Welcoming the Stranger

Advent means a heart that is awake and ready.

The moment I saw him, I knew he wasn’t Catholic.

I was standing in the vestibule of St Mary Catholic Church after Mass on the first Sunday of Advent. As the tall, slender young man walked past me, he breezed right past the Holy Water. I watched him closely as he walked down the center aisle. He didn’t genuflect before sitting down in the second pew from the front nor he make the Sign of the Cross before he bowed his head as if to pray. I nodded inwardly and thought to myself, “That boy has got a heavy heart. He is looking for some comfort here.” I sat down in the back pew and waited.

It was my Sunday to be a greeter for the 7 A.M. Mass. Being a greeter means mostly saying hello to the same people I see every Sunday. I smile, say “Good Morning,” hug people, and try to be a welcoming presence. Being a greeter is not a hard job but it’s not necessarily an easy one, either. The Hospitality Ministry is pretty new and the ushers are still getting used to the idea that a greeter is horning in on their territory. They glower at me while I attempt to maintain a serene frame of mind. One usher in particular seems really offended by my hugging people so I try to pray for him while I’m standing there. I figure if I’m praying for him, I’ll keep from flipping him off which is what I am sometimes sorely tempted to do.

While I was waiting for our young visitor, I thought about all the times I went to Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Like him, I wasn’t Catholic either. I was a lot like I imagined this young man to be: troubled, confused, hurting. I would go sit at the feet of the statue of Our Lady and cry. I can’t tell you how many times I watched the nice parishioners look the other way while I was suffering so much youthful angst. My memory of how alone and sad I felt in those days was one of the reasons that I was so bound and determined to be present to this boy. Of all the things I may be, a sanctimonious, stuffy church lady, I am not.

When our visitor stood up to leave, I got up, too. I stepped over to the baptismal font and blessed myself with the words: “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” I bowed toward the tabernacle and straightened up just as my young friend drew near.

I looked him in the eye and said, “My name is Tara. Are you okay? Do you want someone to pray with you?”

He nodded and told me his name was E–. After we sat down, he told me about how he’d been having trouble with drugs. His mom was insisting that he go to rehab before she’d let him come home. And there was a girl, too, whom he loved and lost. I could smell the cigarettes on his breath and I remembered a chain-smoking, binge-drinking eighteen year old I knew once. She was mourning the death of her boyfriend who’d been killed in a car wreck.

“I used to have a drinking problem, too,” I said. “I drank because I was trying to make the pain go away. I did drugs. I drank so much that I had black outs and shit.” Yes, I cursed in church; I told you I’m not a stuffy church lady.

We talked and prayed and cried together. Before he left, I gave him my card and told him I wanted him to let me know how he was doing. I promised him that I’d pray for him and that I wouldn’t forget him. I told him that I knew he could heal from everything that he’s gone through. And I told him that he has his whole life ahead of him.

A few weeks ago, when the scowling from the ushers was particularly fierce, I felt like an outsider again. I got discouraged and wondered how long I could tolerate the disapproval glares and being scolded for hugging people. I wasn’t sure I could get through it without mouthing off, either. On Thanksgiving morning, I asked God to send me a stranger. My reasoning was that as a greeter, I was there to welcome the person who was friendless, not merely to say hello to the people who see me every Sunday.

From the moment I set eyes on E–, I knew he was my stranger, the one I had prayed to the good Lord for. With all my heart, I hope I didn’t let him down. Maybe he heard me when I said, “You are not alone.”

Sharing Your Gifts: Should you let people take pictures of your artwork?

Should you let people take pictures of your artwork?“Tara, I need to talk to you right away.”

The voice mail was from my dynamite web developer, Kelly, and her tone made me think something was seriously wrong. I checked my website and everything seemed ok. Breathing a sign of relief, I dialed her back.

When Kelly answered, she got straight to the point, “Honey, I hate to tell you this, but someone is stealing your content.”

Frankly, I didn’t think I had anything worth stealing so in a way, I took this news as a compliment.

This incident came to mind for me this weekend while I observed artist’s reactions to people’s picture taking.

One artist had large, ugly signs posted all over his booth that read: NO photos; NO video; DON’T ask. With all of those no’s, don’ts,’ and bad vibes, I didn’t even bother to go into his stinking booth.

Another artist interrupted his conversation with me to leap in front of a visitor, blocking their effort to snap a pic of one of this prints. As the would-be admirer stomped off, totally offended, I wondered if it even occurred to the artist how much bad juju he was creating for himself.

And then there was Kat Dellamater. When I saw the banner for her Rocky Canyon Tileworks Mosaics, I practically ran to her booth. After going gaga over her table tops, table-runner sized trivets, and other mosaic gems, I introduced myself and ask if I could snap a few photos to illustrate this post. “Of course!” Kat replied. “Take as many pictures as you want.” When I photographed this lovely mirror, I was lucky enough to capture a reflection of lovely Kat herself!

I didn’t get any pictures when I visited with Kim Hamblin because Kim and I were having too much yucking it up. Kim’s assemblages—complex cut paper, paint, nails, and wood—are simply delightful. Kim left me feeling like I’d just found a long lost soul-sister.

Gena Ollendieck shared her incredible blend of mosaic, collage, assemblage, and book binding with me. Her work (pictured at left) is haunting, intriguing, and complex.

What these women understood was that by sharing their gifts freely, they increase the likelihood that their gifts will go farther, get more exposure, and bring more fans to their work. And, to the best of my ability, here I am doing my part and telling you about them.

I do understand the fear that an artist might have that someone could copy, plagiarize, or try to fake ownership of the work. But I also know, as I told Kelly when she discovered that someone was copying my posts, I give my gifts freely to the world. I don’t have any control over what happens to my work after it leaves me.

Yes, I like it when people give me credit where credit is due and yes, stealing is wrong. But am I going to try to police readers or scold Pinterest pinners or castigate Instagramers or stalk anyone else who has access to my work? Nope. Maybe something I write will be of value to someone, maybe something I create will be of benefit. I mean, isn’t that what gifts are for: to be given away.

What do you think? As an artist, do you worry about people taking pictures of your artwork?

A Trip to Portlandia

Renegade Craft Fair Mini Market, Portland, OregonImagine a live and in-person Etsy-ville with booth after booth filled with delightful stitched bags, funky handmade clothing, eclectic jewelry, and quirky art prints. Heaven? Yes! It’s a Renegade Craft Fair!

When I heard that Renegade was bringing one of its Mini-Markets to Portland, Oregon, I knew I had to be there. When we arrived, my husband leaned over and whispered, “I’ve never been to a craft show where everyone was so pretty!” And he was right. I was expecting lots of hipsters with colorful tats, tastefully tinted hair, ironic piercings, and whacky mustaches (it is Portland, right?). And yes, we saw some of those folks. And we also met incredibly beautiful artisans who were simply glowing with inner loveliness as well as outward good looks. And these gorgeous people make pretty things!

Here are a few of our favorite items from the fair.


Ex Libris Anonymous upcycled journalsI read Misty of Chincoteague dozens of times when I was a little girl. So when I saw Misty on the cover of one of these upcycled journals, I knew I had to have one. Ex Libris Anonymous rescues books from the recycling bin, cuts out the book blocks, and then creates spiral bound sketchbooks. They throw in a few pages from the original book as dividers. I could have happily brought away dozens of these but contented myself with just three. You can find them online at bookjournals.com. If you’re on Pinterest, they offer a unique deal: repin five of their images and they’ll take $2 off your order.

Bishop M. Lennon Prints

Bishop M. Lennon creates delightfully quirky art prints. I have a bit of an obsession with refrigerator magnets so you know I had to have a set of her happy portland raindrop magnets. You can find those along with  a tote bag decorated with the Portland print (center postcard) on her Etsy store . And be sure to check out her bird prints: A Hummingbird Ruined the Party is a must-have.

Collage by Gitti Linder, Cinder Ceramics, Ashland, Oregon

The Gratitude + Joy collage attracted me to Cinder Ceramics where I met artist, Gitti Linder. I did my best to talk her into bringing her wares to the Corvallis Fall Festival someday. In the meantime, you can buy her work on her Etsy store. And she takes commissions for customized lettered items. Yay!

Moderm Cabin

Modern Cabin was handing out “sporks” at their book. A nifty little combination of a wooden spoon + fork, a spork is a must-have, people. Check out their Etsy store to pick up one of their colorful, waterproof picnic blankets (ask for a spork while you’re at it).

Victory Garden of Tomorrow

Portlandia is an attitude, not a place. You can get the full flavor of all the Portland has to offer from this poster by Victory Garden of Tomorrow.  Their tag line is, “Propaganda for courage and imagination.” Love!

Buena Vista Ferry over the Willamette River, Oregon

Do you follow me on Instagram? If so, then you already know we took the scenic route home and crossed the Willamette River on the Buena Vista Ferry. Check out my stream for more photos of my doin’s, travels, and art.

Before I go, I also want to share prayers for all those affected by Robin Williams’ death. I woke up in the middle of the night to pray for his family and friends as well as all those who suffer with depression. I’ve been on the brink of suicide myself once, a long time ago. I know how horrible those feelings of darkness, self-loathing, and hopelessness can be. The world will miss Robin’s genius.

With love,

With love from Tara

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