Thursday, July 1, 2010


I've decided to take some time off for a while, perhaps even a few years.  I will be back. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Boy, what a week!

It's taken me a week to recover from all the activity.

Two weeks ago, tomorrow, we held a bachelor party for my oldest son. I was a little surprised that I was even invited, since these things are usually meant for the groom and his brothers and buddies. Nevertheless, the old man was asked to come, and I had a ball with those young bucks. Golf, watching soccer on TV, good food, plenty of refreshments, and "twenty-something" entertainment made for a great weekend.

Then, on Monday, I returned to work for a few days of making a living. It took some time to try to catch up on sleep, and then Thursday came, and I left work early for the rehearsal and groom's dinner. Again we had good food, and a very pleasant evening, even though the weather went south on us with wind and rain.

Friday morning dawned with humidity, overcast skies and a mild breeze. A golf game in the morning was a blast, and that led us to early afternoon preparation for the big event. The wedding was at 5:00, and we were blessed with sunshine and cobalt blue sky. We couldn't have asked for more as the ceremony progressed into pictures, dinner, and dancing.

After a very late night, Saturday brought more good weather, and a gathering of parents and siblings for gift opening. Then, a filling lunch at our local Mexican restaurant capped off the weekend. We wished the bride and groom our best as they departed for a week-long camping trip in the Rockies.

John and Jen - Big congratulations, and love and hugs to you both!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

It doesn't get any better than this

It's early morning. After a good night's sleep, I'm sitting out on a deck at the resort, sipping coffee and reading an art magazine. The birds are chirping, the sun is peeking through thin clouds. A gentle breeze cools the air as I savor the warm, sunny morning, and gaze out at the golf course and Lake Vermilion. A long day of fishing is planned, and 18 holes of golf are an option. I have to say, there is a tendency to make the well known claim: It doesn't get any better than this.

I'm reminded that I have been extremely fortunate over the years. I have had many experiences that offer me that same feeling. My annual fishing trip with good friends is only one of those times. Any time I can relax and spend time with my wife always ranks at the top. Or any time spent with our "kids," family vacations, ball games, reading the Sunday newspaper with coffee in hand, putting paintbrush to canvas, good movies, and thunderstorms or gentle spring rains. The list goes on and on.

I guess it really just comes back to having a positive attitude about life. We can choose to have those great experiences at almost any time. Just put together a recipe of loved ones, doing something enjoyable, a clear head and anticipation of the future, and you can honestly say,
It just doesn't get any better than this.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Sea of Acronyms

As the GM, I was leading a CSR meeting at work a couple of weeks ago, and mentioned to the group that I was going to be gone the following morning because I was going to see ICP. One of the CSR's started to chuckle when I said this, and I asked her what was so funny. She first asked me what ICP was, and I told her it stood for Industrial Custom Products, one of our suppliers. She then told me she couldn't help laughing when ICP was mentioned, because her only previous exposure to that acronym was a raw, hardcore hip hop band called ICP - Insane Clown Posse!

Acronyms can sometimes get out of hand in business, especially when one needs to communicate a large amount of information in a short amount of time or space. Because of our QA program, I may need to contact 3M to request a RoHS COC for the SCal we are using on an OEM graphic. The CEO will need to find out if we have WEE certified pallets for a POP UPS shipment to LA and NYC. We control our VOC's because we switched to UV ink systems to avoid use of products containing MEK and other hazardous substances that increased the size of our MSDS record keeping. CAD, FTE, IMR, NDA, OEM, P&L, PO, RFP, TM...

We are bombarded every single day while listening to radio, watching television news or reading the newspaper, with the latest issues regarding ADP, BP, AIG, GM, OMB and MP3, not to forget the GOP and DFL. Most of us don't even think twice about these familiar abbreviations and acronyms, since they may also assist in our understanding or streamline our conversations.

That is, until someone thinks you are going to visit the Insane Clown Posse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Amelia Jane

At 8:01 in the morning on Monday, May 3rd, we were thrilled to welcome our first grandchild, little Amelia Jane, into the world. I was there to hear her first cries.

Laura and Chris' new daughter weighed in at 7 lbs, 10 oz, was 21-1/8" long, and has more dark hair on her head than her grandpa has had since the 1980's. She's cuter than a bug's ear!

I start reminiscing about the day Laura was born, and now find myself longing for those early days of parenthood. Then I remember the dirty diapers, green pea baby food and the 2:00 am feedings. On second thought, I think I'll be satisfied as a new grandpa. Friends tell me it's the best thing in the world, and I am already inclined to agree.

I also begin to wonder what she will look like as she moves from the infant stage to early childhood. Will she develop red hair like her mom and grandma? Will she have a perpetual smile like they do? Or a sense of humor and dimples like her dad? Will she be blessed with musical talent? And will she start copying from the Sunday funny paper like I used to do? Perhaps all of the above.

It will be exciting to follow her as she develops into a little lady. In no time at all, I will need to offer to my son-in-law a copy of the "Application to Date My Daughter."

Time will not stand still, so for now, we'll enjoy every second we have with her.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Man of God

A good friend died last week. It was expected, and yet also a shock. He had been fighting brain cancer for nearly two years, and even though his friends and family were praying for a miraculous recovery, deep down we knew it was a battle that probably could not be won.

Rick was one of those people who would have been the perfect candidate for a miracle. If the Lord had chosen to save him, I have no doubt that he would have spent the rest of his life sharing his story, and giving all glory to God. That is the way he lived his life, with faith, strength and kindness, touching countless others as he supported his loving family, conducted business, and served God.

Instead, he has left us, and joined the ranks of the angels on high. I believe heaven is even a better place now with him there. His landscaping talents are probably already being put to good use, his guitar playing sounds better than ever, and now he will always fill his limit of walleyes.

So I say goodbye to my friend, who will be sorely missed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Warning: I brake for garage sales!

It's that time of year again! I am driving down the street, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I am forced to slow down and swerve to avoid collision with an unexpected congestion of vehicles and mankind that can only be caused by one thing... a garage sale!

Cars and trucks line both sides of the street as I delicately weave between moms and pros, skateboarders, men and women on their way to or from work, the retired folk and curious neighbors. Their faces are truly gleeful as they approach that first sale of the spring. Indeed, those of us living in the north cannot have sales year-round as they do in warmer climates. We have been cooped up in our homes all winter, and seeing garage sale ads and signs is a sure indication that cold weather is over. We can once again get nosy and see what people are getting rid of, and perhaps even find a treasure or two if we're lucky!

I am no stranger to this annual event. Some of you know that I have held many a sale in my garage over the years, and I have seen those gleeful people approach my home with the same anticipation that I often feel. It's a lot of work to prepare and conduct a sale but it's fun too, and mine have usually been quite successful.

I have also been on the buying side at dozens of sales. I found a nice old print, Pilgrims Going to Church, by George Henry Boughton, and a few Currier & Ives prints as well. I have discovered antiques, art books, pottery, old toys, and a multitude of other items to add to our collections. Some things find their way into our daily lives or are put on display to share, some are held for reference in the future. But, whether I like to admit it or not, a lot of it will end up in another sale in our garage in the next year or so. But that's OK! I have been part of the process, and it is the process that is so much fun. The process is what creates that glee. It's the hunt for treasure that I thrive on, and I wouldn't change a thing.

See you in the garage!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Art Collection

There was a wealthy man who, along with his devoted son, shared a passion for fine art. Together they traveled around the world, adding only the finest art treasures to their collection. Priceless works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet and many other artists adorned the walls of the family estate. The son's trained eye and sharp business mind caused his widowed father to look on with satisfaction as his only child became an experienced art collector.

War engulfed the nation, and the young man left to serve his country. After only a few short weeks, his father received a telegram. His beloved son had died while rescuing another soldier. Distraught and lonely, the old man faced the future with anguish and sadness. The masterpieces of art on the walls only reminded him that his son was not coming home.

One morning, a knock on the door awakened the depressed old man. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, "Sir, you don't know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and was carrying me to safety when he died.

The old man invited the soldier in. As they talked, the young man related how the man's son had often talked about his, and his father's, love of art. "I know this isn't much, I'm not a great artist," said the young man, "but I want to give you this."

As the old man unwrapped the package, the paper gave way to reveal a portrait of the man's son. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the son's face in striking detail. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. "Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It's a gift." Overcome with emotion, the man thanked the soldier, promising to hang the picture above the fireplace.

After the soldier departed, the old man set about his task. True to his word, the painting went above the mantle, pushing aside thousands of dollars worth of paintings.

As the stories of his son rescuing dozens of wounded soldiers began to surface, the man realized that even though his son was no longer with him, the boy's life would live on because of those he had touched, and his grief began to ease. The painting of his son became his most prized possession, far eclipsing any interest in the pieces for which museums around the world clamored. He told his neighbors it was the greatest gift he had ever received.

The following spring, the old man became ill and passed away. Since he had no heir, all his paintings were to be sold at auction, and the art world was abuzz with anticipation.

The appointed day soon arrived, and art collectors from around the world gathered to bid on some of the world's most spectacular paintings. Dreams would be fulfilled this day. Greatness would be achieved as many would claim, "I now have the greatest collection."

The auction began with a painting that was not on any museum's list. It was the painting of the man's son. The auctioneer asked for an opening bid. The room was silent. "Who will open the bidding with $100?" he asked. Minutes passed. No one spoke. From the back of the room someone said, "Who cares about that painting? It's just a picture of his son. Let's forget it and go on to the good stuff." More voices echoed in agreement.

"No, we have to sell this one first," replied the auctioneer. "The son! Now, who will take the son?"

Finally, a friend of the old man spoke. "Will you take ten dollars for the painting? That's all I have. I knew the boy, so I'd like to have it."

"I have ten dollars. Will anyone go higher?" called the auctioneer.

After more silence, the auctioneer said, "Going once. Going twice. Sold!" The gavel fell.

Cheers filled the room and someone exclaimed, "Now we can get on with it and start bidding on these treasures!"

The auctioneer laid down his gavel, and announced the auction was over. Stunned disbelief quieted the room. Someone spoke up and asked, "What do you mean, it's over? We didn't come here for a picture of some old guy's son. What about all of these paintings? There are millions of dollars worth of art here!"

The auctioneer replied, "It's very simple. According to the will of the father, whoever takes the son, gets it all."

-Author Unknown

Will you take the Son?

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

Have a blessed Easter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Stuff that Matters

I sometimes look back at my life and am reminded that the only stuff that made any difference, that really mattered, was (and is) the time spent with those I love.

Vacations, meals together, school and church activities, and friendships all feed my soul and create lifelong memories. These are what I remember most from my early years, and continue to be the things that matter, and make me who I am.

I got an email the other day that had this Chinese proverb at the end:

If there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house, there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

There were some wonderfully bright souls that got together last weekend, and I had the opportunity to bask in their light and beauty. The world has a better future because they are in it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Big Art

I finished painting a special wall mural last night.

I couldn't help but think of the first mural that I ever did. It was a large painting of children, and small animals, and trees, and grass and birds. One whole wall in the nursery at church was covered with my early art. The toddlers enjoyed it for nearly twenty years until a room remodel was done, and the wall was either torn down or buried under new sheet rock.

Over the years, I have worked on a variety of oversized paintings and graphics. I've done huge numbers on garage doors and high-rise elevators. I worked on backdrops for school plays, painted the sides of trucks and store windows, and acted as assistant and advisor on a 40-foot long playroom wall mural for which my son had been commissioned.

It requires a different mindset to work on something close up, knowing it will be viewed from a distance. Scaled preliminary drawings, larger brushes, more paint, and a tad more energy are all critical for success in painting big art.

So, back to the newest mural: a large, white tree, painted in a new bedroom where a very special little person will wake up each morning. Grandchild number one will soon be here! We are looking forward to meeting you, Amelia Jane!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The early bird catches the you-know-what

There is something almost fantasy-like about the early morning hours.

I remember when I was a kid, delivering the Saint Paul Life newspaper, how much I appreciated the silence of predawn darkness as I began my weekly route. I enjoyed the crisp crunch of snow on the sidewalk under my feet, and seeing the first lights being turned on as people started to get ready to go to work. The only traffic I ever saw was a garbage truck driving by or a police car cruising the neighborhood, and that was fine by me.

During the summer, when school was out, I loved to go fishing in the early morning hours. I rode my bike to pick up minnows at Gimp's Bait Shop on Rice Street, and he never seemed to be very happy when I knocked on the door at 5:00 a.m., soon to learn I was only going to buy a few shiners. I'd pack my bait carefully, then make the long bike ride to Sucker Creek, all the while anticipating the huge crappies that awaited me as the sun came up. Still today, there isn't much that can match the magic of an early morning fishing trip. Being the first one at the boat landing, pushing off from the dock in the dark, and making the cool journey to my favorite bay is enough to give me goose bumps. The excitement of the first cast into the foggy water is only surpassed by the explosion of a bass, breaking the surface, with the sun just starting to come up on the horizon.

As a young adult, living on my own, I frequently stopped at Serlin's Cafe or Embers Restaurant for bacon and eggs before going to work. Because I was a "regular," the waitress knew my order, and would have that first cup of coffee poured even before I got my jacket off. I have fond memories of those early morning hours spent at Embers for another reason too, because it was there, in a booth by a window overlooking Highway 36, that a young woman (who would later become my wife) would often meet me for breakfast and conversation as we got to know one another.

I still am an early riser. It seems that no matter what time I go to bed at night, I wake up between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. I enjoy a leisurely breakfast while reading at the kitchen table, and then I head out to work or the studio, knowing I will accomplish more before 8:00 a.m. than in the entire 8 hours that follow.

Whoever said that the early bird catches the worm was correct, in more ways than one. I wonder what time he got up every morning.

Northern Sunrise, original acrylic by Dennis Sterner

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Quiet Day at the Gallery

As I write this, I am sitting at an old desk in the Stillwater Art Guild Gallery, of which I am a member. It is a cold, yet sunny Sunday afternoon, and I am fulfilling my bimonthly obligation to work. So far today, there does not appear to be a tremendous demand for local art, since we have had only 12 visitors in the first 3 hours that we have been open, and no one has made a purchase.

While it isn't good that the front door is not opening very often, these are the kind of days that I have found I can spend time evaluating my display wall, examining the art done by fellow gallery members (there are over 60 of us), and sometimes plot out a new direction. I am able to focus on nothing but art for several hours, and often it leads to ideas for new work. There is a wealth of talent in this group, and one can learn a lot by studying the work of others.

When another gallery member stops in to upgrade their display or pay rent, or simply to stay in touch, it gives us a chance to chat. We are all experiencing the same economic challenges with regard to our art, and we are all searching for ideas to promote our business, and stay fresh and relevant in our work.

And then, at any given moment, a solitary customer may walk in, or an older couple who have time to browse, or newlyweds who need something to hang on their walls. They start to ask questions about a particular artist or a subject that they are interested in, their favorite colors, or a style of painting they admire. I try to be as neutral as possible in directing them to an artist or a piece that will meet their requirements, obviously hoping I can guide them to my work. Sometimes it leads to a sale of one of my paintings, and sometimes a different artist's work. In the big picture, it doesn't matter. It is a great feeling to complete a sale of any art, witnessing how thrilled the customer is with their purchase, and anticipating how grateful the artist will be when I call to tell them they have had a good day at the gallery.

The customer leaves, and silence returns, broken only by soft background music from the CD player, and the creaking of the floor in the antique shop upstairs. I go back to my art magazine, or my blogging, or sketching. I will patiently wait for the next art lover to walk through that front door.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

I have an old, yellowed print hanging on the wall in my studio that reminds me to never give up. I saw it in an antique shop years ago, and commented to my wife how much I liked it. She immediately formed a plan to buy it, and on my next birthday she presented it to me as a gift.

It is a framed reproduction of a 1907 pencil drawing by an artist named Malcolm Stewart. A fairly extensive Google search has not yet revealed any facts about who Malcolm Stewart might have been. Nevertheless, I have chosen to assume that he has depicted himself in the drawing. It is a picture of an artist sitting at an easel, with a large pallet balancing on his left arm. He is leaning forward, with his right hand holding a brush against a canvas. Surrounding him in his sparse and dilapidated studio are several other canvases, some of which have a word written on them that no one ever wants to accept - REJECTED.

The print is a constant reminder to me that no matter how bad things get, there is always another day, or another idea, or another plan to change whatever issue or scenario may be getting me down. Over the years, I have faced rejection in many forms. When I was in my teens, I often submitted cartoons to national magazines, only to later receive a rejection letter. I have, occasionally, finished a painting that either I have rejected, or unfortunately, my customer has not been totally enthralled with. I applied for an arts grant that was not approved, sold art that was never used as intended, and have been passed over for jobs for which I had applied.

Regardless of the reasons, I learned a long time ago that it doesn't do me any good to feel sorry for myself and complain or quit. Through a combination of self-examination, analysis of the issue, and sometimes prayer, I have learned to accept these negative events, and usually gain valuable lessons and wisdom from the experience.

The title of the old print is perfect: Hope Springs Eternal in the Human Breast.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The pressure is on

I can't believe it has been a whole month since my last entry. It seems only a few days ago that I confronted that mouse in the bag, and chauffeured him to his room for the night.

My better half has been reminding me that I need to come up with a topic, and since it has been so long, it had better be a good one. Boy, the pressure is on.

I have a notebook that I jot down blog ideas, and many of my previous entries have originated from that. It's filled with 1-or-2-word thoughts to capture an idea (e.g., clones and Norman Rockwell), and memories of the past (e.g., basic training) that may trigger a story. Sometimes, an idea just pops into my head, the words start flowing, and I must immediately go and write (e.g., Where's a clothespin? and Napalm in the Morning).

It is not unlike the process of painting. I keep a small sketchbook to write down art ideas, or draw something that I observe and want to preserve for reference. This book is full of plans for future masterpieces, and yet it seems I spend as much time scratching my head about what to paint as I do with a brush in hand. Sometimes, the more ideas I have (for both art and blog posts), the more paralyzed I seem to become. The paint tubes cannot squeeze themselves, the brushes will not dip themselves into paint, and words will not appear on the computer screen until my fingers start typing.

But, then, a breakthrough! An idea from my notes or a photo from my files, or perhaps a unique feeling about a topic will push me to create. It doesn't always have to be magic. It doesn't have to pour out wisdom, and it certainly will not always make someone laugh. (Of course, some of you may laugh at things I say when it isn't necessarily intended to be humorous.) After all of the painful delays, and the agony of creative indecision, the colors begin to build and the words begin to swim through my mind. With my eyes closed tightly, I can see a vision of the finished piece, and hear the words of the text singing with anticipation.

That's just about the time that my stomach starts to growl, alerting me it must be time to eat.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mouse Patrol

I got a phone call at work today, with a frantic voice on the other end begging, “You’ve got to come home right now! I’ve got a mouse trapped under a bowl!”

As soon as I was able to control my hysterical laughter and dry my eyes, I inquired if the caller was serious. My wife (who, incidentally, is nicknamed Mouse) said she was “serious as all get-out” about the trapped mouse, but only half serious about needing me to come home immediately. When I suggested that she slide a piece of cardboard under the bowl and take the whole mess outside, she suggested that I might be crazy.

When I got home, I was firmly guided directly to the storage room in the basement, where I found a round, yellow Tupperware container, upside down on the floor, and a metal Christmas reindeer standing on top of it. One thing’s for sure, that mouse was not going to get away with that reindeer standing guard!

I assured her that it would not be a problem. I went upstairs to get a thin sheet of steel that I intended to slide under the bowl, effectively sealing the mouse inside. When I returned, my wife had emptied the floor of every box, basket, chair and bag, to give me all of the elbow room I could possibly want while I gained control of the little rodent. Joe Mauer could have made one of his famous swings, and not touched anything in that room!

I carefully slid the steel under the bowl, held the metal and container tight so the mouse couldn’t escape, and quickly placed him and his Tupperware prison in a grocery bag to take outside.

“What are you going to do with him?" my wife called out. "Don’t let him loose too close to the house,” she added. "He’ll come right back in.”

I said I would dispose of him.

“Don’t kill him.”

Now, I’m not squeamish about getting rid of a mouse, but when I opened the bag and found him looking up at me with those round black eyes, and one tiny pink foot stuck in a mousetrap, I just couldn’t do it.

Still, if I were to let him go in the yard, he would most assuredly find his way back into the basement, meet another mouse, have babies, meet more mice, have more babies... .

Sorry, Mickey. A night outside in the bottom of the garbage can, in your cozy grocery bag, is all I can offer you. You'll have to work out your next move with the trash collector.

Sleep tight!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

No Room for Perfectionists

I’m not sure how often I am absolutely, positively, 100% satisfied with a painting when I finish it. Generally, artists are quite hard on themselves. Our self-esteem is often under attack while we attempt to create a memorable work of art. We struggle to build a perfect composition. We strive for a message that is powerful and meaningful. We painstakingly endeavor to maintain a quality standard. Frankly, we need to back off a little!

An unknown author once said, “Perfectionism can create excellent results, but the cost of getting there can cause stress. So instead of striving for perfection, I am for excellence in all I do.” I believe that is the key. To strive for excellence in my art, I can let go of the self-imposed charge to create the perfect piece, while allowing myself to explore and pursue new directions in technique and subject matter. Salvador Dali said, “Have no fear of perfection - you’ll never reach it.”

The path of a painter is no place for a perfectionist. Only God is perfect. If we attempt perfection, we will never be happy and never reach our goals. Indeed, some of the most appealing and beautiful features in a work of art can be the result of an accident while painting, or a wild brush stroke that speaks boldly, or simply knowing when to stop and call it done. This is not to say that we should stop working hard to create good art. We can’t allow our work to own us and cause us so much pain. And overworking a piece will ultimately ruin it. I know! I often don’t know when to quit.

I really like the quote from photographers David Bayles and Ted Orland, “The seed of your next artwork lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.”

I can’t say that I have now solved all of my problems with regard to the excellence of my art, and I still don’t always know when to stop working on a piece, but I try not to beat myself up like I used to. And, I have learned to throw out a poorly conceived or rendered painting, rather than trying to salvage it when it is terminal.

relieves stress!