Tag Archives: Beauty

Candid handiwork of an artiste

For Christmas, my Beloved and I opted to gift each other with a pottery throwing class.

He had long been interested the art after creating a strange and interesting sculpture out of bronze back in the ’80s. And I’m always up for a creative challenge.

Challenge, it was. As a writer, my creativity is cerebral. But for a potter, creativity must be wrested physically from the clay. Successfully throwing pottery requires strength, dexterity and finesse.

I did not learn how to make beautiful cups and plates. As I created bowls (only the simplest bowls), I learned humility, patience and how to let go. When I let the clay speak to me, instead of insisting on dictating to it, I was more successful in my endeavors. Like so many things in life, I learned I didn’t know what I didn’t know. The medium is volatile, and any number of mishaps can occur during the process of wheel-throwing, glazing and firing. I will never gaze upon a piece of hand-thrown pottery again without appreciating all the effort that went into it.

Our class was offered for three hours in the morning once a week for six weeks at Sailing Adrift Studios in Jonestown, Texas. Our teacher, Kim Press, is an accomplished ceramicist with a gift for instruction (you can check out some of her truly amazing pieces by clicking here). My Beloved and I enjoyed the experience immensely though I think I will stick to my knitting (that is, writing). We ended up creating eight bowls each in the course of the six weeks.

In the interest of showing off and, well, let’s face it, practicing humility, here’s a look at our work.

My pieces are on the left, my Beloved’s on the right. Several of his are much bigger because, as you recall, he’s a “go big or go home” kind of guy.

For fun, let’s pretend my works are display at the Gallery of Minnesota Transplant (in reality, most of them might function best as holders for earrings or M&Ms, but for a few minutes, they are art). Follow me, right this way …

Monica Lee

Retrieved From Oblivion, 2022

Glazed stoneware

45/8 in x 11/2 in

On the wheel, the artist compressed the bottom so much, it disappeared. The finished work was salvaged by building a new foundation.

Monica Lee

Blue Dribbler, 2022

Glazed stoneware

43/8 in x 17/8 in

As memoirist Jhumpa Lahiri once wrote in In Other Words, “The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.”

Monica Lee

Kittyhawk, 2022

Glazed stoneware

33/8 in x 11/8

Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first successful flight in 1903 south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, had their Wright Flyer aloft for 12 seconds, traversing less than 200 feet.

Monica Lee

Rain Kissed Blooms, 2022

Glazed stoneware

33/4 in x 21/4 in

This was the only piece the artist painted with glaze instead of dipping.

Monica Lee

Shallow Triumph, 2022

Glazed stoneware

63/4 in x 11/2 in

The artist’s final and largest work.

Monica Lee

Tea Stained Morning, 2022

Glazed stoneware

53/8 in x 13/4 in

A secondary blue haze accents this balanced finish.

Monica Lee

Secure Border, 2022

Glazed stoneware

41/8 in x 11/2 in

Monica Lee

Larger Beauty ,2022

Glazed stoneware

33/4 in x 13/4 in

Glazed to look like a bird’s egg, this piece echoes a line from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch: “And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—is that they connect you to some larger beauty?”

I will close with this apt quote from writer Kurt Vonnegut:

To practice art,
no matter how
well or badly,
is a way to make
your soul grow.

Blooms in their original place

Another gray day in paradise. The wet fields are preventing farmers from planting their crops, but you know what they say about the upside of April showers: They bring May flowers.

Here are a few tulips I’ve glimpsed recently. Tulips have lovely blossoms that are best viewed in situ.


This bunch is growing in the middle of nowhere, clinging to a steep hill. “Life, uh, finds a way,” doesn’t it Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park).

tulips red

These tulips are growing in front of the sign at the other church in town.

tulip yellow

This single yellow beauty is growing in the garden left behind by the former gardeners of our church, now home. It’s a persistent bugger; I have pictures of the bloom last year at this time, too.

I ran across something else today, too, that seems appropriate for the subject matter. I saw this quote in a vanity sink. Yes, you read that right. Kohler made an Artists Edition sink painted with prairie flowers and this verse:

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty. It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language.”

~ Aldo Leopold

Leopold was an American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist and environmentalist. He was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and is best known for his book A Sand County Almanac.

Travel Tuesday: Water, water everywhere (and a freebie, too!)

Whatever it is about waterfalls, they demand attention. Maybe it’s the racket, as noisy as they are. Maybe it’s the danger (nothing like a sheer rock face to put a little scare into one’s soul). But it’s probably the beauty. Waterfalls can be so pretty.

I’ve had the opportunity to see quite a number of lovely waterfalls in my travels around the country this year, and I thought I’d share a few today.

Yosemite valley

This is a long shot (because the view is that beautiful), but in the center of the photo you can see Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park.

washington falls

We found this strange place hidden among miles and miles of grassy bluffs. Palouse Falls is the only major year-round waterfall remaining from the Ice Age floods that carved the landscape of southeastern Washington state thousands of years ago. The falls plunge nearly 200 feet over layers of exposed basalt that make up the Palouse River Canyon. Check out that eerie rock formation behind and to the left of the falls.

yellowstone falls

In a place like Yellowstone National Park, the falls are probably among the least interesting sights to see, but I caught a rainbow in the mist at the falls of the Yellowstone River.

Cascade Falls

The St. Croix River cutting between Wisconsin and Minnesota north of Stillwater is really quite beautiful. Cascade Falls in Osceola is breathtaking. I got to see these during a lingering Saturday afternoon drive earlier this summer. The hike to the bottom is worth it (and the steps back to the top are worth it, too, with a little ice cream at the top).


This is more of a fountain than a waterfall, but you take what you can get when you’re visiting central Wisconsin. I snapped this picture last weekend while I was was Fawn Creek Winery near the Wisconsin Dells. The fish in the pool at the bottom liked the liquid libations as much as I did.

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Minnesota Wonderer was Minnesota Wonderer (or Minnesota Transplant for that matter), she was The Percussionist’s Wife. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. If you like Minnesota Wonderer, this is her origin story. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.

Art in the old west

art opening

Maybe not everyone’s first choice on a Saturday night would be to attend an art opening, but just the thought of mingling with other art lovers while sipping a glass of wine and listening to live piano music in the background thrilled me.

It wasn’t my Beloved’s first choice either, but he indulged me on the promise of ice cream treat on the way home.

Window Dressing

Window dressing at the downtown show.

Even if art openings aren’t your thing, maybe you’ll appreciate a quick peek at the show that opened last week at the Yuma Art Center. Minus the wine and ice cream.

Among the works I took in was the microscopic photography of Robert Schaal. His portion of the show was titled “Hidden Beauty,” and indeed he revealed the unseen loveliness that surrounds us.

Agave Rising

Agave Rising by Robert Schaal

artistBecause it was an opening instead of simply an art show, I got to meet the artists behind the works. Schaal told me he places slices of household items–an agave plant, in the case above–on a microscope slide, adjusts the lighting to his liking and takes a picture. He then chooses the crop and orientation and names it. Many of his pieces look like otherworldly landscapes. It’s hard to remember one’s looking at a microscopic slice of something.

I appreciated the abstract nature of the prints, but the concrete thinker in me appreciated the exhibit didactics.

Here are a few more pieces:

The Red Tear and Desert Evening

The Red Tear and Desert Evening

The Pinwheel

The Pinwheel

Two other artists also showed works at the opening. I found them less cerebral, but interesting nonetheless.

Hector D. Llamas offered “Las Damas de Llamas,” a blend of futurism and traditional Mexican culture.

where secrets turn into dreams

Where Secrets Turn Into Dreams by Hector D. Llamas

And Tyler Voorhees showed “Tall Tales,” sort of a surrealistic approach to western art.


Draw by Tyler Voorhees

TV sigI appreciated Voorhees’ sense of humor, evident in his exhaustive exhibit didactics and even in his signature which embraces his initials. He told me the control buttons on the TV represent his children.

The show represented dichotomy: microscopic landscapes, modern tradition, Old West surrealism. So often, Saturday night is a one-note soiree, but this art offered the flip side of things.

Coping with bangxiety

Today is a bad hair day.

Yesterday I wore an ugly headband and today I’m wearing a hat even though it makes my head sweat in the near 90-degree temps.

Shaggy DA

The Shaggy D.A. on Day 48 with bangs.

It’s because I have bangxiety.


I forgot yesterday was Travel Tuesday and I was supposed to blog about the Yuma Territorial Prison.

My absent-mindedness is because I have bangxiety.

I can’t wait until tomorrow when I have a haircut scheduled.

My impatience is because I have bangxiety.

Thanks to Fab Over Forty, I learned a great new word (bangxiety!) and confirmed my recent decision to adopt forehead fringe. Kari Schultz over at Fab Over Forty blogs that bangs are not frumpy but fabulous for those of us nearing middle age.

Yes, for the first time in 25 years, I got bangs 48 days ago. They were awesome for the first six weeks. I looked decades younger, I’m positive. But now they’re driving me wild with bangxiety! This is always the problem with bangs, I remember ruefully. Time passes, hair grows. And I. Can’t. See!

Now I know why the Shaggy D.A. had a nose for mystery. He sure didn’t have the eyesight for it!

Tall Barbie is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (except good marketing)

Good on Mattel for making a big splash last week about the new Fashionista Barbie dolls. Publicity equals sales. Yay, Marketing Department!

(I used to be a marketer. I get it.)

tall barbie

Leather & Ruffles Tall Fashionista Barbie

But I don’t think tall, petite and curvy Barbies with seven skin tones, 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles do a whole lot for the evolution of girls.

Or least, the tall ones don’t. I won’t speak for the petite, the curvy, the green-eyed or the blue-highlight-coiffed among us (except to say, wasn’t Skipper petite?).

“We have to let girls know, it doesn’t matter what shape you come in,” Mattel’s promotional video says, “that anything is possible.”

Um, no. Not anything is possible.

Tall Barbie can’t be a jockey. And she doesn’t fit comfortably into a standard airplane seat. And there’s still no way her feet are proportionally sized; tall girls need a bigger platform on which to balance.

I was a tall girl. And Barbies of average height didn’t make me feel like a freak.

Boys did.

Here’s the real question, which Google couldn’t answer for me: Is tall Barbie taller than Ken? If not, tall Barbie is just another doll who fits into the expectation that boys should be taller than girls.

And not all of them are.

I distinctly remember the moment I figured this out.

It was seventh grade. Between classes, a hundred or more seventh graders rumbled through the basement of Wadena Junior High School, an ancient three-story structure that probably had lead paint and asbestos pipes (it’s long gone, and so is the evidence).

In the basement, the girls’ lockers, the girls’ bathrooms and the band room were grouped on the south side of the basement. The boys’ lockers, the boys’ bathroom and the shop (where all kinds of leather tooling, drafting and small engine repair were practiced) were on the north end of the long, low hallway that bridged the sexes.

In today’s age, I assume boys’ and girls’ lockers are evenly mixed between the shop and the home ec classrooms, but not back then. Yes, I know, you instructors of family and consumer science, home economics doesn’t even exist anymore. Some things change, some things don’t. Like how tall are adolescent boys in comparison to adolescent girls.

Back to my reverie. Between classes, I walked that hallway gauging how close the boys’ heads came to the ceiling. Because at 5-foot-8, I had a bird’s eye view.

This was the moment I became self conscious about my height. Shopping for pants only reinforced my insecurities. This was the ’80s, and high-water pants were the most embarrassing fashion choice I could make. Oh, yes, I needed the Nike swoosh on my shoes, and ponchos and peace signs had become weird throw-backs, but short pants? The very worst. Finding pants long enough for my inordinately long legs was a feat I would spend hours, days, weeks to accomplish.

By the time I figured out I was “too tall” in seventh grade, I was past learning lessons from any forward thinking Barbies. Maybe I was taller than all the boys (and all the girls for that matter) when I was playing with Barbies in second, third, fourth grades, but I didn’t realize it and playing with tall Barbies was not necessary then to make me feel less like a freak.

So this whole tall Barbie promotion amuses me. “Imagination comes in all shapes and sizes,” Mattel spouts. Platitudes are awesome in marketing materials. Hard to argue with that. (A better platitude would be that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes,” but I’m just a critic.)

What tall girls really need more of is short Ken. Short Ken should never ask tall Barbie to wear shorter heels. He should never call attention to tall Barbie’s height except to comment lovingly on her long legs. When he slow dances with her, he should nuzzle her chest and tell her how much he loves the eye view. He should never complain about his own height because that makes tall Barbie conscious of her own.

OK, I kid. Tall Barbie needs to love herself just as she is, and to heck with what Ken thinks.

But I really hope her pants are long enough.

What it means when a centenarian goes shoe shopping

As I’ve sorted through my grandmother’s journals this week, I found a funny photocopied essay she squirreled away in the back of one of the books.

Now, to find it amusing, you have to know Grandma. She’s 100, and she lived on her own until two weeks before her last birthday, so she’s pretty healthy (for 100), clear-headed, tough (she has, after all, lived in Minnesota for a century) and she’s got a great sense of humor (I wouldn’t be surprised if she told someone April Fools Day is her favorite holiday — that reminds me, I need to look up April 1st in her journals over the decades).

She’s also just a little bit vain. Not in a bad way — I admire this about her. Her earrings always match her outfit, for instance, and she colored her hair into her 80s. It must be working for her — she’s never been overweight and she’s 100 years old. In fact, I dedicated my last book to her because “she proves vanity is a virtue.” When I last visited her a few weeks ago, I accompanied her and my dad to an appointment with her eye doctor. On the way home, she wanted to stop at a nearby shoe store because she was looking for a particular type of sandal — my 100-year-old grandmother was shoe shopping! How great is that?! (I found it amusing when we couldn’t find quite the right style of sandal and the sales lady helpfully suggested the sandal selection would be more vast in the spring. I hope my 100-year-old fashion-conscious grandma will shopping for new sandals next spring!)

So I find this little essay tucked into one of her journals, which she began keeping when she was 70. It’s titled “The Stranger” (a quick internet search reveals the author to be Rose Madeline Mula). It starts like this:

A very weird thing has happened. A strange old lady has moved into my house. I have no idea who she is, where she came from, or how she got in. …

She is a clever old lady, and manages to keep out of sight for the most part, but whenever I pass a mirror, I catch a glimpse of her. And whenever I look in the mirror to check my appearance, there she is, hogging the whole thing, completely obliterating my gorgeous face and body. This is very rude. I have tried screaming at her, but she just screams back.

It continues for several paragraphs describing how the Stranger “plays nasty games …altering my clothes” and doing “something really sinister to the volume controls on my TV, radio and telephone. Now, all I hear are mumbles and whispers” and other mean tricks.

I find this amusing, as I stand on the precipice of 50 (14 months, 7 days away, not that I’m counting or anything). There’s a strange middle-aged lady in my house with a flabby butt and crow’s feet who leaves marbles in my shoes and makes it difficult for me to recall exactly the right word without a thesaurus.

I find a little comfort knowing Grandma felt this way at 70something and yet, she’s still going strong, getting her hair done, painting her nails and shopping for shoes.

That’s the old lady I want to be. One who, despite being unable to unscrew a jar of spaghetti sauce, maintains a firm grip on her vanity and her sense of humor.

Fall breeze whisks in

Listen! the wind is rising,
and the air is wild with leaves.
We have had our summer evenings,
now for October eves!

~ Humbert Wolfe

hickory treer 2015

The breeze was wild today, and I fear the backyard hickory tree’s leaves soon will be gone (my goodness, look at the yard!), so I took this picture to stop time.

Regular readers will remember I photographed this tree every day for a month last autumn (click here for that slide show). I gaze at this tree for two minutes every morning while standing in the tub (where the window is) and brushing my teeth with my electric toothbrush. It’s one of those daily rituals that force me to observe how time passes, both quickly (in minutes) and slowly (in seasons).

My first facial — the cosmetic kind! — a mountaintop experience

Two reasons I feel lucky:

  • Due to a quirk of scheduling, I woke up yesterday to a view of the Rocky Mountains (Pike’s Peak to be particular) and I’m going to bed tonight with a long-distance view of the Appalachian Mountains. Oh, this great country is never so majestic as it is from the windows of an airplane or (and, actually) an automobile.
  • I didn’t know what “my first facial” was a euphemism for until I Googled in preparation for this post. Really! The internet is a cesspool!

Despite having lived in this skin 48 years and spending the past decade lamenting my wrinkles, I enjoyed my first facial last week (a cosmetic facial — with an esthetician for those of you with your minds in the gutter) while on a trip to Colorado Springs. I came by this experience completely by no effort on my part; it was part of the trip package earned by my Beloved for selling insurance. Lots of insurance.

In a previous career as a member of corporate staff, I occasionally enjoyed similar decadent incentive trips (the stellar sellers back then weren’t selling insurance — they were selling scrapbooks or food mixes). Ironically, one of those trips was a jaunt to Colorado in June, too, only there were no spa passes on that visit!

If you’ve never enjoyed a facial, I suggest you add this to your Christmas wish list. Here’s how mine went down:

First, I enjoyed the amenities only spa guests get the opportunity to luxuriate in: the whirlpool, the pool, the sauna, the oxygen room, the shower and the waiting room with expansive mountain views and my choice of cucumber water or lemon water (cucumber water, please).

Then I met Edwina. After I told her it was my first facial (I wonder if she’s Urban Dictionary-ed that phrase), she thoroughly explained what I was in for and we got started.

She tilted my chair, and the blood rushed to my face (this was a good feeling). A little aromatherapy “calmed and grounded my body.” Mm. She washed my face, and the sponge in her hands was exactly like getting my hair washed at the hair salon. I was in awe at how a simple, even boring procedure practiced by myself was a whole explosion of feel-good energy when performed by someone else. Ahh.

Then she triple-exfoliated my skin. That means she used an exfoliating cleanser, then a chemical exfoliation, then a pumpkin enzyme peel. These were not ooh-and-ahh experiences (but they weren’t painful either — Edwina’s fingers were like tiny dancers on my face). Apparently, exfoliations 2 and 3 “munched away all the dead skin” on my face. Forty-eight years worth of dead skin, baby!

Extraction time. I was looking forward to this because there was a bump above my eyebrow that refuses to go away. Alas, Edwina had no luck either. She diagnosed it as a collagen bump (only she didn’t say “bump” — as soon as she said “collagen,” my brain blacked out — not more age-related collagen problems!). She couldn’t find anything else to extract and proclaimed that whatever I’ve been doing to my skin, I should keep doing it.

Edwina then applied a mask to “tighten and firm” (maybe I should have had a triple-treatment of that!) and while it was tightening and firming, she massaged my scalp and my hands. More mm.

When I was done, my skin was as smooth as it’s been in 48 years, and that’s saying something. Of course, to look at me, you wouldn’t know I’d ever met Edwina. And now, four days later, my skin has pretty much the same texture as it did pre-facial. So if I was spending my own money, well, I’m not sure I’d spend the money to look younger. But if you could use some oohs and aahs, a facial (the cosmetic kind) might be a good option for you.

Cheekbone collagen contrasts

Let’s discuss cheekbones, shall we?

Cheekbones are the gift God gives 40-year-olds.

Loni Anderson recalled in her memoir “My Life in High Heels” how her cheekbones became more prominent in her 40s.

Remember Loni Anderson’s cheekbones? The woman who played buxom blonde receptionist on “WKRP in Cincinnati” had great bone structure to begin with, but she was in her mid-30s when she was on TV; she wasn’t some 20-year-old flavor of eye candy.  (What? You don’t remember WKRP? It was a sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1982, OK? Anderson was married once to Burt Reynolds, too, for the record.)

Another example: Have you seen that commercial for Cindy Crawford’s Meaningful Beauty skin care line? (Yes, I’ve been watching too much HGTV this weekend.) Images of Crawford at 28 and 45 clearly show the contrast in her cheekbones.

A woman’s cheekbones emerge as she ages because she loses her baby fat. Well, actually it’s collagen. That stuff that makes a 20-year-old look fresh-faced and well-fed diminishes as we age, causing fine lines and loss of volume. On the wrinkle front, loss of collagen is a bad thing. But those of us who had fat faces in our teenage years, loss of collagen is a gift (at least until we get that hollow-cheeked look of an old crone).

Thirty years ago, I had my high school graduation photos taken, and I hated the result. I looked like a bloated 30-year-old housewife. I got my hair cut short on an impulse about a week before the shoot, and it was horrible; I endured a Bad Hair Year after that hatchet job. I hated the photos so much, I still hate my high school graduation photo and I therefore refuse to show you the whole thing.

But I will show you my cheekbones:

cheeks in 30 years - Page 002


You might consider this navel gazing, but I can assure you: I won’t be showing off pictures of my belly button.

I weigh about 15 pounds more now than I did in 1984 (that fact that I know that stat points to an obsession, but facts is facts), and I’m not wearing makeup today. I think you still see more cheekbones in today’s photo (more freckles, too, but at least those owl glasses are gone — another benefit of aging! The shape of my eyeballs has changed so much I no longer need glasses for close work). My cheekbones aren’t Loni Anderson cheekbones, but hey, they’re there.

I often lament this business of aging, but today I’m embracing the contrasts.