I’m Not Lost, I’m Differently Positioned

If you haven’t heard from me for awhile and you wonder where I’ve been, this is a good time to re-mention that I have changed my name from Middle Aged Plague to This Woman Writes.

You can find, and follow, me at www.ThisWomanWrites.AreaVoices.com, and if you’re used to reading me on a particular newspaper blogging platform, please write that newspaper and let them know that you’d like to find me in my new format — This Woman Writes — there.

Come, walk with me. Catching the Breeze, original and signed limited edition print at Steve Henderson Fine Art; licensed open edition fine art print at Great Big Canvas

What have I been writing about lately?

You Can Be Successful without Owning Goats

Christians: Please Stop Talking Like Weird People

“Overwhelmed” Is Not the New Normal

Labeling People and Not Labeling Food

What Unconditional Love Looks Like

Steve keeps painting, so there are a lot of new works to view. Homeland 2, part of the Homeland series, which is sold. Licensed open edition art prints available at Great Big Canvas.

and much more. I still feature artwork by my Norwegian Artist husband, Steve Henderson, and since I’ve changed from Middle Aged Plague to This Woman Writes, Steve has had his work licensed in various areas.

You can find Steve Henderson’s works in these places:

Manufacturers and retailers — license Steve’s work through Art Licensing

So please, find me at This Woman Writes, and let’s pick up where we left off.

— Carolyn


Join Me on This Woman Writes

My wonderful readers: I have changed my name from Middle Aged Plague to This Woman Writes. Please join me this week as I discuss “Performance Art” in Real Life.

Honesty — It’s Still a Lonely Word

Note: This post is simultaneously published at This Woman Writes, the new name and new location of Middle Aged Plague. Transition — it’s never easy.

I just finished reading one of those inspirational stories that is supposed to energize me but actually makes me want to rest my head on my paper-cluttered desk and weep.

Let me summarize:

Famous Person agrees to meet fans for specific time period. Smiles, signs autographs, connects.

Truly taking time for one another is a winning situation. Afternoon Tea poster — Take Time for Tea — by Steve Henderson

Specific time period comes to close. Famous Person glances significantly at Event Coordinator.

“That’s it,” Event Coordinator announces to crowd. “No more time.” Crowd grumbles, begins to slowly disperse, but Famous Person seems oblivious to what is going on and continues to sign autographs. Famous Person then looks up:

“Hey! What’s going on?”

“The time’s up, Famous Person,” Event Coordinator explains apologetically.

“No way! I’m staying here until each and every person here gets an autograph and we get to say ‘hello’ to one another!”

Crowd cheers, everyone’s happy, Famous Person adds more fans to the base. Lesson to me, and you — if you want to be successful, you need to be a showman, because people love this.

I don’t.

Going against the madding crowd and the expected way of doing things, that’s what doing it my way means. Cadence poster — I Do It My Way — by Steve Henderson

If that scenario were spontaneous and genuine, it would say a lot — a positive lot — about the Famous Person. If it were coordinated, as the writer of the article seems to think it is, it also says a lot — but not necessarily a positive lot — about the Famous Person.

The question is, can we see the difference between these two scenarios, and, more importantly, does that difference mean anything to us?

In other words, is there a difference between actually caring about somebody and giving the impression of caring about somebody?

I think so. I imagine that anyone involved in a committed relationship with another person would appreciate the distinction; I know that the Norwegian Artist and I wouldn’t have celebrated 30 years of marriage if one or the other of us was an exceptional actor, as opposed to being a genuine spouse.

“But that’s a marriage,” we say. “These are public figures, and that’s different.”

Sadly, that’s true. The same honesty and integrity we look for in our friends, family, and co-workers is frequently missing in our public figures, and although we admire and esteem them as if they were who they say they are, when they fall short of these expectations, we’re remarkably — almost stupidly — forgiving.

“That’s the way things work in this world,” we shrug.

No, that’s the way things work in their world, and the result of being disingenuous — such a nicer sounding word than “deceitful” or “insincere” — is generally financially lucrative. It’s true — if you want to make it big, it helps to be a showman. Craftiness works.

It’s those small, seemingly insignificant people who cause us to question the motivation of what we’re doing. Seaside Story poster — The Least of These Is Great Indeed by Steve Henderson

It also destroys, and the better you get at it, the more desiccated your soul.

While it’s not impossible to win friends and influence people without resorting to clever schemes, it is more difficult, and if your sole goal is fame and fortune, then scheming is the way to go.

But you look in the mirror every day, and if you’re lucky, you have small or vulnerable people in your life who look to you for guidance and love.

Will you give them the real thing, or just the illusion?

If Pumpkins Were Money, I’d Be Rich

Before we get started, allow me to say that I’ve changed my name from Middle Aged Plague to This Woman Writes, where I will eventually be transferring my posts and writing. Please, if you are a regular reader, let’s not lose one another. You can sign up at This Woman Writes to receive me, in my new form, in your e-mail inbox.

I just love getting stuff for free.

Mind you, I’m not talking about taking advantage of people, finding any way I can to avoid paying someone a fair price for something they have made or done.

Freedom — of spirit — not squeezing stuff out of people for free — is a great thing. Spirit of the Canyon by Steve Henderson

No, I’m talking pumpkin soup, today’s lunch that grew out of a desperate need to do something, anything, with 150 winter squash and pumpkins that my husband, The Norwegian Artist, and only male progeny, The Son and Heir, dumped at my feet when they were cleaning out the garden this fall. (See Awash with Squash for the full, wheelbarrow loads full, story.)

I, um, actually don’t like winter squash, but this didn’t seem to be the right time to tell them, so I smiled beatifically and murmured something about “lots of pies,” before racing to the computer to look up, “winter squash recipes.”

It was no use asking my mother, who forty years later has not forgotten my attitude toward Hubbard squash, for suggestions. There comes a limit to the number of times you can tell your mother that she was right (and progeny of mine, allow me to say that you are nowhere near this limit).

So I settled on soup. You people out there who know how to make stuff without a can opener can do this in an hour — saute some onions and celery in olive oil, add a couple cups chicken stock (mine was made the night before from a denuded rotisserie chicken) and the squash puree, then simmer the thing for 30 minutes. Puree it all, add a cup of milk, some salt, and chopped sage from the miserably cold looking perennial plant barely surviving near the front porch.

Moms do tend to be right most of the time, which is not so great when you’re the daughter, but great when you’re the mom. Afternoon Tea poster by Steve Henderson

Voila! Almost free.

And one more pumpkin down. I haven’t counted lately, but there’s still a big pile.

Maybe you don’t have a mountain of squash in your studio — I haven’t met too many people who sympathize with my plight — but I’m willing to guess that you have a lot of something that you can’t figure out what to do with hanging around your place, and you would infinitely prefer to trade it in for something valuable: money, say, or influential friends in high places, or 10,000 new Facebook followers on your business page.

But life doesn’t work that way. It gives us pumpkins, lots of them, and the creativity and energy to figure out what to do with the things. And because what you have a lot of  — your specific skills, interests, abilities, and passions — don’t look like what other people in your circle have a lot of, it’s tempting to underestimate those skills, interests, abilities, and passions, ultimately determining that they — and you by extension — are of little value.

Think about it — you’re the only you there is in this world, and maybe you’re that way because you’ve got lots of pumpkins. Gathering Thoughts by Steve Henderson

Don’t give in to that. Pumpkins and winter squash are pretty impressive indeed, and entire cultures wrap their eating habits around them. They’re cheap, nutritious, easy to prepare, and — I assure you — plentiful. And if they’re what you’ve got on hand, rejoice in them and in their challenges, and show the world what you and 149 pumpkins can do.

Art has a place in all of our lives, regardless of our budgets, and to that end, Steve Henderson Fine Art has launched a line of inspirational posters, with a new poster arriving each week — Share us on Facebook!  11 x 14 matte posters, $10.95 plus $2.99 shipping, with or without the saying.

The article in this post was initially published at Thoughtful Women.


Life’s — and Death’s — Lessons

I visited my father the other day.

Generally, these visits consist of my kneeling before a concrete slab, embedded in which is a plaque bearing Dad’s name and two salient dates. I tell him how much we miss him and how glad we are that he’s in a better place, and then I bring him up to date on the latest happenings.

Visits to my father are quiet, contemplative times. Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson.

Nobody looks funnily at you when you speak aloud in a cemetery; the only other safe place I have found to similarly converse is the interior of the car, when I am its only occupant. (The bathtub doesn’t work — even though no one else is in the room, the walls are thin. “Who are you talking to in there?” some family member shouts out.)

Anyway, when I was done, I looked up and around, my eye drawn to the memorial section across the path, pretty difficult to miss since it is filled with large, opulent, easily observable marble and concrete creations, in stark contrast to my father’s side of the tracks, replete with quiet, self-effacing ground level plaques and diffident floral offerings.

“Wow,” was my first thought. “Even in death the rich push themselves forward.”

But death is the great equalizer, and I wandered over to the other side, to see who was represented there.

And discovered that these people — and most significantly their survivors — are rich not so much in finances as they are in pain.

One eight-foot monolithic obelisk bore the embedded photo of a young man, 30-something when he died. Flanked on either side were flower pots etched with images of three young children — his? They would be in college by now.

Another long slab bore testament to Our Much Adored Son and Our Treasured Daughter-in-law, young when they married, too young when they died, their parents’ grief memorialized in two simple etchings.

It’s so easy to say, but so difficult to truly grasp: the things that matter in life are love, friendship, family, laughter — rich and poor, we can all strive for these. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson

There were a surprising number of babies, and toddlers, and schoolchildren, jumbled amongst people whose two dates spanned 80, 90, 100 years — what we generally expect to find in a cemetery — and the people left behind expressed their aching loss in Bible verses, perennial plants, and heartrending phrases, like, “Sleep, Little One.”

I was humbled, and mentally slapped for my quick jump to judgment. Death is, indeed, the great equalizer, and walking through a cemetery you get merely a glimpse of the lives impacted there, with just enough clues to feed your imagination and fuel your questions.

A large memorial may, or may not mean, that the person was rich and influential, or poor and well loved. A simple plaque hides a lifetime of achievement and grace, or bitterness and hate, or everything in between. I know that my father’s basic plaque says nothing about his famous all-day-to-cook spaghetti sauce, his research in tropical diseases, his inordinate sense of pride the first time he replaced the knob and lock on the front door.

People — big, small, old, young, cranky, sweet — these are worth investing in. Seaside Story poster by Steve Henderson

And when I turn to the land of the still living, I see people dressed in everything from rags to imported Mongolian Yak leather, ranging in confidence from nothing at all to far more than I can handle right now, bossy and humble, sleek and disheveled, skinny and . . . not so skinny, outside projections protecting the person deep within, and I ask myself,

“Can I possibly avoid being fooled by outside appearances, and take time to be patient with this person?”

I hope so, and I’ll keep trying, and the next time I visit Dad, I’ll let him know how it’s going.

Just launched — inspirational posters at Steve Henderson Fine Art: Steve’s artwork on 11 x 14 matte posters, with or without the encouraging saying, $10.95 plus $2.99 shipping at Steve Henderson Fine Art. A new poster is launched each Thursday on the Steve Henderson Fine Art Facebook page — follow us, share, and, on Wednesdays, be the first to correctly solve Steve’s clue about the next day’s poster, and win the poster!


I’m a Believer — So Are You

We disagree with one another a lot these days, but I think I’ve found three sentences we can all say, “Yes, that’s true,” to:

Adults protecting and loving children — this is a truth on which we can all agree, isn’t it? Seaside Story by Steve Henderson

1) We are all born.

2) We all die.

3) In between, we operate each of our lives based upon individual belief systems, which in themselves are loosely or tightly based upon larger, more organized group systems.

Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist — there are a lot of options for believing, and subdivisions within each system. Twenty people in a room, discussing their way of looking at things, leads to a hum of activity; there are nearly 7 billion of us.

We will never agree. That’s not the point.

The point is this: we all believe in something, because no human mind is a vacuum. (I know; I’ve met some pretty apparently empty-cranium types myself; generally I’m driving behind them; but seriously, even these people think.)

Since we are going to believe in something, it’s crucial that we take time to figure out what it is, what factors are influencing this belief, and follow up on it.

If there’s a Holy Book involved, do we ever really read it? — for ourselves, not in a small group, not with a workbook at our side, not prompted to specific conclusions by someone in a suit, with a theological degree. Some books, like the Bible, bear the blood of martyrs on them, who died so that we could have this precious resource in our own language and in our own homes. We can honor these people by using our ability to independently read and analyze, and in the process figure out what it was that people in authority were so afraid that we find out.

Freedom and joy are ours when we figure out who and what we are — a reachable goal that is accessible to all of us. Brimming Over by Steve Henderson.

If we don’t believe in a Holy Book, great — what do we believe in, and why?

Whatever we believe, we can ask ourselves, who or what influences us? Whose voice do we inadvertently follow?

If we don’t ask ourselves these questions, we find ourselves subconsciously running our lives in accordance with the belief systems of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Oprah, Ben Affleck, Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, they go on and on — not bad people but noisy ones, who because they can do one or more things well (interestingly, act and talk), are accorded space in the public arena for their opinions on everything.

Worse, we absorb the opinions of nameless people through newspaper articles, magazine spreads, 20-second video clips on the evening news with the announcer interpreting what we see, statistics from purportedly independent studies, announcements from federal and state agencies — all to influence, or overtly direct,  what we eat, what medications we introduce into our body, whether or not we get a flu shot, how we view gay marriage, if we are confident enough to sit down every day, with a book, and teach our own young child to read.

(One of my favorite television commercials of the last century involved a man in a white coat announcing, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Nowadays, this isn’t seeming so absurd anymore.)

Thinking. It is never time wasted. Gathering Thoughts by Steve Henderson

Some things — it is strongly implied — are too big and too complex for ordinary mortals to think about: our escalating debt, health care, terrorism, unemployment — and the experts — the economists, the medical establishment, the scientists, the political arena, not to mention A-List celebrities — will do the serious thinking, speaking, and doing for us.

If we make no other resolution for 2013, let it be this: Find out what we believe — and why — and act upon it.

This will involve asking a lot of questions, namely of ourselves, but that’s okay, because when we ask a question inside our mind, there’s nobody but ourselves to make fun of our asking it. And the more we allow ourselves to ask questions, the better we get at it, and someday, we voice aloud the questions we have pondered in our head:

“But the Emperor’s not wearing any clothes, is he?”

In 2013, figure out what you believe, and why.


 Speaking of 2013, this is my last Middle Aged Plague post until then. I am taking a two-week break to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s with my family. I wish you a Merry, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, and I hope that you are able to spend meaningful time — even if it’s on Facebook — with the people who mean the most to you.



Married — 30 Years — with Children

We started out young and dumb, and next week will find us middle aged and wiser.

Tuesday the Norwegian Artist and I celebrate 30 years of marriage. One man, one woman, who decided to throw our lots in together and see where our combined energy, talent, drive, and love would take us in a world that watches happy endings on movies, but never waits around to see just what it takes to keep that happiness going.

Walking into the sunset doesn’t end the story, because after each day ends, a new one begins. Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson

At times things seemed iffy, not because we had a problem with each other but because the people around us were convinced that we were going about things all the wrong way.

“Date nights are crucial,” we were told. “Recapture your initial time together by going out every week, alone.”

Well, our initial time together involved a lot of time alone, but most of it was spent walking and talking since we were poor college students whose major restaurant date involved sharing a cup of all-you-can-drink coffee.

Through the years we finessed our dates, eventually purchasing a coffee press and decent beans, at the same time that we continued walking, and talking. When the kids came — they just sort of arrived, one after the other — we stuffed them in a double stroller, then taught them how to ride a bike when their place was eclipsed by a new arrival. Their earliest memories involved voices over their heads, my sexy low timber and the Norwegian Artist’s rumble.

“You need to go on those weekly date nights,” we were advised. “It’s the only way that you’ll be able to communicate with one another.”

Personally, I find crowded restaurants, serving food I can easily make myself for a fifth the price, and strangers sitting (and listening) an elbow’s breadth away, to be non-conducive to serious talking.

So we did what got to be a habit with us — we ignored the voices of others and listened to each other.

Three years into our marriage we mounted bicycles and wended our way through Venezuela and Colombia, just because we could. We had our babies at home, home schooled them, lived in a renovated barn with them for two years while we built, stick by timber by sheet rocked wall, our home, and then we began a fine art painting business out of it.

Children do not have to sound the death knell to communication within a relationship. You just sort of embrace them and include them in what you’re doing. Seaside Story by Steve Henderson

Through it all, we’ve heard that what we’re doing is oddly out of the ordinary, not the norm, and unable to be accomplished, to which we smile graciously, wish our not-so-well-wisher a good day, then head out for a daily walk so that we can . . . talk.

Marriage is a good thing when you are linked with your best friend, and the best way to maintain and improve that friendship — any friendship — is to invest time in it — whenever, and however, it works for you. Maybe you like restaurants. Maybe you can afford them on a regular basis. Or maybe you like climbing mountains. Or gardening. Or watching movies and analyzing them.

But each friendship, and marriage, is different, tailored to the individuals involved, and the likelihood of success is increased — not guaranteed, because nothing in life comes with one of those — when the individuals trust in themselves enough to make the decisions that are right for them, not the ones that they are told are right for them.

Joy is fleeting, all the more worth seeking because it is so rare. Brimming Over by Steve Henderson.

Two individuals, being individuals, but choosing to do so as one.

Happy Anniversary, dear Norwegian. We grow old and idiosyncratic together.

All of the images in my articles are paintings by Steve Henderson, my Norwegian Artist, and are available as originals and/or signed, limited edition prints. We believe that art belongs in the homes of real people with real lifestyles and real budgets, and for this reason we offer our print line of high quality archival quality reproductions for decent prices, and we also offer interest-free payment plans. Find Steve’s work at www.SteveHendersonFineArt.com

The Socks from Hell

I have conquered the Socks from Hell.

It is not so much that I have subjugated these hand-knitted demons to their knees so much that I have brought them to my feet. Snugly, quietly, they embrace my very soles, and you would never guess how much anguish, toil, trouble, and sheer screaming frustration it took to get them there.

No, this has nothing to do with socks. But it’s peaceful, and we need some peaceful right now.

I know, if you’re like my non-knitting sister you have no sympathy to dispense, totally not understanding why someone would take two sticks, a bunch of yarn, and several months to create something — one stitch at a time — that you can buy in bags at Wal-Mart.

She’ll never get it, but I know that some of you do:

I knit because it’s fun, a mantra I repeated to myself on this particular project, which involved stranded color work, a funky stripe that separated the top of the sock from the bottom, and a removable sole — the latter is really true, except I didn’t want it removed at the time.

The whole project stretched my skill level while it simultaneously didn’t stretch enough to fit over my foot. I call it the Cinderella Evil Step-Sister effect because my heel kept getting in the way. And while I was in the mood to cut something up, it definitely wasn’t my heel.

More peaceful. This project is difficult indeed, and it’s important to rest and meditate. Homeland 2 by Steve Henderson

But that was the least of my problems — the socks not fitting. Every possible minor mistake — using the wrong color, miscounting, dropping stitches, randomly changing needle sizes, losing my place in the chart; there are myriad others — I made, multiple times. If there is any truth to the old adage that we deliberately insert a mistake in an artisan project so that God won’t be offended by our perfection, then I am blessed by God indeed, because there is no way He would confuse what I made with what He can come up with.

But I kept plugging away at the damned things (they really are; I verbally consigned them elsewhere on a regular basis), ignoring the Norwegian Artist’s concerned looks over the top of his book. After 30 years he wisely knows when not to speak.

The good thing about the entire project is that the house stayed amazingly clean, because when I mentally gave myself a choice between working on the socks or swishing out the toilet, the toilet consistently won. Or the dishes. Vacuuming. Pairing socks — other people’s socks, the kind you buy in bags at Wal-Mart.

And after a restful time of swishing, I returned to the arena, determined to not be beaten by an inanimate object — or two inanimate objects — and quarter inch by precious quarter inch we advanced, the socks and I, until that blessed moment when I set the last stitch and wove in the final strand of yarn.

Done, by gum, and with a minimum of finagling and finesse, on my feet, vanquished.

Aren’t you feeling calm? I am. Of course, it helps that the socks are done and on my feet. Homeland 3 by Steve Henderson

I am woman. Hear me roar. I rule, and command.

Okay. So now that’s done, and it’s time to start another project, because that’s why I knit — it’s fun, fulfilling, and addictive — far more so than swishing toilets — and I just can’t stop punishing myself.

Maybe there’s something to my sister’s way of thinking after all . . .


All of the artwork in my posts are by my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art, and you are more than welcome to check out his website. He sells originals as well as signed, limited edition prints, so if you see something you like, feel free to treat yourself.

The Seasonal, Annual, Holiday, Snuffling Cold

I feel yucky.

My nose is stuffed, I cough — twice — every 30 seconds, I can’t hear through the plugging of my ears, there’s a chill that has nothing to do with a draft, my lithesome form drapes lethargically over the sofa like a 19th century Gothic novel heroine, and when I talk I sound like a frog. Happy Holidays to me.

Ah, winter — a time of snow, holiday lights, and . . . colds. Winterscape Farm by Steve Henderson.

This is a cold from the LdVc strain —  Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance Man of the 16th century, who could do everything, well. That’s what that this cold is, summoning up every potential symptom that one can suffer from a cold and tucking it, somewhere, in my limbs and tissues. Just when I think I’m done I discover a secret, hidden drawer with a new symptom, or an old one, renovated, and the experience continues.

Initially, it was kind of fun — I was sick enough not to work, but not so sick that I couldn’t knit — rarely does one enjoy this combination, and enjoy it I did, achieving 12 rows  on my gossamer lace, baby alpaca shawl. At this rate, I will wear it on my 90th birthday.

But then the fun degenerated, rapidly, into a malaise resembling what heroines suffer in those 19th century Gothic romance novels, only they don’t produce explosive, wet sneezes. They just gracefully decline, auburn ringlets winsomely peeking through their fetching caps, eyes bright and lustrous. It’s pretty much what they do when they’re well as well, only they’re too feeble to embroider on the antimacassar.

Those lovely, drafty, Victorian homes, where gently fragile females reclined languidly on the couch and sighed. Sophie and Rose, available as a signed limited edition print and original, by Steve Henderson.

If I sound steeped in the genre it’s because I am, my present illness permitting me to do little but repine on the divan, Kindle in hand, a free download of Alice, or, the Mysteries, my companion. My hair never, ever, cascades in ringlets. And healthy or sick, I do not look winsome.

By the way, isn’t Alice, or the Mysteries, a great title? You can almost hear the organ music, see the sheet lightning flash across the sky. Better yet is the name of the author: Baron Edward  Bulwer-Lytton Lytton, who is primarily known for the first line to one of his many, many novels: “It was a dark and stormy night,” brought to immortality by Charles Schultz’s typewriting dog, Snoopy.

While that monumental line wasn’t in this particular digital tome, there were plenty of heaving breasts, impassioned dialogue, gentle sighs, and stalwart determination to do one’s dreaded duty, which never included communicating honestly enough with one’s fellow characters to explain one’s actual reasoning behind one’s actions, something that would have cleared up a lot of misunderstandings and reduced 435 pages to 50 or so.

But such is not the nature of literature, Gothic or modern. By the way, if I’ve convinced you to track down this piece and give it a free spin on your e-reader, please note that it is a sequel to a prior novel, Ernest Maltravers, another example of a gripping title that makes you stop and think, “Who, or what, is Ernest Maltravers? I simply MUST know!”

How I shall dance with joy when I am well again! Dancer, available as a signed limited edition print, by Steve Henderson.

Admittedly, Gothic novels are confusing and filled with twists and turns, but three quarters of the way through Alice I began to wonder if I was missing more than just the plot when the author repeatedly commented, “You, my reader, will remember the tragic story of this character from afore,” and I thought, “Afore? I missed that — was it in the 20 pages of political and religious diatribe that I lightly frolicked through?”

But I dutifully downloaded Ernest, and will follow the exigencies of his life, intertwined and then shattered asunder, with Alice, in the days ahead as I cough, wheeze, hack, ache, snuffle and repine my way through this dreadful seasonal malady.

“Begone! Fly far from me, thou curs’t loathsome indisposition, roosting like a malevolent vulture, perched upon the shoulder of the spotless purity of my heretofore salubrious strength. Fie! I say to thee. Fie!”

Seriously, I need to Get Well. Soon.

While you’re downloading Alice and Ernest onto your Kindle, take time to check out Life Is a Gift and The Jane Austen Driving School, my two compendiums of Middle Aged Plague articles, as well as Grammar Despair, the user-friendly grammar book designed for people who want to write, not diagram sentences.

Black Friday — Shopping Can Be Fun, Really

Any of you with teenagers know that you’re frequently unpopular with them for major issues like, say, breathing, and for awhile, our policy of not buying electronics, CDs, DVDs, or digital detritus really affected our poll numbers.

Fine art — whether it’s an original or a print of an original — is one of the most unique gifts of all, because it stems from the soul and skillful hands of the artist. Girl in a Copper Dress #1 by Steve Henderson.

“But it’s what I WANT,” they argued. “Don’t you want to buy me a gift that I WANT?”

(This resembles some of my conversations with God. He has interesting gift policies as well.)

But we stuck to our principles, determined that our little fistful of dollars was going to buy something they remembered and, dare I say, treasured —

The handmade brass goats and tiger set from India for the Son and Heir

The wood and ceramic desk organizer, courtesy Rite Aid clearance, that College Girl unpacks first, whenever she moves (which is a lot)

The rubber duck, princess pillowcases, nesting mixing bowls, organic chocolate, china tea cups, piano score books, calligraphy sets, dish towels for the ascetic apartment — whatever they were interested in, whatever they used every day,  whatever was slightly different but uniquely fitted to their personality — that’s where we stuffed our discretionary gift funds.

And that’s what they still use, if it hasn’t broken or been eaten, or talk about and remember, if it is no longer with us. The gifts we purchased or made did what we ultimately wanted the gifts to do: they told our progeny how much we love them, each, individually.

Each of us is so uniquely individual, and yet surprisingly the same. It’s what makes human beings so interesting. Girl in a Copper Dress #3 by Steve Henderson

Increasingly, I found and continue to find myself looking in unusual places for these gifts — second hand stores, one of a kind shops, quirky websites, product-specific outlets, individual artisans — because I want something different and fun, at the same time that I financially support someone doing different and fun.

Yeah, I know — this costs more, kind of like buying organic.

With the onset of Thanksgiving, we are entering the biggest shopping season of the year, and in the frenzy and pressurized atmosphere of buying stuff for not only the people we know and love, but others who are part of our lives whether we like it or not — the co-workers, the boss, the neighbors, the elevator boy (do those people still exist?) — it’s easy to take an experience that should be pleasurable — shopping — and reducing it to yet another chore.

But we vote with our dollars, and when we buy something unique from a small businessperson or artisan, we enable those people to make a living and produce more of what they do. And when we buy lots of stuff, cheap, then we support mega conglomerates that make lots of cheap stuff.

Gifts are not and should not be an obligation — they are a joy: for the giver, for the recipient, for the person or persons who made what you bought and is grateful for your support.  As a small businessperson and writer who privately publishes my books, I am grateful for those of you who seek people like me, and the Norwegian Artist, out, and support us with your precious financial resources.

Simplicity. Serenity. Contemplation. Joy. The good things of life are within the reach of all of us. Girl in a Copper Dress #2 by Steve Henderson.

Be assured that, in return, we and people like us are grateful indeed, and we bend over backward to ensure that you are pleased with what you purchased, and that you smile when you think about us. When’s the last time you felt that gratitude from a chain store?

We’re small; we’re artisans — when you purchase from me or the Norwegian Artist, you support small business people in their purest form: Kindle e-books — Life Is a Gift; The Jane Austen Driving School; Grammar Despair. Signed Limited Edition Prints by Steve Henderson. Original Paintings like the three gracing this story — fresh off the easel and available individually or 20 percent off as the set. Miniature Paintings. Really inexpensive art booklets for people who want to create, and sell, their art.


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