Smile baby girl

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Here’s a familiar week day scenario. My daughter comes from her babysitter’s house and thumps her backpack on the table. I’m in the kitchen chopping vegetables and working on dinner. She immediately starts fishing in her backpack for the day’s papers and hands me semi-wadded messes of important information intermingled with the day’s take home school work. She’s talking a mile a minute because it’s been 10 hours since we’ve seen each other and a lot has happened in her world while we were apart. (Truth be told, a lot has happened in my work day, but hers is more important so we focus on her).

I wipe my hands on a towel, give her a huge hug, take the wad of papers and put them on a counter in the kitchen so I can look at them after dinner. I pull up a kitchen stool and she continues talking about her day while I keep cooking.  Sometimes we talk through the entire dinner prep time, but more than likely she jumps down from the stool and heads to the living room to play on the iPad before dinner. My husband or teenage son has picked her up from the sitters and they disappear until dinner time the moment they walk in the house.

This time before she jumps down from the stool, she heads over to the papers to put the one about school picture day on the top of the pile. She wants to make sure I see it because it’s important. “Mama, I can wear something pretty because it’s school picture day. We don’t have to wear our uniforms!” (The navy collared shirts and blue or khaki pants/skirt uniform causes consternation with my hot pink and sparkles fashionista).

“Awesome. Why don’t you go pick out what you want to wear tomorrow,” I tell her. She bounces off happily, ready to make this important decision independently.

The truth of the matter is I’m not and never have been a fan of the non-creative photos that are done in public schools across the nation. The whole predictable grey mottled background and cookie cutter way of taking school photos nauseate me. It’s one annual ritual I wish we could just skip. To that end, I have never cared what my kids wear for these photos. The chances of me buying them are 1 in 10. I’d rather donate money directly to the school for something useful, like field trips to the museum or science center than purchase or (gasp!) display them in my home.

I’m doing my best to be a good mom though, so I never express these feelings with my kids. We have creative family photos all over our house. I have a real passion for photography, so we have some fun family home decor and they get to see their beautiful faces everywhere (much to my daughter’s delight and my son’s chagrin.)

Fast forward to bedtime. As I’m tucking my daughter into bed, she asks if I can lay next to her so we can snuggle for a few minutes. As I crawl in next to her, I can see her brows knitted in worry.

“What’s going on, love?”

“Mama, I don’t like picture day at school because I have to smile,” she says.

My heart sinks a little. I know the reason she’s saying this is because she hasn’t had any front teeth since she was two years old. It’s our fault. She screamed and wiggled and fought getting her teeth brushed so we didn’t do as good of a job as we should have and she developed “baby bottle teeth” and they had to be removed. Yes, her adult teeth will come in, but she’s not had teeth for so long that she doesn’t even know what it’s like. She’s been teased about it, and it makes her sad and want to hide this part of herself that she feels ashamed about.

I kiss her on the top of her head and then look into her eyes. “You listen to me honey. YOU are beautiful. YOU are divine. YOU are gorgeous. You are a million and one amazing things, least of which are smart and kind and loving. You are a friend to everyone. When picture day comes tomorrow and the photographer tells you to smile, I want you to give him the biggest and brightest 10,000 watt smile that you have inside of you. YOU let that inner beauty of yours SHINE because you are perfect just the way you are.”

She flashes me a huge smile and me and then hugs me tighter than she has in a while. For a moment, my heart leaps right out the top of my head. Yes, good mama moment. Important mama moment. Success!!!

Here’s a little secret of my own. I have a crooked smile that I’ve often felt ashamed about it. I’ve also done a tight-lipped grin for important publicity photos, like when I was at F+W shooting my DVDs/digital downloads. I didn’t want strangers to look at me and my creative work/products and think less of me or judge me because I don’t have a perfect row of pearly whites. Sometimes when I do selfies with my artist friends at the retreats and events, I’ll keep my crooked smile to myself so it doesn’t show up in their social media news feeds.

However, this little girl of mine is proving to be one of my most valuable life teachers. Being her mama makes me face my own fears and insecurities. Trying to raise a strong, smart, beautiful woman makes me realize that when I’m talking to her, I’m often telling my childhood self the things I most needed to hear, and, wow, these moments can be most empowering and healing.

I hope my daughter takes this lesson to heart and follows through. I promise, if I open that photo package and I see her proudly showing her gums and letting her inner beauty shine, I will buy the entire thing and hand them out to every family member and close girlfriend I have. Boring background and cookie cutter pose be damned!

And next time — hopefully every time — I see that cell phone camera coming my way, I’ll remember to light it up with my crooked smile and inner beauty as well.

Smile baby girl, you’re perfect just the way you are!

JenSig

 

 

Studio purge and re-organization

I know I’ve talked about this a lot in the past. Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while are probably thinking, what??? This again??? Isn’t she always reorganizing that studio?

Ok, so here’s my dirty little secret. Yes, I seem to always be re-organizing my studio because I talk a lot about it but I never, ever get the job fully accomplished. I get on a tangent where I just can’t take it any longer and uncover a top layer of stuff. I try (and I mean really, really try) to set aside hours and days to go through my studio with the absolutely sincerest intent to purge, clean and organize. I get myself into the mental game, roll my sleeves up and start working. The ugly truth is that the problem is a few layers deep so I run out of steam and never finish. My schedule gets busy and I keep going, working and making until every surface is full and I’m down to a 6 inch by 6 inch square.

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And here’s the even crazier part of this. When I develop my classes, I like to teach a linear, techniques-based process with a finished project. That means that I have an idea, I create art samples, I reverse engineer what I made to ensure that I can teach it as it makes sense during the flow of a class and not how I make it in my studio. I take photos. write a description, gather supplies for my kits, keep all the art supplies and materials for the workshop in a big box until I’m ready to kit and ship before an event. What I’m trying to say is when it comes to my teaching (and even my publishing), I am sooooooo dang organized!

I’ve been thinking long and hard lately, wondering how both sides of me can co-exist. It feels almost Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at times. I’ve also been thinking about how my studio turned into such a mess when we’ve only moved back to Phoenix 4 1/2 years ago. There are many answers to this. The simplest being that we moved back right during the crazy wonderful growth of ICE Resin. We moved back and I set up my studio in two days and we grew. I remember clearly one year where I was on a plane 17 times for either a teaching or PR gig or a sales meeting. I truly didn’t have the time to correctly organize my studio to begin with, and I definitely did not have the time to put things away.

You know what’s awesome now? Life has re-organized again with the changes and I find myself having time to stop, think, catch up on sleep, take some deep breaths, rekindle friendships, snuggle my daughter and stay in touch with my husband and teenage son. I didn’t get as much down time as I had hoped for last year, as life presented other opportunities of looking after for my parents their final year. Nonetheless, I feel beyond blessed.

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This table was at the end of first day of the professional organizer. It took a while to get down to this! To be fair we worked on a giant cabinet and cleared it before we tackled the work table.

Their deaths have also been a wake up call to me in many ways. It’s been said death of a loved one makes you face your own immortality, and that’s probably so. What it has made me face is simply what I call my “stuff” — my physical belongings, as well as my own beliefs that stem from everything from the way I was raised to cultural influences to how I view my life through my own private lens.  Various business and life coaches I’ve admired for a while all mention that physical clutter equals mental clutter. I looked around my studio, aimed a looking glass to my head and simply said, “Jen, Enough!”

Right before the Tucson show I spent two full days purging. I donated and tossed with reckless abandon. Oh, it felt goooood. Then I had to pack my teaching supplies, stop mid-stream and go to Tucson. I lost a little wind in my sail for a couple of weeks afterwards. When I tried to find the fire within to start again, all I felt was overwhelm. I decided that I needed professional help — not the therapist kind, but the professional organizer kind. I did some research, discovered Melissa of New Day Organizing in Phoenix and made an appointment.  She’s been here one time and helped me start with a big cabinet where I knew 90% could be tossed, recycled or donated. We worked for 4 solid hours, side by side, hair in ponytails, wearing tennis shoes and work out clothes and hustled.

We made a list of things to accomplish before my next appointment. I got 80% of it finished (and some help from my amazing friend Trish). She comes again today and I’m ready for another round.

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I shared my little adventure as it was first happening on my Facebook business page. I was surprised (ok maybe not-surprised because this is an issue for us mixed-media folks!)  how many comments I received on the whole clean, purge, organize one’s craft space. Lots of great questions. Lots of cheering me on. A few peeps horrified by the thought of an organizer touching their art supplies.

I plan to share my process in this little journey of mine. Yep, I’ll show you the good, the bad, the downright ugly. I’ll also show you the end result, which I guarantee will not be a picture perfect magazine-worthy space. I absolutely want to be inspired when I walk into my studio, but this is my life. It’s where I go to discover myself and how I feel about things. It’s the space I need to give voice to my art. It’s where I ask questions so I can teach others what I discover and know to be true. My studio will always have a little bit of chaos because unruly and wild is more interesting.

I hope you stay with me on this new little side journey. I have some fun things planned. Keep your fingers crossed for me that between myself, Trish and Melissa that I’ll do the hustle and cross the finish line.

Also, if you have any questions of the process, be sure to comment here on my blog or over on my Facebook business page. I’m enjoying these brief little chats.

JenSig

 

Dream state and grief

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I  was dreaming about my mother, the last REM sleep before morning. I often have vivid, saturated, full-color dreams right before I wake up. In my dream my mother and I were sitting across from each other, holding hands and talking. I have no recollection of the words we were saying, just the feeling of pure love. It seemed to last for hours and seconds simultaneously. I have no idea how long my dream was in real time, but I could literally feel myself waking up from dream state to daily life and I felt this urgency to hang onto her. She gave me a strong, full body hug and then poof! She dissipated, like feathery smoke. I opened my eyes and grief hit full force, first thing in the morning.

My friends ask me how I’m doing. 99% of the time I’m just fine, doing my thing and generally feeling grateful for my abundant blessings. However, that 1% comes on like a tsunami and it stops me, out of nowhere, and I crumple for two minutes or five minutes as loss washes through and over me.

After I recover, I write about it. It’s the only way I truly know how to release the sensitivities I was born with. Physically writing the words helps me process. It allows me to stop, feel, think, make sense of and then let go.

Many people stuff their emotions or simply ignore their discontent. Others go for a run or walk to clear their heads. Many of us make art, which I do as well, but the process is always a longer, slower one than when I write.

What I’m learning is that grief is wide and deep. Of all the human emotions, it’s the most demanding. I have no idea which “stage of grief” I’m actually in. I honestly do not care because I  need to face them all. What I do know for sure this morning is that I would give anything to go back to bed, recreate that REM state and “see” her again. Unfortunately, as the minutes tick by she’s further and further away from me, exactly like Jan 14th when Hospice called to tell me she died. Yes, I know she’s always in my heart. But you have to understand, just a few hours ago I was touching her.

But I am awake. It’s Saturday and I have a full schedule with my daughter. A birthday party, “family” dinner with my best friend and all our kids. I take a deep breath because my life calls.

JenSig

 

A Profound Loss

It’s been difficult to pop onto my blog. By now, I should have written a happy after Craft and Hobby Association trade show post with lots of smiling selfies with my artsy/crafty peeps. For those of you looking for this, I’m very sorry I haven’t been able to get that up. The reason why is that 2016 CHA was unlike any other I’ve attended in the past 10 years I’ve been going.

I flew into Anaheim on Friday to the awesome newly-built ICE Resin booth by Ranger Ink. Susan and myself and our associates at Ranger quickly got to work hanging up the shelving and hooks for all the beautiful art samples. Then it was on to Susan’s class from 6-9 p.m., then dinner and then back at the hotel and in bed by 11:30 for the first day of the show. Opening day was amazing! A whirlwind filled with hours of doing ICE Resin demos and talking to buyers and distributors and designer friends. After the show was the official Ranger team dinner (oh my goodness, so much fun to be part of a new big family!) Sunday morning was another big day because it was the Ranger VIP event where 68 important industry peeps come by before the show floor opens for a tour of new product releases by Ranger’s Signature Designers. From that event, we went straight into doing demos at the booth.

Then at about 2 p.m. I received a text from my husband saying my elderly mother had a stroke and he had found her on the bathroom floor, where she had fallen. By God’s grace, he had stopped in to check on her within 30 minutes after the stroke. He called 911 and off to ICU she went. When I received the text, I walked off the show floor to call him and my sister. Both told me to stay put and do my job until they knew more. I had a sold-out class to teach Monday morning, so I was waiting to see if I needed to immediately hop on a plane home or if I could wait until I finished teaching. Turns out the emergency team was able to stabilize her and my family encouraged me to stay and teach. Susan and everyone at the Ranger team told me time and again to follow my heart and family first, above all else, which of course is true. I couldn’t have had any more support. They were wonderful.

I left Anaheim with my brain going in all directions. My husband picked me up and took me to the hospital to see mom. I sat with her until visiting hours were over. Over the next two days I learned the hemorrhagic stroke caused a massive brain bleed. Doctors had to take her off her Coumadin. She’s been living with AFib for a decade, but her weak heart needed a stint and her body was not strong enough to undergo surgery. Not to mention her heart doctor wouldn’t do the surgery with an active brain bleed. She couldn’t swallow and was on a feeding tube and IV for liquids. My sister and I didn’t wish for my mother’s life to end in ICU. The hospital’s hospice coordinator found us a beautiful 24/7 hospice facility. The hospice staff was wonderful. They made her comfortable with maximum oxygen and pain medicine, and she finally slept soundly and deeply.

Unable to process how quickly she left us (in comparison to my father), my sister was the first to post the news on her Facebook page. Later in the day, I finally wrote a long and flowery status update. I also found a memory necklace I had made using her high school photo and her favorite colors of red and purple. Here is what I wrote:

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Posted January 14th, 2016 on my Facebook page-

Thank you for all the lovely condolences and heartfelt sentiments today. As many of you know from my sister Patti, our mother Marjorie passed away at 5 a.m. today. I’ve spent the morning doing everything I can to stay present. I have photographs from her as she’s aged and photos with her and my children, but I wanted to share a memory necklace I made in 2010. This photo is from 1947 when she was 17 years old and a senior at her all-girls high school. She loved this photo. Whenever she looked it at, she would say “Look at me, Jennifer, I was beautiful. I had a waist your dad could span with his fingers.” I would tell her “Yes, mama you ARE beautiful!”

My mother was all about children and babies. She raised two generations of her own children and then her twin grandbabies from my brother. When I was a kid, she worked the church nursery taking care of other people’s babies. When my son came along, she was 68 years old and my dad was 70. They took care of my son from six months to 4 years old while I worked three days a week. They were too old by the time my daughter came along to spend much time with her, but they loved her so much too,

We got her settled into a beautiful hospice facility yesterday. I was able to tell her it was OK for her to go be with my dad and my brother, her father and mother and best friend Dot. I thanked her for giving me and my siblings life so we could live these amazing lives of ours and I told her we would all be OK even though we would miss her. When I gave her a kiss goodbye on her forehead, she was sleeping peacefully because the hospice nurses had made her comfortable. She never woke up. I believe she literally just let go and let God.

My sister has spent many years caring for my parent’s physical needs, while I have done whatever I needed to do for paperwork, finances, etc. It is just the two of us left, and I’m so incredibly fortunate to have such an amazing/beautiful/talented big sister.

Thank you for the kindness you have all shown us these past few days. I know many, many of you have lost dear ones as well. How lucky are we to have loved them in the first place?! Let’s promise to keep faith, keep hope and always share the love. In the end, it’s really all about the love.

JenSig

For the love of Shelter pets

 

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We made an appointment with the Arizona Humane Society this week for our sweet old boy AJ to say goodbye.  The paperwork asked for my name and relationship to the pet, along with my address, payment information, consent, etc. Standard paperwork questions. On the relationship line I wrote mom. When Heather, the tech, came in to check everything over she very kindly said “I see you wrote mom, but we need you to write owner.” I looked at her in surprise.

The word owner never once came to mind. My husband and I are mom and dad. To our children and our pets. When we bring a life into our house, we just take care of them and they stay. That is until it’s time for them to transition.

AJ passed peacefully and quickly with the two of us petting him and telling him we loved him, along with an incredibly kind vet and sweet tech who did the procedure. It’s been two days without him. It’s too quiet at night. He slept next to my husband on the floor and snored louder than us humans. I keep looking behind me whenever I move my chair back at my desk. He was always there and if I didn’t watch out, I’d push back too quickly and bump into him. He’s not underfoot every time I walk into the kitchen.

We got AJ, a beautiful white-and-brown English Springer Spaniel mix at the Arizona Humane Society 13 years ago. They said he was two years old at the time and that he had been turned in because he wouldn’t stop digging up his owner’s yard. He was never a digger for us. The first weekend we took him to our family cabin, we went for a walk and he saw a squirrel. This particular breed are known bird dogs with soft mouths to fetch and return. AJ (the name he came with) never much cared for birds, but he would spend hours trying to catch a squirrel. His sweet nature would’ve been lost as to what to do with it if he ever did manage to catch one. That first walk, he pulled the leash so hard that it jerked from my hand. He took off like a bullet and was gone. The only thing that stopped us from immediately losing him was a thick patch of brambles where he got cornered in the thorns. My husband went in without hesitation, scratching up his legs and arms, to collect our new dog and bring him home. My husband never complained once about the stings and welts. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

It took many years for AJ to settle down when his nature was to bolt. Eventually with enough time, he learned to walk the woods off leash and hike for 10 miles with my husband, never more than a few inches from his side. He loved those hikes. Just last month, even with a body riddled with large fatty tumors, cataracts, limited hearing and old arthritic joints, he had to join in on a three-mile hike. He slept for a week, but I swear that old dog of mine came home grinning from ear to ear.

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He lived past his life expectancy, as have all our shelter animals. He was a great dog and companion. The hardest part about being a loving pet owner, I believe, is making the decision to euthanize humanely when they are sick and in pain. Many people cannot be there in the end. For us, however, we feel it’s our duty to talk to our animals and love on them even after final breath. The vets say hearing is the last thing to go. The last words our dogs have always heard from us are we love you. See you again!

AJ is now with our other dogs — each one we adopted from the Human Society. While writing this remembrance about AJ today is my way of coping (writing is how I make sense of things and get them out), the take away I’m hoping to leave here is a personal plea that if you’re going to adopt and care for an animal, give a shelter/rescue dog or cat the first shot at your love. There is something about an animal who is given a second chance on life. I swear they know it and give back more than you can ever give them. Also, when it comes time to make donations for causes you believe in, please remember the animal shelters. We give every year to the Arizona Humane Society. Writing that check is always a satisfying experience.

For those of you reading this who have fur babies, give them an extra pat or snuggle today. I have two more shelter dogs in my family. I’ve cried into their collars and been rewarded with compassionate looks and reassuring licks. I know they miss AJ too, but they seem to understand the circle of life way better than we humans do.

JenSig

 

 

Purple boots

As I get older it’s the small moments/little details of life that are the most poignant. Recently, my daughter was so excited to put on her new purple shearling boots we bought at Costco. They’re supposed to be cabin boots because they are a bit too warm for Phoenix. I had put them away to take up north. She remembered them and asked if she could wear her new boots to school instead of her normal rainbow-colored sneakers.

Of course I said yes. Her eyes lit up when she saw them. When I dropped her off to school that morning she couldn’t stop looking at her pretty feet. As I watched her walk away, ponytail bouncing and skipping happily to school in her new boots, I had a moment of gratitude, once again, for this miracle baby of mine.

Being a mama in my 40s isn’t always easy. The energy level isn’t the same as it was with my son. Sometimes I don’t really want to color or read one more story after a long work day, making my family’s dinner, cleaning up, etc. What I desire most is to sit on the sofa and watch a movie on Netflix. But then I look into those lovely blue eyes and how can I say no because I’m tired? I do my best to say yes and keep going because God had enough faith in me to finally bring her to me.

I’m thankful today for my darling daughter and the simple fact that purple boots can make her so happy.

It’s Thanksgiving;  what are you grateful for?

JenSig