Homely Art, Mom-Style

I am assuming, probably incorrectly, that you have seen enough of my art work to come to the conclusion that I am a bit of an artist.  Amateur, of course.  You have to make money at it to be professional.  I used a great deal of my artistic abilities in the classroom as a teacher, and while you come eventually to an appreciation for that small sacrifice, you can’t really call that making money at it.  And I am good enough at drawing to know where the mistakes are… the flubs and the flaws and the not-so-happy little accidents (I truly appreciate the genius of Bob Ross, and I know I am not Picasso or Da Vinci… but I can draw better than he ever could.)  I know my artistic junk is kitschy junk in so many, many ways.  But I believe that some of the best art is homely art… the art you keep in your house… not gallery quality, but irreplaceable to you yourself.  And the point of this article (dreamed up while spending some alone time in my octagenarian mother’s  house due to illness) is that I got my love of homely art from my mother’s house, the house I grew up in.

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These two goofy dinos are an example of what I am talking about.  These two revered family art objects were bought as greenware porcelain from a mold at an Austin pottery-art store.  Mother fired them in her kiln.  I painted them in acrylic.  They are now living happy lives in my Mother’s dining room.  Oh, and they are made to be displayed together like this;

20150702_130218Most of mother’s art gallery-like house is filled with items just like this.  No value to the history of art.  Not museum quality.  No more important than any other item of homemade functions-more-as-a-token-of-love-for-the-person-who-gave-it artwork.

Let me show you more of the many wonderful grandma-treasures that fill my mother’s house.

This was our Grandma Beyer’s glass doo-dad cabinet that for many years held sacred glass gewgaws and thingamajigs from the the thirties and forties.  Mom inherited it and put all new grandma-treasures in it.

20150702_130319The cabinet holds all manner of precious vacation souvenirs, graduation photos of my sisters and brother and I, weird animal salt-and-pepper shakers, candle holders, souvenir plates, Precious Moments figurines, Hummels, pictures of long-gone relatives, and a variety of other things that each has a story behind it, a long and lovely story of years and tears and fears and more years.   It is a cabinet full of memories and celebrations.  Collectibles and corny joke items.  There is no price that ever could be put on it, and one day it will all be given away.

Mom has collections of stuff everywhere.  Christmas stuff, Thanksgiving stuff, and stuff on display just because Mom likes it sort of stuff.  Much of it is antique simply because the people are old and have kept this stuff long enough to make it antique.  It is displayed in every available nook and cranny and corner of the house.

20150702_13041420150702_130304And, of course, what every visitor to Mom’s house most wants to see are the dolls.

She was a very talented porcelain doll maker.

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20150702_130355 20150702_130433 20150702_130710 20150702_130736 20150702_130805The art that is most important of all in my mother’s house, though, are her greatest and most valuable creations.  That would be US.

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The Uncritical Critic

The Lyric Theater on Main Street, Belmond, Iowa

The Lyric Theater on Main Street, Belmond, Iowa

My family took me to the movies last night.  We went to see Jurrassic World.   We went to the local hometown theater in Belmond, a place that I first went to movies at in the 1960’s for I don’t remember what… well, I’m old… you can’t always remember early childhood when your old brain is clogged with fermenting memories and nostalgia on steroids.  I saw Battle for the Planet of the Apes here.  I saw Tarzan and the Valley of Gold here.  Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Gnome-Mobile, The Love Bug… Disney movies, Christmas movies, musicals, cartoons, westerns… science fiction… This was an important feature of my Midwestern Iowegian childhood.  I watched all kinds of movies here, and they were all the best movies I have ever seen.  Even the really bad ones.  Even Harum Scarum with Elvis Presley.  I love movies with the uncritical heart of a seven-year-old boy.

640_jurassic_world_embed1I know in my stupid old head that some movies are better than others.  I know enough about movie-making and story-telling to know that Jurassic Park was a better movie than Jurassic World.  I know that these two movies are better than Jurassic Park, the Lost World and infinitely better than the hot mess that was Jurassic Park III.  But I love them all.  Formula or not.  Consistent plot or not.  Humor that is actually funny or simply sad enough to make you groan.  I watch practically anything that flickers with an uncritical eye.  I have never walked out of a movie theater before the Best Boy and Key Grip’s names have appeared in the credits.  I would especially never walk out of this particular theater.  Who I am is pretty much shaped by the movies I have seen..

Why does this poster-saurus want to eat the pretty red-head's head?

Why does this poster-saurus want to eat the pretty red-head’s head?

And Jurassic World is a good movie.  The characters are engaging.  You are sucked into the drama to the point that if either of the two kids are eaten by dinosaurs, you will be totally devastated and may actually die in your seat because you have been jumping and flinching with every scare they get, and for at least part of the movie you are seeing everything through their eyes.  And the heroic Chris Pratt character allows you to stride boldly through the dinosaur-infested jungle with deadly velociraptors at your side.  You get to be a bit of a bad-ass… er… bad donkey, as you tackle the man-made monster dinosaur at the center of the monster-movie disaster.  Movies are supposed to surprise you and give you something new.  (But I don’t mind when the story hits certain predictable patterns and cliches.)  This movie let me have the pleasant surprise of the villainous velociraptors of the first movie transforming into the heroes of this movie (but they did eat a few minor characters along the way… and one human villain… though I hope the poor velociraptor didn’t get a stomach ache from that icky old guy).  If you are looking for a reliable movie review to gauge the quality of the movie, you probably shouldn’t be looking at this article.  I am not really a critic.  I love movies beyond the point where sanity, reason, and critical thinking can actually protect you from cinematic evils.

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Butterflies and Blossoms

A Red Admiral butterfly...

A Red Admiral butterfly…

I am temporarily at home in Iowa, visiting the farm where my grandparents and great grandparents have owned the land and raised crops for over 100 years.  My parents live there now in retirement, and while somebody else tends the corn and rents the land, they maintain the yard and grow flowers.  Retirement is hip deep everywhere around the place.  My old retired self and my wife and my kids are all descended upon them just like the butterfly who came to sample the purple flowers on the porch trellis.  Little work gets done.  My wife and eldest son have jobs and contribute to society still, but we retired folks putter and stutter and watch the butterflies flutter.  We watch the kids and the flowers grow.

The Family Farm House

The Family Farm House

Watching stuff grow has always pretty much been what farming-family Iowegians do.  Corn and soybeans, watermelon, pumpkins. cucumbers, string beans, sweet corn, pop corn, strawberries, potatoes… at one point or another I have helped to plant, tend, harvest, and eat all of those things… well, not seed corn and field soybeans… you can’t directly eat those… but you know what I am talking about, making things grow to feed myself and my family.  There is satisfaction in working the land and making things grow… a fundamental feeling of achievement that helps us feel like we are not mere parasites, consuming and wasting and decimating… we build for the future rather than take maximum profit at the present moment.  Farmers are the good guys.

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Only, not so much any more.   For our family farm, with three grandsons (of which I am one) available to do it, none of us have become farmers.  The next generation after us includes no farmers either.  So that fundamental feeling of achievement is basically a memory now.  Only a memory and nothing more.  Feeding the world has become somebody else’s problem now.  We are watching the flowers grow.

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Is there value in old farmers watching the flowers grow?  Of course there is!  The land is still functioning farm land.  Iowa is still the breadbasket of America.  We still feed the world.  And we who own the land are at least providing the flowers and the nectar necessary to feed butterflies.  The beauty, as well as the meaning and the metaphor, is there for anyone who wants to see it.

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Winning Easy

20150628_124803Now that Captain Action finally liberated my X-Box from the evil Dr. Evil who was holding it for ransom and not letting me play EA Sports Baseball ’04, I have been able to play Baseball ’04 again.  (It happened in this blog; Dr. Evil’s Removable Brain)  I have been playing this video game now with a passion, as you can plainly see.  You are probably aware that the St. Louis Cardinals are my very favorite team in any and all sports.  Notice, please that I have just pitched Matt Morris’ 30th victory against no defeats over stinky old steroid-fueled Roger Clemens.  It was also his 9th shut out of the season.  This is the first 30-game-winning season since Denny McLain in Detroit, in the 1968 season.  I only had to replay the entire 2004 season 4 times to get there.  Oh, and Albert Pujols has hit 114 home runs and Scott Rolen hit his 70th and 71st in this game.   You are certainly smart enough to figure out by now that I have left the difficulty level of this game permanently set at the Rookie level.  Hey, I’m old.  I like easy wins.

A close-up of the Flower Wagon's first bloom.

A close-up of the Flower Wagon’s first bloom.

This is true in so many areas of my life.  The flower wagon that I posted about on Friday is another evidence of my dedication to the philosophy of the easy win.  It was a victory over many things… depression, tragedy, Texas gully-washers that keep on coming, the tragedy of an old toy that no longer gets played with… things where my decrepit old self with six incurable diseases needs desperately to win.

Flowers in our yard in general are a victory of sorts.  This is Texas.  A couple of summers back we were in a severe drought with like 99 days in a row of high temperatures of 100-plus.  Flowers in June in Texas are a bit of a miracle.  Good flower pictures recently taken are another miracle.  My cell phone camera takes so much better pictures with all its automatic settings than my digital camera which cost twice as much, that it makes me wonder why I ever bothered with it.

A Yellow Rose of Texas in our yard.

A Yellow Rose of Texas in our yard.

Another yellow perennial that came up due to funky wet weather.

Another yellow perennial that came up due to funky wet weather.

Of course, this is pictures the easy way because I am not trying to adjust the color balance (in spite of partial color-blindness), or the brightness compensation, all by my own little self with my modest-to-insignificant photography skills.  (I am just skilled enough at photography to recognize a great work of art photographed by someone else, not skilled enough to take one myself.)

I am retired now.  I have had a long hard career as a public school teacher, and I am working hard at being a good writer (professional or not) in retirement.  I figure I deserve the odd easy win.  Using my writing skills to tackle toxic ideas like prejudice and politics recently I was able to score some real points with some of my very conservative friends.  I discovered by concentrating on the things they believe which I agree are very good things, I was able to make them consider a more liberal point of view, and not cling to Fox-News-sort-of faux-Fox-facts.  I can even get them to laugh at things like saying “Fox-News-sort-of faux-Fox-facts” because it sounds funny even if you are only reading it silently in your head.  It is an example of arguing towards an Easy Win, and I have become an addict.

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Taking the Road Home

The Road HomeI was once offered a hundred dollars for this oil painting of State Highway 3 in Iowa.  The art collector who offered it was a fellow teacher at the time.  He didn’t really know much about painting.  He collected wooden Santos, or carved saints from Mexico, and he had bought wooden carousel horses before.  He was very knowledgeable about wooden sculpture from Mexico, but kind of a dithering old fool who was actually going blind at the time from cataracts when it came to other kinds of art.  He wanted to encourage me as an artist, although he couldn’t really see the painting very well.  I loved the old guy, but blind guys shouldn’t really be teachers (unless they have Daredevil level hearing skills), and they definitely shouldn’t try to evaluate art that they can’t see by touching.   I was flattered, but also very happy I held on to the painting instead of selling it.

You see, this is literally the road home.  Traveling west on Highway Three, you only have to go a couple more miles down this road to reach the little town where I grew up, Rowan, Iowa.  And I am going home this week.  My parents live on what used to be the Raymond Aldrich farm.  Up ahead in the painting you turn right on the gravel road north to reach the connecting gravel room that takes you to Grandpa and Grandma’s farm house, where my parents, in their 80’s now live.  In many ways it is a journey into the past.  I have a class reunion of the Belmond High School Class of 1975 on July 3rd.  I get to revisit the town where I grew up and the family farm which always used to be the center of my world even though we lived in a different house in the town of Rowan.  My whole family of 5 is going along.  My sisters and their families will also be there.  It is worth the 700-plus mile trip, which we are doing today.  Soon, the picture becomes reality.  I thank my lucky stars I never sold it.

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Goofball Conspiracy and Nuthouse Nonsense

If you read my blog more than just taking the passing flyby notice of the odd Paffooney picture, you may have noticed the fact that I have many unfortunate mental quirks basted in a flavorful sauce of vivid imagination and fatally high intelligence.  I am too smart to live, most of the time, and so my mental quirk about constantly searching conspiracy information is probably a self-destructive attempt to get hold of seriously secret information that will probably get me killed.  But conspiracy theories are dangerous in more than just the paranoid delusional way that somebody like Alex Jones always perceives it.

b780bda0f5dba4d43d764bc35a5bed4c9618662a1fd433ffd9ca3526cd072530Since I already mentioned the Infowars  rage-clown, let me talk a little bit about how Alex Jones is a truly dangerous force crying about sinister suppositories of conspiracy constantly…  I do not follow the man.  His website takes all kinds of conspiracy-type information and puts it through the grinder of his manic-orangutan persona and turns it all into a giant salad of poop and nuts covered in puree of mystery meat.  The truth is sometimes in there, but all mangled and bunged-up.  For instance, he claims that the Sandy Hook shooting of all those innocent children and heroic teachers was a false-flag operation by the government.  He claims that no children were actually killed… the event was staged…  The government is simply trying to turn public opinion against gun owners and wants to threaten Second Amendment rights.  Gene Rosen, one of the people who heroically helped students fleeing from the Newtown shooting, was harassed by phone calls calling him a “government stooge”.  Jones’ true believers are not smart enough to leave things like this alone.  They take it upon themselves to press the matter and rub salt in the wounds.  In fact, some Alex-Jones-true-believer criminal types stole the memorial for Grace McDonnell and Chase Kowalski, two seven-year-olds who died at Sandy Hook Elementary, because they didn’t actually exist… they weren’t actual children… and then they phoned those children’s parents to taunt them… all in the name of Infowars’ version of the truth.

Here is the article I used as the source for my information;  Why Conspiracy Theories Aren’t Harmless Fun

These facts about conspiracy theories and the people involved in them make me physically ill over the fact that I am also a believer in some very prominent conspiracy theories.  But unlike Alex Jones, I don’t pull things out of a Pandora’s box of paranoia and mental cesspools.  I try very hard to site my sources and choose them critically.   I believe that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, not by a lone gunman, and probably not by Lee Harvey Oswald at all.  There was a massive conspiracy.  I have dug into the roots of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK.  I know who Jim Garrison is… who Guy Bannister and Cord Meyer are… I know about the mysterious history of questionable deaths of witnesses to the shooting and where the efforts at cover-up become apparent enough to know that somebody powerful was behind the whole thing.  But, although I think I know who and why… there is not enough evidence to name names and try to prosecute anyone.  Kennedy’s death was an important blow to the architecture of my childhood.  It combined with other terrible things to take away any chance I may have had to grow up innocent and happy.  Pursuing the truth will haunt me for the rest of my days.

And there are other places where I want to believe.  How about aliens?  I wrote a comic novel or two about that.  There is a source of endless comedy and clowns.

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But I am a believer here also.  The thing about Roswell and the numerous flying saucer incidents that have grown into an entire conspiracy subculture is that so much of it can be traced back to ingenuous and credible witnesses.  Many of them not only had nothing to gain from lying, many of them lost their reputations, their careers, and sometimes even their lives because they tried to tell us truthfully what they witnessed.

I promised to back that sort of assertion up, so one of the sources of my belief is the astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon.  Here is a video readily available on YouTube to let you hear it in his own words.

I apologize for dumping my strange obsessions on you simply to feed monsters lurking in my silly, questioning head.  I have to make sense of the world for myself, and I do it here in writing.  I pulled you in with the promise of humor, and while I may have salted this essay with a bit of that, I have basically tried to convince you of my pet conspiracies.  Forgive me.  For as long as I keep blogging (especially when I am trying to do it every day and need things to talk about) I will continue to try these same tricks.  Watch me carefully.  Hold me to a standard of truth that makes me better than Alex Jones.

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The Flower Wagon

My life has more-or-less become an exercise in making the best out of a bad situation.  Believe me, I know yours is probably the same and I am bemoaning the common condition of us all, but we do what we do and it doesn’t get easier just because we do it daily.  So today’s post is about the flower wagon.

20150531_193228Now, if you are truly fool enough to read a lot of my purple paisley prose in this basically boring blog, you may have seen references to the flower wagon before this.

Last year, doing yard work, I had an inordinate amount of crushed live-oak acorns from the street near where we park our cars.  Our oaks were excessively reproductive that year because, I guess they found the weather unusually sexy or something.  So I had copious amounts of crushed acorn.  In fact, before I got it all scooped up, a little bit of rain had turned it into the acorn-equivalent of peanut butter… goopy, sticky, and unpleasant to touch.  Most of it went into the compost bin, but the last little-red-wagon load got left in the little red wagon to get snowed on, frozen solid, and snowed on again.

We love that little red wagon.  When the kids were small, we used it to pull them around SeaWorld in San Antonio and AstroWorld in Houston.  It went all over the country with us on summer vacation, and was the Princess’ personal coach and four (provided she allowed the cooler full of ice for water, soda, and fruit to share the ride).

So, the neglected little red wagon turned into a rust-bucket lawn ornament this spring, and it was busy growing a bumper crop of weeds in all that acorn peanut butter… fertile stuff, acorn peanut butter.  So I decided to plant flowers.  I got some Walmart zinnias and some wildflowers, spending about a dollar fifty all told, pulled the weeds by hand, and sprinkled flower seeds all over it.  We are all sad to see the lonely little wagon deteriorating and being demoted to lawn ornament status, but it seemed like we had a possibility of new life within reach.

This spring, with the monsoon rains Texas apparently borrowed from Asia and the Philippines, I did not even have to bother myself with watering.  If anything, there was too much water… flash-flood-warning-daily sort of too much water.  So I have been patient… watching and weeding.  And then…

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20150626_084717The first blossom bloomed and turned color yesterday while we were picking up number one son from the airport.  Old things can produce new things.  Decay and age lead to blossoming new life.  There has to be a balance between happy and sad.  I am trying like heck to be a humorist, but I have learned the lesson that you can’t be laughing all the time.  But here is proof that after the rains come the flowers.  And I am laughing now.

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