Barb's Imagination


So, Your Last Name is Kolb?

“So, your last name is Kolb?”
“Are you related to Josh?”
“Um, yeah. He’s my son.”
“I know Josh. I played football with him in high school.”

“Cool” may have slid out of my mouth at that moment, but it wasn’t what I was thinking.

Instead, panic was immediately throwing a spontaneous and boisterous party with embarrassment and my mind was screaming, “Oh, shit.” “No way.” “This can’t be happening.” “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

You see, I had made an unscheduled stop in the ER that night because I was having chest pain. And as I lay on a gurney inside a curtained room, this young, blonde, muscular male nurse was running an EKG on my not-so-young body while my husband was watching.

And just so you know, modesty is not practiced in the ER. Not when you are complaining of chest pain. No, your gown is unsnapped, the pads are adhered to your chest, the leads are attached, and the EKG run before you can change your mind and escape.

So I found myself chained on this narrow bed by the EKG leads with the upper half of my gown pooled around my waist while the twins danced in all of their delight in front of this young, blonde, muscular male nurse who had just confessed he knew my son, and my husband was watching.

Not a Kodak moment. Not even close to one.

So the next time a young, blonde, muscular male nurse asks me, “So, your last name is Kolb?”, I think I’ll answer, “No, it’s Smith.”


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I’m Finally Ready to Talk About It

I’m finally ready to talk about it — my bad experience that fueled nightmares for weeks.

In August, I figuratively failed to navigate an unmarked curve and skidded off of a steep cliff. Plunging end-over-end in a downward spiral, my unexpected fall ended only when I crashed face first onto the cold, lifeless, stone ledge of reality.

There I lay. Lifeless. Breathless. Hopeless.

And in pain. It hurt — a lot.

But thank God, I’ve recovered. I’ve been discharged from the hospital, having regained my strength and momentum, and have once again rejoined the ranks of the active job seekers.

What happened, in reality, was that I applied for a graphic design job at the technical college I graduated from and where I continue to work seasonally in the bookstore. But I didn’t even make it through the first round for a position that I felt I was qualified for and wanted so very much.

Being rejected, being unwanted, so quickly was the unexpected curve that led to my plummet over the edge.

Rejection sucks. Literally and figuratively. It sucks the live-giving breath of hope right out of you.

But God/faith/life has a way of bandaging our wounds of rejection in ways that make us stronger.

I’m stronger because of this experience. I’m sending in my resumé again. I’m ready to work.

So to all of the companies looking to hire a graphic designer/writer — I’m back in the running, and I’m hoping that you pick me soon!!!

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Hello, Sunday Afternoon


This is the beautiful meadow I see from the window over my desk. I frequently see turkey crossing it. It’s a nice, relaxing view!

As I take a break on this stressful Sunday afternoon and gaze out over the small, tree-lined meadow I see from my desk, I contemplate what Sunday afternoons will be like after I graduate.

It’s not anxiety over the job hunt, fear of how long that job hunt might take or dismay that I might not like my future job that captures my thoughts today.

Instead, it’s a question I ponder: “Will my life return to some semblance of normalcy after graduation?”

I asked my friend Helle this same question while we were planning the graphic design work for the Starving Artists’ Show. Because Helle graduated from Mount Mary College last May and has been working full-time since August, she is my authority on what it will be like to transition from college to work.

Helle assured me that life does return to a more normal routine… sort of.

As I sit here and consider her answer, hope begins to bloom in my mind (unlike southern Wisconsin’s taunting daffodils, which refuse to bloom). Soon I, too, will transition to a normal, post-college Sunday afternoon routine.

So what will the Sunday afternoon after graduation be like, since all of my papers will have been written, presentations given and readings completed?

I will be sad to have graduated from college because I have enjoyed my academic journey very much.

But, I will also be excited because I will be free to choose how to spend my afternoon. Choose. That’s my favorite word in that whole sentence. My afternoon won’t be dictated by homework assignments. I will be free to do as I please.

I might go for a walk around Fowler lake in Oconomowoc; play fetch with Chowder, my black Lab, until he’s too tired to run; read an enjoyable novel; talk to my sister on the phone without setting a time limit for our conversation; scrapbook a couple of pages; or play in the dirt in either the vegetable garden or flower bed.

I look forward to enjoying these normal Sunday afternoon activities once again.

Life after graduation is an unknown entity in many ways. But thankfully, Sunday afternoons after graduation will be a renewal of a friendship with an old pal, free time.



Let’s Talk About Graduation Caps

D.J. and I

My friend D.J. and I were all smiles after our graduation ceremony. We both received associate degrees in graphic design from Waukesha County Technical College.
Notice how D.J. is wearing her graduation cap correctly while I skewed
the placement of my cap in a vain effort to accommodate my hair!

Can anything more ugly perch on a woman’s head than a thin, black square of cardboard sewn to a beanie?

I think not.

I’ve had the “pleasure” of wearing this cap twice — once for my graduation from Crawfordsville High School and once for my graduation from Waukesha County Technical College. And while I am so looking forward to my May graduation from Mount Mary College, I am not looking forward to wearing that cap a third time.

Why? Because I know it’s going to ruin my hair. (Those of you in my 8 a.m. Brit Lit class won’t believe this, but I am usually pretty picky about how my hair looks.)

As I was discussing my hair dilemma with my friends Helle and Jen, I was reminded of the distinct tradition attached to the graduation cap. So I did a bit of online reading about the graduation cap.

In summary, I learned the graduation cap is called a “mortarboard” because its design is similar to the cap masons and bricklayers wore with pride during the Middle Ages. The cap had a twofold purpose: practical and social.

Practically, the men would pile mortar on top of the hat because the mortar could easily be scooped off and applied to the stone or brick they were working on.

Socially, the cap indicated that the wearer had successfully completed his studies and internship and was now considered a professional in his chosen field.

Those are good reasons for wearing a really ugly cap.

Then I read this line written by Janet Beal, an eHow contributor, in her article titled “How to Wear a Graduation Cap.” “You’re part of an important celebration, and, no matter what it does to your hair, your cap is an important part of that celebration,” Beal said.

As I read her comment, I felt like my mother had just pinned me to the wall with one of her searing looks of silent reprimand, which clearly communicated to me: “Quit complaining. Your hair will survive the cap.”

Yes, Mom. My attitude has now been chastised and corrected.

Graduation will be an emotionally high day for me as I celebrate the achievement of a life-long dream. However, it will be a physically flat day for my hair that will be captured and pinned underneath this really ugly, but eminently honorable cap.

I think my hair will survive the cap.


Degrees of Change

2010 Graduate of Waukesha County Technical College

My degree has changed me, but not completely!

“If you had a degree, would it change you?”

This question was posed by a child actor in an online pop-up ad distributed by Ashford University.

My answer to that question? “Most definitely. Earning a degree has changed me.”

Five years ago my quest for a college degree began with an interview with Dean Flowers. He was the associate dean for Waukesha County Technical College’s graphic design department. In order to be accepted into the program, I had to present a portfolio to him that highlighted my artistic talent. With a modicum of embarrassment because I had no formal art training, I took a deep breath and revealed to him the scrapbook I had created for my family’s Caribbean cruise memories. I sighed with relief when he said he was impressed by it. Subsequently, I enrolled in the program in the fall of 2008.

Today, I have a professional portfolio showcasing real-world graphic design from my work on Arches, the Elm Grove Times-Independent newspaper, Habitat for Humanity, BMA Young Professionals and other classroom projects. My pilgrimage towards this coveted degree has transformed a fun, creative hobby into a fun, viable career.

But more importantly, the earning of my about-to-be-real degree has also changed how I view myself. I’m still me — a 51-year-old, somewhat confident, overweight woman with a slightly lead foot who gets a kick out of a good laugh with a good friend and likes to stick her tongue out at the camera. But I’m also a professional graphic designer and writer. And even more than that, I’m a persistent woman who did not give up on her 30-year-old dream to graduate from college.

My academic sojourn has birthed an inner confidence that radiates joy and peace from my very core. And I guarantee my inner joy will break out in a dance when I cross the stage and receive my diploma on May 18.

Fortunately, I’m not the only person on campus who will be dancing across that graduation stage in celebration of earning a degree. We each have personal stories that highlight the walking, running, crawling, slipping or sliding we’ve experienced on this winding academic road to complete our degrees.

So what is your answer: “If you had a degree, would it change you?”


Rocks and Ripples

Ripples in a small stream

Ripples in a small country stream in Dodge County, Wisconsin. Photo by me.


Have you ever thought back on your life and wondered what it would be like today if, at one specific point in your life, you had made a different choice?

My husband, Dean, and I were talking about this very subject last night.

“What,” he asked, “Do you think our lives would have been like if you had finished college?”

“Well,” I answered, “We’d probably have more money than we do right now!”

His question started me thinking about how my life might have been different if I had decided to continue with college. How would the ripples in my life’s pond have spread out differently if I had dropped in a different rock, in the form of a different choice, regarding college?

First, if I had returned to Cedarville College to finish my last two years of school instead of getting married, Dean and I might not have made it. He was in Texas; I would have been in Ohio. Long distance relationships are tough.

Second, if I had finished college in San Antonio after we married, we probably would have waited longer to have a child. I don’t like to think about not having the son I have.

Third, we would definitely have more money now because I would have been in a teaching career many, many, many years earlier.

Fourth, I might not have been a stay-at-home mom. I might have tried to juggle both career and mom-duty. Knowing how my positive my son is about the fact that I was home with him, he might have suffered if I had tried to juggle both. But, I would have been a teacher and since those work hours would have been more conducive to my desire to be home when my son was not in school, it might have worked for me to have a career and a young child.

Fifth, I would not have met Christine, Jennifer, Helle, Holly, Cindy, Rennie, Shannon, Nastassia, Melissa, Katrin, DJ, Yvonne, Mait, etc. My life would not be so full without their friendships.

I’m sure this list can keep growing longer, but that’s enough contemplation for now!

It is very gratifying to take a brief look back at what grew out of one choice. I’d like to think that if I’d taken another path because of a different choice, things would have still worked out fine. But I can say I’m happy with the way things have turned out.

Have your ever thought about how one decision affected your life? If you’re comfortable sharing it with me, please do so.


[lur-ning] Defined: Barb Style

I’ve read a couple of blogs lately that have got me thinking about the concept of learning: sharansblog and the writing of ants.

Now questions like these keep rolling around in my head, like a penny in a spiral wishing well vortex funnel that just continues spinning round and round and round: Why am I learning? How do I learn? What am I learning? When do I learn? What will be the result of my learning?

)To feed my need to answer these life-changing questions, the next few posts will be a non-boring (hopefully), slightly humorous foray into this colossal concept of learning.

To begin with, I’ve got to define this word that is so ingrained into the pattern of my daily life. And yeah, this is the dry part of the post, so just stick with me!

Learning: [lur-ning]

1. Knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.
2. The act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill.
3. Psychology. The modification of behavior through practice, training, or experience.

Definition #2 appeals to me because as a graphic design student, “skill” has been preached to me over and over and over during the last five years. “Develop your software skills.” “Strengthen your drawing skills.” “Mounting your work is a skill you will need in the professional world.”

But before I start dissecting definition #2, the English professional writing major within me holds me at gun point, demanding that I reopen that dry, boring dictionary and clarify what process, acquire, knowledge, skill mean.

Process: [pros-es]

2. A continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner.

Acquire: [uh-kwahyuhr]

2. To gain for oneself through one’s actions or efforts.

Knowledge: [nol-ij]

3. Acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report

Skill: [skil]

1. The ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well.

So here’s my definition of learning:

A continuous series of definitive changes I make in response to what I see or do that concludes with the ability to do something well.

I’ll let these dry, boring definitions stew in our minds for a bit and return with the next post to more closely examine learning in my life.

In the meantime, I’d like to know your definition of learning. Drop me a quick comment so we can compare notes.