Ice Cream and happiness




My mother and her family summered on Fire Island in the thirties. So did Jimmy Durante and whenever he came into the general store he’d say,

“Who wants ice cream?  Everybody line up!”  And he’d buy ice cream cones for all the kids who happened to be in the store.


This story is still being told about him seventy years after it happened.  What a legacy–for people to think of you and ice cream together.
Because after all,  money can’t buy happiness but it can buy ice cream, which is just about the same thing.

If you don’t know Jimmy Durante, you’re in for a treat.  You can hear him sing As Time Goes By on the sound track for Sleepless in Seattle, or just google him to see  videos of him singing.  He didn’t have what you’d call a lovely voice, but he’s a perfect example of making something wonderful out of what you’ve been given.

Organized at last



I know, I know.  this blog is about being an artist and making art while living a full life,  but it’s hard to make art when you can’t find your keys, your glasses, your pencil.

Who was it who said, “Live like a bourgeois so that you may make art like a revolutionary?”  Flaubert?  DelaCroix?  Rimbaud?  Whoever it was, he was right.  Keep your house in order so you can get on with your work.

After years of thinking of myself as a scattered slob I have come to realize that my life is organized.  My closets are neat, I know where my keys are and I don’t have a junk drawer.  If only my mother were alive to see this, although it might give her a heart attack all over again.  She was a paragon of tidiness except when she wasn’t, like with her checking account.   She kept two accounts and when one got hopelessly unbalanced she’s switch to the other for a month or so.  So, nobody’s perfect but we all do our best.

How have I gone from hopelessly slovenly to neat and tidy?

It took a long time.

We live in a loft that we bought half finished–it was a big room with a kitchen and a bathroom and I got to design the floor plan. I put in a pantry, a laundry room, a hall closet for coats, a cedar closet for out of season clothes. a media closet because that was in the day of huge TV’s and stereo equipment, a walk-in closet/dressing room for me, big closets for my husband, a big one in the kids‘ room.

My neighbor told me; “You have too many closets.”

Too many closets?   There’s no such thing!

He said; “When your closet gets full it’s time to get rid of stuff.”  Well, clearly, he and I could never be friends but he was not entirely wrong.

Last week I painted my closet and in the process had to empty it out completely.  In doing so I found a ton of stuff that I’ve been storing for at least 15 years.  I took two carloads to the Salvation Army and threw away three large garbage bags of shredded paper.  I feel liberated.

Why did I keep that stuff for so long?  What are my stumbling blocks to getting rid of the things that clog my home and my life?  Here are the four big ones.


         1. The Pathetic Fallacy

I am haunted by the image of our old station wagon sitting forlornly at the dealers as we drove off in a new model.  I’m afraid that if I get a new raincoat and hang it in the closet the old one’s feelings will be hurt. This is called the pathetic fallacy and it is truly pathetic.  Barbara, wake up.  A car is not a puppy. My stuff does not have feelings and it can be put to better use than to sit in my closet.  Pass it on.

       2. “I might need it some day”

       If you can’t get over the pathetic fallacy, find your stuff a happy new home where it will be loved and appreciated.  My ice skates sat on my top shelf for 15 years.  Every time  I looked at them I thought, they’re getting dusty and taking up space but I may still go skating.  Hey, if I go skating I can rent skates! And, as my daughter reminded me, there may be a little Tara Lupinsky out there who really needs skates!   Pass them on!

     3. It Will Fit if I Lose Ten Pounds

If it didn’t look good on me last year, it’s not going to look good this year.  If it doesn’t fit it just makes me depressed to look at it.  It may fit someone else, so pass it on.

     4.  The Trojan Horse

There are about 16 billion products for sale that promise to organize your life.  Before you buy one, think it over for a week.   It might be just what you need and then again it might be another dust collector.  Remember, you’re de-cluttering, so why add something new?  If you wait and think before you purchase, you might come up with a solution that doesn’t involve bringing more stuff into the house.

Okay, I admit that one reason my house is so neat is that the children have flown the nest.  In my next blog I’ll talk about

the Black hole of Calcutta–the children’s room!

Here’s one of my drawings and a quote that I printed out and posted over my desk.  It’s from Haydn’s Creation, just after God has said let there be Light  “And there was LIGHT!”   It’s one of the great moments in western culture and I hope it inspires you!

Now Chaos Ends
Now Chaos ends and Order Fair Prevails




Thoughts on my Dad on Father’s day

Thoughts of My Dad on Father’s Day

Here are two shots of my father, Robert Sinclair Swanson, Jr.  On the left, what are he and I doing?   Read to the end to find out.  On the right is the quintessential shot of Dad, because to him, punctuality was a cardinal virtue. Except for the time when Larry and I showed up an hour early and he was furious, because it meant we had been speeding.  Safe driving was an even more cardinal virtue.

Volumes have been written about finding your life’s work but Dad was succinct; “You have to look forward to getting up on the morning,” he said and he did. Saturday mornings he would dance in the kitchen to his favorite singer, Joe Turner, the Boss of the Blues. Dad knew all the verses to Shake Rattle and Roll; “Get outta that bed, wash your face and hands, Get out in that kitchen, make some noise with the pots and pans.” Mom, who’s idea of breakfast was a cigarette and a pepsi, was not amused. There was usually a work program after breakfast; raking leaves, washing the car, but any trip to the hardware store or the dump always included a stop for popsicles, even between meals.

Father’s Day was the worst day in our family’ s life–that’s the day Larry was killed. Dad was broken-hearted but he set us an example in carrying his grief with dignity and grace. He met with all his friends and cried his heart out with each one. He reminded himself that he still had children and grandchildren, and he continued to find ways to laugh with us. He was determined see Larry in Heaven, and he set about living a life that made him worthy. He had tried repeatedly to quit smoking but the last time he started to light up he swore he heard Larry’s voice saying; “Hey DAD!” He never had another cigarette. He cut back on his drinking to white wine in the evening with Mom, when they’d sit on the porch and talk about the old days. He even started a men’s group titled Devotions, Dialogue and Doughnuts. A group of Greatest Generation men talking about their feelings? I’d love to have been a fly on the wall.

Dad made friends easily–wherever he went he soon became a regular. He was invited to a baby shower for the daughter of the managers of the Quick Mart where he bought his morning paper. Most men would hand this job over to the wife, but not Dad. On his own he went to a baby shop and bought two little blue outfits–he knew it was a boy–and had them nicely wrapped with a blue ribbon. Then he want to a Christian bookstore for a card. “I want a card that’s Christian but not too Christian,” he told the clerk. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said. Dad said, “I’m a born-again Christian. The person I’m sending this to is not. I want to let her know what I am without making her think i’m telling her what she should be.” And the clerk said, “I think I can help you with that.” When I think of this story I think of Matthew 5:16, where Jesus says; “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

At his memorial service a lifelong friend recalled Jesus’ parable of the talents, and called Dad a five talent guy, who invested all that he had and all that he was in service to others. Dad was one of life’s encouragers. I’ll always miss him, but the things he left behind will serve me all my life.

and what are we doing in that picture?  Snapping our fingers.


Eric in Lenox

Wall of pictures by Barbara Swanson Sherman
We were at the opening this weekend--Eric's room was a smash hit. If you're in the Lenox, MA, area, try to stop in and see it.

Getting started

I’ve been trying to start blogging, but something’s holding me back. Is it shyness or the need for perfection or sheer terror? I don’t know, but I’m getting sick of it. I just had a thought. I was on vacation in Tuscany last week. I wanted to swim in the pool, which was not heated. I knew if I put my toe in I’d never have my swim, so I marched right to the edge and dove in. It was beyond cold–took me two laps to get my breath back and then it felt GREAT! I stayed in for half an hour, swimming laps and doing water ballet tricks. Is blogging going to be like that?I hope so.


A Lucy for Every Season

If you are not a totally gaga dog lover, please read no further. I’d like to keep you thinking of me as a rational human being. When I was expecting my first child I dreamed that I gave birth to a dachshund. I was delighted with my human baby girl but that dachshund was awfully cute. After many years, when the children had flown our nest, my husband surprised me with a miniature dachshund puppy.  She’s so adorable–I said she was the love of my life but my son said, “What about your husband?”  Well, he’s nice, too but it’s along time since he wiggled all over with joy just at the sight of me.  Once again, my art and life have intersected, because Lucy has inspired a whole new series–A Lucy for Every Season. I’ll be sending out Lucy greetings appropriate to the season and occasion. Here’s the latest–Happy Mother’s Day!

Easter Dinner

Deviled eggs, Harrington’s Ham, potato salad, asparagus, green salad, lemon chiffon pie.  For the last 3 years I’ve served purple potatoes in the salad.  They are perfectly organic and, for one who loves color as I do, beautiful.  With yellow peppers and green peas they make a festival of Easter colors.   But nobody touches them.  do they really think I’d put food dye in my Easter dinner?  I give up.   From now on, it’s only Yukon Gold for me and my guests.


I keep thinking of categories for my thoughts but actually, everything I write about is so interconnected that I don’t see the use of categories.   Art, work, marriage, children, faith, friends, home, music, my dog, everything has something to do with something else.   Maybe I should just write little bits–easily read in a minute. LIke this one.

The philosophy of Mickey Rivers

I am trying to  embrace the philosophy of MIckey Rivers the great Yankee center fielder.  He says:  “I don’t worry about things I can’t control because if I can’t control them, why worry?  And I don’t worry about things I can control because If I can control them, why worry?”

How brilliant is that?  And how can I improve on it?