When I used to take my golden retriever to our local nursing home I quickly noticed who the most popular residents were.  They were the people whom always had a smile on their face, were pleasant to talk to and who chatted about things other than their health or how horrible their room was.  These were not special people – they had aches and pains like everyone else; they sold their homes, gave many personal possessions away and moved into a less-than-desired place like everyone else but their attitudes set them apart.  Nurses enjoyed them, other residents admired them and people like me respected them.  It was their attitude that set them apart.  They seemed to take every situation – good or bad – and found some piece of good within it all.  I quickly realized that I wanted to have that kind of outlook when I was at that stage of my life.  I didn’t want to be the person who finds fault with every little thing, who complains about every person they run into; who holds onto a bitterness that spreads like a cancer.  I have lived with people like that for a good part of my life and it wasn’t who I wanted to be.

I stopped volunteering at the nursing home when my dog died but the lessons I learned there have stuck with me.  It’s not easy to keep a positive outlook when I have chronic pain.  I’ve recently come to the realization that I’ve suffered from some form of pain since the age of 16.  I don’t know what it’s like to wake up pain-free, and that can take its toll so I get it.  But honestly, it’s becoming easier to maintain a positive outlook the more I practice it.  Nothing has taught me that more than dealing with neck/shoulder pain for the last 6 months but every night before I go to bed I am thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given since this happened.  I can still use my left hand to paint and have gained a new skill that I never would have had reason to attempt otherwise.

My largest left-handed painting to date.

My largest left-handed painting to date.

So, an update.  I am still having issues and there are days when I can’t set foot in my studio – even to paint with my non-dominant hand, due to the pain that radiates from my neck down my arm.  But I am learning to redirect that energy towards other things that I CAN do.  Yoga is one of those beautiful things in life that waits for me to come back to it, just like an old, dear friend.  It doesn’t matter that I can’t currently hold plank. or Downward facing Dog – it’s just glad to see me taking care of my body the best I can, and even though my upper body may be regressing somewhat, my lower body is still strong and powerful.

Bound half lotus tip-toe poseThis week I nailed bound half lotus tip-toe pose and I am grateful; when my pain resolves itself I know that I’ll appreciate painting in a way that I never have before.  These are the mantras I play over in my head and it makes all the difference in the world.   Of course I still have down days – I’m human; but I won’t let them define me.

 

Color Run, Recipe and Recap

Yes, well – ahem…..I’m still here, just not – ‘here’. The truth is, my computer time has been extremely limited as it agitates certain muscles that I’m still trying to heal, but I simply HAD to check in and fill you in on what’s been happening in life since my last post.

Most recently, I participated in my first 5K on Saturday, yes I did!  The Color Run to be exact, and here are a couple of pics to prove it:

 

colorrun3Our place at the Starting Line

colorrun1Craig and I at the Finish Line

The race happened to be on the same day as our wedding anniversary.  What a great time, and the best part – participating with a great group of friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.  If you’ve never done a 5K before (and you aren’t worried about your time) I highly recommend this as a first race.

The rest of my summer has gone equally well, even though I’m still nursing my shoulder back to health.  I finally let go of my need to paint and focused on the things I actually ‘could’ do instead of thinking about what I couldn’t.  The last few months have been a huge learning experience for me; had this injury not have happened, I would have missed out on experiences and friendships that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.  Not always do we see lessons in hindsight, but when we do it makes us much more compassionate about those rough times, doesn’t it?

Right now I’m easing back into my painting and should be finishing up my first mixed media piece since June at some point tomorrow!  When I’m not painting, I’m enjoying my new group of friends and finding creative ways to use sweet potatoes in nearly everything I bake since they are in season right now – I have a sweet potato bread recipe that I’ll be sharing soon, but first: Sweet Potato Pudding which has only 5 ingredients.  Better yet, It’s vegan, has no added sugar and is absolutely amazing.  I have no photos to share (you can go onto Pinterest and find a slew of them) but the recipe follows:

Mix the following in a blender, food processor or Magic Bullet:

2 ripe bananas, 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 cup of cooked and cooled sweet potato flesh.

Spoon into a bowl and enjoy.

Glacier National Park Road Trip

I am feeling somewhat recovered from my trip to Glacier National Park.  I was going to type up an intro to just how special this place is, but then I decided that there isn’t anything I can say that will compare with the beauty of the photos that follow, so I’ll let them speak for themselves:

 

Heading into Montana we came across several of these canola fields.  Not many people like the color chartreuse, but against this brilliant blue sky it was pure magic.

MontanaFieldsEllen

 

Montana horses!

MontanaHorses

 

Once inside the park, this is the kind of scenery that you’ll see from nearly every angle.

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Wildflowers were in bloom on several of the trails we hiked.

GlacierYellowflowers

A photo of Lynn and I (taken by my husband) during our hike at Beaver Pond Loop Trail.

LynnEllen

glacierflowers

Moose!

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At the end of the trail to Avalanche Lake.

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Mountain Goats with their young.

2014-07-26 09.17.18

 

Kintla Lake

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We literally ran into this mama moose.  Her baby was nestled on the other side of her.

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Taking in the beauty of it all.

photo(12)Photo courtesy of Jennifer Nealy

 

If you ever get the chance to visit this unspoiled, breathtaking place, do.  I promise you will not regret it.  We drove over 1600 miles to get there and even though I’m still recovering from the 4 day journey back, I’d return again and again without the slightest hesitation.  It is worth every mile spent on gas, every moment in the car – for when you arrive you’ll think of nothing else about your life other than how grateful you are to be surrounded by such unspoiled beauty.

For more photos of our trip and the perspective of another blogger that we met while in Glacier, head over to read this post by Nealys on Wheels.

Road Trippin’

The breathtaking, untouched beauty of Glacier National Park was bestowed upon me and my husband for 7 full days in mid-July.  On his bucket list for well over a decade, we decided that this was our year to go.  My father, before he died, reminded me to refrain from making the same mistake he made.  A few months before he passed away he said, ‘Don’t be like me. If there is something you want to do, do it before it’s too late and you’re too sick or too old to enjoy it.  Work isn’t everything; memories are what you’ll be talking about when you’ve got nothing left.’

Okay, so it may be a bit sullen to put on a T-Shirt, but his words were meant to be sobering.  He’d worked his entire life, first to keep himself fed and clothed after he left home at a young age due to major conflicts between he and his father; then working two jobs in order to support a quickly growing family that consisted of a wife and 4 children whom were nearly all in diapers at the same time (they were to receive a 9 year break before I came along).

Still, Glacier National Park seemed as fantasy a vacation as Hawaii or Alaska (both of which happen to be on MY bucket list) but kudos to us for saving our pennies and keeping our eyes on the prize.  This was our year.

Since we were meeting up with Lynn and Clark from Tales from the Mutiny we decided that renting an RV would be the most convenient and comfortable way to get from Indiana to Montana.  I haven’t had much (if any) trouble with my back in months so I was pretty confident that I could make the 1,620 miles there – no doubt.  But doing it by car over three days? That sounded downright miserable.  So, an RV rental it was.  We were to become temporary nomads, driving as far as we wanted and setting up camp when we couldn’t go any further.

As you can imagine, the drive there was much more fun than the drive back.  This was for many reasons.  First, our little RV felt like a cozy little treehouse on wheels.  It was fun being able to stand up and stretch or open the refrigerator for a container of yogurt while my husband drove through Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota on Saturday.  What was most fun about the way there however, was laying eyes on this sweet face – Laura from The Gluten-Free Treadmill.

EllenLauraWhen Craig and I found out that we’d be driving right through Fargo, North Dakota I checked the map and realized that we would be less than 2 hours from where Laura lives.  She and I have a special bond that simply cannot be explained and I just love her to pieces.  After a few failed attempts we both basically drove toward each other until we became close enough to pull over at the nearest exit to us.  We visited for nearly an hour and talked about everything from art to life as a student in North Dakota to her BIG decision to run for sexual violence awareness next May from New York to San Francisco (which you can read about by clicking the link above or donate by clicking here).  Sadly it wasn’t enough time, but we had to part ways so Craig and I could continue on our journey westward.

We left Indiana Saturday morning and arrived in Glacier National Park on Monday around 6 PM. In my next post I’ll share some of the many, many photos I took while there but right now this gal is dog-tired, so stay tuned…..

 

And off we go

As of Saturday I will be away from my computer for a couple of weeks, sans a few photos posted to my FB art page and Instagram accounts (find me at either space at Ellen Brenneman Studio). I am taking a much needed vacation – my first road trip in nearly a decade, as a matter of fact. Me, my husband, my camera and my paintbrush are heading to Glacier National Park to see some of this:

 

And this:

 

I am looking forward to connecting with a part of the US that I’ve never seen and am MOST excited to be meeting up with Lynn from Learning Curves and her husband Clark while these two…

 

…..remain home where they will be pampered and loved on by my fantastic nephew SO MUCH that they will hopefully forgive us fairly quickly for not taking them along.

I expect to be back with a fully-functioning arm and enough inspiring photos to paint my way through Fall and Winter.

Pics when I return :) xo

 

The Good Outweighs the Bad

This past Saturday I had my first art fair of the season.  Today I was scheduled to have a suspected melanoma removed from my eyelid.

First the good news – cause the good news certainly outweighs the bad, by far: several days ago I noticed that the spot on my eye was improving.  I watched it very carefully and it had improved SO much that I called my doctor’s office to let them know that I didn’t think I was going to need to keep my surgical appointment.  My dermatologist – being the fine guy he is, wanted to see me anyway.  When I arrived for my appointment and he looked at my eye he was just as surprised to see that my eye had pretty much returned to normal.  I asked him what could have happened to cause this chain of events.  He believed what was likely to have happened was that I’d suffered some sort of trauma to my eye and developed a hematoma under the lid which pooled at the site of the freckle, causing it to darken in color and become raised.

For as upset as I was about having to wait to get a proper appointment to have the surgery, I’m now so grateful that I did because it gave my body time to heal itself and kept me from having an unnecessary surgery.  Relief – sweet, sweet relief.

As for the fair, well – it was less than stellar, let’s put it that way.  I can sum up the entire day using the one sentence I said to my husband as we began our drive back home:

“I don’t understand how I can receive such encouraging, positive feedback online yet feel so utterly invisible in the real world.”

There was also a snafu regarding my work being shown in an area of high humidity and sunlight.  Turns out, it can’t.  I have two more shows yet this summer and will have no original paintings to show; I simply cannot afford to take the risk of damaging them in an unstable environmental setting.   Live and learn.

…to end on a good note, my left handed studies are vastly improving. I have just finished a watercolor of a Great Horned Owl:

owl

Facebook

He is now up for auction on my Facebook page until Sunday night.  He’ll always remind me that no matter where I am in my career – no matter what new paths lie ahead, the fact that I could paint something so special using a skill I never before realized I had, well – it just fills me with gratitude.

 

Fairs, Funding, and an Update

Summer is in full swing around here which, for me means that art fair season has begun.  This Saturday, July 5 will be my first show. If any of you are in the Saugatuck, Michigan area please stop by and pay me a visit as I will be at the Waterfront Invitational from 10 AM to 5 PM.  And if you do stop by and I don’t recognize you, please forgive me. Because I am on so many different social media sites and because some of you use different profile names, it can get a bit confusing, so make sure you tell me that you are a reader of my blog or follow me on Facebook, etc.   This way I can give you the appreciation you deserve for making your way through hordes of people to stop and say hello! :)

In other news, my shoulder/arm is slowly getting better (and I do mean slowly).  As long as I don’t do any fine motor activities with my right hand I sense an improvement. Unfortunately it takes both hands to prepare for my show on Saturday so I am still having a bit of trouble with it.  Still, any improvement is a good thing.  I have finished three left-handed studies so far and am improving my photography skills in order to keep my mind busy during this time. My latest two non-dominant hand paintings are below.  I’m seeing a marked improvement in my left hand, which is nice.

giraffe IMG_2231

As I complete these I’ve been selling them on Facebook. It’s funny, but these are as well received as the work I do with my dominant hand.  Funny.

On to other news: my dermatology appointment is still set for July 10, however there is been an interesting development. I have been watching the freckle/mole on my eyelid and it appears to be changing once again – this time for the better.  Last week I noticed when removing my makeup that the surface was no longer raised like it had been.  Neither was it as dark as it was.  I have no idea what this means as I’ve never had this happen before. I will be keeping my appointment so that my doctor can determine what, if anything, needs to be done at this time but overall I am beyond thrilled with this turn of events. :)

Lastly, many of you may know my friend Laura who blogs over at the Gluten-free Treadmill. If you don’t know Laura, she is a long-term weight loss maintainer as well, and is also a long distance runner.  Laura has decided to take on a huge challenge beginning in May, 2015.  She is going to run across the United States from New York to San Francisco for sexual violence awareness.  She’ll also attempt to break the female record for a TransAmerica run. I have added a widget to the right side of my blog which supports Laura’s cause.  Right now she is trying to fund this run and could use our support. Please check it out and help if you can.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far – have a Happy Fourth of July weekend :)

Problem Solving

If you read my last post then you know that while I was trying to distract myself from the idea of having eye surgery, I concentrated on painting as much as my body would allow. Well, that ended up biting me right in the rear end. What I didn't share in my previous post was that I had been having frequent shoulder and arm pain for the last month or so. Oh, I knew what was causing it – I was overusing my painting arm and not taking enough breaks throughout the day – I just figured that a few twinges here and there was an acceptable trade-off compared to not being able to paint at all. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Did I mention how stupid of an idea that was?

Abusing my arm and not taking care of it like I should finally caught up with me and I woke up one morning unable to reach my arm behind my back. My neck felt like there was a hot poker piercing through (a pinched nerve most likely) and a very tender spot in my shoulder which radiated pain down my arm. I was clearly in trouble, but I will tell you something that I find very funny here: suddenly my eye surgery didn't seem very important compared to the thought of not being able to paint.

As long as I stayed out of my studio and refrained from picking up a paintbrush or doing any typing or writing, the pain was minimal; the moment I tried to do any sketching or even the simple act of writing my name, the pain was excruciating.

I went a solid week without setting foot in my studio. I was very diligent about my injury and followed Dr.'s orders by alternating ice and heat, taking anti-inflammatory medication, and refraining from any type of repetitive motion using my arm. I figured that a good week off would be plenty of time for my arm to heal but that was a very naïve idea. Sure, I was getting pretty good at using my left hand to brush my teeth, eat, and peck on the keyboard but I really needed to get back to painting, not because I had deadlines to meet but because it has become part of me. Suddenly I had all of this down time and all I could think about was getting back into my studio. I have issues in feeling unproductive and I find that when I'm bored all I want to do is eat. Eating is not a healthy hobby for me, obviously, so I needed to find a solution.

If I could not paint with my right hand, fine – I would use my left and embrace whatever came forth.

 

 

It was liberating. This became another lesson that life is just a series of challenges. It is up to me to choose how I clear a path around them.

While I realize that starting a new business requires a lot of hard work and very long hours for the first few years, I need to learn to work with my body instead of expecting my body to cooperate with me. Simply put, I need to be kinder to myself.

I finished my elephant this morning and am quite happy with him actually. I like the loose, expressive style that I have developed using my nondominant hand.

 

 

As for my injury I am still unable to use my right hand for more than a couple of minutes before it begins to hurt. I am now dictating posts on my iPad and answering emails by dictation as well. It is quite possible that I may not get back to work for a month or two but that is okay. My art show circuit begins on July 5 and I have plenty of work to show so I am going to allow this time for myself and just be patient.

 

 

The Weight

My husband can always tell when my anxiety is getting the better of me.  I will assume that I’m doing a fine job at keeping my disorder to myself but he knows differently.  This past week while I’ve been awaiting word regarding my upcoming eye surgery I guess I’ve been dropping clues like breadcrumbs.  I’ve been edgy, nauseated, and having a difficult time concentrating. When I sit down I must be moving ‘some’ part of my body so that nervous energy can release itself and hand-wringing begins.

If things had just gone remotely smooth I wouldn’t feel nearly as lousy as I do right now but I’m beginning to learn that when insurance is involved, things rarely go smoothly.

As I mentioned in my prior post, I was awaiting an appointment from the eye surgeon.  Yesterday morning I received my appointment date: mid-September – and this was ONLY for a consult.  I called my dermatologist’s office and told the nurse that it was my understanding that since this mole on my eyelid needed to be removed and tested for melanoma, that it was imperative I have the surgery as soon as possible.  Sorry, she said.  That is the soonest appointment he had available.

‘Is there anyone else in the surrounding area that can do this surgery?’ I asked.  She said that she would make some phone calls and get back with me.  A while later the phone rang.

‘I can get you in to the surgery center fairly soon but your surgery will be considered and elective procedure so you’ll have to bring cash with you when you come.’  Cash?  Elective? I asked for clarification.

‘Well,’ she continued.  ‘Your insurance company is looking at this as a cosmetic procedure and insurance will not pay for these kinds of surgeries.’  I said, ‘but this isn’t an elective procedure – it’s a medical requirement because of a suspect mole!’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But because there is no diagnosis as of yet, it’s technically an elective procedure.’  Sigh.  But I can’t get a diagnosis until I have the procedure.

…and it gets worse.  If I choose to be sedated I’ll have to pay nearly $3000 out of pocket as opposed to having the surgery with a local anesthetic.

Guess who is being forced into being awake for this surgery?  This girl.

The date has been set for July 10th at 1:30 PM.  Between now and then I must find a way to get through this as calmly as I can.  Right now all I feel like doing is bursting into tears but I realize that much of this is out of sheer frustration and being forced into playing ‘the waiting game’ for another month.

I finished my painting.

theWeightTalk about symbolism.  A covered eye.  A brightly colored headdress to distract from the worry on her face, and the horizontal line above the covered eye which resembles that of a scar.

Title:  The Weight

…a fitting title at that.  You can tell that she is anxious, on alert – waiting for direction.  Yet the look on her face also indicates that she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  Anxiety will do that to a person.

 

 

 

 

 

One More Scar

Yesterday marked my two year anniversary since my hysterectomy. Normally on ‘important-to-me’ dates such as this I spend a bit of time reflecting but I was too busy mentally preparing for my dermatology appointment.

I’ve had a freckle on my eyelid, above my lash line for over a year. A couple of weeks ago as I was removing my eye makeup I noticed that it had a raised feeling to it. I called my husband to come and look at it. Sure enough, it looked significantly different than it had just weeks prior. The color of it had also changed and it had grown very dark in color. I called my dermatologist’s office to see if I could get an appointment.

“You already have an appointment in August for your bi-annual exam,” the receptionist said. I explained to her that I had a rapidly changing mole on my eyelid and needed to see the doctor as soon as possible.

“The earliest I can get you in is August 6th,” she said. We went around and around for a while until finally I asked for my doctor’s email. “I’ll just send a photo of the mole and if he thinks I can wait until August, I will.”

Her response: “We aren’t set up to receive email.” You’ve got to be kidding. “What is your fax number?” I asked. She gave it to me and I sent a fax with my photo attached and addressed it to my doctor. The copy came back with a photo that was nearly black; my eye was unrecognizable. Great.

My last ditch effort was to print out a photo of my eye and send it priority mail directly to his office. I got a callback the next day with an appointment set for June 5th.

I spent the next several days wringing my hands and awaiting my appointment. I knew what he would say as I’ve been through this a dozen times.

Sure enough when he saw me he stated that it needed to be removed and checked for melanoma. The many times I’ve been through this conversation and subsequent ‘mole-cutting’ ceremonies I’ve been left with small chunks of skin missing and stitches. This was my eyelid. Near my eyeball! I became disheartened.

“I could block out some time and do this in my office but I think you should likely see an eye surgeon,” said my doctor. The only catch was that it would take a bit longer to get an appointment because the surgeon comes into town only twice weekly from Chicago. “Would I be sedated if you did it here?” I asked, hopefully.

“No, I’m afraid not. I’d numb your eye with some drops and slip a plastic shield under your eyelid and then…..”

I already started shaking my head. “I can’t be awake for this,” I said, starting to panic. I suddenly felt like a bit of a coward as I let my fears dictate my decision. I thought of my friend Sal who had an abdominal hysterectomy with an epidural as her as her only form of anesthesia. She was awake for the entire thing. Oh, how I wished I had that kind of courage. But I don’t. I get very squeamish when things go into my eyes or my ears. I’ve been that way since I was a child.

“It’s fine. I think you’ve made a good choice here, and the surgeon is extremely good. He will do a great job and everything will be fine.” Everything aside, I truly love my dermatologist and I trust him completely. He’s been saving my life for many years now and I just needed to realize that if he felt I shouldn’t wait he would have said something. So……I wait.

Hopefully I will have an appointment on the books early next week. I have no idea how this will happen, if I will lose part of my lid or whether I’ll look like a pirate for a while with my very own eye patch, but until then I’m trying not to let these images grow into something too big to handle. Still, I worry if this will now be something that I’m going to have to encounter on a regular basis for the remainder of my life. I know very well the dangers of melanoma; I know someone who has died from it, and I also know that my risk of developing it in my lifetime is fairly high.

Logically I have a complete understanding that I could just as easily die from a car accident or choke on a carrot stick; but I’m not constantly being tested with minor fender-benders or repeated Heimlich Maneuvers then, either.

My distraction over all of this has caused me to nearly ruin two separate paintings this week, so this morning I pulled out a clean sheet of watercolor paper and just started painting. Remember when I told you that my artwork was like a visual diary and that one only need look at my work in order to get a glimpse of how I’m feeling? Today’s work in progress was no different.

Watercolor

I love the fact that I can pour my emotions into my artwork; I feel very fortunate to have that kind of creative outlet.  However,  I need to make a point to spend more time discussing my feelings out loud.  I’m finding that I’m not very good at that.  Outside I am vibrant with beautiful aquamarines and deep sunset corals, but many times, inside I am a swirl of putrid greens and jaundiced yellows. This has come from my years of continuous studio work and spending so much time alone.  I’m afraid I’ve regressed in this area of my life and I need to seek some balance.  Like this painting, I am also a #wip.