Artist in Residence

Behold this homage to former President Obama, the newest work from a talented North Carolina artist who was born in Nepal and also lived in Moldova. 

Yes, it’s Champa, whose paintings, collages and other work fill our home with beauty. Here are the three paintings you see when you enter our house:

And here are the two paintings in our living room:

Over the years, Champa has taken classes with the Durham Arts Council, OLLI at Duke and The ArtsCenter in Carrboro. She’s learned oil painting, watercolor, acrylics, drawing, ceramics, fused glass, hot-wax painting, felt art, silk painting, jewelry making, quilting and even art made from postcards or fused plastic bags. Here are some examples of her earlier work:

A few years ago, she settled on her current style, a mixed-media combination of collage and painting. She’s used it to create works like the Obama piece and one-of-a-kind gifts for our family and friends, such as this one for our youngest grandson.

Champa and I enjoy traveling and doing things together, but a secret to our happy marriage is that we spend most of our daytime hours pursuing our own interests — art and gardening for her, writing and volunteering for me. I’m her biggest fan and, ever since I started this blog in 2015, I’ve wanted to feature or at least mention her art. She always said no, preferring to keep it private until she developed her own style.

I’m not objective but I think the wait was worth it. When an artist friend of ours visited recently, I made the mistake of referring to “Champa’s hobby.” She corrected me, saying, “it used to be a hobby for Champa. Now she’s an artist.”

I couldn’t agree more. Our artist in residence is already working on her next piece and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

The Good Around Us

I was lucky this past week to encounter the best of humanity just as the 2024 presidential campaign is gaining steam. Two events reminded me of the many good people living among us, no matter what we may see and hear over the next year and a half.

On Sunday, I participated in the North Carolina Peace Corps Association’s annual Peace Prize ceremony, which this year honored a local nonprofit that uses dance to assist disabled veterans and others. The photo shows ComMotion’s Andre Avila and Robin McCall receiving the award from NCPCA Vice President Jennifer Chow.

On Monday, I participated in an event organized by the Triangle Nonprofit & Volunteer Leadership Center to honor outstanding local volunteers — people such as Bruce Ballentine, who has been active with Habitat for Humanity and raised more than $7 million to build new homes for families.

Another honoree, Lalit Mahadeshwar, organized volunteer teams with the Hindu Society of North Carolina to provide food packs to needy families during the pandemic. Dr. Shep McKenzie III provides free gynecological exams for Urban Ministries and also tends its vegetable gardens. Myra Blackwell helps lead a baseball league for underserved youth.

Others honored at the event deliver meals to the elderly, provide music for dementia patients, comfort the parents of hospitalized pediatric patients, care for shelter animals and much more. All of their stories made me feel better about people. The photo shows me introducing some of those in the “senior” category.

I served as a judge for the Governor’s Medallion Award for Volunteer Service and also presented the 2023 “Community Partner of the Year” award to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Duke University.

Sarah Cline, the program manager for the AmeriCorps Senior Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), joined me in honoring OLLI, which recently teamed up with RSVP and the Durham Center for Senior Life to expand programming for older volunteers. I chair the local RSVP advisory council and have been working with Sarah to encourage more local residents to get involved, as we did in a recent radio interview.

I spend much of my own time volunteering — with RSVP, OLLI, the West End Community Foundation and various Peace Corps and Moldova activities. This past week reminded me how important this work is — for my own emotional well-being most of all.

If you’re an older Durham resident who wants to volunteer, I invite you to send Sarah a message. She’s ready to meet with you and find a great match. If you live elsewhere, you can contact your local RSVP office or take advantage of other volunteer resources.

The upcoming campaign seems likely to challenge our emotional equilibrium, regardless of our personal politics. I have my own strong views but also want to resist cynicism and despair. Volunteering isn’t a perfect vaccine but it does help us feel better about our fellow Americans — and ourselves — while addressing the urgent needs of our communities.

Tick Tock

It’s a reality many older Americans eventually confront: our adult children don’t want our stuff.

I saw that a few days ago when my older son declined taking our family’s beautiful grandfather clock, even though he was the one who found it years ago — a story I’d loved sharing with friends.

Paul spotted the clock when he was learning to drive. I was giving him a lesson in our minivan when he saw it on the curb with the trash outside someone’s house. We stopped to examine it and, except for some broken glass, it was in good shape.

We took it home and, after some repairs, the clock ran beautifully for many years. Only recently did its movement finally wear out. 

A clock expert said it would cost a lot to fix. I told Paul I’d make the repair only if he planned to inherit the clock when we eventually downsize. I assumed he’d want it since we found it together. But he didn’t, nor did our other son. The memory and sentiment were mine, not theirs.

Reluctantly, I offered it on Craiglist to anyone who might repair it and give it a new home — for free, as I had gotten it myself. Within minutes, I received numerous responses. The next day, the young man in the top photo took it away.

This happened a few days after a Bose CD player I’d inherited from my parents finally died. It wasn’t worth fixing so, after Champa removed pieces of it for art projects, we put it in the trash.

I should have felt lighter and liberated after this, as I did when Champa and I gave away bags of stuff prior to serving in the Peace Corps. But this time I felt sad since both objects had sentimental value, at least for me.

I hope the clock brings joy to its new owner, as other things will for my sons and their families. We all fill our lives and hearts in different ways. As I’ve been reminded this week, though, it’s all stuff, and it doesn’t last forever. Time passes even if the clock breaks. Tick tock.