Wit and wisdom meet art

Steve and Carolyn Henderson pose in front of some of his paintings. His brush and her pen have come together in ebooks the Dayton couple have created.

Steve and Carolyn Henderson pose in front of some of his paintings. His brush and her pen have come together in ebooks the Dayton couple have created.

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He paints. She writes.

And now the Dayton husband and wife team of Steve and Carolyn Henderson are combining their talents and adding ebooks to their repertoire.

For more than a year Carolyn Henderson wrote columns that appeared in The Walla Walla Valley Weekly about her family and observances of daily life in small-town America.

The wife, mother and manager of her husband’s business, Steve Henderson Fine Art, has turned to downloadable ebooks to share her wit and wisdom.

She has put together a compendium of 30 of her “Middle-Aged Plague” columns into her first volume, titled “Life is a Gift.” That has been followed up with a second volume, “The Jane Austin Driving School.”

Call them picture book for grownups, for they include selections of her husband’s richly colored, vibrant work that blends glorious landscapes infused with what nationally renown contemporary realist Jack Beal has called “humanism.”

The paintings complement her writing; both can induce a range of emotions from a simple knowing smile, perhaps a chuckle, to longings for other places, other times — and sometimes just better times.

Henderson’s writing itself comes from a life of observed experiences. Ask for her bio and you get this:

“Wife, mom, Nonna, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend – if these aren’t in place, somehow, then all the letters after your name are meaningless. Knitter, reader, writer, bread baker, homeschooler, daily walker, observer, quiet in a crowd but comfortable with a few.

“As a lifetime homemaker, I have never defined myself by my job, because society always said I didn’t have one. But I am grateful because I never had to limit my definition to a one- or two-word encapsulation.”

She started off as a public relations writer, but with homeschooling four children affording little time for personal writing.

“But I watched life as I lived, and tucked away memories,” she says.

Meanwhile, as the children became older she found time to help market and manage her husband’s business, which entailed a lot of correspondence, writing painting descriptions and blogging.

That led to writing about art for several websites, and she now is a weekly columnist for Fine Art Views and Artist Daily. Her experiences as her children’s teacher also have been put to use a contributor for Homeschool Handbook magazine.

Along the way she discovered her “alter ego,” Middle-Aged Plague. She chose the name for her columns because, she says, she is a middle-aged mother who “plagues” her children with her presence and her advice. It became her outlet for her personal writing.

“After many many years of living life, I was ready to write about it — and I had some things to say,” she says. “Despite what the movies show, there are a lot of women over 40 out there, and we have a fair amount of life experience upon which we draw.”

Her selections for “Life is a Gift” are about her children, The Norwegian Artist (the name she gives her husband in her writing), the animals, “my convoluted belief system” and “economics and stuff like that,” she says. “The Jane Austen School of Driving” offers an expanded set of categories.

Each essay ends with an image of one of her husband’s paintings, which she chose by going through his prolific portfolio “and finding something that – loosely or directly – relates to the article. It’s a fun mindgame.”

And it’s the daily, close-to-home things to which her pen gives broader more universal meaning and context that readers — whether they live in Walla Walla, Wash., or Waxahachie, Texas — can dial into for their own lives.

“I knew that I did not want to add my voice to a litany of people who are tearing things down without attempting to build them back up. For this reason, I chose to look at the little, everyday things that we can do something about, and to approach them with a humorous touch,” she says.

“My message is this: most people live ordinary lives, and this is not only fine, it is honorable. Going to your job everyday is honorable. Not snapping the head off the grocery clerk because you’re having a bad day but it’s not his fault is honorable. Changing a toddler’s diaper — and longing for fulfillment of potty training — is honorable.

“Doing dishes, cooking meals, mowing lawns, paying bills, vacuuming, sitting in traffic, waiting on telephone hold — these make up our days, and by doing them with an upbeat attitude and spreading that attitude to the people around us, this is something we all can do.

“Sure, it’s small,” she says. “But in between the big, catastrophic stuff, life is made up of a lot of small things. And the better we weather the small things, the more we will be able to cope with the large ones.”

Carolyn Henderson’s ebooks, “Life is a Gift” and “The Jane Austin Driving School,” are available at Amazon.com at $2.99 each for downloads on Kindle readers, mobile phones, tablets and computers. Her blog, “Middle-Aged Plague,” is available via a link on www.stevehendersonfineart.com .

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