The Icebreaker

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It’s 9:30 on Sunday night, and I can no longer hear my next-door-neighbor’s television. He must have gone to bed early.

If he’s home and he’s awake, his TV is turned on and tuned into news. I can’t make out most of what the talking heads are blathering on about, but every so often I hear the word “Trump”.

It triggers my PTED. Post Traumatic Election Disorder.

I’m trying to practice my speech for Toastmasters. This is the first speech a member gives. It’s all about you, I mean me. It’s the “icebreaker” that lets the other Toastmaster members get to know you, I mean me.

I actually gave this speech last month, but we’re having an open house in a couple of weeks to attract new members, and I was asked to give the speech again. I’m not sure that listening to me talk about myself is conducive to signing up new folks, but, I’ll give it a go.

Here’s the speech:

My name is Laurel, and I’m an artist.

That’s a really hard thing for me to say.

I grew up as the sixth of nine children and I was easily lost in the crowd. I always loved to draw, and the praise I got for that made me feel noticed.

I brought home pictures from kindergarten and my mother would gush about how I was drawing fully-fleshed out people instead of stick figures. She would show off the pictures to the neighbor ladies saying, “Look what a wonderful artist my daughter is!”

In a big family like ours, there wasn’t a lot of money for extracurricular activities, but my mother made sure I had art lessons after school. I hiked up to the Motherhouse, a huge convent at the top of a Rochester hill, and got lessons from a nun whose name I cannot remember. It made me feel so special.

In junior high, I drew cartoons for the school paper, and made posters for school events. I designed programs and tickets for school dances. I made banners to hang in the church on special holidays.

In high school, my friends would ask me to draw portraits of their favorite movie stars. At class reunions even decades later, they let me know they still had them and cherished them. I was kind of an art star at my little parochial school.

I was so excited to be accepted at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after graduating from high school. I moved from Rochester to Minneapolis and prepared to dazzle everyone with my brilliant talent.

Imagine my surprise when I found I was not the most talented student there. All the art stars from all the little high schools were there, and I was pretty average. Not the best, not the worst, just…average.

That was tough enough, but part of our education was critiquing other students’ work. We hadn’t learned the Toastmasters’ sandwich technique of offering constructive criticism sandwiched between statements of praise, so the critiques were often quite…humbling.

I dropped out of art school after one semester. A former high school classmate offered to buy one of my paintings for five dollars. The materials had cost me ten. Does that make me a professional artist?

The other paintings were given as gifts to various friends and relatives, and eventually found their way into closets around the state.

I continued to try to put my artwork out into the world, but it was never accepted into a juried show.

Although I still got lots of positive feedback from most of my loved ones, I remember a particularly awful date I had with my boyfriend. I had a painting of a Native American woman over my couch, and a drawing of a Native American man on another wall.

My boyfriend knew I had created those pictures and I was tired of his total silence on the matter. I asked him point-blank what he thought of the painting.

“The hands look kind of funny”, he said. Ouch. Honestly, they did look kind of funny, because hand are very hard to paint, and the model had left the studio before I’d finished the painting.

I asked him what he thought of the drawing, because I was especially proud of that. There was a long pause, and then he said, “I guess I’m not into Indians as much as you are”.

We broke up the next day. Unfortunately, I seemed to have broken up with art, too, and gave up drawing and painting for years.

Now that I’m retired, I’m getting back into creating artwork. This time, it’s just for me. It’s for my self-expression, and I don’t need to show it to anyone else. I don’t need anyone else’s approval or praise. If I like what I create, that’s all that matters.

I am Laurel, and I am an artist.

Stay tuned…

P.S. Here’s a few beautiful things I made this week:







My First Date

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Oh. My. Goddess. I have gained 15 pounds since I’ve returned to the USA from Costa Rica. I either have to go back on the keto diet, or I have to buy bigger pants.

But let’s not talk about that. (Classic avoidance.)

Let’s talk about my first date, ever. Because, why not?

I was 17 and I was selling movie tickets from a little glass booth that protruded out onto the sidewalk. A man paused as he was walking by.

theater cashier


I don’t remember his name, all these years later, but let’s call him Pete. He was probably in his twenties or thirties, and fancifully dressed in magenta velvet coat with white fur trim, and a jaunty fedora.

Pete asked me what time I got off work. I got off at ten p.m., and we agreed he’d meet me back at the movie theater at ten, and he’d take me out for coffee (so grown up!)

The doorman was the only other one still working at that hour, as he had to work past the end of the last screening and clean and lock the place up.

His name was Jim (I do remember that), and he was horrified that I was letting this guy pick me up so late.

Jim tried to talk me out of going, but I naively said, “Hey! It’s just coffee. Be cool, man.” (It was the seventies.)

Jim made me agree to come back to the theater before he closed up, so he could be sure I was okay.

Pete picked me up, and we went down into the subway to stay warm. There was no coffee.

That was when Pete gave me my first kiss. Awww.

I remember thinking, “What is all this fuss about kissing? This is doing nothing for me.” Very disappointing.

I kept looking at my watch over his shoulder to make sure I got back to the theater on time, so Jim didn’t have a cow. (It was the seventies.)

Pete got my phone number, and walked me back to the theater.

Jim was relieved, and I was still confused about his concern.

The next day in high school, I told my girlfriends, who were much more worldly than I, about my date with Pete.

They said, “Oh, Pete the Pimp? I don’t think you should go out with him again.”

Oh, well, that’s probably a valid point.

When Pete called a couple of days later to ask me out, I told him I didn’t want to see him again. (I was much more blunt in my youth.)

Pete asked’ “Is it your parents? You can sneak out to meet me!”

I laughed, “No, my parents don’t care!” No wonder I’d been confused by Jim’s concern. I hadn’t experienced anyone being concerned about me before.

Pete went away without a fuss.

It would be another year or more before I was kissed again. The next time, I could understand the fuss a little better, thank goddess.

Stay tuned…



Resolutions, 2018

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I was looking back at my posts from December, 2016, and January, 2017 to refresh my memory on what my New Year’s resolutions were. It looks like I didn’t make any.

I guess I figured that living in Costa Rica, I just had to embrace the “Pura Vida” (“Good Life”). And did I, boy, did I ever.

Now, back here in Minnesota, the temperature has been hovering around 0F (-18C) for about a week. The extended forecast shows the same temps, plus snow, for the next 5 days, at least.

Back to the Scandinavian Lutheran work ethic. Pura Vida does not apply. Resolutions required.

Resolution 1: Grow my hair out.



Resolution 1: Grow my hair out. Nah, too easy. Not enough suffering.

Resolution 1: Learn to use my Canon camera.

Camera, Canon Rebel DSLR


A little embarrassing, as this was on my resolution list in 2015 and I didn’t do a thing about it. I’m taking a really big trip in the fall of 2018, so I really, really, really want to be able to take some nice pix.

If I fail at this resolution again, I should sell the camera and all its accoutrements.

Resolution 2: Start an on-line Tarot business.



I read Tarot for friends and family for free, and have read professionally in the past. I hope I can develop a professional platform, so I can create an income stream. My remaining in the USA depends on supplementing my savings with some sort of income.

True, a Scandinavian Lutheran voice in my head is telling me to get a j-o-b (can’t say the word out loud, or it might happen!), but since my background is really German Catholic, I’m going to ignore it.

Resolution 3: Create beauty every day.



I am an artist. I am an artist. I am an artist! (My #1 daily affirmation.)

I’m not going to make any resolutions about my health. It’s a one-day at-a-time, wrestle-with-the-dragon kind of thing. Resolutions are not powerful enough to deal with this monster.

Do you have any ideas about eating/exercise commitments that are stronger than resolutions? Gastric bypass surgery? Weight-loss camp? Gulag? Hard labor? Do share.

Stay tuned…





Operation Cash My Stash

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We have a rule amongst my sisters. As soon as a drinker spills her drink, she’s cut off from any more alcohol.

The rule used to be as soon as the drinker hit the floor, she was cut off. But by tightening up the cut-off time, we’ve saved ourselves from most further drinking injuries.

I was trying to finish some more Christmas cards for the craft show, and took a big chunk out of my finger while cutting ribbon. New rule for crafting: If you’re bleeding, you’re done.

The craft show was a huge success. That is, if you don’t count how much money I made versus how much time I spent making jewelry and Christmas cards. Not to mention the cost of the materials.



But that’s okay! Even though I downsized my craft stash before moving to Costa Rica, I still have waaaay too much stuff. That’s why I launched Operation Cash My Stash.

I sold a necklace, about 8 pairs of earrings, and 4 packages of cards. That’s $134 dollars for Operation Cash My Stash. We (the royal plural) are pleased.

And yes, one of the first things I did at the craft fair was spill a cup of coffee on my display, which consisted of jewels on white cards, sitting on a white table cloth.

And yes, No.2 Sis (so grateful for No.2 Sis offering to be my helper) immediately cut off my coffee supply. Rules are rules.

Meanwhile, the cottage is quite a disaster, since I’ve been so focused on creating stuff for the fair.

Sigh! Back to doing dishes, vacuuming, washing clothes, mopping floors, and scrubbing toilets. Retirement is so glamorous!

Stay tuned…

P.S. A special thank you to my niece S2 (No.2’s middle daughter) for donating the table fee for the craft show! Hugs!

Chicken Water And Craft Fairs

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Colder weather has arrived here in Minnesota, and you know what that means.


I made a batch of chicken soup from a grocery-store rotisserie chicken carcass. It was a two day process.

The first day, the chicken was stewed 8-10 hours in the crockpot with garlic, onions, and miscellaneous veg (I actually only had celery). That made the stock.

Day 2, I pulled out all the bones, skin, and old veggies. Then, after going shopping, I put fresh onions, garlic, carrots, and celery in the crock, along with the chicken meat, broth, and plenty of spices. I let that stew for another 8-10 hours.

And voila! After two days of cooking, I had a big batch of chicken water. I mean soup. The blandest soup ever made.

It was very audacious of me to think I could have any sort of culinary success without a tried-and-true recipe.

Anyway, if cold weather means soup, then soup means crackers, and crackers mean cheeses. I love cheeses. After making the grocery store veg run, I made a cheese run.

cheese and crackers


The other thing cold weather means is Christmas craft fairs. My niece, S2, e-mailed and asked me if I’d like to participate in the craft fair her kids’ school is putting on.

At first I said no, since I’m retired and it kind of sounded like work. But then No.2 Sis (S2’s mother) pointed out that I have a whole room of my apartment stuffed with craft supplies, and I could possibly turn some of those supplies into cash.

Hmm, was that brilliant or what? I started thinking of the room of “The Vault” instead of “The Studio.”

So I signed up for the craft fair at Nativity of Mary School in Bloomington, Minnesota, which will be from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 9th. And yes, this is a shameless plug.

So far, I’ve made 90 Christmas cards, 40 pairs of earrings, and 3 necklaces. I’ve got almost 2 weeks left, so I’m sure I can get those numbers higher.

My goal is to run out of Christmas paper for card-making.

I’m sure I have too many craft supplies to run out of most of the other card and jewelry components. And remember, this is what I have left after a considerable amount of down-sizing! It’s a little embarrassing.





hand-made Christmas cards


Stay tuned…



26 Minutes To Raise Your Self-Esteem

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I returned home from my Virginia vacation (more about that later) in my usual post-vacation slump.

My brain was tormenting me with, ” You over-packed. You didn’t walk enough. You spent too much money. You left your house a mess.” My brain can be so mean to me!

There was only one thing I could think of to raise my self-esteem.

Clean the kitchen.

I timed it. It took 26 minutes to take it from this:



To this:



I felt so good, I cooked a delicious pot roast, which we all know is Food-For-The-Soul. (Vegetarians and vegans, please disregard previous sentence).

Then I had to clean the kitchen all over again. Totally worth it.

I was so inspired that, while the roast was roasting, I cleaned the living room.



11 minutes later:



Note to self: buy lamp shade.

And the bedroom.



Hey, I would have thrown the clean laundry on the floor before going to bed.



27 minutes.





clean bedroom


And the bathroom.



5 minutes.



It’s really, really good that I cleaned up, since Old Al, the 80ish-year-old handyman at “The Village” (my apartment complex) came to unstop a drain for me. He brought Young Al, his 20ish-year-old assistant, with him.

I wasn’t sure why Young Al was there until I told Old Al that the previous tenant must have dumped grease down the drain, as the water that had backed up was quite greasy.

Old Al said, “What?” Young Al yelled, “THE WATER WAS GREASY.” Ah, Young Al was Old Al’s interpreter. Mystery solved.

So, all told, I spent 1 hour and 9 minutes cleaning my house. It took all day, because I’m a big believer in (long) breaks, but it was only 1 hour and 9 minutes of work.

It’s now time to do it all again, of course. Isn’t it funny how that works? I’ll do it today, before my amazingly high self-esteem crashes again.

Stay tuned…


Brain Study, 2017

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Dagnab it! I went in for an EEG for the brain study I’m involved in, and I forgot to take a selfie. I’ll have to post the one from 2012.

VA Brain Study, 2012.


This study is about people with thought disorders (like schizophrenia) and their families. It’s trying to see how the brain processes thoughts.

My brain. As the technician was wiring my head full of electrodes, my brain screamed, “BRING ME CANDY!” Which was weird, because I don’t even care for candy that much.

But it made me think of the top 3 attributes I look for in a romantic partner.

  1. He needs to make me laugh.
  2. He needs to laugh at my jokes.
  3. He needs to feed me.

I watched a documentary on polygamy once, and an interviewer asked an African chieftain how he keeps his five wives satisfied.

The chieftain said, “I have to feed them. If I didn’t feed them, they’d wander off.”

I know that’s not what the interviewer was getting at, but it resonated with me. Feed me, or I’ll wander off.

Most guys that I dated were pretty good about feeding me, I’ll give them that.

But that sense of humor thing never gelled. Either they made me laugh, or I made them laugh, but it was never both.

And on some dates, neither of us found the other amusing. Those dates did not lead to further contact. I like to cut my losses; nip it in the bud; run, Forrest, run.

Now I have to condense my dating philosophy into a single line so I can answer my great-aunts, second-cousins, and strangers-on-the-bus when they ask me why I’ve never married.

So this is how my thought processes run. Bring me candy, to relationship non-negotiables, to polygamy, to explaining my life choices to strangers-on-the-bus.

Try explaining that to brain studiers, will ya?

Stay tuned…

Whiling The Morning Away

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Although this blog is ostensibly about cleaning and improving my home, in reality it’s sometimes a productive-feeling way to procrastinate.

Like now, for instance. I should be taking a walk instead of writing. But walking is so…physical. I’m more of a cerebral person. I like to think about walking, instead of actually doing it.

Sometimes I get really ambitious and think about running. Which is extra-hilarious, because I’m physically unable to run since my knee surgery.

I was crossing the street recently when I saw a car coming. I furiously pumped my arms and pushed my leg muscles as hard as I could, and my pace didn’t increase by a jot. At least the driver knew I was trying.

Blink, blink (change of subject).

I had a kitten dream last night. I dreamed I was surrounded by kittens of all colors, in fantastic patterns. And by all colors, I mean blue and pink and purple. And by all patterns, I mean perfect spots and stripes and harlequin diamonds.

I’m pretty sure I should stop watching mixed-media art tutorials right before bed.

While still in Costa Rica, I had a vision of the cat I’d have here in the USA. It was a gray male (I usually get females) and his name was Smudge. I figured I didn’t need to look for him because he would find me.

I was in my living room at “The Village” when I saw an adolescent gray cat come up to my porch and sniff around. I’ve not seen any cats near my apartment before or since. Unfortunately, No.2 Sis was visiting, and she tackled me before I could open the door.

Of course, there are pros and cons to having a cat.


Kitty kisses.


Someone to greet you when you come home.


Cat boxes.

Allergic sisters.

Someone to arrange care for when you leave home.



It’s been over a year, so I hope Bella kitty is well-adjusted to her new home. I checked on the rescue web-site, just to be sure she hasn’t been put up for adoption again. She hasn’t, so I’ll still wait for Smudge to show up.

No hurry.

Stay tuned…

The Landing

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I’ve been back on my low-carb eating plan (I refuse to utter the “D-word”) for three days now, and I’m a severely crabby little camper. How long will it take to regain my unusually sunny disposition? Any bets?

The Women’s Adventure Club (WAC) had an outing in late July. I always have fun with the WAC. No crabbiness allowed.

In July we went and toured The Landing. It’s a living-history museum near Shakopee, Minnesota. A 19th century store, church, livery, and government buildings were moved to the site, along with houses and farm buildings.

Costumed townspeople narrate their daily lives, giving you a glimpse of what Minnesota was like 150 years ago.





We toured both a fine home that had been built by a lumber baron, and a more modest home that would have housed a working-class family.





The more modest home photos didn’t turn out, because there wasn’t enough light. Apparently, those of modest means couldn’t afford sunlight?

Stay tuned…










Project Backup

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I’m falling behind (WAY behind) in my resolution to only take on one project at a time.

My kitchen has plenty of cupboards, but they all open away from the stove. That makes it hard to access spices while cooking.

I bought a metal tray at an antique store and nailed it up over the stove (very low-tech, I know). Then I bought these magnetic spice tins from Amazon. I filled the tins with my most commonly used spices, added these labels, and plopped them up on the tray for easy access. One project down, untold multitudes to go.



Here’s the basis for the next project. I bought this picture from Goodwill for the frame. I’m going to replace the print with my affirmation, “Life is sweet”, and hang it over the kitchen sink.



I acquired my Grandma’s two antique dining chairs from No. 4 Sis. I had my handyman do some repairs on them. Now I have to paint them.



I bought this little footstool from a second-hand store that has, unfortunately, recently gone out of business. I may reupholster it at some later date, but for now I’d like to paint the legs.



And yesterday I bought a tiny side table to go with No. 8 Sis’ tiny arm chair. The table was from a soon-to-go-out-of-business antique store. It only cost $4.50! It needs to be painted, too.



All the furniture on the “paint list” will be painted off-white and then be distressed.

Okay, not untold multitudes of projects, just four.

Time to get to work!

Stay tuned…

P.S. I screwed up one of the Christmas cards I was making. I stamped the sentiment crookedly and tore the paper when I tried to reposition an ornament.



Instead of throwing my “oops” away, I turned it into a birthday card by putting a matted strip over the sentiment and a matted banner over the tear. I like it even better than the Christmas card I was trying to make!



Stay tuned…