Thursday, February 23, 2017


In the back room at The Frame Shop where I spend the majority of my day at work, I decorated the walls with a collection of Scott Gustafson's fairy tale prints much to the chagrin of the other girls. They are way too young for someone my age. I need to pretend they are for my granddaughters. But no. They are mine. And I love them.

One of them (above) features Cinderella doing all the work while the birds come and visit her. I once imagined I could be like her. You know. Me, doing all the work and being real pitiful in my martyrdom. And some beautiful birds, inspired by my humility, coming to help me and stuff. And then, one day, BAM! I was indeed like her. Well, I was my sorry-self version of her.

Once Upon a Time in a Far Away Land, on a snowy day, while I was feeling sorry for myself at work, I lamented that if I was home, at least there would be something decent to look at out the window.

Within an hour or two, Dave Roberts, husband-who-likes-me-to-be-at-work, had bought no less than 100 pounds of bird seed and a big metal can to keep it in, as well as a couple feeders. I clapped my hands in delight and spun around the room to soaring music as the sun streamed purple and red from behind a white cloud shaped like a heart.

After that, the next thing I did was go out there in that snow and rig up this complicated mess for the smaller feeder to hang directly outside the window above the work-table where I spend most of my time. I invented what I thought was a spectacularly clever pulley system so my feeder could easily be lowered every single day to refill it because I was just sure I would have a million a birds.

Two or three weeks went by and I was still doing every single bit of the work and still waiting for a bird or two to show up.

One evening, I showed my bird-watching setup to my dear friend Mark Long. Mark is an exceptionally handsome and polite man who fits right in to my fairy tale, so when he said, "Oh. You want to see them really close, don't you?" I looked up at him and we both burst out laughing. Yes. I had interpreted him correctly.

The next day I bought a shepherd's hook and moved my bird feeders about a dozen feet into the yard past the window. Within a few days after that, the birds began to arrive. So did the squirrels.

During the day the birds would eat politely while the squirrels and I developed an increasingly hostile relationship. I'd bang on that window and carry on as long as no one was in the shop, but those squirrels couldn't be routed. I was acting a fool running off squirrels all day... well, running them off a few yards... but each night they would climb that shepherd pole and empty all my feeders. My 100 pounds of bird feed was disappearing quickly.

After our 17-year-old wiener dog, Lucy, passed away in the fall of the same year we put out the feeders, our other wiener dog, Frankie, was so lonely that he started coming to work with me each day. As soon as his new companion was ready to come home with us, we started bringing both dogs to work with us.

This new dog, The Wheeler Byrd, was a wonderful thing. He and Frankie would patrol our back yard here at the shop and keep those squirrels on the run. Our birds didn't mind them much (although the doves who feed on the ground didn't care for them). It was a great system.

Then, when The Byrd was about six months old, I saw him out in the yard with something in his mouth. I ran out to see what he'd gotten. Save us all, it was a bunny rabbit. Later he killed a snake. And after that, another snake.

The Byrd was a killer.

I sense that my fairy tale has derailed. And for the life of me, I can find no moral in this story.

But that's how our tales seems to go. We think we're going in one direction, only to find we're way way way down the road someplace we never even wanted to go.

When I was a little girl, I loved so much all the fairy tales in our collection of Childcraft books. I wanted mostly to be Sleeping Beauty, but even then I understood that that wouldn't be possible for the likes of me. Goldilocks was probably a more likely scenario or maybe even Little Red Riding Hood.

All these decades later... do we really change that much? Don't we still want adventure with safety? Don't we still want goodness to be rewarded and recognized and evil to be either repented of or soundly defeated?

Oh, the grandeur of our dreams when we are young.

And oh, the grandeur of our dreams when we are old.

And oh! For handsome princes who stick around and grow old with us and small little wiener dogs who pull us around by their leashes instead of beautiful white stallions who pull us in a chariot... isn't it a wonderful, magical, beautiful and mysterious world? And oh! For those roads we didn't intend to go down... didn't even know about... what a journey, a magnificent and fabulous journey filled with wonder and awe, prepared for each and every one of us in advance by a loving Father who has his eye even on the sparrow.

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" 1 John 3:1a

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Criminal Treatment

A REAL criminal sketch from local media -- bet this guy was recognized immediately!
A few years ago, the picture above actually ran on local media to help the public identify and capture a desperate criminal. While I freely admit that I never saw who was ultimately fingered as a result of this artist's rendition (maybe he looked exactly like this -- who could say?), I still like to fetch it and take a look at it sometimes as it never fails to make me burst into laughter.

It can be funny to see someone who is incompetent in their work, especially when what they are doing becomes a public spectacle like this poor slob's artwork. 

Incompetence on the job can be funny. Although, really that's not true, because it's not too funny when it's impacting you on a regular basis. Sometimes incompetent people are a little passive-aggressive -- just incompetent enough for everyone else to have to pitch in and carry their load. That's not only tiresome, it's boring.

For the criminal above, I hope he didn't do anything too serious and I also hope he's now paid his debt to society and is as free as a bird. My ultimate secret hope for him is this: one day a meek and mild shifty-eyed man will come into the shop... I'll be a little leery of him and wonder if I should mace him, but I won't of course, because my wiener dogs will like him and he'll be carrying a newspaper article that looks like something he wants to frame. He'll say, "how much to frame this, ma'am?" I'll look at this newspaper and a big smile will form on my wary fat face. "Not less than a hundred dollars," I'll announce loudly. He'll say, "Let's do it." And I'll frame up his portrait as fine as anything I've ever done... this yellowed rendering from The Rolla Daily News that has been my special funny treasure for years. He'll give me a fake name: "Joseph Bloseph." And I'll say, "Is this picture of you, Joseph?" He will say, "No, ma'am," but his ears will be all small and his jaw will be all square and his mouth will be all tight and his bangs will be all perfect and his eyes will be all shifty and I'll be in on his secret. From that day on, he and I will be best of friends.

Me and my friend Joseph Bloseph.

Yes. We all have our secret dreams, don't we?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Fifteen Years Ago (FYA) and NOW

Left: Fifteen years ago when we first came to The Frame Shop and Right: Today.
  1. Fifteen Years Ago (FYA): In our thirties.
    NOW: Can't remember our thirties.
  2. FYA:  9/11 can't be imagined.
    NOW: Imagining life in America without 9/11 -- how sad the permanent losses of freedom and innocence and hope.
  3. FYA: Raising teenage daughters.
    NOW: Raving about eight magnificent grandchildren.
  4. FYA: Snickers, our mighty Australian Shepherd, still patrols Veto Road.
    NOW: Stray cats of all sorts patrol Veto Road and Snickers bosses lesser dogs (which is almost all dogs) in Heaven.
  5. FYA: A new Grand Prix.
    NOW: That new Grand Prix has almost 300,000 miles.
  6. FYA: All our precious parents are living.
    NOW: Only our precious mothers are living.
  7. FYA: I can do flips on the trampoline.
    NOW: Trampoline is broken. Me too.
  8. FYA: New to wiener dogs, our Lucy is still sort of a puppy.
    NOW: Lucy follows Snickers around in Heaven while, down here on earth, Frankie is almost twelve and The Wheeler Byrd is our new puppy.
  9. FYA: Looking for a property to one day move The Frame Shop into.
    NOW: Working in that spectacular new Frame Shop location.
  10. FYA: New to frame-making.
    NOW: Thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands-upon-thousands of our frames hang in homes and businesses throughout the Midwest.
  11. FYA: Dave Roberts works full-time at The Rolla Daily News and full-time at The Frame Shop.
    NOW: Dave Roberts works full-time at The Rolla Daily News and full-time at The Frame Shop. 
  12. FYA: Find looking into the future a decade from now to be impossible.
    NOW: Find looking into the future a decade from now to be impossible.
Love to all and thank you for the last fifteen years. See you soon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"I told you so."

Yep. This is the life of your local custom framer! Husband Dave and I have been framing together for fifteen years.
After 34 years together (and fifteen years working together at The Frame Shop), my husband, Dave, doesn't offer much of an opinion once I've decided to do something. He was a boy when I married him right out of high school and it's not an exaggeration to realize that we grew into adulthood together instead of coming together as adults. I learned decades ago that he's not normally going to chime in his approval for any of my big ideas. He also doesn't criticize. Most difficult of all, he also doesn't say, "I told you so." As I believe he actually loves to utter those words when given any opportunity at all, I have to say, I appreciate his restraint.

Over these hundreds of years that we've been together, I have tried zillions of things. Coming up with some big idea is the most wonderful thing to do in this world. Beginning on a new brilliant project is also one of the greatest things in life. Getting just far enough into it that you realize it's way more complicated and difficult than you ever dreamed... well, that isn't quite so thrilling.

That's when a person who knew all along that another person would flop at whatever she was trying to do would delight in pointing out the obvious by lifting a brow and sniffling a well-timed: "well, I tried to tell you but you wouldn't listen."

Recently, I dragged old Dave Roberts on a few hours drive to go pick up an ancient piece of framing equipment  from a shop that was going out of business because I wanted to be able to easily cut oval glass. Our investment was merely fifty bucks for this old dinosaur-cutter but I knew it would be an awesome gadget to have. Good custom frame shops have a lot of gadgets because we do everything ourselves. So, even though we rarely-rarely-rarely frame with ovals (ovals go in-and-out of vogue... so they'll come back around...) I know I'll eventually think we were clever for getting this equipment on the cheap.

We dragged this old cutter home to the shop and I cleaned it, set it up, then started cutting. The mats cut easily enough on it (though I still have to go in and tighten it up and calibrate the settings), but alas, it doesn't have the glass-cutting head.

"I can cut it just as easily by hand," said Dave Roberts when I told him what I'd discovered.

"I know you can," I said. "But I wanted to do it on this cutter."

This is when he should have said, "Well, I told you we didn't need it."

But you see, he didn't say anything of the sort. Instead, he said, "You said you could get parts for it. Keep looking for the part. You'll find it."

And then he said something else that encompasses most of our life experiences. He said, "We've wasted a lot more than fifty bucks on things that didn't work."

Having a small business is hard in almost every way. You have to have nerves of steel (which I do not have), you have to juggle dozens of priorities (which I don't know how to do), you have to know how to do everything passably well (which who knows how to do everything or even wants to do everything?), you have to weather good- and terrible-times (and in the last decade there have been more than enough terrible-times for small businesses), and you have to never give up (which I dearly love to do).

Here's Dave, delighted to see me, as always.
This afternoon, after I showed him my latest big deal I'm making for the gallery ceiling, I watched while Dave Roberts quietly puttied several frames so I could fit them and get them out the door. It's a job I can do, but hate. So he does it. This week (and it's only Tuesday), while I piddled around figuring out how to use that oval-cutter and how to design my big fantastic idea for the gallery ceiling, he's also:

mowed the yard

emptied all my trash and taken the dumpsters to the curb and back again

brought me lunch every day

put away all the new mouldings

cut frames

cut glass

helped the Larson driver unload the truck

helped me relocate the crazy oval-cutter I bought

continued trenching a huge perimeter around our back-yard so we can bury an invisible fence that will allow our wiener dogs to return to the shop (our puppy keeps getting out even though we have a fence in the back and so we are adding another barrier)...

Each evening when I leave work (unless I'm mad at him for some reason) I call and ask what he's doing. He's always working at his real job and it's not usually a convenient time for me to call. After I ask when he's getting home I always ask him this, "What can I eat for supper?" And he tells me what we have or that he will be home in time to fix something.

Isn't it strange, isn't it strange, isn't it strange... our lives become so co-mingled over our lifetimes. How often I know this man would love to say, "Good grief! What were you thinking?" or more likely, "Good night! What in the world are you doing now?" Or best of all, "I told you that wouldn't work!" But instead, he does all the things a man does and lives in a quiet and fine way while I carry on to him about whatever great big harebrained thing I've dreamed up at any given time.

So isn't it strange?

And you know what?

For those who thought we were too young, too immature, too poor, too silly to make it all those decades ago: YOU WERE RIGHT! But, with God's help, we have. And, well, I told you so.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Frankie and The Wheeler Byrd

The Wheeler Byrd
My daughter Alicia and I visited this awesome shop in Joplin this past weekend and as we browsed through the magnificent displays we noticed that someone had left a door open to a small utility room. I stopped immediately, no longer interested in any of the beautiful wares they were selling, but instead found myself snooping as unobtrusively as I could at what lay behind that open door. I didn't go in, of course, but both Alicia and I peeked inside. There was a ridiculously big water heater and a few plastic shelves with odds-and-ends cleaning supplies. That's all. Why, we asked one another, was that so interesting?

I don't know the answer. But I've been a snooper of private places in stores anytime I've had the chance since I was a little girl. Back then, people bought their groceries at either Kroger or Hillcrest Big Star. Today, decades and decades later, I can perfectly visualize their stock rooms because you had to go through them to access the bathrooms. As a kid, I thought those areas were fascinating. I liked running as quickly and silently as I could on the sleek concrete floors in those long cool stock rooms and exiting out a different door than the one I had entered. I was never caught... or more likely, no one really cared what I was doing... but I felt adventurous and wild and free back there in that forbidden place.
These days, here at The Frame Shop, we have more space as private work area than we have as gallery. It just seems to me that it takes a dadgum lot of space to make a frame -- but I love it so much. Now that we've moved to our own little building our work space is pretty personal and organized to how we like to work and to what we like to do. 
The back room where I spend a lot of my time is decorated with green walls and pink curtains, magnificently framed fairy tale book pages, a rocker-lounger (for when I'm near death but still have to work!), a little television for my grandchildren, and two little dog beds.
Yes. Two little dog beds.
Frankie and Lucy, my little wiener dogs, have come to work with me at various times for several years and while Lucy always behaved better than Frankie, she finally became so frail and disoriented that she couldn't come anymore. We lost our little Lucy a month-and-a-half ago at age 16 years and 9 months. She was beloved and is dearly missed.
After we lost Lucy, our Frankie was really distressed and sad. We decided he should just come to work with me every day and he did. His behavior while he was at work was fairly good (although he really likes to bark at the neighborhood -- I'm so sorry, dear neighbors) and he would be pretty happy all day, but as soon as we'd get home, his ears would go flat and he would be sad again. He missed Lucy.
Wheeler, interrupting work (again)
So here came The Wheeler Byrd. 

And what is The Wheeler Byrd, you might ask?

This is The Wheeler Byrd.

He's just a little past six weeks and he is Frankie's new wiener dog puppy.

Now, bringing The Wheeler Byrd to work everyday along with Frankie has been an adventure.  He's really little but I can already tell he's going to be a porker if something doesn't change. This wiener dog eats, runs all over the back yard chasing Frankie as he makes his rounds and searches for squirrels and rabbits, then he collapses alongside Frankie into their little beds where they sleep like there's no tomorrow. An hour or so later, they repeat the cycle.
Frankie has his morning routine down so well that when I leave for work at The Frame Shop now it's really  difficult to leave the house without him. He is excellent company, but this Wheeler Byrd...

When I got Lucy all those hundreds of years ago, I was still working at Rolla Public Schools as the Board Secretary. Sometimes, after a board meeting, I would stay home the following day in order to complete the minutes from the meeting in as timely a manner as possible. I would sit at our old wooden school teacher's desk and write but before I ever started, I would prop up the girls' bean bag chairs one on top of the other then lift Lucy into the little trough they formed, right beside me. She would snooze there. Excellent, excellent company.

The Wheeler Byrd doing wiener dog work
We see all kinds of people in this little shop. Sometimes they are lonely. Sometimes they are stressed beyond what they can bear up under. Sometimes they are filled with worry about many things. Sometimes they are bringing things for me to frame that is a wound to their hearts because they have endured unimaginable loss.

Of course, having a little dog as a companion doesn't solve any of their problems. But when these customers leave, I sometimes come to this back room and see Frankie and Wheeler doing whatever doggy-things they are doing and I think maybe they know something we haven't learned. 
Although they may feel sad sometimes like Frankie did at the loss of his companion, Lucy... and although I know they feel afraid sometimes like Wheeler does when he hears someone operate a chainsaw or I shatter a piece of old glass so it will fit into the trash bin... and although I know they feel stressed sometimes (like when I'm eating a bologna sandwich and not giving any to them)... they also know how to recover and live in the moment. I don't know how to do that. When I can't get my work done, I worry and sometimes can't even figure out what I need to do first because I'm too busy acting like a fool because I have too much to do. If I encounter someone who is a little rude or terse, I can't stop thinking about it and sort of -- and this doesn't even make sense -- worrying about it. Why am I dumber than a dog?

These little wiener dogs are innocent, I suppose. Although I don't know that humans will ever be restored to an innocent state as Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden (I'm thinking that ship sailed and we can't undo the partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I believe God will make all things new and relieve us of the anxiety, worry, care, stress and sadness that plagues this life. While our precious little animals still have to endure these emotions because they do live in this fallen world with us, they are still innocent and so they aren't tormented by these emotions like we are.

I think we weren't really designed to live like this or in this type of day-in and day-out stressful world. We were designed to be awesome in an awesome place. But until then, I would recommend everyone consider  getting their own versions of a Frankie and a Wheeler Byrd. Because it gives a person perspective. It gives a person laughter. It gives a person a really cool looking dog. And most of all, it gives a person hope.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Old, Hard, Stiff, Uncompromising Clay

Late in the afternoon on Thursday of this week, we were still so covered up in projects at the shop that I was just an overwhelmed wreck. So, with a less than stellar attitude, I made an abrupt decision that there wasn't enough time left in the day to either finish a project or begin a new one. After tidying the fit table I opened the closet (where precious Martha has graciously organized row after row of supplies) and after a few indecisive moments, pulled out some clay.

But that stupid shameless clay... it was old and harder than granite. The last time it had been used was when my daughter Ashley made a rabbit and gave it to my Father -- probably six or seven years ago. And naturally, all my clay tools and the mechanical roller used for kneading were at home...

So, with no tools except two rough and cut-up hands I started smashing and crushing that clay. It crumbled. I rolled it and squished it with a tiny wooden dowel rod. It stayed as hard as ever. I took an old Altoid box and clobbered it over and over and over and over. It became too thin in some areas while still rock hard in others and it stuck to the marble I was using as a work surface. I got mad at it and threw it at the floor but it just rolled around picking up dust. Finally, since it wouldn't relax and soften, I plied some of it apart and began working on it in sections. I rolled it. Tweaked it. Patted it. Pulled it. Stretched it. Tiny part by tiny part. And it softened. It yielded.

Oh my goodness. With it ripped into small and manageable sections, pretty quickly it was ready and I could put it all together into one lump and work it. What had been as hard as a rock was now pliable and easy to knead.

These little wings were fashioned in just a few minutes. What took the time was the preparation of the clay. Once it was ready for use, forming the tiny wings and laying out how they were to be sculpted was so simple. The work was in the preparation, not the sculpting.

Old. Hard. Stiff. Uncompromising.

All ripped and torn and crushed and smashed and dropped and then kneaded back together soft and useful.

Then quickly fashioned in the way I knew they'd be before I even retrieved the clay from the cabinet. So easy once the clay was willing.

Oh, to be willing clay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

All Kinds of Paperwork


Today was spent doing all kinds of paperwork that didn't involve artistic creativity in any way. The paperwork consisted of tax reporting and W2 forms and bank ledgers and invoices and then reworking our embarrassingly out of date website.

After gathering what was needed and moving from my disaster-of-a-desk in the office at the shop, I moved into the back workroom. On that large and spotless table (normally used for fitting projects) I had plenty of space for two laptops as well as all the stacks of papers I needed. At the end of the day, everything was more-or-less finished, but the entire landscape looked like an elementary student's desk. Geez.

I did paperwork of that sort and similar other tasks for almost two decades when I worked as a secretary years ago. I used to write the minutes of Board meetings and before that I kept track of how millions of dollars were spent dollar-by-dollar for the city department I worked for... and I was happy enough in those jobs. But these days, the only paperwork I really want to do is paperwork involving painting and cutting and pasting.

A few of the "wings" centerpieces.
This past fall, my major paperwork consisted of creating several small and one large three-dimensional  "wings" sculptures to be used as centerpieces on tables for a group one of my daughter's is involved with. After those were completed, I thought it had been successful enough to begin a more challenging wings project and decided to create a set that is over five feet tall and sturdy. I got a fairly reasonable start on them, but then the shop got too busy for me to devote any time on them.

One of the small "wings" centerpieces.
It's incredibly challenging to take up an abandoned project -- and the reason for that abandonment makes no difference. It seems there's always something new I'm wanting to do (and probably never finish either.) It's one of the worst traits many artsy-fartsy people share. We are super at starting. We are frail at finishing. It's a terribly immature, destructive, wasteful and lazy trait.

This spring, we'll see how lazy and immature and wasteful I am... oh, how I hate being accountable! But my daughter Alicia... she'll be asking about them. God bless Alicia. God bless all her pointed little comments to her beloved Mother-Sweet-Mother!

I started by cutting out the basic shape of the wings and sanding each piece.  I've been trying to improve on my poor circular saw skills.  My dad used to tell me that I was going to cut off a leg because I was careless and didn't use good judgement about how I set up a cut.  To combat this proclivity for recklessness, I've tried to behave slightly more like a human instead of a monkey when I'm cutting. But I still love power tools so much it's hard for me to settle down and behave.

After the boards were cut, it was on to figuring out how they would actually look.  Unfortunately, I made a mistake right at the beginning and started forming the left wing from the right cut-out and the right wing from the left cut-out so my original sketch of what they were supposed to look like was messed up.  Another GEEZ!

I made extensions to flesh out the support out of foam core and screwed them to the base. They seemed sturdy enough to withstand the process but I really wasn't confident about how well they'd hold up when they were drenched with water.

The bases made, I noticed they looked more like giant ears than anything else. I'm still bummed that I messed up the original design, but think they'll work.  They are folded wings, after all.

Next came the foundation for the "feathers." It's just water-logged paper soaked in flour. I'm always amazed at how well this elementary school trick works.  Thank you, Mrs. Stormes (my grade-school art teacher!) for this tip as well as the millions of others you shared with us. God bless you.
It took so long for the wing-folds to dry, I started to become wonder if it would even work. It was also hard to leave the folds alone and stop fiddling with their positioning. I was a little concerned with the possibility of mildew they were so big and so wet, but it dried a little each day and finally they were as stiff and sturdy as I could have hoped for.

They dried a little each day -- very little each day.

I began to add the layers of "feathers" but didn't get far. We got so busy beginning in August that I haven't been able to work on them since. This winter I'm likely have a few days. Oh how I love a quiet snowy day in February and March! I'm anxious to take this project back up. They've been hanging in the mat-cutting room taunting me for months. I desperately want to finish the feather-work so I can begin the painting. That's the part I am most excited to do. NO! I'm most excited to hang the finished wings in the gallery!