Imagine this. At birth your mother becomes ill and you are sent to live with another family, a family of stone cutters. Your father loses his influence in shaping your career, surrenders his hopes for your help in the family financial business to the heredity vs. environment battle, and allows you to be apprenticed to a painter at the age of 13. One year later you are sent to study classical sculpture. Two of your works completed at the age of 16 still survive as testament to your talent and early training.

Though your ability is recognized, some of your works are attributed to others. At the age of 25 this
gets to you, so you carved your name in Mary’s sash on the “Pieta” that now sits in the Vatican City. This is the only work that bears your name.

You consider yourself a sculptor first and an artist second, but you accept anyway the consignment of painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Your first efforts have to be removed because of an infectious fungus in the plaster. You fire your crew and take on the bulk of the work yourself during the four years it took to complete. It took a toll on your health. You joked you should not have quit your day job.

Your most famous panel in the whole project is most likely the one depicting God’s creation of Adam. Perhaps you were the first to start the “Can you find it?” craze way back in the 16th century by your inclusion of the human brain in this panel. It is theorized you did this to portray Adam receiving God’s gift of intelligence.

Many in the centuries to come will not realize you also painted the walls of the chapel as well as the ceiling. Thanks to news of your work spreading throughout the old and the new worlds via the printing press, the social media of the time, the chat about all the nudity in a papal hangout moves one of the popes to order, after your death in 1564, the addition of fig leaves to figures in the Last Judgment wall panel. ( These will be removed during a cleaning of the chapel in the 20th century).

This panel seems profoundly prophetic. “In one amazing vignette, you have a black man and a white man pulled up together in an incredible vision of human unity in this new world…The lion’s share of the space goes to the winner’s circle. There is where you find men and women…who combat adversity, overcome obstacles…Presiding over this assembly is Jesus, first a suffering man on the cross, now a glorious ruler in Heaven. As Michelangelo proved in his painting, hardship, setbacks and obstacles don’t limit excellence, they forge it.” (Art historian Elizabeth Lev said this in her Ted Talk on the Sistine Chapel).

That caught my attention. 2016 seems a good year to focus on being grateful for my hardships, setbacks and obstacles, rather than melancholy. My life is being molded moment by moment, and with attention on God’s artistry rather than my own, perhaps I will be shaped to fit His vision for me now. How cool is that?

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A Fan of the Man

Bowie, David Bowie. Who else?

Because of the era I lived through as an adolescent, a much younger soul will sometimes ask if I went to Woodstock. I wore the clothes, listened to some of the music, memorized favorites songs and yearned to own a VW bug or van when the time came. But no, Woodstock and that whole scene is in my memory bank only because it made the nightly news.

Multi- media wizards were grooming me to become a consumer, and the Columbia Records music supplement in the weekend paper comes to mind. Remember that? It ushered me into the marketplace.

David Bowie’s musical career overlapped with that marketing tool, I guess, but I never searched row after row of genres and titles looking for his music. I didn’t get him. I didn’t get his music. Neil Diamond appealed to me more. There, I am pegged.

Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars? I don’t recall even hearing about them. So I am a traitor to my fellow baby boomers who are music aficionados. But I DID know “Ground Control to Major Tom.” I couldn’t help it. It was on the radio all…the…time. The guitar at the beginning, loved it. The harmony I could hear during parts of the song, loved it. The message of the lyrics, the melody in spots, did not love it. I thought it eerie, and it sent my mind on a what-if journey it didn’t want to go on, every single time I heard it.

Monday, however, I had in my hands the only two Blackstar cd’s available in that store. Bowie’s latest and last release appeared January 8, just two days before his death. I hosted a mental debate. Is this really any good? Would my aficionados appreciate having one? Or is it too far out for them now? Have they outgrown Bowie? So I put them back on the shelf, only to return first thing next day to see if they were still there. No.

In one short day I became a fan, of the man and his music, his artistry, his insights, his brilliance, his compassion. Reading about him and listening to former interviews changed my perspective completely. I get it now. Three cd’s are on order – two for the music geeks and one for me.

(This was written for my column in my local weekly, The Prospect-News. It appeared 01/20/2016, ten days following the passing of David Bowie. His last album – Blackstar – appeared on his birthday, 01/08/2016, a great tribute to his theatrical brilliance).

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Grunge and Mother Nature

(This appeared in my hometown paper, the Prospect-News, during a time of torrential rains and flash flooding.)

Nope, I am not a grunge fan. Were that so I would not need the urban dictionary to explain it to me. I’ve heard it, probably on David Letterman, and I like some of it, though not well enough to ever sing along as I do to CCR and John Denver.

Mother Nature performs grunge sometimes. Her Missouri studio was filled with sounds of dirty chords, strong riffs and heavy drumming last week during an unscheduled December recording session She opted to wear sloppy attire. Loose, layered, ripped – that’s how our Midwest earth looks after this latest grunge episode. Her bleak words stressed her destructive powers. Her music is not all sunshine and roses, lullabies and love songs. I am all for her staying in the Seattle area when she is in a grunge state of mind. Maybe the fans there are better prepared.

She should stick to classics. Nobody does it better than Mother Nature, with her majestic sunset measures, spring ballads, wonderland choruses and flowing tunes. She seems to be reverting to alternative rock more frequently these days, though. Her nihilistic themes can shake up our homes and our lives in drastic ways.

I did a bit more facebooking during this latest tirade. A friend posted a video of “Change” by Candlebox. I had to google the lyrics, which meant I was intrigued enough by the title to wonder what exactly was being sung. “A change is gonna come…you gotta keep on keepin’ on…” Complications, desperation, fabrications. “A change is gonna come.” Yep, affirming once again that change is the constant in our lives. Grunge artists know it.

I am ready for a bit of down home bluegrass. How about it, Mother Nature?

PS. A thanks to RA for the education I get from some of his music posts.

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Biscuits and Washrags

One of Grandma Fann’s cold biscuits would be a tasty treat right now, just as it always was for my son entrusted to her and Grandpa Fann’s care during his formative years. Sometimes I enjoyed the snack, too, on the run as I headed to school. It was a bit of a guilt trip that I didn’t make biscuits from scratch as she did. Even grand canned biscuits don’t energize or soothe quite the way homemade ones do. Time hasn’t changed that. How exciting it must have been for kiddo as he grew big enough to climb into a kitchen chair to reach for one without help! All part of the greater plan, I imagine.

From time to time I did slow down enough to enjoy the invitation to sit at the table and have a biscuit, with bacon or sausage if I wanted. Those were times she would share kiddo’s escapades and milestones, made all the more precious because she knew how I yearned to hear of all I was missing. Sometimes I had a second biscuit with a bit of jelly or syrup as I listened to her wisdom and experience guide me much better through the journey of motherhood than did all those books I read from the ‘experts’ ahead of time.

Grandma Fann could have taught those experts a thing or two. Do they ever mention the need for a stack of clean washcloths handy at all times? Dry, wet, hot, cold or frozen, the washrag in her hands was a miraculous tool that could pacify at teething time, soothe a boo-boo after a nasty fall or swipe clean in a flash, removing dirt and crankiness simultaneously. I suspected she performed her magic each afternoon just seconds before my arrival. Even if there had not been time for a bath and a change of clothes – sometimes that would be an unnecessary interruption to a marvelous day – I was met with a smiling face, rosy cheeks shining from a fresh swipe of a wet cloth and hair a bit damp from a quick effort to tame the curls.

How blessed we are that our paths crossed! And how heavenly it is if she is looking after the little ones gone home to soon, watching over them till their mommas arrive.

Mildred Lucille Fann – 4/18/21 to 12/17/15 (Grandma Fann to all in our family)

This first appeared in the Prospect-News in Doniphan, MO on 01/13/16.

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. . . – – – . . .

Dot, dot, dot, dash, dash, dash, dot, dot, dot. That’s Morse code  for S O S. To me it’s a song title popularized by Abba. The line “Can’t you hear me S.O.S?” might stay with you for a bit now if you are of my generation. In reality it is a signal selected in the early 1900’s for its ease and clarity in sending and receiving in times of distress.  The dots and dashes referring to the letters S O S  improved  upon a former sequence  of more complicated code that stood for the letters C Q  D. We humans like our letters to stand for something.  Come Quick, Distress was changed to Save Our Ship.

Change is the constant in our lives and the topic on our minds as 2015 exits.  No one wants a repeat of the same ol’ s*^# in the coming year, so though we might vow not to make resolutions we can’t keep, we do it anyway, even if we don’t post our good intentions on facebook or tape them on the fridge.

A common plan is to join the gym, hit the track, chow down on more veggies. Take a look at the Hello Parody video on YouTube, a spin-off of the current hit by Adele. Your abs will get a workout from the belly laughs.

So some other slant on greeting the new year might help. It’s high time to wipe off  the slate of subjects old and useless, in search of substantiality to save our souls from stacks of similarities  that  clutter  up the new year with the same old statistics as the end result.  We might strive to avoid the sickening overdose of  sameness by slaying  our sinister demons that  push us toward a downward spiral of soul-searching.

Soul-searching should be uplifting. The songs of our souls can benefit from the science of success to  secure a string of smiles throughout 2016.  Don’t forget that the same ol’ stinkin’ thinkin’ produces the same ol’ snags to change. Shove out senseless oppressive stuff so 2016 earns a stamp of satisfaction on its exit. Startling outcomes surface in conjunction with action fueled by thoughtful change.

May the Force be with you!

PS. I had fun stringing  s-o-s phrases together.  How many can you find?

This was initially written to appear in the December 30, 2015 edition of the Prospect-News, the local weekly in Doniphan, MO.

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Christmas Spirit

Around age 9 I began a battle with demand/resistance.  My passion for all things school related started a retreat as I perceived more and more required of me.  When what I WANTED to do became what I SHOULD do, the fight was on.

That struggle escalates during this time of year.  Way before fall colors fade, marketing campaigns yank us right into the must-have’s and must-do’s of Christmas.  Thanksgiving seems almost an afterthought.  Oops!  Can’t forget to sit down with family to eat, say grace, as plans are finalized to invade the stores for the requirements for the perfect decor, perfect gifts,  perfect attire for the perfect hosts.

Don’t misunderstand. (I think) the treasured traditions  can still be practiced, the reason for the season can still be honored in the hustle and bustle promoted by business.  I don’t want the SHOULDS of commercialism to crack and crumble the foundations of our celebrations and steal the joy of inspired living year round.

Christ’s birth

Homes filled with mirth,

Remembering traditions,

Inspiring renditions’

Seasonal glories

Telling sweetest stories,

Memories old and new.

And from me to you,

Sharing Christmas joys of immeasurable worth.

Procrastination is a battle strategy in the demand/resistance war, so the tree and candles are not out of the storage closet yet.  But Christmas music has been playing in my house for weeks.  And I have listened to the precious recording of the conversation between me and my son as we decorated the tree and unpacked the nativity set.  He was 2 1/2 years old.  Even if the usual decorations don’t appear until Christmas Eve, the spirit is alive in the Lee abode.

This was submitted for the December 30, 2015 issue of my hometown paper, the Prospect-News, in Doniphan, MO.


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Squirrel Decor

At the moment there are no Christmas lights sparkling from my windows, not yet, but a seasonal ornament is being constructed in a tree in easy view from inside the house. It is quite a curious winter decoration.

I first noticed the wad of pine tree twigs obstructing my usual walking path to the front door after a particularly blustery day. To avoid tripping in the dark over the Ozark version of a tumbleweed, it wound up in the burning pile of brush collected after several windy days. For a few moments I pondered the whys and the wherefores with no resolution, but my eyes didn’t get involved in solving the mystery.

At least not right away, not until I noticed a few more pine tree twigs creating a loosely formed mound in the same spot. Curious. Remembering grade school fun facts, I looked up into the pine tree, into the branches close to the trunk, scanning for a squirrel’s nest. None to be found there, though there are several in the oak trees around the yard.

Emulating Sherlock Holmes’ thorough investigations, I began to search from the ground up. There it was, at my eye level, lacing two low limbs together, a nest of twigs lined with oak leaves, sporting a strand of green ribbon I used to tie up my tomato plants back in the spring.

To clear up what was obviously a muddled memory of grade school squirrel facts, I turned to Google. I did not know that some squirrels in some states will mate in the spring and in December/January. I did not know that squirrels may have more than one nest, one perhaps for storage, and a spare if the bugs infest their main abode. I did not know juvenile squirrels will build nests for practice.

Mystery solved, perhaps? The creation must be a demo built by one who is afraid of heights, one who thinks outside the usual squirrel box, with a developing design sense as reflected in the addition of the green ribbon to stage the abode for the Christmas season.

I’d better get on the stick.

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