Friday, November 27, 2015

Decorating for the Holidays

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and a time when many start putting up Christmas decorations. Years ago, I waited until the first of December, but I have to admit, it is nice to have pretty lights shining when the days darken early. The few times I am out after dark, those lights bring joy during the cold, dark winter.

Christmas changed throughout the years once the kids grew up and moved out. I used to go all out decorating, but when people stopped visiting, I lost interest. It didn’t seem worth the effort for Mum and me and by that time, she no longer cared either. Then her passing away on a Christmas Day totally destroyed any joy I had around the holiday. (Tears are falling even in the writing of these few lines. For me, my mother WAS Christmas! Four years later and the thought of Christmas without my mother is still unbearable.)

But I am healing. Last year I got back into sending cards. Christmas cards are time consuming because it is important to me to handwrite a personal message in almost every one and the bonus was that these were Christmas cards that I made from photographs I had taken. This is my gift, my giving.

The year 2015 brought more major life-change with the big move and downsize. Boxes of Christmas ornaments, fake trees, and decorations went in the dumpster or were put curbside, free for the taking. And there were boxes! At one time, I had almost an entire corner of the basement in Bradford full of Christmas supplies; some still in individual boxes, only used once. All are gone now except for a dozen small pieces.

And so, I sit in this new home, this home where I did not live with Ma (except I have her picture placed so she is looking at me most of the day). Yesterday, I pulled out the decorations that are left and last night I plugged in the little lighted purple Christmas tree and today I hung a wreath on the front door.

The few decorations I saved are two stuffed Christmas unicorns, three ceramic rocking horses (I’ve always loved horses), and a few purple and pink ornaments. Did I get rid of too much? I’ll have to see how December proceeds and how I feel.

My emotions, at the moment, are all over the place. Part of me wants a new beginning. Part of me still feels empty and lost. I think I need to find a new meaning for Christmas… new for me because the Christmases of the past are no longer, nor can they be. And for this year, I still choose to be alone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Self Definition and Family

I get excited over my thought processes. Does that sound weird or what? But I do. It’s like my mind takes a topic and goes off on an adventure of exploration. The subject is turned upside down and looked at from various angles. Yes, it is all from my own mind, so there is the personal spin with my beliefs and how I view the world. I will also admit that, as much as I try to be nonjudgmental, I am human and cannot help how I feel about certain issues. But I still can see different sides and I do try to be objective and accepting.

One thought that always weighs on me is the fear of offending anyone. I would NEVER want to do that! My ramblings are, to use the popular term, “all about me.” My choice in how I live is mine and I accept that others make their own choices. I suspect I worry about what others think because of the need to be accepted. I may not see things the way you do or our beliefs may differ, but it’s important to allow those differences.

As I said, my thought processes are an adventure and just like when I go on a physical trip, I want to talk about and share what I discover on my mental journeys. The hardest part in writing about this is that my mind jumps all over the place and words flow much quicker than I can type. 

So today I got off on the subject of love, especially new love when you are soooooo in LOOOVE that you feel you feel like you are going to die if you don’t hear from so and so. I remember those feelings… and learned to hate them. There always seemed to be something wrong with totally giving up the self for someone else.

Well, that comment possibly opens a can of worms and it led to thinking about definitions. The topic of love is difficult because there are so many ways to love and how to love depending on who and what. I don’t believe love have to be the same for everyone. So, does it all come down to who we are as individuals as how we love? Perhaps it’s about self definition.

I also thought about gender roles. I grew up in a time when women were still expected to get married and raise a family. Oh, there were the “odd” women throughout the ages who chose not to, but it took incredible strength for them to buck the system. Early times had women who chose not to marry and have kids of their own taking care of parents or helping to raise siblings’ families; (which meant they still ended up taking care of children and still under a man’s rule). Other women became artists, writers, photographers, and such, which was a huge achievement in times that were so male-dominated. 

So, does it come down to self-definition? It took many years for me to figure out that I am one of those “oddball” women. I never felt I fit in, I never wanted the same things other girls/women wanted, and I felt there was something wrong with me for it. I didn’t know how to define myself. I didn’t know who I was because how I felt on the inside didn’t match the labels associated with me; labels and things that I felt I had to be to fit in.

The years and life experience allowed me to be more accepting of myself. When I was able to allow the self to be what I felt on the inside, a whole new world opened up. I finally knew who I was (am)… but it’s not always black and white and it changes… as life changes.

If you make a list of everything you are, what’s on top? Also, would that list change from one day to the next? My first thoughts about myself are: writer, photographer, artist and I am proud on one hand and happy to say that. However, on the other hand, I feel guilty. Shouldn’t I be putting my family first? What does that say about me if I don’t?

I love my life and I love my family, but when it comes to family, I feel I’ve let them down. Maybe it is the creative mentality; that artist within, that isolates me and makes me not want the same types of things other women want. I’m still trying to figure this out.

Maybe I have to talk about this because I want absolution from those I love. I want their forgiveness because I am unable to BE that normal mother/grandmother woman. And maybe the oddball/normal is only in my mind.

I definitely plan to explore this further as the topic expands and delves deeper. For instance, how well do we know our loved ones? Is how we see them really who they are? I hope to follow up on this tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Good Person vs. Better Person

This morning as I was journaling about a Facebook comment, it came to mind how there are times I do not feel very supportive of others’ decision. Oh, I try to be. We all have the right to make our own choices and it’s not up to me to say who or what is right or wrong. I’ve certainly made choices these past few years that moved me in a totally different lifestyle than when I was younger and those choices have not always been understood by others. (I have to say, though, I consider myself a much happier person because of these decisions made the past eight years).

How can I expect others to accept my choices if I am not supportive of others’ decisions? Who am I to say this person is not making good choices for her well-being? Yes, I have life experience, but what I have seen of life really has no bearing on anyone else. My experiences are not necessarily a fair gauge. Just because I have never been totally happy in a love relationship does not mean others are not. I know plenty of people who are happily married and I commend them for it.

I admit I’m not being very rational with this situation. I also realize that while my mind tries to balance logic with emotion, more often than not, emotion wins out. I hear or read something and the emotional part of my being kicks in. Sometimes emotions are not rational.

I analyze why I feel the way I do. I try hard to be a good person, but it seems the older I get, the less… flexible (in body and mind)… I become. I am reminded of how old people can be seen as cantankerous and hidebound. Am I starting to fit into that category? And because I choose to isolate myself so much, does that make me more so?

What exactly does that mean to be a good person and how does my concept of a good person differ from everyone else’s ideas? Is my definition different than yours?

Definitions can be… funny. You can look up words in the dictionary, but in the long run, it is often how you feel when hearing a particular word or phrase. When I hear “good person,” I immediately think: loving, compassionate, self-less, unselfish, willing to give to others unconditionally, nonjudgmental, willing to give up wants for the wants and needs of others, kind, gentle, polite, considerate, helpful, etc.

As I write these words, I realize that maybe I am not so much a good person. I am in my heart, but I am also very aware of who I am and what I am willing and not willing to do. While there are many things on that list that I do believe of myself, there are some that are not me and never will be. Uh, oh, so what does this mean? 

Well, if “good person” means what I wrote above, and I am not willing to do/be all of those things, how will this change what I ask of myself? Yes, I am basically a good person. I mean well. I just don’t fit all the definition. Perhaps, as I say my gratitude prayers every night at bedtime, I can change asking to be a good person to being a better person. I can always be better and still be who I am. I still love. I am compassionate on many issues. I try awfully hard to be nonjudgmental. I am kind, polite, considerate, helpful… and I love you all. Have a happy day.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thankfulness Every Day

The holiday season is upon us and after the tricks, treats, and wonderful costumes and fun of Halloween, the seriousness of Thanksgiving settles in before the big Christmas rush-around catches everyone. 

The newspaper is preparing its Thanksgiving edition and many of the writers are listing things for which they are thankful. It’s important. It’s important to remember we have a lot to be thankful for. However, what gets me is how many items on those lists are the same. I could copy and paste quite a bit of their lists into my own because, for the most part, we are all thankful for the same things (or types of things) in our lives.

I’ve always strived to be a different. Even as an artist, I don’t want to do the same thing everyone else is doing or I don’t want to do it exactly the same way. And so, in my thanks, I don’t want to list the same things that are prevalent on others’ lists. (Such as being thankful for this wonderful country, family, etc., which to me are givens.) Of course, we are thankful for these things and we cannot say thank you enough. 

Thanksgiving Day, the holiday, a time for family and get-togethers, changed dramatically for me in later years. My thoughts of Thanksgiving bring memories of family with Ma and Dad preparing dinner (which, along with Christmas dinner, was eaten around noon). The memory holds love, laughter, warmth, and the smell of good food and plenty of it. Later years, when I became an adult and the children were young, the holiday still had some of that feeling. 

Times changed. Choices were made. Lives came and went. The holiday within the family changed. The entire holiday season… fell apart for me. All those old memories were just that – memories. The feeling of the holidays changed and I made the decision to pull back and drop out. It was my choice and I did not do this to slight family, but to protect them from my… sadness. Maybe this just means that I was unwilling to change with the times. (Although the past couple of years I did come out of holiday isolation to go out to Thanksgiving dinner with my brother, his wife, her sister, and husband and it was good.)

There is more. Thanksgiving is not just a one-day-a-year event for me. I celebrate thankfulness every day. Every night I say gratitude prayers at bedtime. I snug down under the covers and have an entire litany of prayers and thanks that I run through before falling asleep. Goodness, there is so much to be grateful for that the list could go on and on. Sometimes I feel like a broken record repeating things. But I AM so grateful!

So, what can I add to my list that is not exactly the same as on other lists? What can I add to my list that is different from last year’s list? Oh, yes, I have a list. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

There is a Faint Light at the End of the Tunnel

These past few days, in between doing the work for the InterTown Record which included three assignments, more work was done around the house. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but three months have gone by since moving in and I would dearly love to be more settled.

However, when all is said and done, it really does have to proceed this way. As much as I would have loved to have had things done immediately, I really needed to be living here and “feel” the house before making decisions. Things I wanted in the beginning would not work in how this place is turning out. It’s all for the better; just… living through renovation and downsizing is not enjoyable. At least, it isn’t for me. I’ll be glad when it over and I can be totally settled.

These past two days I went back through photos taken since moving and put together a time line room by room. I’m sorry now I didn’t take photos of the horrible mess the first couple of days I moved in when boxes and furniture were packed floor to ceiling. Also there were boxes and items piled around the shed and in the shed. It’s hard to comprehend and was a little embarrassing that I had that much stuff. 

Then with the ordering of a new bedroom set, items previously set up on furniture had to be packed away again. Bureaus had to be emptied into boxes so the older furniture can be sold off before the new arrives. (There’s no room to store excess furniture.) 

I sit and look at the cheap crown molding… can you call it crown molding?... and I want to paint it cream or a shade of off white. The wood coloring is not a pretty color… and I need pretty.

But the studio is coming along nicely and is almost finished. There are a few items I need to decide whether to keep or get rid of. The big easel is set up so I can draw again and the tables are ready for matting and framing. Well, I do have some items to take care of. 

It’s coming along and I want people to come see. (One thing about living alone is that I am sometimes starved to have someone to talk to face to face.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Feeling Overwhelmed Again

The immensity of a huge downsizing project is horribly difficult to describe unless you are actually in it and can see it. You may look and think, wow, that’s a lot of stuff, but until you actually get into sorting it, packing it, moving it, unpacking packing it, organizing it, getting rid of a lot of it… it’s impossible to fathom. 

And it’s not like entire boxes could be thrown out. Each box needed to be gone through. Then it’s deciding to throw it out completely, put it curbside for freebies for the taking, or keep it. If I keep it, then it’s finding a proper space for it.

I don’t know what I would have done without Nan McCarthy. (I know, I say this over and over.) She has been coming, first to Bradford once a week, then to the new home in Hillsborough sometimes twice a week. So much has been accomplished, but it feels like every time the end seems near, I find there is still much to do. If it hadn’t been for Nan, I probably would have just left stuff packed as I had in the past… and then added to it, ha ha.

A few others helped when they could and got to see some of what I needed to deal with. The overall stacks of boxes seemed overwhelming, but when Nan and I got into the actual going through those boxes – I can’t even fully describe it. The project seems never ending, and yet, we have made tremendous progress. I am more organized than I have ever been in my entire life! And I am so thankful.

The master bedroom was close to being completed with the painting of the walls. Things were unpacked (things Nan calls “frou-frou”) and arranged on dressers and bureaus. One room would be finished – then I decided to purchase new bedroom furniture. I haven’t had a matched bedroom for thirty years. I deserve it. Plus, I want a particular color for my new room.

I spent a few weeks off and on perusing various furniture websites and on Veterans Day (to try to catch a sale), I found a set that called to me. I spent the day thinking about it and in the late afternoon, placed the order for home delivery. How exciting!

Today, panic set in. I have to pack up and put out of the way everything recently unpacked in the bedroom. Bureau drawers need to be emptied, photos taken of the old furniture to be posted for sale on Craigs List, and the room ready to move the furniture out. Good think I have empty tote bins to put the clothes in. Those will be stacked in the studio to get them out of the way for the furniture move. I have to get rid of the old before the new can fit.

The end result will be amazing, but for now, I am in turmoil again. And this is on top of learning a new program (InDesign) to further my work with the InterTown Record Newspaper and with book designing and publishing. Life certainly isn’t boring.

Monday, November 9, 2015

It’s All about the Paper

My goal as an author is to incorporate writing with photography. I am not just a writer and not just a photographer. I am both and want to incorporate both! I want my photographs to be embedded with the text. If you are reading about the roundhouse in Martinsburg, W. Va., I want you to see a picture right there without having to search elsewhere in the book. 

But books don’t usually work that way. Pictures are grouped together in the middle or at the end. I couldn’t get it through my head, that why, with modern technology, pictures couldn’t be with the text.

“Too Cold for Alligators” was published in 2014. I insisted the publisher print the pictures on the pages with the text. The proof copy was a letdown. I ended up re-editing all my photos and re-submitting. The second proof was much better though not perfect. I am excited about the book, but there is a disappointment because the pictures are not great. How can I make this better in the next book?

The writing will be slightly improved as I’ve learned much since becoming editor of the InterTown Record. I’ve had to research and study AP Style and rediscover forgotten rules with writing. I decided for my book purposes I will stick with the AP Style as jumping back and forth between that style and the “Chicago Manual of Style,” depending if I am doing newspaper work or writing the book, would be too confusing. What is important is my writing style remaining consistent. 

But what do I do about the photographs? I want to show the readers, not just tell them about the journey. I have taken some great pictures. How can I share them with everyone? 

I need to know more about the printing business. I had the opportunity to tour Puritan Press, a printing company in Hollis on Wednesday. What a great experience, but too much information comes in during a whirlwind tour. I really didn’t know what to expect. There are many divisions, components, departments to the business. To make a simple statement, the many types of printing jobs performed, such as newsletters, posters, art books, reading books, catalogs, letterhead and business cards, have different needs, rules, layout, and more. Five days later my head is still spinning.

“It’s all about the paper,” I was told more than once. What you want printed dictates the kind of paper. Online printing offers the self-publishing author only a couple of options whereas there are many other choices. Price is also a factor as the better quality paper, the higher the price. If you are only writing a novel or something that is just text, then it is okay to go with a standard paper, but to do something with pictures requires higher quality and probably with a coating. 

I had gone with the standard paper for “Two Cold for Alligators,” hence the ink for the images (photos and maps) had a bit of bleed. Coated paper, which holds the color ink better, is more costly and heavier. The weight is a consideration in shipping and if readers need to hold the book or it the publication needs to lie on the table (as with coffee table books and art books). 

Then there is the type of pictures needing to be printed. If you are doing brochures or catalogs showing art work for galleries or museums, then a color editor may be needed (another expense) because of the need to make the printed material as exact as possible to the original. Printers do not all print the same and not all computers are calibrated the same color-wise. How I edit my pictures to look good printed from my printer may not come out well on another printer.

Who knew there were so many issues to consider in writing a book!

“It’s all about the paper!” The research will go on as I continue work on the book. I will learn more about the printing process and available options. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Back to the Book

Yesterday, after months of not being able to (or not making the time to) work on my newest book, I got back to it. I finished going through the writing file box and threw out the extra copies of the “Too Cold for Alligators” manuscript. And sitting there was a hanging folder labeled “2015 trip.” 

I pulled the folder out and took it to the workspace. I needed to find out where I am with the new book. Currently I am calling it “Not Too Cold for Alligators” (NTCfA) because it is similar trip (similar, but different, ha ha) to “Too Cold for Alligators” (TCfA) and because I saw more alligators on this trip. TCfA had a mileage page where I had tracked mileage traveled in 2013 day-to-day and between hotels. I opened the file for the 2015 trip on the computer and spent time looking for a mileage sheet, but I couldn’t find one. Evidently I hadn’t started one. So I did that.

I did find title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgment and such pages. There are chapters up through Day 11 along with various other chapters. I am adding different information to this book so it definitely won’t be the same as the other. I need to look these pages over and get them printed. I still have to have printed copies in my hand to be able to read and “see” where I am.

My biggest dilemma and one I’ve talked about before is photographs. I take a lot of photos and most will never make it into the book. Yes, many pictures are not that good, but there are still a lot of nice ones. I hate the thought of wasting them. I’m not into scrapbooking. Gosh, this is such work! There’s got to be a way.

Right now I am putting three or four into a Word doc with captions. One thing the pictures do is help me write better description in the manuscript itself. They help me remember the journey. I have to do one page at a time because Windows goes unresponsive if there is too much.

So, this is where I am right now; getting my bearings on the book. I am filled with excitement to be back at the writing. I love the traveling and telling the stories. I love the sharing and the wonder of discovery and the exploration. (And this comes from a person who likes to stay home and inside her house!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Saying Thank You

Sometimes I can’t say thank you enough. I know it gets repetitious, but I want people to know they are appreciated and that I am grateful for their help.

Help comes in many forms. It can be in the physical aspect of someone coming over to help with packing/unpacking, organizing, and cleaning. There are the tradesmen who bring the electrical, building, plumbing, and painting expertise; and although I pay them, I am still thankful they fit me into their busy schedules. I love living alone, but having someone come to the house lightens the day. There are those who come once or twice and those who come more often.

Help can also be in the non-physical through phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages. Most people can’t give physical help. (I fit into that category.) These people offer words of advice, support, suggestions, and they send good energy. Kind words and positive thoughts can get me out of a funk or re-inspire creativity. Sometimes, when I feel stuck and can’t make decisions, a nice comment or suggestion can get me moving again. These non-physical contacts are important and it means a lot to know that I can send an email or post something on Facebook and someone will get back to me. 

It helps, too, that people read what I write and respond. A simple response is often all that is needed to keep me on track. Sometimes those responses are what drives me to continue to do what I love. And, because I spend so much time alone, the contact is important for my mental well-being. It allows me my solitude and yet, I am not totally alone — which is wonderful.

And so I send a heartfelt thank you to all family, friends, acquaintances, and tradespeople who take the time from their busy schedules to give me a few moments (or in some cases, hours). Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I wish you-all the best.