. Maybe someday those hands will create great paintings, or perhaps play incredible sonatas, but for now, be ok where you are and with what you have done. It is all good, even the simple little pumpkin quilt.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

Anne’s Journal Quilt made when Mother Died

It is easy to fill our lives with our “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s. I suspect that most of us do this at some time or other in our lifetimes.

I was born in an era when women were still struggling to be women who had a lot of choices in life. When I was starting high school, my mother took me to register for my classes. There was a choice to choose a college route or the regular route. I wanted to go to college and become a nurse, likely a military nurse since I had grown up in a military family that went way back. My mother said no. She said I needed to become a secretary and find a man and get married. Really! It is hard to imagine, but that is what she believed. She had gotten married and I don’t think my mother or father finished high school. She had some problem with her mastoids when she was about my age, and in those days, was in the hospital for awhile and had surgery for it. So she and my father got married when she got well.

My father had come home from school one day when he was I think 16 or 17, and his family had moved away and abandoned him. He had other brothers and a sister who had killed herself. I really don’t know the whole story, but he lied about his age, because it was during the Great Depression, and he joined the military. He got his room and board, but in order to be able to join, he had to give all his money to a poor family who never ever thanked him.

That is most of what I know about my mother and father. So I did all the things I was supposed to and hated every minute of it. Secretaries in those days took shorthand, typed letters and used carbon to make copies and a machine I can’t remember the name of to make copies. They fetched coffee for their bosses every day and for meetings they fetched it for all the men at the meetings. And once in awhile, men treated women disrespectfully, touching them in ways that were inappropriate, and getting away with it because it was the times.

Then suddenly women’s lib came along, and so did wearing pant suits, and women were threatened with being fired if they wore those in the office. Gee, no more legs to look at or exposed body parts to be touched. But women persevered. I divorced an abusive husband, but I suppose in reality he was no more abusive than most men who believed their women should stay at home and have dinner ready for them when they walked in the door, raise their children and do their washing and ironing, and stay in the home except to take the children to the playground. Money was given to the wife to get the groceries, and sometimes the woman might get money to buy a donut or small toy for the children but there was no money for anything that might have taken care of things she might like to have.

I DID get to go to a University finally. And I DID get a degree in Archaeology. And I did work at interesting related work in Mexico and Arizona until I became ill with Valley Fever and Paratyphoid, and then I decided to do other less physically dangerous work. But I had a lot of fun along the way. One day somewhere along the way I grew up and became a bonafide human being who could buy things for herself, and who could dream of things she wanted to do and to become, and she could actually do them. She could say no to men who did anything inappropriate, and she could be her own person in general. I got married again a couple of times over the years and had some really interesting and accomplished men – an archaeologist and an anthropologist. And I learned more of the world and who I was as a human being. No more Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda. I grew into a woman who had exciting careers and who had her own businesses. And step by step, little by little, I became a fully evolved human being.

It has not been easy along the way, but that is what gives us strength in the end result. I am now 77, and I have a man in my life – my significant other, Richard – and he is none of those men I married before. He is a human being – a simple man with simple tastes and a really big heart. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, what he says is real. And he has shown his goodness in so many ways without even saying anything about it. He is not a Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda man. He lives from day to day, happy with the simplest of things. I am free to be who I am and he is free to be who he is. Sometimes the simplest things are the best things in this lifetime.

I will never live in the Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda world again. I decided to get another degree at 74 and graduated in 2016, the same year I had breast cancer. It was Criminal Justice. I was going to be a mentor/advocate for juvenile delinquents (and I have worked with them before in other ways) but other things changed all that, so instead I am a CASA court-appointed volunteer mentor/advocate for foster children. I don’t have an assignment currently, but when I am not a caregiver for my Richard, I can do that if I choose. I am who I am and I am happy with that now. I don’t need to blame anyone else now for what I did not become. Perhaps that was never meant to be. Perhaps, just perhaps I was meant to be on the course of life I am now. It is all good, even on its worst days. I will look back on them tomorrow and be glad that I have seen many sides of life. I will be glad for the little things – a beautiful sky, a gentle breeze, a hand that reaches out and holds mine . . .

Standing Tall

“Strength”by Anne Copeland

Life doesn’t always give us strength when we need it most. We may be ill ourselves and still have to take care of our significant other. Or perhaps we have to deal with legal issues that we are ill equipped financially or otherwise to deal with. Or a child has run away, or gone missing. There are as many things as we have to deal with as we could come up with, sometimes multiple issues at the same time.

When my significant other came home from a major cervical surgery, I was ill and had been for months with chronic bronchitis. He was not ready to be released without some form of nursing care or rehab; he could not lift his own body up from bed as his right arm was paralyzed, and he could not cut up his own food to prevent choking, or to even bathe himself or use the bathroom by himself. I am sure there are others who have been in the same situation with loved ones.

Each day I dragged myself out of bed, and did whatever was necessary to help him. During this time, I also had to get him to multiple medical appointments and back to the spinal clinic in another town about an hour away. As we were about to enter the clinic one day, I suddenly remember the lights going out and falling on my face in the dirt. Luckily some good folks came and helped me back up; my significant other could not possibly help me and he was clearly upset and terrified. My nose still feels as though it was broken and I hit my head pretty hard, and hurt my knees as well. Other than going to emergency and waiting for perhaps 10 – 12 hours, I chose to just try to make the best of it all. I cannot leave my significant other at this time.

The fault is not that of his doctors or mine. It is the Medicare and MediCal insurance that is not giving us what we need. When I had a bad infection, even though the medication was prescribed by a specialist, I could not get it for two weeks because the Pharmaceutical Department of the insurance had to approve it as it was not covered. In my younger years, I was a Regulatory Compliance Specialist for a major pharmaceutical company that made plasma derivative products, so I guess I know a little bit about that issue. During the two weeks that I was ill, the infection got worse, resulting in my still being ill after a couple of months. I file grievances on both issues, and I will follow through on it even though I am still having a difficult time as is my significant other.

The point is not to tell my own story for others to feel sorry for me. The point is that sometimes we have to stand tall when we are feeling weak. We need to remember that even though it is not easy, we have to stand up for our rights, and for those of others. No one said this life would be a bowl of cherries; there are challenges every single day of one type or another. And we don’t need to lose our love of life and the world. We need to remember that when we have our worst challenges, there are always others who are far worse off. Try to help someone else who is worse off than you are, at least giving them words of hope if nothing else. And try to stay strong in the face of many barriers to everyday life. Remember that no challenge lasts forever. STRENGTH is our friend.

Something’s Gotta Give . . .

Fiber art piece by Anne Copeland.

Ah, that first bloom of love, when everyone is on their best and each of us seems like the perfect person that we have been looking for. They are, at this point in fact, exactly how we have imagined a lover.

That bloom can last a day, a week, a month, and sometimes even a year or so. But it seems that all of a sudden we are looking at them with different ways. We could not have seen that the male perhaps needed a mother and caregiver more than he needed a girlfriend, or that the female was such a horrible person to deal with – never giving a fellow a break, and expecting too much of him related to sharing responsibilities around the house, and in bringing in money to help with shared expenses.

Relationships are seldom equal on both sides 100% of the time. The scales are often unbalanced for one side or the other part of the time, but it works out fine if the unbalance seems to equal out.

And sometimes unforeseen things happen to all of us – an illness, a heart attack, an accident or some sort of disaster. It can happen to both people at the same time, or one can suddenly have the issue, and the other one has to make a choice to become a caregiver or be in charge of one.

There are people who give the rest of their lives gladly to their mate, taking are of them and helping to advocate for and to protect them from others who might take advantage of them during that time.

Others, the minute the mate becomes ill or has some sort of catastrophic event that is going to require being a caregiver, find it necessary to withdraw their support for whatever reason. Many women who have been dealt the cancer card encounter this situation, but I am sure as many men also have similar experiences with other physical or mental issues.

Those of us who try to follow through and take care of our significant others often run into problems. Sometimes the other person doesn’t really want to get better. For whatever reasons, that person may keep trying to remain an invalid even when in reality he or she could get better with a little effort. Perhaps that person had to take responsibility for others most of his or her life; or perhaps the person just wants to have a form of control over his or her mate. At any rate, this is when one of the other person has to make a decision whether to stay or to walk away. It is never en easy decision in either event; the longer the two have been together the more difficult it can become.

How long should a person stay and try to work things out before walking away? At some point in our lives, many of us will encounter a similar situation. There is no easy answer. But we have to respect and honor our own selves first and foremost. If we allow ourselves to keep doing something that provides no nourishment of any kind for our souls, pretty soon we will not have any soul nor any energy left to support our own selves. And the other person will not be benefiting from this either. Something’s gotta give . . .

Writing Your Obituary

Courtesy Pexels

It seems an odd thing to think about when we are still alive and perhaps still young. Writing your obituary is a good idea though because if it is left to others to manage, they may write things that you would not have wanted to have written about you, or perhaps they would leave out things that were important to you.

It is a good way to remind yourself of all the things you have accomplished in your lifetime, and to remember people who others might not remember who were important to you in life. We don’t have to be thinking about dying, but we don’t really know what life has in store for us.

I often think of the story of Anne Frank, and how her story of her life in those last days was captured and has been an inspiration for so many people because it is the story of someone who lived a life with such meaning in just little everyday things. That is something I think it would be very difficult for another person, no matter how close they were to you, to capture your life the way you would have thought of it.

I think of my father, and I have not a photo or anything left of his life. He was not a role model for a father in some ways, but he did take care of us to ensure we had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothing always. He once got me a Ford Taunus, and I drove it out to White Sands Proving Grounds with him, and it went on the fritz out there. I could only drive the whole way back in 1st gear, not being able to shift at all. It seemed that drive was forever, and I never wanted to drive that car again. Tomorrow is Father’s Day, and I wonder how I might have written his obituary while he was still alive. I think the same for all of my relatives who are gone now, and those I particularly loved, and I so wish now I had captured their lives for my own children and their children and grandchildren.

Perhaps this is a good way to spend a bit of Father’s Day. If you can’t capture the life of your own father, perhaps you can capture your own growth from being a child to growing up and then becoming a father. I know someone will be glad someday to read about who you were as a human being and the things and people that were important to you in this life.

My Shoe’s Got Soul . . .

By Yours Truly

This is who I am. I love to recycle things that have meant something to me. I found these shoes in a thrift store years ago. I fell in love with them because the shoe brand was something like Sam and Jane and they were about the most comfortable shoes I ever had with a soft sole and leather that seemed to breathe. The original shoes were brown, not gold. But one day as I went to get my shoes to go someplace, the sole of one was literally falling off of it. Of course I was heartbroken, but then I had this idea to make a play on words and to give one of the shoes a whole new life, so I came up with this idea.

The “wings” are on a base which is made from the sole of one shoe, and I found the most wonderful colored organiza with a nice stiffness to it that allowed me to cut out the little leaves. The leaves seemed appropriate to me because shoes wouldn’t tend to go up in the air (except for the kids who throw them over the telephone lines). And I remembered in the compass of my soul how much fun it was as a kid (and ok, I confess, as a grownup too) to jump in a pile of leaves). And I had to make her a happy and bright color full of life, for that is how I remembered those old comfy shoes.

It’s so many years later since I made her, “My Shoe’s Got Soul.” She’s still with me, and I imagine that she will still be when I take my last jump into those leaves. And it’s funny because she led me to write a story called “Tenshoes and the Skittyfoot” about ten orphan shoes who live in a trash dump, and every Saturday, the animals up in the meadow above hear “sootspeak” because the dump is putting out ugly smoke and it is mixed with the angry and sad words from the ten orphans arguing because they were just thrown away like they never mattered after living lives with adventure. They were never appreciated for who and what they were, and the dump is a horrible place to live.

The Skittyfoot is a little boy with red (really red) hair who comes to visit the creatures in the meadow every day, and the little boy can talk to them and they to him. They tell him about the Tenshoes, and that they want him to go and rescue the Tenshoes from the ugly dump and bring them up to the meadow where they can live safely. But before they can come up to the meadow, they have to find things and fix themselves up as best as they can. Just because they are orphans doesn’t mean they cannot have pride in themselves.

So the Skittyfoot goes down to the dump, and ultimately gets the tenshoes to clean and fix themselves up, and help each other, which they do. Ultimately they go to the meadow with the Skittyfoot, and the little creatures in the meadow all make them welcome and they will have a forever home where they are loved and treasured.

No, I never published Tenshoes and the Skittyfoot though I guess I could have. Some things just live on in our hearts and in the compass of our souls. I’ve been a sort of orphan too, and it took me awhile, for I didn’t have a Skittyfoot or other orphans like me to help, but I fixed myself up nice and clean (there is not and never has been anything related to drugs or other similar things but a transformation from being a childhood orphan), and now I can make things like “My Shoe’s Got Soul” to help others to feel good about themselves too.

Isn’t it strange how life brings little things into our consciousness to help us learn to grow and to care for ourselves, even if we were a kind of orphan in our younger lives? And using art to fix up an old shoe that brought happiness to a life can be a symbol of that. We don’t have to find fancy things or to do anything special to make it up to the meadow from the dump. The recognition of value in little things is what brings a true transformation to us in our lives. Your life, no matter how small you may think it is, is a miracle. Live it like the true gift it is.