Monthly Archives: June 2020

Messages To June


They make whole movies and documentaries about people who meet magical beings. Beings that defy the routines of normal life.

I knew a magical being in real life. I called her a ray of light, and her name was June.

One of the greatest compliments I’ve gotten in life, was when June referred to me as her best friend.

Over the last nine months of her life, I got to spend a lot of time with her, and we said “I love you” to each other almost every day.

June didn’t think she was special. She often said “I’m nothing.”

She couldn’t see what I saw when I looked at her. The love she had, the sacrifices she made, and the joy of realizing, at age 92, that you can be yourself. Every day. You can be who you are.

June told me that she knew at age 3, that she was a little girl. She was not the little boy that other people saw. Not the boy that she was told she was.

It was a different world then in many ways. She didn’t have the options that trans youth have today.

I’m not saying it is easy. But June found, at age 92, that most people in her community accepted her, even if they didn’t understand, and loved her for who she was, not for who they had assumed she was, or the clothes she wore.

I worked the night shift in the long term care facility where June lived, but we had known each other for three decades prior.

A year earlier, I cared for June’s wife. Within six months, June lost her son, her son-in-law, and her wife.

In a different way, she lost her daughter and grandson, because they did not want to see her as June.

Over the last nine months of June’s life, we had coffee together at 2 am, and we talked. At the end I did most of the talking, sitting by her bed.

We talked about big and small issues. One night, June looked at me for a while, and then said, “Nothing I can say will ever shock you, will it?”

Another great compliment.

June taught me that it is never too late to follow your dreams. As long as you have life, you can live it.

A month after June moved into the Care Center, I started the process to adopt children. I thought I was too old. Single. I thought it was impossible.

June shared my dream. She encouraged me. Like me, she was frustrated when things took too long.

And she was able to meet my son before she died.

Now I will raise him without Grandma June. But not really. June lives in me, through her words and lessons she taught me.

What I boil it down to is this: it’s never too late. It doesn’t matter what other people think or say. You are a unique person, and only you can determine the course of your life. There will be those who criticize you, but there will also be those who love and support you.


Dear June: I think of you almost every day. Your Star was on the top of our Christmas tree this year, and I kept pointing it out to the kids. “That is Grandma June’s star,” I said, and they knew what I really meant… I miss you.

I think of all the things you told me. About flying in airplanes during the war, about fishing, lipstick, the animals around your house, and how you cried every time you mentioned your wife.

I think of how I planned our trips to Duluth so you would have safe bathrooms, and how we laughed and reminded each other how much we loved each other.

I think of the last time we talked… when I read you the messages from Facebook, and you finally got to see baby Eleanor.

I miss our 2 am coffee time. Everything has changed for both of us since then.


Hi June. I miss you so much.

The other day, we bought an old travel trailer. She’s beautiful… a few flaws, but nothing I can’t fix.

We named her June. It was Raymond’s idea.

The camper gives me even more opportunity to tell people about you, and what you meant to me. I think about you every day. I love you.

Taking pictures and being a dad

For as long as I can remember, I have drawn pictures. I drew them, and I gave them away. I didn’t value them, I enjoyed the process, and the response.

By the time I applied for art school, I had no work to put into a portfolio. I couldn’t apply without examples of what I had done.

It was always a thrill when I was able to borrow my dad’s camera. He loved photography, and through seeing him, I learned to love it, too.

I submitted a collection of my photos, and was accepted into art school.

Photography was easy. I just looked through the lens, focused, adjusted the light, and clicked.

45 years later, I still take pictures, and I still love it. It’s even easier now.

I just shoot what appeals to me.

I developed a style of taking pictures unintentionally, just by doing it so much, and by learning what appealed to me, and how I best liked to tell a story through photography.

I’ve defined some of what I like, but much of it is just instinct, like composition.

I like natural light, and when I can’t have that, I like indirect light. Some shots just want to be black and white.

I take pictures of strangers… kissing, reading, smoking. I take pictures of boats and cars. I take a lot of pictures of my cats and my kids.

I have pictures of almost every one of my childhood birthdays, because my dad did the same thing. That’s where I learned it.

That’s where I learned to be a dad.


Every one of us is different. We all have our own strengths and challenges in life.

We express ourselves differently.

Each one of us communicates our unique self in our own way.

Those of us who paint, do it with our own style. It doesn’t make one of us right and another wrong. You don’t have to criticize someone who does it differently than you do. You don’t have to convince or change someone who believes differently. You don’t have to correct someone who doesn’t spell as well as you do. You don’t have to stress over another person’s grammar.

Words are for communicating. True, there are rules. That’s how language remains language. But I can understand the meaning even if someone uses the incorrect to, too or two… there, they’re or their. We can learn a lot from anyone if we pay attention to the message they are trying to convey.

It is unkind and unnecessary to demand correctness, even if it makes you feel superior.

Dusky purple

I’ve often heard artists say they don’t use black paint. They say black doesn’t occur in nature. I like to use black. It’s graphic. It may not occur in nature, but it occurs in my paintings. My paintings aren’t nature, even if they make you think of trees, animals and landscapes. I can describe something visual with words. I can also describe it with paint or ink. Words and images are language that describe other things, and let us share information about what we’ve seen or felt.

I painted in my studio today. I mixed some dark brown color to start with, and I made the shapes of trees against a large field of blue. Then I added yellow to it, and it became a shade of green that still had the brown in it. I painted for a while (the painting was pretty big), and when that green started getting low, I added more yellow to it. Then I had a brighter green, but it was still made of the green I had used before, which was still made of the brown I started with. When the green got too bright, I knocked it back with some red, and just kept going. I used the same brush, and just kept adding different colors to the mix I had been using all along. This way, the colors shared something. They were partly made of the same paint, which I added in dots of color, my version of pointillism.

That paint cup made me think of a cooking show I saw about an authentic molé sauce that the chef just kept adding to over years. It had elements that had been simmering in the mixture for a long, long time. When I found myself painting with a dusky purple, I knew it still contained some of the original brown and yellow… and I thought of black, and how people like to make rules that they want everyone else to follow.

My mind wanders all over the place when I paint.

If I paint a scene of trees, people sometimes say, “where are the fish?” If I paint trees with fish in them, then people say “do you have one without the fish?” And so I realized that if you want the painting to be different, you really want a different painting. If I haven’t done the painting that you want, then you should look somewhere else, or paint it yourself. I’m not going to paint from your perspective.

The cool thing about being human is that we share so much. We see and feel a lot of the same things. When I tell you about my experiences, you might say “Yes! That exact thing happened to me!” or you might say “You’re describing what I have always felt, but I didn’t know how to put it into words.”

When I make a painting that you can relate to, or you like so much that you want to put it on your wall and see it every day, it’s because we’re made of the same stuff. Like the paint, or the molé, there are bits of me coursing through your veins, and I have molecules of you sparking in my brain, or controlling my fingers.

Just go back far enough, and you will see that we are related. We are all connected, even if one of us is bright green and another of us is dusky purple.

Or you

I don’t look for evil in everything, but when it is there, we need to see it and take a stand against it. Painting a rosy picture when so many are suffering is a testament to your privilege. Protesters protest to bring about a positive change, not to magnify the negative.

Lucky you, if you’re comfortable and content, like I am.

I can’t take credit for the color of my skin. I did nothing to deserve the unconditional love I was shown by my parents. I don’t deserve more respect than you. Or you. Or you.

I’m sick of platitudes that unintentionally blame the victims because change is a threat to your way of life.

There is no narrow, exclusive path of love. Differences don’t make other people wrong. Privilege is not perfection. It’s not even admirable.

Slow down

I love to paint trees, and that is what people like to hang on their walls. I love to be surrounded by trees, and to commune with them on some level. I rush around, trying to do things and go places as fast as I can. Trees do things at a much slower pace. I can not go that slow, but I sit for a while beneath the branches, and then rush off again. When I come back, the trees are still standing there with arms outstretched to welcome me again.

I also love to make abstract paintings. They free my mind to see whatever it is that I will see, not pinning me down to a specific theme. I look at them the way I look at clouds, not writing them off when the message takes some time.

This may be why I say that painting is meditative for me. It slows me down the way a bonfire or boat ride does. It structures time so that I can slow way down and not be bored. I gaze into and through the branches, into and beyond the clouds, into the paint and what lies behind it.

The tree paintings get snapped up, because you can see at a glance that it is a tree. Wonderful! The abstracts tend to accumulate. I ask them are you too sloppy? Are you too subtle? What are you trying to say?

They exhale, long and low,

S – L – O – W – – – D – O – W – N .

Forever Young

These paintings are available for sale.

Many more will be added.

Under the Ice. 8.5″x11″, Acrylic on illustration board in a thrift store frame. $45


Spring Ice on Fall River. 5″x7″ (7.5″x9.5″ framed), Acrylic on illustration board. $30


Gill Net. 8″x10″, Acrylic on illustration board in a thrift store frame. $20

Gunflint Pines diptych. 84″x42″. Two 42″x42″ panels. Acrylic on wood. $600 each for $1,000 for both.


Kaksi Kalaa (Two Fish). 10″x18″, Acrylic on canvas. $60


Valkoisia Mäntyjä (White Pines). 8″x10″, Acrylic on canvas board in a thrift store frame. $25


Chromatic Sea. 30″x40″, Acrylic on canvas. $200


Kalat Puissa (Fish in the Trees) 18″x24″, Acrylic on canvas. $85


Private Land of Dreams. 17.25″x21.5″, Acrylic on canvas board in a thrift store frame. $60

As many of you know, I adopted two teenagers out of foster care last year.

We started with foster care two years ago, and now I can’t imagine my life without my kids.

This is an exciting time for me and my family. It hasn’t all been easy. We had planned to go to North Carolina over spring break to see my parents, who both have serious health conditions. That was when Coronavirus came to the forefront, and we were unable to travel.

We tried again a couple of weeks ago, and our van died before we made it to Two Harbors. The van is a total loss, leaving us with a tiny car that I bought when the last of my older kids moved away, and I was alone. Raymond is too tall to ride comfortably in the car even without having anyone in the back seat! This also leaves us with no vehicle to tow our fishing boat.

We have a new (used) vehicle coming soon, and with it, a car loan.

Over the course of this global pandemic, I have been painting. The shut down has given me time to think and experiment creatively.

I am thinking about how to make these available for sale. The pieces include abstracts in watercolor and acrylic, landscapes and fish. They range from 4” x 6” to 42” x 84”.

Until I figure out how to present these, I will put them on my blog at under the post “Forever Young.”

I am so happy to be able to provide a forever home in the Young family, and am grateful to our community for showing us so much love and support.

I’ve watched a lot of YouTube footage since social distancing began. For a while I was watching this guy who looks for stuff at the bottom of rivers and lakes. This little abstract watercolor is called Joki, which is the Finnish word for River. it looks like someone lost their GoPro in the lower right corner. Joki, 4″x6″. Watercolor on paper, in a thrift store frame. $10

Twice as much

I thought maybe my purpose was to create art. This is something important that I do. It grounds me. It gives me a way to express the things that I feel, and in so doing, it tells me what I feel…. But if my purpose is to comment on my experience, and thus know it, what’s the point? That’s just figuring out the facts. The logistics. Once I begin to understand me, I can reach out. Reach outside of my comfort zone, and actually affect change in the world.

I vote. Voting is important, but I have a very very small voice. And so I reach out, within my arms length, and do something that will make an impact.

I have been very fortunate. I was so secure growing up that I could be ungrateful. I could be dismissive and rude, and yet I knew my parents loved me. I felt safe. Not all kids have that. Some kids are rejected by their parents. Some kids are taken away because their parents are doing such a poor job at parenting. Kids are abandoned due to no fault of their own.

Why am I so fortunate when so many are not?

I made certain decisions that brought me to where I am today. I live in a town that many people with more resources than I have wish they could live in. I own a home that I love. I have extra bedrooms, and a four car garage. I have two bonfire pits in a yard where, for almost 30 years, I have cultivated my own private forest. I’ve created the home and life I have longed for.

I think my purpose… the reason I was put on this earth, is to give kids who weren’t as fortunate as me, a home with love. I’m a single parent, but I told my kids that I can love them twice as much. As much as a mom and a dad.

I’m not looking forward to a future free of kids.

Most people don’t want to adopt older kids. Multiple kids. Kids with special needs. I’m not like most people.

Smell No Taste

For many years, I have felt ashamed about not recognizing racism in my own life earlier. I just didn’t see it. My family uprooted itself to go to Africa and help people. My dad left his practice in the States to work as a missionary doctor. We left a big, beautiful home where we had acreage, a pool, an orchard… and we were happy to go. Mom once said we left a pool and gained an ocean.

There were kids of every skin tone in my graduating class. There is a rainbow of skin tone in my family, and I have a child of color.

It doesn’t sound like racism.

When we went to Liberia, we brought our lifestyle with us. It was scaled down, of course. I had Star Wars posters on my bedroom walls. We had nice clothes and stereos. We had rogue bars on our windows.

We unintentionally flaunted what we had in front of people who had nothing.

The compound where we lived was full of coconut trees. I could pick up a coconut anytime I wanted to. I could crack it open and eat it, or I could throw it into the lagoon. It didn’t matter. If a Liberian picked up a coconut, they were called a coconut rogue, and chased away. The maintenance department picked up the coconuts and put them into barrels in a fenced area. Many of the people living around us were hungry.

If a child came to the door asking for kool aid, they might be pointed to the hose where they could get a drink of water.

Out by the airport, there is a place called “Smell No Taste.” During the war, the people would come and stand at the fence, smelling the food cooked for the American military.

Smell no taste pretty much says it all.


I pick up a pen and touch it to the paper, and a fish swims out. Mike loaned me some tools for making pottery. I picked up a wooden stylus and touched it to the leather hard surface of a pot. It had fish in it too!

I grasp the moving utensils, and find that there are fishes hiding everywhere.

They wriggle out and sometimes congregate, overlapping each other and swimming away, happy to be freed from the ink chamber or sculpting tool.

When I paint, I sometimes don’t know what is going to come out. At other times, the subject is clear and deliberate. It’s the same way when I write. Whatever I am digesting will come out when the time is right.

When the words flow out, surprising even me, it can be cathartic. The things I am the most hesitant to write are often the most rewarding.

I hook something unseen in the depths, and reel in an important memory or unresolved issue.

Those big fish are intimidating. They can be threatening, flopping around the way they do. Lashing out. Afraid of change. When they settle down, I examine them.

When I take the hook out of their mouth and release them, I actually take the hook out of myself.

The thing is just the thing, and I am no longer tethered to it.

Most recently, the subject of religion as been surfacing, and this has made me uncomfortable… and that makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to censor myself. I want to say it all.

When I write something that I think is shocking or offensive, I read it to friends and they say it is beautiful. When I read it aloud, I get choked up, so I know it’s real. It’s coming from my soul.

I don’t think there is a problem with what I say. I think there is a problem with the old way of thinking.

I see it on a large scale now. Recognizing and naming white supremacy in our culture is threatening to those who are comfortable with it. I want to be comfortable opposing fascism and tyranny wherever I see it.

I read on social media that you can’t change your friends, but you can change your friends.

I can change myself.