Reflections

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Pots and Pans, 20×24 Stebner oil on stretched linen

Mild as it was, January is over. Some of its goals have been accomplished. Others remain. Working in my new studio, I did revisit a number of subjects, from places to paintings. With new techniques, I reworked some old paintings.

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Kitchen Bits, 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel

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Corner of Giverny, 8×10 Stebner oil on linen panel

After two years, I revisited the self-portrait, this time using the limited palette of Anders Zorn.

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January 2016 Self-portrait, 12×16 oil on linen

Now it’s the beginning of February, and as I have begun planning for my teaching stint in France in June(several spaces remain…), my mind was drawn back to January of 2013, when I was solo-treking through central France, including the bogs(marais) of Bourges, where the townsfolk have private garden plots, naturally irrigated by the canals. Although I was immediately smitten with this mysterious place, at last I’ve begun see the paintings they offer. I guess I had to mature through three cancer treatments(and a lot of paint, c’est clair!) in order to finally know how to paint them. Gray is sublimely colorful and shadows are as beautiful as sunlight.

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Marais at Sunset, January 6×8 Stebner oil on linen panel.

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Punting the Marais, January. Stebner 6×8 oil on linen panel.

Jump-Starting New Year

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Light on Giverny, 9×12 oil on panel

After church on Christmas Eve, we ran into a brilliant old friend we hadn’t seen in ages. After New Year, we received a card from her wishing us well and saying she had a feeling 2016 was going to be good for all three of us. What a refreshing thought. And coming from her, I realized it was more than a civil holiday wish. She really had a feeling good things were going to come each of our ways. Really?

Not that I’m negative. Anyone who knows me, knows I refuse to cave to the shadows of life. But six decades have also crushed youth’s rosy colored glasses, leaving me a little uncertain about unfounded hope. Deborah’s positive feeling challenged me to put aside my ready-for-anything boxing gloves and simply take a calm, confident pose, trusting that all the cancer treatment I’d undergone would continue to provide good test results. And all in the nick of time. You see, I was due more blood work to ascertain if all the treatment I’d undergone was still efficacious.

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Maribeth’s Tulips, 11×14 oil on linen

A week of waiting between drawing blood and seeing my oncologist ended this morning, after serving waiting room time, followed by the usual hurdle of well-meaning, vital-taking nurses: the typical patient’s purgatory. At last the familiar rap on the examination room door broke my quarantine and I was greeted by Dr. Hoimes’ handshake and reserved smile, an expression which has delivered equally happy and unhappy news over the past several years. But this year, it affirmed what I’d been waiting to hear: PSA still undetectable. That’s twice in a row- a first time for me. I’m starting to get that good feeling for 2016, myself! There’s a lot of happy, healthy hours ahead painting both here and in France.

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Happy Times: Normandy Mill 24×36 oil on linen

The Current of Peace

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Giverny Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

I remember thirty-some years ago, flying to Europe at the dismay of many, when airplane high-jacking was just beginning. Less than a year ago, Jim and I were on a train to Paris from Provence the day Charlie Hebdo and his team of artist/journalists were murdered on the job in that city of art and culture. We walked the streets unknowingly that night, enjoying a wonderfully romantic dinner not all that far from the scene of the crime. It was later that night, tucked in our hotel room near the Gare de Lyon, that I read many of your concerns for us on Facebook. Now, once again, terrorism has tried to darken the City of Light. But its inhabitants seem to refuse to buckle. Nor would I.

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Autumn Bliss, 11×14 oil on linen, Stebner

It’s public knowledge that I’ve been fighting a personal terrorist called cancer for over two years. I’ve refused to cave in to its assault on my happiness and creativity. Facing that assailant within has only strengthened my resolve to drain the last drop of life out of every day. This autumn it’s been a season to paint my childhood stomping grounds on the Cuyahoga River as well as French memories. Our move put teaching in France on the back burner this September.

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Everett Bridge, 12×16 oil on linen, Stebner

In a little over a week, I’ll host my thirty-sixth holiday open house and sale. In an effort to add at least a drop to aid world peace, I’ll be donating 10% of all sales through December 19th to the Gandhi Institute. So, should a Stebner painting call your name as a gift to yourself or a loved one, you’ll be doing your part, too. Thanks.

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Returning to Childhood, Cuyahoga River  8×12 oil on panel, Stebner

Lean Times to Time Square

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A week from right now, Jim and I will be back in New York meeting new and old friends at the church where we were married last January. This year we’ll be celebrating the opening of my first one-man-show in that amazing city. How honored I am that it will be in a place so dear to our hearts. Thanks to Father Gerth, Jose Vidal and our friend who put the bug in their ear, Suzanne Woods, one of my dear “Artistic Adventure” painting students, who was with me last fall in the Périgord.

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I can’t wait to go. It’s been a long Lenten journey for me. My 40 days in the desert were spent on a cold, steel radiation table every day at 5:30 zapping some obstinate prostate cells that escaped the surgeon’s knife last June. As usual, I’ve planned all my medical attention around trips to France and New York. Nothing, but nothing, can interfere with the joy that fills my soul and drives me to create. My energy and determination are stronger than ever. So celebrate with me if you dare; I have passion to spare. New York April 17. Burgundy May 28. The Périgord June 16. Or my studio on Dorchester Rd. May 2.

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SANTÉ!

Patois Garden, 10x10 oil on panel.

Patois Garden, 10×10 oil on panel.

The big week is here. My Double Header. Tuesday I had blood drawn for the PSA test which would determine my future health course. So much was depending on this test result, in my mind, that I must confess it was the singular nervous moment of my cancer journey. Maybe I was still just subconsciously remembering the bad test of March. However, when I sat down in the chair and felt the tourniquet tighten around my bicep, as the needle entered my vein, a premonition came over me that everything was right. The number was going to be next to nothing.

Of course I couldn’t wait to find out. So by Wednesday afternoon, when I hadn’t heard anything, I rifled an email off to Dr. Abouassaly. How many doctors answer your email within an hour? Je suis très Dr. Abouassaly. But he had nothing to offer. In my germanic need for efficiency, I wanted that report in hand by Thursday when I saw him. Rattle-bang-boom, text and call mania, and by Thursday morning at 10:00 I had tracked it down and trekked back to Labcorp, leaving the lab with the results in hand. Seated in the car, the drum rolled in my mind as I opened the envelope. Trumpets fanfared as I saw >.1 on the value line. According to Dr. A, that puts me out of the need for further treatment! It was a upbeat checkup that afternoon. And an intimate celebration that night at Larry’s, our favorite hang out.

Now it’s Friday and almost time for lunch. Focus is on prepping for the studio sale tomorrow. I’ve run inventory, priced and framed the last two paintings. Know anyone looking for a large painting of french countryside? I have some yummy brushy ones to offer! All sizes really. Including the paintings done en plein air in France this past June. Whether you’re purse has padding for a painting or not, I hope you’ll bring a friend and stop by. Corks will pop and light snacks will be waiting. Help me celebrate a successful summer of travel, surgery and sun.

Make a comment below and I’ll give you a special discount in the event one calls your name!

IMG_5501THE WAY I read a letter’s this:
’T is first I lock the door,
And push it with my fingers next,
For transport it be sure.

And then I go the furthest off
To counteract a knock;
Then draw my little letter forth
And softly pick its lock.

Then, glancing narrow at the wall,
And narrow at the floor,
For firm conviction of a mouse
Not exorcised before,

Peruse how infinite I am
To—no one that you know!
And sigh for lack of heaven,—but not
The heaven the creeds bestow.

Emily Dickinson

Fourth of July 2014

20140608_143723Just over a week ago, I was savoring my last French coffee and buttery croissant in Paris before packing my brushes to return home from a month in France. I’d led two small groups on Artistic Adventures through some rural haunts of Normandy and Burgundy, as well as studying painting for a week, myself. The next day, I was sipping clear liquids from my sun drenched room at University Hospital in Cleveland, just hours after a successful prostatectomy.

20140603_112224You see, March’s blood tests were not what I’d hoped for. A spike in my PSA results called me to make decisions about new doctors and protocol. April’s MRI and biopsy only verified the fact that my Bavarian cancer cure a year ago was only temporary. All this was a parallel chapter playing secretly as we made final plans to celebrate our daughter’s May wedding and then take off on the French adventures I’d promised a dozen of my followers.

What changed not only my mind, but my FRAME of mind about surgery? At the end of my first consultation at University Hospital, after recommending surgery as my best long-term option(exactly what he knew I was avoiding), Dr. Hoimes said to me: “You’re a young man and you have many more paintings to create”. Brilliant! Ultimately, tail-gating surgery onto the jet-lag of my month in France was just another unexpected turn in the road and my mind was at that perfect spot to experience the unexpected and bring me to this blissful moment, today, snacking on dead-ripe watermelon in the garden. Quintessential Fourth of July fare.

The potager at Chateau Chatillon.

The potager at Chateau Chatillon.

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Happy Times, Warmer Climes

IMG_1567IMG_1574Being vegan for 10 months since Jim’s aortic coarctation has had no real moments of regret, but holidays and celebrations require redefining: and that includes how to escape turkey on Thanksgiving and prime rib or ham on Christmas. Thanksgiving was resolved with a trip to balmy San Francisco, an international food haven, visiting our friends,  Melody and Stacey, who have no problem with alternative cuisine. May I say, turkey can’t hold a candle to the ecstasy of walking the Golden Gate Bridge on a sunny day.

Returning to a frigid Ohio December, I’ve escaped by painting some small pochades of favorite scenes of summers’ past, from Brittany to the Chiemsee. As the year wraps up, with two Saturday afternoon Holiday Open Houses to go, my heart is warmed by the full life I’ve experienced, to date, the crisis of this year included. Jim and I are still savoring our morning and evening rituals, health restored. Oh yes, my PSA is now down to 0.4. Santa brought me just what I wanted.

Sunny Days in the Perigord Stebner 6x8 oil on panel

Sunny Days in the Perigord Stebner 6×8 oil on panel

Brittany Revisited, Stebner 6x8 oil on panel

Brittany Revisited, Stebner 6×8 oil on panel

Changing Winds, Stebner 6x8 oil on panel

Changing Winds, Stebner 6×8 oil on panel

Sunny Reflections, Stebner 6x8 oil on panel.

Sunny Reflections, Stebner 6×8 oil on panel.

 

 

If I Were a Rich Man

IMG_1108I announced my cancer with  the blog “Singing in the Rain”. I had no idea what a continuing song Rain would play in my cancer story. When I discovered Klinik Marinus am Stein, I imagined one of the perks of coming here would be painting sessions among the edelweiss with cowbells ringing in my ears. Bavaria in June, you know; the hills alive with the sound of music? Fact is, this May has been the worst Bavarian May weather in 55 years. Like much of Europe right now, it has been under huge torrents for days and days. Hence, I’ve walked to and from the clinic every day, so far, in a raincoat with an umbrella over my head. Tomorrow holds no better promise. But Sunday should be a sunny-day.

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Lying on tables every morning on magnetic field mats, hearing the drizzle outside the window while getting ozone blood transfusions and major selenium and vitamins C drips, like walking in the rain,  give one more time than usual to think. Both experiences have made me realize how rich a life I live. Inspiring teachers, supportive family, friends and clients who each in their own way have played an integral part in making this healing trip a possibility.

Being here just a couple days has given me opportunity to hear other cancer patients’ stories from around the world, which make me almost feel like a charlatan. Though my PSA and Gleason scores were high, I got here before my diseased cells had time to even form a proper tumor. Most of my colleagues are here because their allopathic hospitals and doctors had nothing to offer them but palliative care. Here their huge tumors are shrinking and their numbers are dropping: not miraculous, but helpful. With Christmas anticipation, I look forward to my reports in a few short days, after a lot more pokes and prods.

Rich man that I am, my heart continues to sing a song of overwhelming gratitude for every moment of life, in and out of the rain.

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Reflections Crossing the Atlantic

The first time I heard the word cancer, I was in the fifth grade. We were all forbidden to ever breathe the word in front of him, lest our grandfather give up. Long before hospice, his world became a hospital bed in my grandparents’ farmhouse living room. At thirteen, my cousin and I would spend Saturday nights having popcorn parties and sleeping on the lumpy sofa bed, taking our turn nursing the salty old man so our grandmother could get a night’s sleep. He was bed-ridden for five years before his life was over.

Three years after his death, as a senior in high school, I was eagerly awaiting my first trip to Europe when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, a secret she kept from us until a week before her surgery. Before I ascended the Zugspitze or had my first beer in the Hofbrauhaus, I made a memorable trip to her hospital room, where she insisted I fulfill my childhood dream, in spite of her convalescence. Twenty five years and nine grandchildren later, we watched her expire in bits and pieces from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

With such vivid memories of the possible devastation of this disease, I ask myself over and over why I see my particular bout with cancer as just another one of life’s remarkable and fascinating journeys. A turn in the road. An unescapable pot hole, even. But an adventure instead of a bell toll, nonetheless.

Maybe it’s some curious inner light. An indomitable spirit. Or maybe it’s the incredible love that I experienced with amazing folks at my art sale last week and my “inner circle” who bid me such a memorable Bon Voyage last night. But I have to think that part of it is that same artistic vision which sees something beautiful on a blank canvas and is bold enough to make the first brush stroke. Facing trials with creative energy is just the only way I know how to live. Discovering cancer in my body has led me to seek a cure I can live with. That cure leads me to a tiny town near my teenage Bavarian stomping ground. Even more astounding, without meeting cancer in my own body, I wouldn’t have the same urgent passion and conviction to paint my corner of the world, wherever it may be.

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The subject of my most recent commission. To be completed when I return!

Singin’ in the Rain

IMG_0136Yesterday was quintessential spring in Ohio. The kind writer’s write about and singers sing about. And a plein air painter’s dream-come-true. Today, that cerulean sky has faded to gray and there’s the most gentle, persistent, all-day spring shower, the flip-side of spring’s song. Our live’s on Dorchester continue to flip back and forth, as well.

As the forsythia began to toss its buttery tendrils in the breeze a few weeks ago and I was busy creating my Gustavian-inspired Stebner art gallery at the designer show house,  Jim’s life was falling back into a happy, new normal and, though entering the autumn of our life, our hearts beat like youths’ for one another after facing the potential goodbye of eight weeks ago. However, no amount of golden sun-rays, jonquils or forsythia could overt the violent-gray storm cloud which had been threatening to ravage our nest for the better part of a year. Indeed, biopsies, C-T scans and bone scans confirmed what my elevated psa had been warning all along: I have a contained prostate carcinoma. Contained-good. Cacinoma-bad. The star magnolias I see out my window start to drop their petals in the rain.

DSCN2595But the little boy who tirelessly drew the cottages and castles he saw in his sleep, refuses to let the dragons of life’s waking hours impede his romance with life. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, I was blessed with well-balanced parents, who let me dream- as long as I was working towards the dream’s goal. No room for cheap talk in our family. Consequently, recent waking hours, when I wasn’t preparing for the show house opening, were spent in vigilant research for other options to surgery or radiation until I found one that rang true to me. I found a combination of non-surgical therapies built around a hyperthermia procedure which has proved effective and without side effects for over twenty two years…inGermany. Not available in this country.

So, bref, bottom line, in short,as they say in France, I head for a cancer clinic in Bavaria in four weeks to undergo a weeklong series of therapy. The men I’ve talked to who have done it, confirm that it’s so gentle, they play golf and bike in the afternoons, after treatments. More importantly, their psa is now totally normal and they are cancer-free. You know what I’ll be doing in the afternoon, after mine. Off on a bike with my paints and brushes to capture the beauty of mountains and lakes I haven’t visited for thirty-five years.

Be forewarned; don’t anyone try to rain on my parade. I’m bearing my cancer-cloud just fine, excited as a kid waiting for Santa to see how this all turns out. And as resolved as Sir Galahad to find my Holy Grail.

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