The Birch Tree Leaf Newsletter Issue 5 - Spring 2020

Greetings from Quarantine...

How are you all doing? Are you adjusting to this new reality?

I have good days and I have not so good days. My thoughts and emotions are on a loop that circles from anger, grief, fear, frustration, disappointment, doubt, impatience... to hope, patience, calm, joy, contentment... and back around again. It is tiring. It is easy to get down on myself for not maintaining calm and perspective.

Can you relate? Thankfully, Scripture holds plenty of examples of how we humans struggle when the going gets tough.

The same evening, Jesus suggested they cross over to the other side of the lake. With Jesus already in the boat, they left the crowd behind and set sail along with a few other boats that followed. As they sailed, a storm formed. The winds whipped up huge waves that broke over the bow, filling the boat with so much water that even the experienced sailors among them were sure they were going to sink. Jesus was back in the stern of the boat, sound asleep on a cushion, when the disciples shook Him awake. Disciples (shouting over the storm): Jesus, Master, don’t You care that we’re going to die? — Mark 4:35-38 (The Voice Translation)

Know that whatever you might be experiencing... it's ok. Give yourself and those around you GRACE. Remember also to look for the ways in which God is extending grace to you.

Jesus got up, shouted words into the wind, and commanded the waves: That’s enough! Be still! The disciples were still afraid, slowly coming to grips with what they had seen. — Mark 4:39,41 (The Voice Translation)

Blessing of Mud*

by Jan Richardson

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the dirt.


Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the earth

beneath our feet.


Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the dust,

like the dust

that God scooped up

at the beginning

and formed

with God’s

two hands

and breathed into

with God’s own



Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the spit.


Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the mud.


Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the mire,

the grime,

the muck.


Lest we think

God cannot reach

deep into the things

of earth,

cannot bring forth

the blessing

that shimmers

within the sludge,

cannot anoint us

with a tender

and grimy grace.

from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

*Selected poem for the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2020

Painting and Reflecting During Lent

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, I have chosen to journey through Lent with a painting project and the beautiful poetry of Jan Richardson. A friend gifted me a copy of Jan's book Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Each Sunday of Lent I select a poem to reflect on while adding to the abstract painting I started on Ash Wednesday — both are shared on my social media accounts. It has been a simple but meaningful practice during this season.

The painting's progression from Ash Wednesday to First, Second, Third, and Fourth Sundays of Lent

COVID-19 Steals the Show

For the past 2 months I had been putting time, effort, and all the creativity I can muster into the set design and decoration for a community production of Matilda. I set aside my usual art-making routine during the early months of the year to focus on theater design. I’ve been doing this now for a number of years. In the studio back home, I tend to work small, but theater design gives me an opportunity to explore working large and I like that challenge. Though, my family and those I work with could tell you how much I moan and complain about said challenges. LOL! I tend to throw a lot of fits as I work.

Matilda has afforded me a fair number of wrestlings. For instance, I felt as though I couldn’t remember how to create the textured/aged/grungy looks I so easily mastered on past sets such as Brigadoon with it’s ancient ruins and mossy rock cliffs. It is strange, but the blockage I was experiencing this year is what lead to a much cleaner, brighter, and simpler look here on Matilda. Stepping back and looking over the completed set, I can’t say I would want more texture/shading/aging. The only pieces that do feature grunge on this set are those meant for the school setting which is a dank and dreary environment dominated by the Trunchbull character with all her vile ways of interacting with Matilda and the other children.

The set features two large stacks of colorful, fanciful books. These remain as permanent pieces for the entirety of the show. Matilda, of course, is a girl obsessed with books, so it felt like a good fit. Letter blocks (a feature from the Broadway production’s set design) are also present throughout the show, though these shift and transform as scenes play out.

I’m quite pleased with this year’s design. It always amazes me how things seem to work out and come together in the end. Getting to show week and turning my attention to lighting design is when things usually get really exciting for me. I get to watch all the talented directors, actors, musicians and technicians of our community (and a bit beyond) bring the set to life. It is absolutely one of my favorite things to do and be a part of.

On March 12, we got an email from our director stating we were to have a COVID-19 meeting prior to rehearsal. I didn’t think much of it and made a few jokes to my family on the way out the door about hand sanitizer demos. I did not at all anticipate what the meeting actually entailed... the news that our show and the Schmeckfest festival it is a part of were being canceled with a strong hope to be postponed to a later 2020 date. It felt like a literal punch in the gut.

I’ve cried tears since that ‪meeting‬. I have felt like I'm in a daze. I don’t know how to process my work for the past months. On one level, I am angry, not with anyone or anything in particular, just upset over being denied the same satisfaction of watching everything come together... of not getting to the exciting part. I don’t know what to do with myself mentally, emotionally, even physically. It feels really, really weird to just set this all down and walk away for the time being. I know I’m not alone in this... others involved in the show must feel this same strange “what now?” feeling. I hope like everyone else that we will reach the exciting part, that this show at some point will be performed. But for now everything is a MAYBE, and that bites.

Last meal at my “office” on the floor of Pioneer Hall. I’ve had plenty a meal here.

I scramble to search my memories for a similar experience and there just isn’t anything there. Sure, I’ve ruined paintings and ceramic pieces have tragically broken, but I’ve never dealt with something as large and time consuming as this project not coming to fruition.

So what’s it like to navigate the road to closure? I don’t know...but it’s the road I’m on. I decided to share what I’ve been working on since I don’t know when OR if it will be shared as it normally would be if COVID-19 hadn’t stolen the spotlight. I wish there was a way to also include here the work of all the talented individuals who have also put in long hours working to bring Matilda to the stage. They’ve been just as hard at it as myself.

Dear Matilda family, you guys are awesome no matter what. I’m praying you get your chance. I’m praying that art and music and theatre can rise above and out of this pandemic. Perhaps you are being postponed for a time when we all will need you most. I hope so...

It is finished! I guess I go home now...

2 Years and Counting

March 22nd marked the 2-year anniversary of my daily painting challenge. I'm currently working towards 1000 days of making art.

Without a doubt, this has been one of the best decisions of my life. God has blessed me through this practice in marvelous ways. I hear from those who follow my daily social media posts that it blesses them as well. That is reason to give much thanks and praise!

To celebrate reaching this milestone, I let my followers on Facebook and Instagram enter a giveaway just as I did last year when I reached my one-year mark. It was so cool to send out some love (this year a package of encouragement cards) for all the ways these folks support and encourage me on my artistic journey.

Enter Jonah and the Whale

A daily art practice is an interesting thing. It has a way of bringing out recurring thoughts, ideas, color selections, even common painting gestures and techniques.

I am learning a lot about myself in this process.

I have been exploring a handful of subjects and ideas, and just in the past few weeks a new one has surfaced, that of Jonah and the whale.

Here is my first painting working with the subject and this one is not quite finished, but I wanted to share it anyway. I am excited to see what comes as I create new versions of this image down the road. I already have a backlog of bluey-green backgrounds that seem perfect for this theme.

At that, they grabbed Jonah by his arms and legs and threw him overboard. And when they did, the raging sea grew calm. The sailors were even more terrified of the Eternal One. They offered sacrifices to Him and made promises to Him. The Eternal didn’t let Jonah die. He chose a large fish to swallow Jonah; for three days and three nights the prophet Jonah sat safely inside the belly of this fish. — Jonah 1:15-17

I'm taking orders!

In April I will be fulfilling orders for these mini prayer wings. If you would like to place a custom order for a mini wing you just need to send me a message by April 6.

Mini wings are available in 4 colors: deep sapphire blue, white, pale dusty aqua, dark brown.

You may specify a word of your choice for each wing or 2-3 short words.

These are $20 each or $15 when you purchase 2 or more. Includes free shipping. Orders will be ready to ship by April 30th. They make great gifts!

Join Me for a Holy Week Journey

Several years ago I gave a series of art-centric talks for a small community's observance of Holy Week. I wish to share these talks featuring reflection on the liturgical texts accompanied by various works of art. These articles will be available on my website blog beginning on Palm Sunday, April 5th, 2020.

Watch your email or social media for information or use the link below.

Painting: Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem (date unknown) by Gustave Doré (1832-1883).

In closing, I'd like to share a wonderful hope-filled art series by Morgan Harper Nichols. Morgan is one of my favorite Instagramers. Her work is based on stories that individuals submit to her. She creates art around those stories then sends the artwork back to the story sharer for free and also posts these to her social media - wonderful visual gifts for us all. I encourage you to visit her Instagram profile or website.

If you feel overwhelmed...series posted on Instagram by @morganharpernichols on March 12, 2020
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart! I have overcome the world. — Jesus (John 16:33)

Take care, my friends!

Created By
Michelle L Hofer