A Dissertation Journey Begins

 A very unscientific philosophy of education that every child is capable of learning propelled my teaching career into my current research. We all come to education with different backgrounds, histories, and biologies. Those differences, however, don’t support a thesis that only some of us are capable of learning. Rather, we learn at different rates and respond to different reinforcers.

Anecdotal evidence from parents and teachers, as well as national statistics, however, tell us that many children are not learning the fundamental skills needed to survive and thrive in modern society. The numbers from The Nations Report Card, for example, show that only 37% of high school seniors read proficiently (NAEP Reading: National Achievement-Level Results, n.d.). The numbers for math are equally concerning (NAEP Mathematics 2019 Highlights Grade 12, n.d.). 

In my classroom, I morph from a researcher into a warrior for reading. As the last stop before high school, I am also one of the last opportunities many of my students will have to acquire functional literacy.  For most of my teaching career, I have worked with older students in similar academic situations, and the injustice of children finding their way to middle and high school —  barely able to read – has, year after year, prompts the question of how the systems that are supposed to support them allow this to happen.

It is against that backdrop that my dissertation questions are evolving. How were they taught each of these years? How are the skills allowed to keep lagging? What tools and methods do schools and teachers need to better serve all of the children coming through our system?

For years, I have blogged about creativity and the gift of mental clarity it provides at the end of a stressful day. Painting is a gateway to serenity for me, but between blogging and painting, I struggle with identity of purpose. Am I a writer who paints or an artist who writes? Should that identity matter?

A few weeks ago, feeling conflicted and spending more time reading than painting, I did an online personality/aptitude test. This particular test placed an emphasis on interest-driven aptitudes, and my “type” came back as “Maven/Maker” — someone whose creative output serves their learning. Taking the results with a giant grain of salt (Pittenger, 1993), I indulged in a bit of bias confirmation. 

I was a “problem reader” in first grade. Teachers reprimanded me for not paying attention and reading ahead to see what happened in group books. When my parents said “lights out,” I’d put my “Little House” books on the floor close enough to the door to catch the upstairs hall light, so I could still silently bound into bed when they came up the stairs. 

When a blogging class revived my creative life, I spent hours learning how to set up a blog, how to illustrate with this method or that, and, ultimately how to start painting.  To be sure, writing and painting happened, but a disproportionate amount of time was spent researching. Some people good-naturedly chided me as the “eternal student,” and, familiar with the historically pejorative connotation of the phrase, I sometimes worried that all the study was an act of fear or creative insecurity. 

Now, I’m realizing that creativity may not be my endgame. Creativity is the vehicle. My paintings and posts are not the expression of things learned. They are the learning, and learning should be a life-long endeavor. 

Recognizing core parts of your identity is liberating. It helps you pick your battles. For me, it is the beginning of a new understanding and phase of my creativity. It is also a new chapter in my blog as I start my dissertation journey and journal.

I know what creativity has brought to my life. It plays a key role in my teaching. I teach, however, because I do love to learn, and I want my kids to love learning for its own sake. Now, I want my creative life — including my blog – to serve that idea by celebrating it.


NAEP Mathematics 2019 Highlights Grade 12. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2024, from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/highlights/mathematics/2019/g12/

NAEP Reading: National Achievement-Level Results. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2024, from https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/reading/nation/achievement/?grade=12

Pittenger, D. J. (1993). The Utility of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Review of Educational Research, 63(4), 467–488. https://doi.org/10.2307/1170497


Whither We Wander

One of the weirdest things about Ménière’s disease is that when the weather, and the air pressure change, you can feel it. I know it’s not just me, because when I visit chat rooms of other people with this wacko disease, I see other people reporting the same exact symptoms, that, in any other forum would, be cause for being involuntarily committed.

Right now the wind outside is pounding, and, even though we’re in a house with walls of 10 inch concrete, and 3 feet of dirt surrounding it, I am rocking. My brain literally thinks we are wrapped in a hammock being tossed back-and-forth even though I am literally lying on my bed holding on the mattress, so I don’t fall off.

Are used to love blustery days, especially at the beach, standing at the top of a bluff, feeling the wind and spray blast against my skin. These days, however, it seems as if mother nature isn’t respecting my boundaries.

But the wind howling and bringing down trees outside have to be her way of reminding that there are some things you just can’t control.



As I started to paint, Riders on the Storm, my favorite Lake Michigan music, was taking me out of the mood of the painting. I switched to Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma evoking la dolce vita, and smiled at the irony.

La Vita di Thing1 has been many things — adventurous, heart-wrenching, miraculous. It has rarely been peaceful.

Still, it was easy to get lost in the music and then the memory as the painting took shape, creating the kind of peace that only comes with stopping to appreciate, unreservedly, the good moments that make up your life.

Feed the Creative

Depot Road

My paintbrushes were still for most of the break, and that could have made me cranky. This holiday, however, creativity showed up in unexpected ways. 

Two days before Christmas, Covid forced a sudden reconfiguration of our family gathering, turning our house into holiday central for my parents.  Having hosted off and on for almost 30  years now, planning holiday menus is still fun but hardly an adventure into the unknown. 

And then Thing1, our newly-minted adult, and Thing2 gave it a creative twist.  Avid cooks, they asked if they could take charge of the main courses.

I’m no dummy so of course I said be my guest (the forgotten Achilles’ heel in my plan was that neither of them is an avid dishwasher). Turning them loose on the main course menu, meant reconfiguring side dishes, and suddenly planning a holiday meal was an adventure again.

I thought the rest of the break would be in the studio, but my sister, having been cheated by Covid out of a family gathering, invited us to Connecticut for the next weekend. I am as outgoing as a slug in the winter, living under the electric blanket until the cats wake us up to be fed, but knew we should go.

It turned another lesson in the value of letting fate run things. 

Each of us running half an empty nest, my sister and I found our families creating new traditions as adult siblings without our parents. The pay off was a reminder that sometimes the family you choose is the family you grew up with, but the weekend had just begun.

We used the trip to catch up with the Big Guy’s sister and our other adult nephew at his music production studio in the same town. It was a chance for Thing2, an increasingly serious musician, to a few hours as a studio musician while the adults caught up over coffee. 

Thing2 rarely lets me videotape his playing. All my brag videos are concert bootlegs and snippets of impromptu shows, but suddenly we were blessed with hours of unguarded music. 

I hadn’t painted a drop in weeks, but creativity had permeated every minute from all directions. And therein lay a lesson that I recognized only as I was walking to my car after work the day after break, energized and ready to return to my studio. 

Sometimes finding your creativity as much about the feeding of your soul, as it is in the exercising of an idea.

Picking My Art

Splash, WIP

In the last month, I’ve painted paintings, made jewelry, written poems and papers, created immersive virtual field trips for my students, and designed two new home plans. For years, I thought my creative bursts of frenzied energy were distractions from pursuing painting seriously, but, as I get closer to starting a dissertation and putting on an art exhibit, the bursts seem to be more than mere distractions.

When I paint, I feel as if I’m breathing again, but the same feeling happens with so many other creative pursuits (even writing a research paper).  I couldn’t put my finger on it until Thing2, an increasingly serious musician emerged from his room with his guitar on Christmas afternoon. He gave us all an impromptu concert of the Vince Guaraldi version of “O Tannenbaum,” surprising us, not with his ability to pull a new note-perfect song out of his hat in a few minutes, but with his choice of tunes.

He started as a confirmed rock guitarist a few years ago, seeking out the classics (“Mom, have you ever heard of this really old band called Led Zeppelin?”) and discovering future classics. He was less excited by jazz or classical, but, recently, his search for new challenges has led him down previously ignored paths and to additional instruments and expressions of music. Bossa Nova is in the same playlist as AC/DC, Metallica, and Count Basie.

And I realized that my youngest isn’t just a guitar player. He’s a musician – an eternal apprentice to his craft.

It made me think about my own creative journey and the path my blog has taken over the last 10 years.

This blog has never been about making money — even from my paintings. It has had paintings but not been about painting. It has had cartoons without being about cartoons. It has had art without specifically being only about art (until recently).

For most of its life, this blog has been exactly what it says — Dispatches from the Creative Homefront. It has been about finding the creativity in the mundane activities that make up most of our lives. And last, but not least, it’s been about the hope that people reading the blog leave it a little happier than when they clicked on it.

It’s not a way to make money (hey, I’m a teacher after all), but it is one way to make a blog.



There are some things you do because you have to. Work. Bills. More work.

Then there are the things you do, like breathing, because they are a part of you. You don’t always know how much a part of you there, until you have time to take a deep breath, and exhale and realize how long it’s been since you last doc a good, restorative breath.

I’ve been painting more nights, but not lately, and the last few nights, I realize that it’s not until the palette is good and messy, that, often for the first time each day, I am breathing normally.

I’ll keep doing the things I have to do. Working. Paying bills. But I know, one of these days, I will find a way to make a breathing the main priority.

Focus in the Fog

Keeping Up

There is no cure for Ménière’s disease.

I’ve heard that over and over, and, yet, for a few months of focus, of clarity, I let myself believe I was cured.

But as soon as fall brought sniffles and crazy weather, my meniere’s brought fog. The fog brought fear, and the fear brought the panic that my life as a teacher was over.

The fog keeps me from standing without falling, from driving, from doing all the things teachers have to do in a normal year, and — as most teachers will tell you – the last few years have been anything but normal or even sustainable for a healthy body.

Panic is the enemy of good decisions. It tells me to go back to technology, to find a way to work at home for more money, for security. Panic, in the guise of planning and over-planning, has me applying for safety jobs I don’t need yet. Most of all, it keeps me from staying focused on the one thing — my art – that has the power to get me through the fog.

Today, while I was at work strategizing how to keep all my very full plates in the air, a neighbor recommended to my husband a movie on Netflix called American Symphony. I have grades and a paper to finish, but we decided to take a break and watch it. Ostensibly the movie is a documentary of composer John Batiste’s journey from band camp to band leader of the Late Show to a Best Album of the Year Grammy win in 2021 against the backdrop of his wife’s battle with leukemia. At its heart, the movie is a clarion call to all artists to focus on the work, of that creative spark within that matters more than money or likes or accolades. Art, in all its form, as Batiste exclaims in his acceptance speech, is there to “reach [a] person at a point in their lives when they need it most.”

I burst into tears at those words, knowing that the way out of the fog is to shed all the concerns that distract in the name of survival and get back to fanning the creative spark that will get me through school and work even when I’m literally falling down.


Chickie in the Snow

The assignment was to pick from an assortment of bird pictures, and, using glazing, add measuring techniques to paint. After a year of painting into abstraction with reckless abandon, it was quite a pivot but a needed one.

Since I began painting, too often for success is the result of uninformed trial and error. Learning through discovery is invaluable. As a teacher, however, I also know that, without foundational skills, or discovery is often limited or miss directed.

I’ve come to terms with the reality that art will never be a career for me. It will always be a passion and practice, however, and those realities mean it is even more important to me to learn the nuts and bolts, so I started another year-long, art course devoted to learning techniques and becoming a master of my materials.

Discovery is still happening, and learning is learning. When I move back into abstraction, I will have a new set of tools.


About Last Night

A little over 30 years ago I was hanging out at the house of an acquaintance near the densely populated Ohio state university campus in Columbus, Ohio when two armed young men entered the house and told everyone gathered there too surrender our valuables.

Many elements of that evening have faded from my memory. Even right after the crime happened, I still couldn’t tell the police what the guns looked like (They were black). I remember that the criminals were young, but I can’t remember the names of anyone at the Catherine, or even the name of the person whose house I was at.

Sometimes, though, I will hear a a news report on TV on the radio that, for years, could transport me back in time to certain moments of the crime. For a minute, for example, I will relive the few seconds of trying to not look at the face of the boy taking my brand new handbag with my car and house keys and drivers license. I’ll remember trying to think of every trick in every movie about not looking at the face of your assailant, so that they wouldn’t have a reason to kill you. I’ll hear the kid by the door telling us to lie down the floor and wondering if it would be better to be shot in the back or the head (paralyzed or dead) as some other people who had been in an armed robbery in the area a few weeks earlier. And most of all, I will smell and see the beer-soaked variegated mustard and yellow carpet as I wait to find out.

Last night, two stories filtered into the evening. When was the horrific shooting in Lewiston, Maine. I instantly thought of the terror being experienced by the people in and around that bowling alley, as they wondered if they were looking at the last thing they would ever see.

The second story was much closer to home. Reports of gunfire between police and a suspect in the rural town adjacent to ours started appearing on social media in the late afternoon. Then the news reported shelter in place warnings for the town and recommendations for our town to lock doors and windows.

Thirty years ago OSU’s off-campus housing area was a known area for illicit narcotic activity. I couldn’t/wouldn’t even tell my few close friends, because I was too embarrassed to tell them where and how stupid I had been. It was at the wrong place at any time.

I would pay for my bad judgment for years, moving apartments, jobs, and cities constantly to try to find a place that felt safe. I briefly bought a gun to feel safer but, still in a state of constant panic and anxiety, nearly killed my cat one night and decided I was not mentally fit to have a gun. For years, I wouldn’t live in a building that didn’t have a security door or in an apartment on the ground floor.

For a long time, there was a part of me that believed that the anxiety was a product of the guilt of my stupidity. Over the years, as reports of mass shootings have become all too frequent, however, I realized that the anxiety was founded, and fed by the nagging suspicion that at some point, even the most innocuous place is going to have a wrong time.

The people in Lewiston Maine we’re doing nothing wrong last night when they went out with their friends. The people in Salem New York who were being told to shelter in place, didn’t deserve to lose their sense of safety or well-being.

For me, it is no small irony that we are listening to updates, and feeling more secure, in a hotel in Boston with a strong security system than we would have in our own home. But the security system is not the only thing that is keeping me from spiraling backwards this morning.

I have an antidote.

Last night we brought our son to the city to begin peeping at colleges. We took him to to see a band that has influenced his music and, for some reason standing in the music hall, surrounded by people, enjoying young people making art help quality anxiety for a short time. I had to leave because my Ménière’s disease won’t let me experience light shows the same way anymore. For the ride home, however, the knowledge that there were young people dedicating themselves to creating something that brings people together was therapeutic.

It helped me remember that at least some of the answers are in leaning in when the conversations get hard. They’re in reaching out to kids who are struggling and kindling creative sparks. And, for me, they are the antidote.

Demand and Supplies

1”x2” oil on bored

I have a well-known diet Coke addiction that serves no other purpose, except to introduce as much caffeine to my system on a hot day as possible. I have another addiction – art supplies- that’s possibly almost expensive as the diet soda, but, unlike any other habit, this one with a higher purpose – the belief that I can make something out of that.

The ability to see an object for its possibilities and not just its current state may be the driver of every single art supply purchase in the world, but it is also a serendipitous gift of insight that cannot be denied. At least, that’s what I told my husband when I came home with a nondescript, open paper bag full of paints, canvases, and brushes last night.

So what excuse do you give your significant other?