My home has gone to the (cat) and dogs

PetLove

Four months ago we brought home a feral kitten. She was about five weeks old and from a litter of four. She was most definitely the runt, and she had a bad eye infection that was so sticky that she could hardly see. The kittens and mom lived outside at the house of my daughter’s babysitters. These people are cat lovers and have been feeding and watering and keeping ferals alive in the neighborhood for 20+ years. Unfortunately, our neighborhood has a bad feral cat problem. Fortunately, there are some families who’re active in getting city grant money to participate in the catch, spay/neuter and release program.

Each morning this summer as we walked to the sitter’s house, we’d have to spend an extra 15 minutes outside catching and playing with all the kittens. This sweet little tuxedo kitten was the first one to always get caught by my girl. I think it was partly runt, partly eye infection and partly because she was used to being picked up by children and adults already. My daughter begged me for a kitten. I said no. Every afternoon I would send my teenage son down the street to pick up his sister, and the two of them would spend another 15 to 30 minutes playing with kittens. He started begging me for a cat. I said no. I was holding strong because my husband was dead set against it.

But then I stated to hold this little one, and the mama in me kicked into high gear and I found myself worrying she would go blind from the eye infection. I have never in my life owned a cat. My mother can’t stand them. Dogs only. My kids begged and then we all started begging my husband. Outnumbered, he gave in, but he made it very clear this is not his cat. My daughter kept calling her kitty cat, kitty cat so she named her Kit Kat.

We took the kitten to the vet and cleared up her eye infection. She’s had her shots and next up we’ll be getting her fixed. We kept her in my son’s room and slowly introduced her to the dogs (all shelter animals because I believe these animals have an endless capacity for love, like they know they’ve been saved somehow). Kit Kat didn’t have run of the house until just last month. Her and my little dog play every day. She likes to hide in a box and then when the dog isn’t looking, the cat jumps on her kamikaze style and scares her. Then the two of them tussle and play for an hour. Even my old boy (the white one) has taken to kitten. He won’t play, but he’s usually the first one she snuggles up next to for nap time. I believe Kit Kat thinks she’s one of the pooches.

This picture is what I see every morning about 10:30 a.m. when I walk from my studio/office through the living room and into my kitchen to get water and a handful of nuts. My animals napping, all touching on our old, worn-in sofas where babies, kittens, puppies, kids and animals are welcome to sleep, jump, play and chill. Our home is comfortable, lived in and people/pet friendly. Sometimes I dream of having an artist’s abode where the entire house is magazine worthy, but then I remember that in my world love looks like this.

JenSig

The soundtrack of our lives

 

HouseSeries1modifed

My children are both going to new schools this year. My son is in high school and my daughter just started Kinder. I had them together in a charter school the last two years where I drove them to school and back each day. It’s lovely that we can now all walk to school in the mornings. I get a little exercise and also get to hold my daughter’s hand while we walk. I had a moment this morning where I held her hand just a little tighter because I recognize these days, while they seem long when I’m in the middle of them, will go by in the blink of an eye. Soon she will be like my son and not even want to walk next to me, let alone show mom any public affection.

One of the small details I enjoy every morning as I’m walking her to class is how the school tells its students to leave the playground and get moving to their classrooms. Rather than a bell, like I had at my school as a kid, her elementary school plays music. There are four songs that take about 12 minutes to cycle through, giving the children plenty of time to get from point A to point B. The first song is always Pharell’s Happy. Every day when this song begins my daughter and I can’t help but dance/walk. We naturally do a little jig every time he gets to the line, “you can’t bring me down, love is too high to bring me down.” I smile seeing her little blond head bounce up and down as she’s responding intuitively to the song.

After I’ve dropped her off and started my walk home, I get the sincere pleasure of hearing What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. The last song each day was a new introduction to me but I don’t think it could be more perfect and profound message for our children to hear. It’s called Nothing More by the The Alternate Routes. If you get a chance, read the lyrics and then click on over to hear the song.

Here’s a little taste to whet your whistle:

To be humble, to be kind.
It is the giving of the peace in your mind.
To a stranger, To a friend
To give in such a way that has no end.

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

Can I say how much I adore the music teacher who put this little daily program into action for the kids? Arts in the public school system. YES! As important as reading, writing and arithmetic as far as I’m concerned.

 

JenSig

Collage Class with Crystal Neubauer

Crystal Neubauer, Jen CushmanThe Mixed Media Art Retreat Art Unraveled happens every August in my hometown. I’ve been hanging out at AU for a long time. Not as long as Linda Young has been organizing it, but since I first learned about it in 2005. As an educator myself, I rarely ever get the time to take an art class from the amazing instructors at the retreats I’m at. We’re all too busy working and teaching, usually on the same days! I didn’t teach this year at AU other than a mini class for Iced Enamels. I’ve been looking at the lineup of classes since the schedule came out, secretly wishing I could sneak away for a day to simply fill my own well.

One of the classes that I kept going back to every time I had to look AU up on the Internet for work was Crystal Neubauer’s intuitive Drawing and Mark Making with College. Of course, I know of Crystal as an instructor because she teaches some of the same retreats, but it wasn’t until Seth Apter’s book The Mixed Media Artist; Art Tips, Tricks, Secrets and Dreams came out that I really got to see her work, which is spectacular. There is something about her organic color palette and the way she uses her lines in her composition that gives her work beautiful visual breath and space. I’m drawn to it.

Life is a little sped up busy more than normal right now because Arizona kids go back to school early. AU always hits at back to school time. Work, deadlines, back to school, leaving for Chicago next week to teach at CREATE all made it seem like taking a class was a pipe dream this year. But then, something amazing happened. I managed to finish all my deadline things and I just knew I’d be able to sneak away Wednesday. I literally took the last spot in her workshop at the last-minute (by the way, teachers really dislike this sort of thing because last-minute sign ups can wreak havoc on supplies/kits and one’s overall sense of peace and wellbeing. I’m just sayin’ (wink)).

My workshop with Crystal was exactly what I needed, though not what I expected. I planned to go in with an open heart and mind, to be quiet and just learn her process for art making. I expected my work to be loose and languid. After all, I was a collage and assemblage artist before I started making mixed media jewelry. Easy peasy, right? Nope. Crystal started us with small 4 inch by 4 inch pieces of 100 lb cold press watercolor paper. Since I work small and collage bezels all the time, this should have been slam dunk. For some reason, I just couldn’t loosen up. My first collage was tight with A LOT going on (below). There was no breath, just busy.

Jen Cushman Trptich Detail 4

I felt my shoulders tighten, my fists clench, my belly constrict. This was all ME. Crystal was calm and peaceful and so supportive of everyone. As an instructor, she was nothing of what was going on inside of me. Luckily, I’ve been doing this long enough that I suspected what was happening. I decided to take a break. Walk away. Use the restroom, wander in another classroom for a quick hug and hello to a fellow instructor (NOT when they were demoing of course). I loosened my shoulders, rolled my head back and forth, took deeps breaths and placed my hand on my heart to center myself. Then I walked back into the classroom after a 15-minute cooling off period and calmly sat down at my table.

Jen Cushman College Tryptich detail 2

 

I began again and reminded myself that I was here to learn and enjoy Crystal’s process. Honestly, I was not caring about how my collages looked. I had no problem that if, at the end of the day, I took them home and put them away to get turned into work later. The pressure I was putting on myself was not about the work. It was about being out of my comfort zone and allowing myself to just not know any answers. The odd part is that even when I was stressed, I was happy. Just happy being there and doing something 100% for ME.

Jen Cushman Tryptich 1

In between the exercises Crystal planned for her class — which were FANTASTIC by the way, but that I won’t go into because they are her class and her story to tell — I kept doing collage. By lunchtime, I had a lovely triptych that I didn’t initially intend to go together, but related because my inspiration for all three was a colorful piece of old wallpaper and old magazine ad for trim in the same color family. Always inspired by color, I was happy I had thrown into my bag my watercolor sticks at the last minute so I could give shading to my pieces.

Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 3

 

Jen Cushman Good Night Nurse Detail 2

After lunch, Crystal gave us an 8×10 sheet of watercolor paper (I let out a sign of relief and a happy dance to get a larger canvas to work with) as we embarked on more mark making exercises and practicing figurative drawing. It felt like coming home. I was back in my comfort zone and my creative juices were flowing. I had a piece of old sheet music in my kit that said Good Night Nurse. This reminds be of my mother-in-law. I built a college around the love story of my in-laws. She is a nurse and he was her patient. The fell deeply in love. Six weeks later married. Nine months later their son (my husband) was born and the love affair continued until his death five years ago. I thought of her sleeping alone after a lifetime of marriage and how melancholy it must be. She floating, dreaming of being in her beloved’s arms. My collage intuitively came out as the story ran in my head like a movie. I love this piece.

Good Night Nurse by Jen Cushman

Over the weekend I went to Target and bought frames for the work I made in Crystal’s class. The small collages did not work visually with the frame I chose, but I liked the bullnose clips on the black cord. I needed to mount the collages on a larger piece of paper. I burned the watercolor paper as I wanted irregular edges, and quickly clipped them up. Take a look at the piece, which is now hanging in my guest bedroom.

JenCushman Collage Tryptich

While I wanted to write a blog post telling everyone how wonderful Crystal is (Take a class from her. She’s worth every penny!) What I really wanted to do was share my day with you. My take away lesson in this is that we must make time for ourselves to do things that make us happy. Life is sometimes so difficult to juggle, but there is no personal growth without a little discomfort. I felt like I grew as a human being as well as an artist last week. I’m grateful, once again, for this journey and for having some tangible reminders of it along the way.

JenSig

A green drink every morning

My daily green drink and I'm enjoying it so much!

My daily green drink and I’m enjoying it so much!

My Facebook friends know that I recently tried a program called the 10 Day Detox Diet by Dr. Mark Hymen. As much as I dislike talking about it because it leaves me open to criticism, my weight has always been a challenge. I was a chubby baby, a chubby adolescent and then, in middle school, my mother put me on the Weight Watchers diet with her. I lost a lot of weight right about the same time I was blossoming into young adulthood, and it became almost too much to go from being the chubby girl with a pretty face to someone the boys  noticed. In high school I was on the swim team and we would work out every morning and after school. I thought I was overweight — compared to the other high school girls I was — but I had a lot of muscle mass. I realize now that I’ve been dieting since puberty, and the yo-yo of it all is what has me at this point in my life.

I decided about three years ago to just quit. Get off the stupid diet cycle and work on my internal self. Figure out a way to feel beautiful in the body I have. Last year when I went to the doctor I decided I wanted to get healthy. It was awesome for about 12 weeks and then it just became too hard again. I was following what I thought was the healthy eating plan of whole grains, low fat dairy, protein and more veggies. I lost weight but I was hungry and crabby. I gave up…again.

After coming back from a Disney cruise with my family on Spring Break, something happened during those 10 days of checking out from work completely and just being with the people I love the most in the world. I decided I feel better when I’m trying rather than when I’m giving up. My doctor recommended a book called the Blood Sugar Solution by Dr, Hymen. I went on Amazon and looked for it. That’s when I discovered his newest book the 10 Day Detox Diet. I bought it and read it. Whoa! No sugar, processed foods, gluten, dairy, coffee, alcohol, soda, legumes, whole grains for 10 days. What he promises during the time of cleaning out your body is improved health and more energy.

10daydetoxbookcover

I decided I could do anything for 10 days. Hubby got on board with me. I was so sick the first day by lunch time, I was in shock. Never had any diet hit me this hard and fast. I had awful headaches days 3 and 4. I felt like I had the flu days 5 and 6. Still, I stuck with it. I finally felt better on day 7. By day 9, I was finally in the groove, but I didn’t want to take his suggestion after day 10 of continuing for another 90 days.  I feel like I could write an entire essay on my experience of this detox, but to keep this post as short as I can, I simply want to say that I learned I can live WITHOUT sugar. I know, it sounds so “duh!” But sugar is a big purple-eyed monster to me.

I can honestly say I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I feel vulnerable even putting this out there for anyone to read because my battle with weight is obviously a public thing — you see it on me. However, I feel like I can’t not write about it either because I know there are others who share the struggle and are looking for some help… a tool, a small end of rope to hang on to.

I truly believe that help appears when you need it. However, you also have to be ready for it. My experience with the 10 Day Detox Diet came at the right time when my heart and mind were ready and open to hear it and to look at myself without judgment. It is what it is. I got here how I got here. The only thing to do now is keep going. I have strong motivation for health and well being. My kids are young. I adore my husband. I love my work as an artist and I’m passionate about teaching others cool art techniques so they, too, can stay in touch with their happy creative emotional centers.

While I’m no longer technically on the detox diet, I enjoy my healthy green drinks for breakfast every morning. I’m back to one cup of coffee in the morning with coconut milk (ahhhhhhh coffee!) and I’m staying completely away from carbs (gluten, wheat, rice, legumes), sugar and processed foods. I sincerely hope I’m not in the same place again this time next year (like I was last Spring), but if I am, well, I’ll just do it all over again. Even if I remain the chubby lady with the pretty face for the rest of my life but my insides are healthy and my heart is healthy and my mind is healthy, then heck yes! I’ll be living the life and crooning about it.

To any of you who are struggling, I hope this post helps a little. If nothing else, remember Hope is a thing with feathers. When you let it free it feels so good.

 

What do you love?

Resin Clay heart and Wirewrapping that I created for Making Metal Jewelry; How to Stamp, Form, Fold and Forge Metal Jewelry Designs

Resin Clay heart and Wirewrapping that I created for Making Metal Jewelry; How to Stamp, Form, Fold and Forge Metal Jewelry Designs (North Light Books 2013)

 

Years ago in my life before children and before art, even before marriage I once had a very intellectual collage roommate. She and I would stay up drinking red wine until the wee hours of the night and discussing random things when we should’ve been studying. I remember one conversation very clearly on a Valentine’s eve (which unfortunately coincided with the one month breakup from her boyfriend) where the topic of love naturally came up. Not love as in relationships but people using the word so casually in American society. My friend, born in Canada and raised in Israel, insisted that Americans “love” everything. I remember agreeing with her, mostly because I thought she was much more worldly and smart than I was at the time. Fast forward 20+ years to the person I am now and plunk me down in the middle of that conversation and I would have lots more to say. Since I’ve long lost touch with my collage friend, I realized today — Valentine’s Day 2014 is as good a time as any to opine on love.

The word love is a staple in my vocabulary. It’s part of my speech and my immediate thinking. It’s how I define and categorize the things I see, hear, smell, feel and listen to in my life. It’s one of the ways I incorporate my experiences into my daily life as a wife, mother, artist, instructor, business partner, writer, daughter, sister and friend. When I have a new experience, even something as simple as choosing to take a different route home from dropping my kids off at school in the sincere hopes of getting a glimpse of something new that might inspire, I tend to immediately identify in terms of clarity and contrast — love/hate or even the more benign like/dislike. Did I love it? Did that poppy colored jacket on the pedestrian walking along the street inspire me to look at a different color palette? How did the poppy look against the green of the grass behind her? How would it look if I lay on the ground and looked at the poppy against the bright blue of the sky? A three-second glimpse can turn into a full 15 minutes of questions, answers and discoveries in my mind if I allow it the time to wander.

I also love things because I’m a fairly passionate person. It’s seems easy enough to love when you find life interesting. Not that life is always rosy, because goodness knows there are hardships and heartaches at many turns and bends for everyone and everything fortunate to walk the planet today. However, I tend to think curious people are also passionate people. How can one ever be bored when there’s another question to ask and answer to uncover? I think it’s these inherent traits that makes me not just love things, but looooovvvveeee them. I bet you and I are not that much different when it comes down to it.

Here’s a quick, off-the-top-of-my-head Valentine’s Day list of things I looooovvvvveeeee. When you’ve read through these, please take a moment if you have the time to respond with an item or two of your own. I really, really want to know. What do you love???

Jen’s Hopelessly Incomplete List of Loves -

Rainstorms in the desert ◊ The shape of a house – tall ones, fat ones, skinny ones, crooked ones, anything that represents home ◊ Any color, tone or hue of blue ◊ A slice of red cutting through the cool of blue ◊ Laughter unfurled, leaving a trail of sound for others to follow ◊ Birds nesting ◊ Dogs sleeping in the sun with real smiles on their faces ◊ Imperfect physical beauty; a mark, a mole, a scar, a gap in the teeth – anything to not be Barbie beautiful ◊ Strong legs ◊ A generous spirit ◊ Kindness offered in the most difficult of circumstances when people are watching ◊ A sharp and clever wit ◊ People who know how to set and hold boundaries ◊ Double rainbows ◊ Sharing information so others can grow and I can learn ◊ The amazing feeling of love.

And just when I thought I couldn’t add one more thing to this post, I open a few days old emails and there’s this gorgeous inspiration from Design Seeds. The second I opened it (a full 2 hours after I wrote the above list), I squealed with an extreme burst of color inspiration. I just had to update so you can visualize it too.

Art Affirmation and CREATE

I leave tomorrow morning for the CREATE Chicago mixed media art retreat. I know you’ve been hearing me say that for the past week, but the time has finally come. I spent Saturday morning this past weekend having a painting playdate with my daughter and making some new samples for my Art Journal Jewelry workshop. I was recently chatting with my sister, Patti Stanley, who’s an intuitive/medium, about all the various amazing possibilities and opportunities that are happening in the universe right now. I feel so blessed that I almost want to burst wide open with happiness. She gave me a new affirmation to visualize from now until the Emmy’s. I immediately wrote it down on a sticky note, but then I decided to incorporate it into a piece of artwork to remember it more easily. Here it it:

Jen Cushman Art Journaling Painting

This is truly something I wish for all of us, and the world at large: To expand in abundance, success and love…every day..and to inspire others to do the same. I’ll be back next week with a CREATE round up. For now, here’s wishing you an amazing day.

Her own kind of beauty…

I’ve been putting off my health for past couple of years as we’ve been building the company and life ramped up to super speed. I honestly didn’t have time for doctors, dentists and eye exams.

Now in my 40s, I know my patterns well. Stress eating is one of them. Each time I grabbed cookies or chocolate, I knew it wasn’t the best choice. It was, however, the easy thing to do and lovely little sugar rushes made me happy each afternoon as I pushed through and kept working. As the weight inched upward to my pregnancy weight, I didn’t want to look at it, or discuss it or even acknowledge it. It’s just no fun to look yourself in the mirror and own up to the things you wish would just go away!

Her own Kind of Beauty by Jen Cushman

Earlier this month, I decided to use my Law of Attraction skills to put it out into the universe that I would find the perfect new doctor for me. The universe delivered. My amazing new PA asked my permission for a complete blood work and labs to check me out completely and wrote up the order to get a mammogram as well. A complete H2T (head to toe) exam. When we talked about weight loss and busy lifestyles, she told me about the Fresh 20. This is a woman I can relate to; working a busy practice, 3 kids (one with gluten allergies) and a husband who travels all the time for work!  If you are in the same boat of juggling a family, career, art, etc. and looking for a way to feed yourself and your family healthy meals, check out this online plan. I’ve only been doing it for a few weeks so I’m no expert, but it’s working for us so far. (note: the kale, corn and chicken enchilada recipe is yummy!) We print out the list on Sunday. Hubby does the shopping and I do the cooking. My son is now in charge of kitchen clean up after dinner.

My head is in the right place. I stopped eating sugary foods, joined Weight Watchers and have been eating good stuff like lots of veggies and protein and drinking my water again. I posted about joining WW on Facebook and didn’t plan to blog about this, as one’s weight and appearance is such a personal issue. My Facebook friends, many of them fellow artists/designers/authors/instructors, had so many positive comments to share and made me feel beautiful and worthy and loved, just as I am right now, that I decided to be brave and take it public.

This time, my desire to change to a more healthful lifestyle feels different. In the past whenever I’ve approached weight loss (and believe me, I have been down this road many times), it’s always come from a place of lack or frustration. Now, it’s not about what I can’t eat, or what I look like or even what I desire to look like some day. Instead, it’s about being the best authentic me that I can be.

I remember years ago when we took in my troubled nephew to live with us for a summer. He was such an insecure teenager that he would talk badly about people to make him feel better about himself. Every time he saw a teenage girl, he would judge them by two standards; hot or ugly. It would drive me crazy! I blew up at him once and told him he was never allowed to call another human being ugly in my presence ever again. The new comment for someone he wished to disparage was simply this: “She has her own kind of beauty.” Yes, I could have just said “don’t do it, don’t call anyone bad names.” However, I felt it had more power making him think about his words and then having to change them to something more positive.

Her own Kind of Beauty detail shot

Believe it or not, it worked. He’s 22 years old and when he starts his old habits during family get togethers, he looks at me slyly and repeats, “I’m sorry, Jen. She has her own kind of beauty.” I’ve come to love this, and I realize it is a positive statement. Nothing disparaging whatsoever.

As I’ve been taking these next steps in my journey, I keep thinking about how everyone has their own kind of beauty. We may not all look like Julia Roberts or Johnny Depp, but when we’re moving confidentially in the direction of our dreams, engaging in the things we love and supporting others who are authentically engaging in their dreams, we radiate joy. We beam our unique kind of beauty.

As I was looking through my photo files to find a picture to go along with this post, I came across this necklace that was just returned to me from when I sent it to Stampington almost 2 years ago. Normally the magazine never keeps my art this long, but I presume this little piece must have gotten put in a corner somewhere for possible publication and her time came and went. She never did get published, just returned to me in a box full of my other published artwork.

I made this necklace during a time in my life where I was feeling particularly vulnerable, and what came out of me was a melocholony I felt at the time but didn’t necessarily acknowledge. When I unwrapped it from the box, I was surprised to see it again since I had totally forgotten about this piece. After joining Weight Watchers this time around and looking at health in an entirely new light, I’ve titled this piece, “Her Own Kind of Beauty.”

Her own Kind of Beauty backside of necklace by Jen Cushman