Monday, November 9, 2015

Raining Sunshine - Repost

This is a repost from my Art Blog, but it's such a big deal to me, I wanted to post it here as well. :-)

The weather outside may be frightful here this week, but it's definitely raining sunshine in my life right now. To put the magnitude of this into perspective, let me start from the beginning.

In late June 2013, I decided on a whim that I wanted to try my hand at painting for a hobby, so got a cheap student grade watercolor set and a pad of paper and set about attempting to learn to paint. It didn't take long for the art bug to bite for real, though, and I began experimenting with a variety of media including acrylic paint, charcoal and graphite. Frustrated with the student grade paints, I moved up to artist quality watercolors and acrylics, then expanded to Gouache and colored pencils which worked much, much better and were a lot more enjoyable to use.

As much fun as I was having, however,  I still felt like something was missing so in September of 2013 I picked up a small set of student grade soft pastels and a little pad of pastel paper just to see what they were like. After my first two attempts, I was more frustrated than ever and decided perhaps soft pastels just weren't for me. Luckily, I was intercepted by some other pastel artists who noted that my frustration was in all likelihood due to the lower quality of my pastels and the very challenging paper I had selected to use with them rather than an innate inability with the medium. Never one to give up too easily, I picked up a small set of artist quality pastels and a little sampler of sanded paper - what a difference! It only took a couple of test mini paintings and I was hooked. Determined to learn this medium, I gradually expanded my collection of high quality pastels and surfaces, and studied everything I could find on them - books, online tutorials, other artists' websites. Ever since, I've been painting like a woman possessed - at least several times a week consistently. Most of my earlier works were mediocre at best, but I was putting in my time with  painting and getting practice making marks, learning about color, values, temperatures and composition. I studied everything I could find on pastels and painting in general to help me learn. I checked books out from the library, purchased online training courses and joined the local pastel society.

Ever so slowly, things began to happen. I got juried into several shows and even won first place at the State Fair. But I wanted to continue improving and growing as an artist, so I was delighted when, at one of the local pastel society meeting, I met another member who had given an incredible demo earlier in the year and discovered that she taught and, even better, was willing to travel to my home to teach me! After hiring Addren Doss and studying with her this year, I saw noticeable improvement in my painting, which carried over even into my other mediums, and I began to dream bigger. I had heard about the Pastel Society of America - the premier organization of serious pastel artists. Unlike the other art organizations I had joined, membership in PSA are offered only on a juried basis, and I had heard how high their standards are so I knew it was going to require even harder work on my part if I were to have any hopes at all of getting in. So I continued to study and practice and work harder than I ever thought I could at my painting. It was difficult and frustrating at times, and other times things just clicked. I turned out some paintings I felt very good about and some that went directly into the "studies to maybe repaint later" bin. But I never stopped working at it, and I never lost sight of my goal. By the October PSA jurying session, I finally had five paintings I felt good enough about to submit for consideration for membership.

This weekend, roughly 26 months after that first frustrating attempt to draw something with a stick of pastel, I got the letter that validated all my hard work. The letter welcoming me as a juried Associate Member of the Pastel Society of America. But this is not the end - rather the beginning. Now the even harder work begins and I'm intensifying  my efforts with lessons and practice as I pursue that next ever more more challenging step on this artistic journey, the quest for Signature status.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Those Two Little Words

"You're diabetic." I was speechless as I heard my doctor say those two little words to me over the telephone. Two little words that turned my life upside down. Two little words that explained so many of the symptoms and issues with which I've been struggling for the past few years but with no real explanation, until now. Two little words that I never expected to hear. After all, I have no immediate family history, no evidence of heart disease, no high blood pressure. I eat an excellent diet relatively free of processed foods and excess sugar or carbs. I try to exercise regularly, and was an endurance athlete throughout most of my adult life for crying out loud! So with no real identifiable risk factors - and the fact that every single one of those little online health tests indicated no diabetic risk - diabetes was simply not on my radar.

I'm still in that "lost" phase of early diagnosis where I'm trying to wrap my head around what all this means and how to come to grips with what my new normal is going to have to be. My diet was already quite good, but I have begun cutting out any processed sugars and "white carbs" wherever I can. I've also made it a point to schedule regular intense exercise for one hour per day at least five days per week. This has been quite a challenge due to the overwhelming fatigue and weakness I continue to experience. Hopefully that is just my body adjusting to the new routine and diet and will improve soon. I'm definitely putting it on my list of questions for the diabetic nutritionist when I go in for counseling though. I am trying to "eat to my meter" in order to try and maintain blood sugars in the appropriate ranges and avoid extreme peaks and valleys if at all possible. And, being a needle weenie, learning to test my own sugar has been an adventure in itself (but I'm managing to do it, even if it is less than the most pleasant part of my day). I'm so grateful to the diabetic bloggers who have been so willing to share their experiences managing their disease without medications, as my personal goal is to control my own diabetes using only diet and exercise, avoiding medications for as long as possible, ideally never having to resort to chemical drugs for treatment.

Right now, the hardest part is surprisingly enough the exercise thing, although don't get me wrong - I miss my flavored coffee and ice cream like mad). It's not that I don't enjoy exercise, because I do. But it's difficult with the extent of the overwhelming fatigue and weakness that comes with it so often - on many occasions, after a mere 15 minutes on the bike, my feet start feeling like they are strapped to cinder blocks, and soon after I begin to feel like I've swallowed a brick and then the mild waves of nausea, headache and dizziness follow along soon after. This does tend to resolve somewhat, at least enough to finish out my hour, but it's definitely a struggle as I never seem to fully recover until after a solid period of complete rest (of course, I seem to always be exhausted, so "fully recover" is maybe not completely accurate). Steve suggested I carry my meter on rides and check to see if my blood sugar is possibly crashing during heavy exertion, so I'll try that next time.

In the meantime until I get in to see the dietitian and follow up with my doctor to see where things are in a couple of months, I'm working very hard on maintaining a strict diabetic diet and being faithful with my exercise schedule in the hopes that the verdict will be that my diabetes is well controlled using only those and there will be no need to add medications.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Helping Animals in Need

Despite a brief setback with multiple episodes of vomiting on Monday, Frylie is doing much better today after the addition of an anti-nausea medication. With his ever rising medical costs, however, I've realized just how lucky he is that Steve and I have been able to afford his medical care. Far too many animals are not that fortunate. In light of this, I've decided to use my opportunity to have a guest artist show of my original paintings here in Wake Forest to try and help those animals in need of urgent medical care. My art show will hang throughout the month of July at The Artists' Loft in Wake Forest, and I've decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from all sales to the Good Samaritan Fund at the Animal Emergency Hospital and Urgent Care.
The show's Opening Reception is Friday evening, July 10, from 6-9 p.m. at The Artists’ Loft above Wake Forest Coffee, 156 South White Street, Wake Forest, NC, phone 919.554.8914. I hope to see you there - let's help some needy animals!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ticked Off

Wow - did not see that coming. I took Fry to the vet this morning due to him having difficulty walking. He had returned from running the mountain bike trail with Steve last evening, apparently having torn the largest foot pads off full thickness on three of his feet. This was concerning enough, and we treated them with the standard medicated ointment the doctor has suggested before when this has happened. But even more worrisome was the fact that he seemed to be experiencing significant pain that kept him from walking or even wanting to stand up. My first guess was that he might have strained a back muscle while running - he is a very athletic dog who likes to do a lot of fast sprinting, jumping and twisting (also how he likely tore his foot pads; doing that stuff on sandy rocky bike trails). We let him rest last night, and decided to see how he felt after some rest. He wasn't better this morning, so I called the vet's office as soon as they opened. They worked him in right away, and the vet suggested performing an x-ray of his spine under anesthesia to get a better picture of what might be going on, so Fry spent the day at the hospital, and I spent the day worrying.

When we picked him up this evening, the vet told us Fry did in fact appear to have a very slight pinched nerve in his low back, but her biggest concern was what his labs showed: Lyme disease. I was stunned. I mean, I know he runs on the bike trails in the woods, and I know Lyme disease does occur in this area, but it honestly was not even on my list of suspicions for Fry's symptoms. We use flea and tick preventive on him, and are very careful to check him over carefully after any outdoor activity. Yes, he does have the occasional tick, but we always remove them promptly with tick pullers designed to remove the body and head cleanly, and never really thought about Lyme.

Fortunately, the vet believes we caught the disease early, and started him on a three-week initial course of powerful antibiotics and pain medications, along with antiseptic foot soaks and antibiotics for his ripped pads. Needless to say, no running or exertional activity for a while either, which is going to be tough on such an active little guy. He's still unwilling to stand or walk unless absolutely necessary, and I'll be monitoring him for the next few days to make sure he's able to tolerate his medications. The vet says it's critical that he take (and keep down) his full dose of antibiotics to manage the Lyme disease since untreated it can lead to liver and kidney disease or even failure. He is scheduled for a return vet appointment in three weeks to assess his progress and decide on the appropriate course if additional treatment is needed at that time.

Our little boy is resting at the moment, under the influence of very strong IV pain medications, and hopefully he will be able to tolerate his oral medicines well and be on the road to full recovery soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Fearless Joy

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been struggling with fear. Fear of mountain bike trail obstacles. Fear of never being able to regain the fitness level of my youth. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of losing my athletic identity as a cyclist. I have been trying to relearn mountain biking, but trying to do it the right way this time. When I first learned to ride 20 years ago (yes, I learned to ride a bike as an adult, which was difficult enough to say the least), I think in my eagerness to catch up for not biking as a kid, I rushed things and tried to do too much too soon. That ended up creating massive levels of fear in me about every aspect of the trail, not to mention never allowing me to get truly comfortable handling a bicycle. Yes, I got to do a lot of races, rode a lot of trails and had a lot of fun in a terrifying kind of way. But there was always that knowledge in the back of my mind that I really didn't know what I was doing because I had never taken the time to actually learn how to ride, so I bluffed my way through the trails for 20 years - I rode, but was always limited by intense unreasonable fear.

So with Steve's help, after taking time off from any kind of significant biking for a long while, I'm relearning the sport, but trying to do it the right way this time and taking things slowly. And even though I'm not naive enough to think I'll ever reach a competitive racer level, if I can simply get comfortable and confident enough this time to manage the non-double-black-diamond trails, that's plenty good enough for me at this stage in my life. In order to gain that confidence, I'm limiting my riding for the time being to trails where the technical sections and challenges have a lower penalty for failure to help me regain fitness and learn to trust myself and my bike before moving to scarier trails.

This past weekend, on the way home from Asheville where Steve raced the final event of the Southern Super D Series, we took a detour to try out the trails at Lake Norman State Park. This turned out to be a superb decision. We only rode three of the easier loops out there, but I discovered that my current bike, a Salsa Spearfish, seemed to be absolutely made for the Monbo Loop. I don't recall having that much fun or having ridden a singletrack trail that fast ever in my life, yet I never felt out of control or scared like I had gotten so used to feeling every time I rode. This hand built trail was the most fun I've had on a mountain bike since I don't know when, and it's been a long time - too long - since I finished a 10 mile mountain bike ride with such a great big grin on my face.
Yeah, I had a couple of close calls. I almost wrapped the bike around a tree when I took a corner with a bit too much speed. Luckily, I was able to steer clear, and thankfully slowing enough to do so helped me narrowly avoid flying off the edge of little curvy rock bridge just after the tree. And there was one small rocky climb where I had to walk the very top few feet due to being out of shape. But I was delighted to find I was able to easily ride the rooty sections, other climbs, descents and rocky stretches. And even with the minor errors noted above, I didn't feel that old familiar gut-wrenching fear I've carried with me for so long, so maybe this plan of taking baby steps with my biking is going to work. I certainly hope so, because I definitely want to go back to LNSP soon, and look forward to finding fearless joy in mountain biking soon.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Been a While

Yeah, I know I kind of left things hanging since my last blog post several weeks ago. I did end up having a nuclear stress test which showed somewhat abnormal results so underwent a cardiac catheterization the other week. Despite all my worries about the procedure being painful, I actually slept through the entire thing and was awakened by the staff letting me know everything went well and my coronary arteries looked very good. Apparently there was no sign of any coronary artery disease, not even any plaque according to the cardiologist! So my heart appears to be healthy; great news in that it means I can continue on with my weight loss and exercise plans. The only negatives include some temporary wrist soreness where the wire was inserted (which has since resolved) and the massive pile of co-payment bills now having to be addressed. But it is good to know my heart is apparently in great shape. We still don’t know the cause of the EKG abnormalities, but I guess they aren’t harmful; erosive esophagitis and reflux disease are the current primary suspects for my symptomatology. So we’re working on addressing that at present, and it seems to be improving.

Now comes the really hard part – getting back into a regular exercise routine. When you’re overweight, getting older and trying to regain lost fitness, well, let’s just say it’s tough. And discouraging - less than 10 years ago I was easily riding my bike for as much as 22 hours straight during endurance events on challenging trails, and now managing one hour on a beginner loop is exhausting and harder than I remember. I’m doing what I can, but it’s a balancing act between exercising hard enough to make gains in fitness and keeping things at a level where it isn’t so awful that I can’t force myself to get back out there the next time. I get frustrated when I can’t do the things I used to do with ease, and at times it feels like I’m carrying a toddler on my back due to the extra body weight, especially on climbs, but I’m taking baby steps to try and improve. Right now my focus is on more saddle time to get comfortable on the bike again, and I’ll worry about adding increasing speed and tackling the scarier more technical trail sections bit by bit so as not to get too overwhelmed with everything at once.
The weirdest part about it, though, is that my fear of obstacles seems to be the biggest roadblock to my progress; I still seem to have a fair amount of strength for biking, and can even go a little bit fast (for me) on short stretches, especially considering my current lack of fitness. But riding a sketchy descent or crossing a log or rock garden just freezes me psychologically, and if we’re heading to a difficult trail, I find that I am sick to the point of nausea, trembling and cold sweats before I even take to the saddle. Not sure what’s going on with that, especially since I know I can always walk the sketchy sections, but it’s something I’d really like to understand and correct because I desperately want to find the joy in biking again. I feel like I already lost the first 33 years of myself as an equestrian when my horse died 20 years ago and I couldn’t bring myself to face that grief. And I don’t want to lose these last 20 years of my identity as a mountain biker as well due to fear of re-learning how to ride. I suppose I need to just keep pressing onward and hopefully things will work themselves out.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Worrisome Weekend

Well, we had quite the scare Thursday evening. I began experiencing increasingly severe pain in my left chest with breathing difficulties Thursday afternoon, to the point that I had to had Steve come pick me up from the office and take me to the doctor. The nurse practitioner who saw me was concerned by the pain and associated fatigue and shortness of breath, so on the advice of the internist ran an EKG which showed some abnormalities. So they faxed the EKG over to a cardiologist who apparently "didn't like the looks" of the EKG and said to send me to the emergency room at the hospital. After more chest studies and laboratory testing in the ER, it was fortunately determined that I was not having a heart attack. However, there was severe inflammation around the chest wall, so they sent me home with pain medications and instructions to rest and avoid strenuous activity for the next several days, and to follow up with the cardiologist in a couple of days.

This really came on at a terrible time. I'm right in the middle of trying to prepare for a mountain bike endurance race series, and the first race is in four weeks! Not only that, but I'm also attempting to shed this excess 65 pounds, an endeavor that absolutely requires maintenance of an intensive exercise program. And the doctors gave me even worse news: restarting my biking program may have contributed to, or at least exacerbated, this chest wall inflammation. Additionally, apparently now that this has happened once, I will be at increased risk of it happening again in the future. Crud.

I did try to "plein air" sketch some, but just out in the back yard since that way I would at least be at home should breathing become too difficult and require me to return to bed.
© 2015 Tammy Kaufman - Backyard Spring Study - soft pastels on UArt 600, 9" x 7"
I was able to complete several sketches, but unfortunately, for whatever reason, my drawing and painting seem to have taken a setback over these past few days, and I've been having difficulty getting my drawings and paintings to turn out the way I want.



I'm not sure if it's due to the pain and fatigue, the stress of worrying about this health issue, or just a normal cycle in an artist's life, or possibly all, or something else. But I'm still trying to get my drawing practice in as often as I can - trying for daily - even though the results have not always been quite as successful as I would like.

Also this afternoon I felt well enough to go for an easy slow hike with Steve and Fry on one of the local bike trails and was able to walk for almost a mile! The best part, though, is that I actually feel somewhat better and am finding it a little easier to breathe after the walk, so I may try riding the indoor bike this evening or tomorrow to see how that feels. Hopefully my training won't have to come to a complete halt and I can continue on with the race series, even if my goal has to change from "racing" to simply completing the course. And all the better if my painting muse would happen to come back soon as well.  :-)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

To My Prince Charming

Fifteen years ago today, you made me feel like a princess.
You were my Prince Charming then, and you remain so today. As the years have passed, my love for you has only grown stronger and every day we're together is another day more in love with my Soulmate.

Happy 15th Anniversary - I love you!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Frylie's Five!

Our little boy is growing up - Frylie is five years old today!
Happy Birthday little man - we love you!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Snow Day!

Fry was loving the wintry weather this week, especially since his body was kept warm with his winter jacket and his paws were protected with his favorite paw wax from Musher's Secret. I hate to sound like an advertisement, but that stuff really works.
That's my boy!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Juggling

With my thoughts and actions racing around in so many different directions over the past month or so, I feel like I've started this year off juggling my entire life! While it's a good thing to have so much going on, sometimes I wonder if there really can be too much of a good thing. I have paintings on exhibit in a variety of venues in Raleigh and Cary and am happy about that, but I've had to start a spreadsheet so I can keep track of just what is hanging where and when it needs to be picked up. I'm not generally much of a spreadsheet kind of person, but out of necessity, I'm quickly learning to become one.

Also, I've begun taking pastel classes with Addren Doss out of Greensboro. We're starting out with values and in that vein, I've been painting nothing but still lifes for the past two weeks.
Still Life Homework Assignments in Greyscale and Color
While I think (hope?) that's helping me better understand value and temperature in color theory, I have to admit I'm looking forward to eventually getting back to painting my beloved landscapes and animals!

And speaking of animals, Frylie was quite ill over this past weekend with some kind of stomach upset. Fortunately, he appears to be well on the road to recovery now, but he gave us quite a scare when he went off his food and suffered nausea, vomiting and lack of energy or interest in anything for those few days.

Lastly, but certainly not least, the handwriting on the wall has reached massive proportions such that I can no longer pretend that my weight gain and lack of fitness don't need to be addressed. In light of that, I'm easing back into a regular exercise regimen of brisk walking/hiking and bicycling. With the cold and rainy weather this winter has brought, I've been limited to the indoor exercise bike, hand weights and yoga most days, but I suppose that's better than nothing. And I can still dream, while I'm pedaling away in the house, of warmer drier days in the coming spring when a hopefully slimmer and fitter me can get back outside on actual mountain bike trails...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sertoma Arts Plein Air Group Show

The Plein Air Group Show at Sertoma Arts Center is now going on, and it is beautiful! There are lots of talented artists participating, with a tremendous variety of styles and media including oils, acrylics, watercolors and pastels. Show runs January 4 through February 28, 2015 at Sertoma Arts Center, 1400 West Millbrook Road in Raleigh NC.
© 2014 Tammy Kaufman - The Cove - pastels on Uart 600 10" x 8"