What can I do and how can I best love?

God it's been a hard week in the U.S. What happened in Charlottesville last weekend is so wrong on so many levels it hurts. It's not okay.

Maybe it's too personal but I can't help but keep thinking of my grandfathers who fought in WWII and what they fought for. I especially think of my Grandpa Archie who left behind a journal/photo album with his war experiences. My own dad died when I was three and Grandpa Archie was in many ways the closest thing I had to a dad for most of my childhood.

He was an amateur photographer and carried a camera during the war and his photos from the war are haunting. The stories he left behind are haunting too, although sometimes it's telling how little he says (he was not one to be really emotive). He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-day. He helped liberate a concentration camp (the photos of that are...the worst).

He was a farmer so he knew how to drive without headlights. He often got pulled from his tank to drive around "brass" in the dark. At one point in the war when he was off driving around brass, his tank was bombed and all his buddies died. His parents back home both died while he was gone.

My Grandpa took me to France and Germany when I was 10 to see where he fought. I won't ever forget the feeling of standing on the beach with him, listening to his stories, feeling full of wonder that such a beautiful place had once been full of so much bloodshed. Anyway the trip and the stories made quite an impression on 10-year-old me. My grandpa went through Hell. So did the world.

And this past weekend when I saw the photos and videos of men imitating the visuals of lynch mobs, carrying nazi flags, and chanting Nazi slogans—I was horrified. I couldn't help but think of my grandfather and how he fought against Nazis and everything they stood for.

God help us all.

Even though I've posted it before, I thought I'd post this illustration again.

I've been thinking about the best ways I can live into the words in this art.

"Yes we can!" — What can I do?

"Love thy neighbor." — How can I best love?

These are questions that don't go away and that I don't have perfect answers for. But I feel like they are questions I need to keep living into, with everything I do right now.

How can I promote diversity more? How can I help foster understanding? How can I stand up to hate more? How can I stand up to racism more? How can I own my own room for growth more? Where can I be a better listener, learner, teacher? Where in my life, every day, can I ensure that my grandfather would be proud?

So these are the questions I ask myself this week and going forward.

You do not have to wear a uniform to fight for what's right.

Kid's Art Walk

I've been hard at work on a few projects I'm very excited about. There are so many things I could post about! But for now here's a picture from the Kid's Art Walk here in Bellingham which took place during the month of May.

I helped the students from this class make the Chinese Dragons you see in the window. The kids were studying China and I'd learned a lot about Chinese Dragons when I lived in Asia so I taught them some about what I'd learned and we made these puppets. It was such a fun project!

The Story Of My Grandfather Who Immigrated to America with a Mangled Hand

One of my favorite family stories involves one of my great grandfathers who immigrated from Sweden with a mangled hand and landed on Ellis island in the early 1900s. People with deformities had a hard time passing inspection at Ellis Island. They were usually detained for extra scrutiny when they arrived but often they were also sent back to their countries of origin.

Although my great-grandfather had lost most of his fingers on his dominant hand in a farming accident in Sweden, he still had most of his thumb and a large pinky stump that consisted of what remained of his other fingers sewn together. He got by fairly well because he could still grab and hold on to things on account of still having his thumb and another finger (of sorts) to make a clasping motion.

And that is how he also managed to hold his hat the day he went through inspection on Ellis Island. So no one noticed his deformity—his hat covered it. He passed inspection without a hitch. After he was through and outside waiting for the boat that would help him travel onward into America where he'd become a hard-working farmer, he sat next to another Swede and they got to talking. The other Swede was surprised my grandfather had made it through with his hand (by this time his hat was back on his head since he was outside). My grandfather hadn't understood about the inspections.

And he was mortified. He could not accept that he might have tricked his way into America. So can you guess what he did?

The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

The Great Hall on Ellis Island as it looks now.

He went back into inspection. He wanted to be legit. He was honest to a fault. At least that's how the story goes.

The officials who'd already processed him waved him away like a pesky fly. And so he became an American.

I thought of this story as I read all the history and walked the great hall of Ellis Island last month when I was in NYC for an SCBWI conference. And also as I walked under Lady Liberty and her torch the same day I visited Ellis Island. Mine isn't the only family with immigrant tales of honesty and a will to do hard work for a better life.

I also thought of modern-day immigrants and how they likely share similar stories to my own with different details from a newer time. I'd be willing to bet there are a lot of common threads at heart.

NOTE: I originally posted this story on facebook, this is mostly a repeat of that post. Also I've since learned from my aunt that my Grandfather did end up having to pay a fine. I wonder if I'm missing any more of the story?

Making art with kids

I've said it before on my blog: sometimes when you are busy with the very things that are interesting to blog about, you are too busy to bother blogging. So I've had a full last few months! I have a few posts I'd like to put up soon but how about I start with sharing this collage I made with kids because it's close to my heart.

The last couple years I've been teaching art to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders at a local Montessori school here in Bellingham, once a week for a few months a year. A few days ago I finished glueing together this paper quilt made from collage squares all the kids made. I've been a bit of an accidental art teacher but honestly it's become one of my favorite and most rewarding things that I do. I'm so grateful that I get to make art regularly with kids (at least during the months I'm teaching). This piece is for the school's fund-raising auction. I'm pretty psyched at how it turned out. But mostly I like that each square makes me think of each kid who made it and that makes me smile.

Goals for the new year

The last few years I’ve written my year-end review and new year goal setting inside this journal.

I always start the year’s end/begin ritual by making a year-end collage with ticket-stubs, playbills, kid-drawings, and whatever other debris made it’s way into my box of interesting bits I save just for this occasion. 

Then I look back on the previous year and reflect on challenges I met, places I fell short, and accomplishments I can celebrate. From there I look toward the new year with new goals and a new orientation of my compass.

It’s a joy to spend time in this book. The pages are chunky, uneven, colorful, and playful. I made them that way on purpose. They match my house, my family, my life.

Keeping my year-end review and New Year’s goals in the same place for several years has opened my eyes to certain patterns. And new patterns pop out at me every year. Last year I noticed that focusing on play whenever I feel stuck literally has ALWAYS paid off. Noticing that and using that knowledge moving forward made my coming year better. It made my work better too.

This year I noticed in looking back that whenever I’ve chosen to face the stuff that’s hard and made a conscious effort to point my ship into headwinds, and then actually gone into those headwinds, I’ve strengthened the boat.

So this year I’m heading into the headwinds for 2017. I’m facing parts of my work that are hard for me. I’m taking on some personal challenges like heading to New York for the SCBWI conference in February, and planning a dummy and drawing challenge for myself in the months after. Hopefully I’ll be dipping my toe back into the world of craft shows before long too.

But most important to me is that I’m working at letting go of my own perfectionism in order to share my work more.

In other words I’m owning it.  Headwinds and all.

This is who I am.