Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 – A Year of Growing Positiveness

I entered 2016 with lots of hope after the rollercoaster emotional ride of 2015. The selling of one home and the buying and moving into a new, smaller home left me drained and I wanted 2016 to be the exciting new chapters of a new book in my life.

Renovations in the new house continued with a custom-designed and built kitchen and a choice of unusual colors. I felt a driving need to surround myself with color. However, the work on the house continued to drain most of my energy even when I wasn’t doing the physical work. I didn’t have anything left to put much effort into writing, photography, or drawing. I felt the floundering of 2015 was ongoing. Where was I going in my art career?

But there was also a part of me that understood I had to patient because sometimes “… hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” I felt a change coming. I knew the inspirations and drives would return. 

The photography got a spark when, beginning February 1, a couple of us started a photo-a-day challenge for 100 days. I was unsure if I would keep up with it, but we were having so much fun, we kept going and are still doing it. Making time to take photographs led me into looking at things differently. It also makes me pay attention to the interesting beauty that’s all around me.

Spring came and I caught the gardening spark. Melissa, at Agway, said that plants they have early are OK to plant early, so I filled the back of my car with pansies, violas, English daisies, and Johnny jump-ups. I filled flower boxes and lined the back porch railing. Then as the weather warmed, I cleaned out the front gardens. I wasn’t sure of all the plants there, but I wanted more and subsequent trips to Agway had me filling those gardens and making more garden areas. 

The garage was the next big project and that led to creating more gardens as I strived to “Sasha-fy” my house. I bought lilies from The Lily Lady in Sutton and created a lily garden. The drought almost put an end to the outside garden projects, but a “water angel” offered to fill my rain barrels. She also gave me more lilies and I extended the lily garden. With her help, I continued to water the plants throughout the summer. 

In the meantime, I was reading books by Brene Brown and one by Doreen Virtue. Brown writes a lot about the same issues I like to talk about (and she’s done years of research). I wanted to “change how I think by changing what I think about.” I am highly bothered by commercialism and mistruths, false advertising, and all the depressing news we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Even though I don’t listen to the news or read about it, it still seeps in. And with the ugliest presidential campaigning ever, I had to do something for my own sanity. 

I began to redo the affirmation cards I made years ago using colored index card (still all about color). I post these around the house to provide constant positive messaging. I read some of them daily, often changing them around, and still occasionally making new ones. This has made a huge change in my demeanor.

Late summer had a new farmer’s porch built on the front of the house and the end of August into September had me driving to Wichita, Kansas, for my oldest grandson’s wedding. That turned into quite the 16-day adventure! The funny thing is I whined and complained throughout the whole trip, but once I got home, I realized how amazing it really was and how brave I was. I would do it again in a heartbeat! That realization and the commitment to experience more positiveness in life is transferring to the current book and I’m reliving the adventure as I write the story and edit the photos. 

I was inspired to get a Fitbit to motivate me into exercise. I am not so good at motivating myself and this is getting me up out of the chair and moving. I also joined in which I developed a list of daily goals. I am actually doing more every day. I’m back to meditating, doing Tai Chi, I added leg lifts to my exercise routine, and because I have the online check-off list, I push myself to accomplish everything. I also cut back my caffeine intake to one mug a day (I like coffee too much to totally give it up). 

I wanted to share my new found positivity and desire to live a whole-hearted life and I came up with the idea to do these short “Dear Divine Presence” letters which I post daily on Facebook. One, this is my attempt to post positive messages in the face of all the negativity that bombards us on a daily level. Two, this is my way of giving back for all the wonderful things and messages I receive.

So, 2016 had a renewal in photography, writing, and mental well-being, but what about drawing? The desire to draw never went away for the two years I put the charcoal aside. I thought about it all the time, but never found the ambition to go to the easel. I had a number of unfinished drawings taped to various easel boards.

Blam! October slammed me new inspiration. I don’t even know where it came from (maybe from the Divine Presence prayers or just being more open to The Muse or…). I found myself at the drawing board and not only was I back to drawing, but my style has taken on a new persona, and once more, it’s all about color. The charcoal with just a hint of color pastel has turned into background layers of charcoal and lots of bright pastel color. 

Suddenly, after not doing any drawing since … well, I finished one I’d started in 2014 in January 2016, I did two drawings in a couple of weeks and a third by Christmas. The funny thing is, the four scenes are spring, summer, autumn, and winter, in that order. I hadn’t planned that. Now I can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store!

In closing, I would like to add that one of the most positive experiences of this year is the community support I’ve received. I was so hesitant to move to Hillsborough, but the people in this community have been so nice. People have graciously assisted me in whatever help I’ve needed. I am so grateful. 

Plus my very good friend lives across the brook and we get together once a week for Weekly Wednesday Winefest where we might work on a project (she’s been instrumental in helping me downsize and organize) or we just sit with our glass of wine and enjoy the most amazing conversations. 
It seems in today’s society there is less and less community. People don’t have time any more. We are human beings and humans need connection to others. We can’t save the world, but we can do our part to help each other. This is my goal for the coming year. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Daring Greatly

I recently finished a third book by Brene Brown. This one was called “Daring Greatly.” Brown got the inspiration for the title from part a speech made by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face I marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; 

“but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly…” 

Brown’s years of research and teachings give hope and understanding to our lives as human beings. Her books have come into my life at a time when I’ve been doing a lot of my own soul-searching and self-study. I am often amazed how she’ll make a point exactly along the lines of my own thinking. I feel her words have helped validate who I am and that I can BE proud of who I am (just like years ago when Julia Cameron of “The Artists’ Way” fame gave me permission to be an artist) – not that I really needed anyone’s permission, but it opened the door. 

One of Brown’s biggest teachings is that by talking we find we are not alone. This is a practice that I’ve been working on for a long time. As human beings, we are connected, and we need that connectedness to maintain humanity. I agree with Brown that in sharing our stories, we can help inspire each another. We share ideas and life stories and find connection. I’ve often felt alone in my feelings or a situation, but the moment I mention it, I find others, too, have similar experiences. This is how we belong and belonging is one of the most primordial desires in us.

Anyway, I highly recommend Brown’s books. Look her up on the web and you can even watch TED Talk videos of her. Or, go to and purchase her books. You won’t be sorry. She’s done work with women and men in all professions and she’s been a great help to our veterans struggling to return to civilian life.

I didn’t put the title of my writing in quotations because my point here just isn’t about Brown’s book, but in the act of daring greatly. Going back over Roosevelt’s speech, I feel I’ve been in the arena. My face is “marred by dust and sweat and blood.” I’ve stumbled and erred and come up short time and time again. There’s something comforting in knowing that when I fail, I, at least “fail while daring greatly.” 

I finished the reading and felt compelled to make a list of how I dare greatly. This is what I’ve come up with:

I dare greatly when:
  • I go on trips alone
  • I am the first to speak to others
  • I delve into my own feelings to better understand myself
  • I say with passion, “This is who I am!”
  • I go against the norm (in the past I’ve always felt like there was something wrong with me because I never wanted to do what everyone else was doing, wearing, watching, reading, etc.)
  • I choose to be different and like myself for it
  • I talk about myself, admit my fears
  • I say I don’t know … when I don’t know
  • I admit there are things I can’t do anymore 
  • I have to ask for help
  • I choose to be the authentic me
  • I leave the house and have to interact with others (believe it or not, that’s always been a struggle)
  • I put my work – writing, photography, drawings – out there for others to see
  • I admit my struggles and vulnerability

Think about how you dare greatly. What would be on your list?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

How Are You?

This question continues my quest to pay closer attention to those with whom I encounter. I’m not saying this is the same in every situation, but it does seem to be more common than not. I intend to change my attitude and expectations around it. When I ask, I really want to know.

“How are you?” is one greeting that has become so automatic that no one really pays attention to what is being said. And heaven forbid we try to answer with anything but “Good” or “Fine.” Many people will say, “How are you,” but we can tell they don’t really care. It’s just a greeting, something to say. People are too busy with their own selves to fully listen to a response and if we try to say something more, their eyes will glaze over and they’ll start inching away. (This is not the truth in every case, but most). 

Think about it. Think about the tone in the voice asking, “How are you?” Is it meaningful or does it just blurt out as an automatic greeting? And what are our own responses like? Does “Fine” roll off our tongues without us even thinking of a different reply? (I have a friend who says F.I.N.E. means f-ed up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.) 

When you say, “How are you,” would you be ready to listen to the truth? I suppose it depends on the person and the situation. There are circumstances, like in stores or workplaces, where we couldn’t go into details. That said, there things we can do to let the other person know we care; that we care for them as another human being. 

I’m thinking about how I can make “How are you” sound like I really care. And I do care and I’m curious about others. I want to know what they think, what’s going on in their lives. I don’t want my question or my responses sound automatic or sound the same every time. I want to be able to respond with feeling, empathy, and understanding.

I also want to change my response of “Fine” or “Good” to be more meaningful to the moment. If I am in one of my not-so-good places I want to be courageous enough to say so. However, I want to follow it up with something like, “But I will be better!” or “I will get through this.” 

The bottom line is I want to be there with the person I’m encountering even if it’s for a couple of seconds. I want to look at them and have a kind word, a smile, a nod. I want my tone of voice and body language show I care. Kindness and courtesy are contagious. I want to bring this back and counteract the current norm that seems determined to instill fear in us telling us to avoid talking to strangers. Yes, we still need to be careful, but we don’t have to let caution take away our humanity and kindness.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

More on Acknowledging Others

Again I am on a subject that can go off in many directions. There are ifs, ands, and buts. There’s cause and effect. After all, nothing is truly just black and white. But I believe this is an important subject to discuss as I consider my attitude towards others. (And I can be as guilty as the next guy for not always being nice to others.) I am trying to understand within myself as I strive to be a better person, and I hope by talking about these subjects, it might help all of us be more aware of our actions.

One of my visions of good customer service is an old Texaco (I think) sign with a smiling service attendant waving his hand in greeting. Remember when someone would come fill your gas tank and wash your windows?  I picture helpful store clerks; people who remember their customers’ names and sometimes what they previously bought. And customers would know the clerks’ names and ask about their families.

I occasionally see that still, at Aubuchon, Edmunds, and Agway. Last year I had thanked the tellers at the bank for being friendly. They greet me by name and ask how the home renovations are going. Kate said the corporate office is trying to get them to be less friendly with their customers. How sad is that!

I asked Bob and Jane at breakfast how they have seen change in store clerks’ service since the 1950s and ‘60s. Bob said those good customer service traits were inherent in most people, taught at an early age at home and in schools. 

I remember my first jobs where I was instructed on what to wear to put on a better appearance for customers, and how to greet and interact with them. Back then we’d get in trouble if we didn’t follow protocol. We had to greet customers with a smile and act eager to help them. And in my always wanting to do a good job, I followed those dictates.

This led to more discussion on what kids are being taught today about life after school. What careers are they pursuing and is the goal for higher education herding too many into careers for which the job market is limited or the personality or ability of the students are not right for those goals? Is so much emphasis placed on marketing strategies for big business or high-tech careers, and, those include the professions of doctor, lawyer, teacher, and nurse, that other much-needed, lower-paying jobs are seen as less-than?

What about people in trades like electricians, plumbers, builders, construction workers, etc.? I know some schools have programs like building trades, but is any real emphasis placed on this or are these programs just geared for kids “not smart enough” to go to a real college? Are kids who are smart enough or can afford it who go to universities looked at with more respect than those who go to a trade school or who don’t go on to higher education?

Yet, how could a community run without the trades? Where would we be without store clerks and post office, police, fire, and highway department personnel? What about town clerks and even the tax collector? Does the amount of salary a person earns determine how they should be treated?

That’s an astounding no for most people, and yet, how do we look at people who make lower salaries? Is what we say how we act? After all, we’ve had it drilled into us for years how important it is for higher education and how those with degrees and such are so much better off.

What about those people out there working two or three jobs to make ends meet? And if we are seeing these people as less-than, how does that make them feel? We go into a store and get what we need in a hurry to get out and go on with our life. Do we ever LOOK at the person at the cash register or the one bagging? Do we ever compliment a bank teller on how nice she looks today? Do we personally thank a policeman or fireman for the jobs they do?

I could go on and on and go off on little side tangents, but what I’m trying to do is to bring more awareness to individuals, to PEOPLE, a person; not the company, department, or corporation, not the “team” --- (I hate that term unless it’s a sports team). Yes, team-work is important to make any business a success, but it’s still about the individuals.

We may not be able to change the “corporate” atmospheres, especially when many headquarters aren’t even in this state, let alone area. CEOs seldom know their employees. What we can do, is work on a community level to let those people in our restaurants, stores, offices, town departments, etc. know it’s not their salaries that matter to us; we appreciate them for the service they provide to the community. 

Anyway, I am determined to change how I’m treating people. I want to treat each person as an individual. I want to know them so that the next time I’m in the store or wherever, I’ll remember (probably not their name, ha ha, as I’m at that age where I forget names). I want them to know that I appreciate the help they give me.

I will do my best, but it’s also a two-way street. I know for the most part, that if I’m friendly to others, they will be friendly to me. That’s not a guarantee. There are some people who … well, they are who they are. As I person trying to live an authentic, whole-hearted life, I do care about people and I’m interested in knowing why people are the way they are. I often wish I could sit down with each one to find out why they aren’t happy. But that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Acknowledgment and Being Seen

I’ve been working hard at being friendlier and more outgoing to people. These days I often take the initiative to be the one to speak first. I chat at the cashiers and baggers at stores and other customers in lines. I say lots of thank you and please. I’m trying to come out of my shyness and offer kindness and friendliness to others. Most of the time, people are friendly right back.

I’m not perfect. I can easily be turned off by a negative comment or even if I feel someone looks at me with judgment. I get peeved when cashiers and baggers carry on a conversation with each other and ignore the customers. I can be in a bit of a bad mood or in a hurry and forget the importance of being friendly. I can be so wrapped up in my own stuff that my world becomes narrow. I understand that others have their own stories and issues in life, too. 

I’m working on this for myself and to help others.  I know how I feel when someone gives me a smile or offers a kind word. I am happy when others take the time to talk to me. Yes, when someone is working, I can’t carry on a full conversation, but the few seconds it takes to exchange a little camaraderie can mean a lot to someone.

The other day I was in a store where the cashier, a guy probably a good two feet taller than I, just stared over my head or off to the side. He didn’t smile. He had to call someone over to handle a problem with my gift card and, after the transaction was complete (with him never once looking at me), he never even offered a bag for my items until I started to pick them up, then he grunted, “Wanna bag?” I snapped back, “Not now and thank you for being friendly and smiling.”

I think I was in shock because usually the people there are so friendly and helpful. A woman helped me find what I needed and made suggestions. She asked what I did for art work and acted as if she knew me. That’s the kind of service that is enjoyable and makes you want to go back to that store.

But I ended up walking out of the store feeling angry at the cashier. He made me feel invisible, like I didn’t matter. I was grumbling to myself about why people get jobs working with people when they are not people-friendly and why management hires these kinds of people to work with their customers. Yes, I realize he was probably very unhappy about something in his life.

And I realize I had an attitude about the situation, too. I didn’t try to be friendly to him – course it’s hard to be friendly to a stone-face staring over your head. Still, I didn’t try. It’s hard, too, when other people are in line waiting. I think of things I could have said in hindsight.

Last night I was reading “Greatly Daring” by Brene Brown. Brown said in many of her interviews, people who are in service-related jobs often feel invisible, taken for granted. They often feel they are treated as a thing, not a human-being. 

How ironic this comes up after I had that incident in the store. It’s funny because Annette and I have been talking about giving and receiving. She always makes cookies during the Christmas season and will take some to the post office workers, fire and police department personnel, and others who perform a service for the public.

The lesson here is to remember that we are all human beings and human beings need connectedness – connection to other people. Yet we get so wrapped up in our own issues, we forget how important it is to acknowledge everyone around us. A simple smile or a nod is sometimes enough. A kind word will often elicit kindness in return. Something so simple can make someone’s day.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

End of the Art Hiatus, Part 1

I lost my passion for drawing. Even my photography floundered. My heart wasn’t in it. I’d think about it; see scenes I’d like to photograph or draw, but I couldn’t seem to get my act together. My website needed updating. How could I make changes when I didn’t know where I was as an artist? My writing, too, suffered. I didn’t have definition for myself-as-artist. Do I give up and try to focus on one thing?

I can’t remember when it started. After my mum passed? Did it stop all at once or did it just wane away?

The drawing went first. The multiple drawing boards and easels with half-finished drawings sat untouched. I lost my passion for photography. All the things I used to love to photograph: old dilapidated buildings, trains, rusted things, flowers, critters, birds … I didn’t care anymore. I lost heart in my art, in myself as an artist.

While I could never give up writing, I struggled with what kind of writer I am. Just as with being an artist and not in one medium, my writing, too, covers multiple genres. I can never fit into one category (and society loves boxes no matter how “open” people try to be). 

I am not a one-medium artist! I AM writing. I AM photography. I AM drawing. (I know, most people think I’m crazy.) 

2015 became the year of selling one house and finding and buying a smaller one. It happened fast in one aspect, but it took so much energy to pack, to get rid of excess, to take care of everything that goes into the whole process. I had no room in myself for art. 

Once the physical move was completed, there were all the renovations. I had planned on revamping my art career in 2016, but the renovations went on and not only drained the bank account, they drained my energy. I did accept a challenge of doing a photo a day with a couple of others, and, of course, I journal every day. 

Then came the trip to a wedding in Wichita to which I drove all by myself; very stressful, very emotional. It wasn’t until I returned that something new began awakening in me. I made time to start reading again and, like many years ago, what saved me was reading about creativity.

I first began getting new insights into my writing with the after-the-fact lessons regarding the trip. The photo-a-day project was certainly instilling a new passion for taking pictures, especially as there was the opportunity to share the photos. I realized how important it was for me to share my work. And, I sold a couple of photos; one that had been printed in the newspaper and one that was posted on Facebook.

I’d been thinking about getting back to drawing for a long time. I started by making light sketches of my kitty, Pele. I filled pages in a small drawing book – most not very good. I decided to get back to the easel, but those drawings I’d started a couple years ago and never finished, drawings taped to the boards and other places, were not “talking” to me. I didn’t feel them anymore. 

I took down the one on the stand-up easel and taped on a blank paper. I went through photographs and chose one I’d considered awhile back and already had printed. Suddenly it wasn’t just about charcoal, and just as with this house, it’s all about color. I need color! I had been putting “hints of color” with pastel in my other charcoal drawings, but these new drawings were going to be more colorful with brighter shades.

Outside of adding those hints of color to the other drawings, I’d never really worked with pastels. I assumed, because they were kind of chalky like charcoal, they’d behave like charcoal with smudging and erasing. I assumed wrong. 

Pastels are very different. They don’t blend like charcoal, and oil pastels are different from soft pastels and do not erase at all and don’t smudge/blend well. Once a line is down with the oil pastel, it’s there! Colored charcoal pencils do not show up on pastels.

I struggled with this first-back drawing as I learned to work the charcoal and pastels together. The brighter colors, though, are exciting. Pastels are more similar to painting, in a way, than drawing. I layer, I erase for light, add more layers sometimes with color sometimes with charcoal. The drawing came together.

Then I had a revelation: My style of drawing is along the style of impressionism – and I’m not a fan of impressionism. How can I like what I’m drawing if I don’t like the style? (which I wrote about in the last blog)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

An Artists Revelation

Liking My Drawings When my Technique Isn’t the Style of Art I Like
A Revelation in Who I Am As an Artist

This morning as I was journaling about my drawing (the one finished and the new one started) I had a revelation: My drawings are similar to me! My technique is loose, using charcoal and pastel, with lines that are not well-defined. I create an illusion of detail.

I have blurred lines myself. I am not elegant or fine-detailed. I don’t have sharp angles. I am more spread out. I do not focus solely on one project at a time and, at any moment, get distracted into doing something else. I never fit into one category. I am soft and squishy; rub me the wrong way and I smudge. 

And yet, there are moments when I can be well-defined. I do hold strong beliefs on particular subjects and, at times, I can be quite stubborn. For the most part, though, it is easier for me to fade to the background than stand up against stronger-willed personas.

What does all this mean? Nothing, really, it’s just amusing to me and it’s helping me to understand who I am as an artist.

The bigger revelation is the style in which I draw (more of impressionism) is not a style of painting I particularly care for. Yes, I like it from a distance, but up close, I see flaws and blurriness (and I don’t like blurry). The art that is pleasing to me is more of the realistic style with clearly defined lines and true-to-life color. 

I’ve never understood Impressionism; the blurred image paintings or photographs. Impressionism is basically capturing images without detail using bold colors while portraying changing light with shadows often boldly painted under bright blue sky.

So, how is it my style of drawing is using technique that is not pleasing to my eye?  And why am I only realizing this now after working in charcoal for years? Maybe I was even fooling myself with the “illusion of detail. 

Part of it, too, could be my own fear of inadequacy because I never had proper art training. It’s not that I couldn’t learn, but at this age, I wouldn’t want to take the time learning techniques and practicing. And sometimes I don’t think I “see” like other people.

At least I now have more understanding why I struggle with my drawings. Somehow I have learned to be more of an impressionist without realizing I was doing so. And now that I have this new awakening, am I OK with it?

Yes! I have to be. It’s who I am. It’s who I am because ever since getting into charcoal drawing, there’s been a part of me that, once I get the initial background layer in place, I kind of let the drawing draw itself. I’m just the tool, at that point, and the photograph is only a guideline. I am not trying to recreate the exact image. Something else takes over my arms (I work both right and left handed). Sometimes I don’t even know why I do what I’m doing to that drawing, but I go with the feeling, and it’s only for a few moments at a time. 

Because then, the logical part of my brain kicks in and I start questioning what I’ve put on the paper. I have to overcome the self-critic talk and continue. The drawing knows what it wants to do.

It’s funny, but now that I can say I am in/near some kind of stylistic category, I feel better about what I’m doing. Now I can be OK when I get that “Done!” message, I can walk away and not keep trying to tweak it. (The tweaking never seems to make it better). I am not into fine detail. My drawings will always be slightly blurred. Maybe I have to stop seeing it as blurred.

Did Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, or Claude Monet see at their paintings as blurred? Do other artists who paint in this style or photographers who purposely blur their images? It’s all about art; the art that is inside us. It is who we are as artists and that driving force that compels us to stand before the easels or get out the camera.

Today I am eager to get to the easel and see how I view the current drawing with this new insight.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Pump Up the Enthusiasm

Those words came up in my reading the other day regarding marketing art work and I decided this is what I need to do about my art work. Marketing is difficult for me. I have to decide how I can “pump up the enthusiasm” without being obnoxious.

Most ads these days are obnoxious to me! It’s a catch-22, as I’ve mentioned before. I have product, but I am so against the hard sell. I absolutely hate these commercials where it sounds like they are yelling at you to buy their products, so much so, I will avoid those products unless absolutely necessary; like Bob of Bob’s Furniture, for instance. 

Last night I was watching “$10,000 Pyramid” on TV which has Michael Strahan as host. All his loud enthusiasm in trying to excite the audience is such a turn-off. It sounds so fake and is totally unnecessary. If people like game shows, they will watch. They don’t need all that falseness. 

Then there are those commercials where two people are “having a conversation” about a product. Again, it’s like they are yelling at each other about how wonderful that product is. Someone suggested I watch a video of a product yesterday and the two “conversationalists” were so loud and fake-sounding, I couldn’t watch the whole thing. 

This is all psychological marketing strategies. Marketing experts have studied human behavior and know how the brain works. They’ve learned how to get their messaging out to people; how to convince people to buy. And they’ve targeted our children (just think about kids’ Christmas wish lists). 

It’s all about pumping up the consumers, getting them excited about the product, and trying to convince people that this product is a must-have. Stop and think about what the marketers are doing. The loud, excited voices of the “actors” are a tool to make you buy something. That loud excitedness gets people enthusiastic and excited, and it excites those around them. It’s all kind of brainwashing the consumer.

We are all being played by the media and marketing strategies!!!! Think about it. Think about the commercials you are listening to, that your children are listening to. Even when you aren’t consciously listening, even if those words are just background noise, your brain is hearing it! Your brain is taking in – YOU-MUST-BUY-THIS-PRODUCT – which  makes you want to run right out and buy the latest and greatest whether you really need it or not.

This all said, how do I sell my products? I am excited about what I do. When I finish a project, whether it’s a book, a poem, an article, a drawing, or a nicely edited photograph, I am excited inside. Wow, I did it! I accomplished something and I want to show the world. I want everyone to see – and hope my books and pictures will find a new home. 

My heart and soul goes into my work. This is a piece of me, something I’ve slaved over, thought hard about, and I’ve done the best I could. These are not cookie-cutter products. Many, like the drawings, are one-of-a-kind. These aren’t things you (and everyone else) can run to Walmart, or the likes, to buy. The love of what I do goes into everything I make. You can’t buy that in a big box store.

Pumping up the enthusiasm? I’m still thinking how to accomplish that without feeling like I’m being pushy. And, if I’m afraid I’ll be that way, does that mean I will be? 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making New Christmas Memories

So after the past few days of tears and grieving for Christmases past, I am ready to make new memories. Talking about that grief lifted a huge weight from my shoulders. I am surprised how good I feel this morning. (I know, I have the month of December to go, but I feel I made a great break through. It still won’t be easy. I can do it and, do it well!)

The neighbors across the street put up more lighted decorations yesterday and their place looks great. I want lights, too, especially now that I have a cute farmer’s porch to make pretty. Colored lights bring me joy. I loved my summer solar lights – brought inside for the winter as they are not receiving enough sunlight. Now it’s time for holiday lights.

I threw out many big boxes of Christmas decorations when I moved; all the old lights, ornaments, and garland of the past 20 years along with a four-foot tree. (I had a lot of stuff!) I kept only a couple of small items and a fake wreath. I don’t regret getting rid of the old. It’s one thing to have nice memories, but I don’t need a constant reminder of what was. It’s time for changes.

Now I have to buy new decorations – not a lot. Maybe I’ll even get a small tree for inside. I ordered a few things online and I’m eagerly awaiting their arrival. Small steps, as right at this moment, I am still planning on spending Christmas day alone. Still, I can surround myself with beauty. That I can do.

Being around others on Christmas day will take a lot of courage and I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet. The last thing I’d want to do is to have a meltdown in front of grandchildren. I don’t feel comfortable around excited, happy people on this day. But I’m getting better.

I really am making new Christmas memories.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Grieving for Christmases Past

I’ve been an emotional wreck these past three days. For three days, I’ve spent the mornings dissolved in tears; my heart ripped open bleeding more tears into my soul, and my head pounding from the stress. 

I’ve struggled with the holidays since my mother’s passing in 2011, but this year it sneaked up on me. I thought I was OK. This is my second holiday season in a house that does not have memories of her (except for her picture which I keep close by where she can watch me working). I have a lot going on and I keep happily busy.

Thanksgiving morning it hit me as I wondered if my sons would call to wish me a happy day. I’m usually the one to call them first, but on holidays, I would like them to call me. My oldest messaged to wish me a happy day and somehow that set me to thinking about past holidays and how, since my mother passed away, I choose to isolate.

Today it dawned on me that my vision of Christmas morning is of our house in Kensington with the tree in front of the picture window and sparkly garland tacked around the main living spaces. Presents (we always went overboard at Christmas) would extend from under the tree, to in front of the TV and fireplace, into corners of the living room. I picture my dad standing tall in his green, black, and white plaid flannel shirt, my brother and his wife, and the aunts and uncles. Mum and I would be in the kitchen getting dinner ready; the aromas of roasting turkey and various vegetables and more wafting through the house. And my sons would show up with wives and grandkids. 

Christmas was basically the same year after year – it was Christmas. It had been that way since I was young and Don and I were the only kids. But changes came as changes do. The older people started leaving one by one. My mum and I tried to carry on, but others wanted their own Christmas celebrations at their own homes on Christmas day. Yes, we were invited, but mum was stubborn and would not leave the house and I guess I’ve picked up that same trait.

So, five years after my mother’s passing, I realize I’m not just grieving losing her (and having her pass on Christmas Day!), I’m grieving for all our Christmases past ... because they can never be the same. I have total respect for other family members making their own choices. I certainly make my choices and stand by them. 

There’s no going back. New Christmas memories need to be made and while I may still choose to be alone Christmas day, today I have a better understanding of the grief encompassing me around the holidays. I’m getting better. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Holiday Revelation and Yet Another Issue to Work On

After five years since my mother’s passing, and more, really because there were the years of decline, the holidays are still tough for me. I’ve been blaming it on my mother’s passing, but wait ... it really started when both my sons decided they (and their families) would stay at their own homes for the holidays. They have every right to do so and I allow them their choices. I understand and can see things from their stand point. I know they love us (me, now).

Then when my brother and his wife also decided not to come any more, Mum and I settled into our “alone” holidays. Ma refused to go out, although we might have gone once or twice to Don’s for Thanksgiving, but Christmases were just the two of us. We stopped buying presents. Today I am realizing how much that still hurts; and how MUCH it hurts!

I’ve occasionally talked about this in past – a little. I’ve never told any of them how much it hurt and how much it hurts me still. Ma never talked about it at all. Maybe it hurt her more than she ever let on, and more and more she’d just sit in her rocking chair locked in her own thoughts. After all, Christmas, especially, was her favorite holiday and she so loved buying presents for everyone and having everyone come to the house. She lived to have a house full of family. Suddenly having the holiday day just being the two of us must have been more traumatic for her than I ever realized.

Maybe it’s time to start talking ... except I can’t without tears. Every year the season is full of tears. And I CHOOSE to stay alone.

I’ve been afraid. If I start to talk about how I feel, it will all come down to being my fault. I’m afraid that they will start pointing out all the things that I did wrong and where I was/am lacking as a mother and grandmother. I’m afraid that somewhere along the way I’ve hurt them. How can I ever fix that? How can I ever know that I didn’t do anything wrong? At least I don’t think I did. But I’ve always had to be true to my authentic self.

I have mentioned the poor mother/grandmother aspect before, but not so much about the holiday issue. I just kept telling myself that they all have the right to celebrate holidays as they see fit (and they do). I still love them no matter what. Maybe it’s only in my mind that there are issues.

This is something to work on during this season. I have to be gentle and loving with myself, as I am with others, and work on better understanding why I feel as I do. I thought I had this behind me, but evidently there’s more I need to resolve within myself.

The work goes on. I am Enough! I am getting better! I am a good, loving person!


A Few Words of Advice on Advice

Advice doesn’t have to be taken literally. Advice and feedback are tools that help one move through periods of stuckness. I use the words I am given, as gentle proddings to help me figure things out for myself. 

And, I don’t take offense when I give advice and it’s not taken. It’s not my job to tell anyone what to do. My hope is for the words to help someone find a way to move past their stuckness; that it will help them think more clearly. The words can be way off the mark, but if it gets the thought process working, I feel I’ve done a good thing.

Sometimes an initial reaction of “I couldn’t do that!” is enough to start steering me in the direction needed. It’s that boost to get me moving. It’s about movement; moving through the obstacles or finding a way around them. Someone else’s words can stop the mental spiraling downward and give me the courage to go on in my own way.

Going my own way is very important to me. I’ve always been like this, never wanting to look or do exactly what everyone else was doing. That made me an outcast as a kid – which I didn’t understand at the time. Now I am proud of the fact that I try to be different. Now I understand how much courage it took to be different. It may mean I’m weird, but I am my own person and not a cookie-cutter of anyone else. I am proud to be ME!

Perhaps, too, this is why I have this attitude about advice. I don’t expect anyone to be just like me. Yet, I can take the well-meaning words of others and turn them around and help put me on my right path. After all, that is what advice is supposed to do – help us stay on our own paths.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Back to the Drawing Board (Literally)

The day before yesterday I went back to the drawing board – literally. I haven’t done a charcoal drawing in two years although I think about it often. 

The stand-up easel is always ready with a drawing board and a blank piece of paper attached. I also set up a table easel nearby, also with a board and a blank piece of drawing paper taped to it. There were a couple of photographs on the easel for a someday drawing. Neither were what I really felt like working on, but I didn’t feel like looking through photos on the computer and printing anything new.

I put a drop cloth under the stand-up easel, put on latex gloves (charcoal is messy), and got out a wide piece of vine charcoal. Returning to drawing is like riding a bike, right? You don’t forget. I began laying down the background. I used a lint-free piece of paper towel to rub the charcoal smooth for the sky and water; so far, so good with that first layer. 

I work in short time frames and after a break to work on my book, I went back into the studio. This time I put in a few foreground trees and leaves. These first steps are getting just the basic shapes and the darker values. Oh, wait, I forgot to put in the reflections in the water. I squeezed the shading between trees and once that was done, although not perfect, I was satisfied with the first day’s work.

Yesterday, I returned to the drawing board. I added color. I’ve added touches of pastel color in the past, but this time I want to do more color. Uh, oh, here’s where I realized I had made a very amateur move: I had already started putting in foreground shapes before fully finishing layering in the background. And, as I said, charcoal is messy – and so is pastel. Both media smudges easily and while smudging is used in layering, once I start putting in foreground detail, it’s harder to correct/change background without making a mess of the drawing. I reached the stage I don’t like what I’m doing.

So, what did I do? I started another drawing, a different picture, on the table easel. Jeez, I can’t ever just do one project. I have to have multiple things going on at the same time. I got the first layering done then went back to working on the book. 

I always go through a period of not liking my drawings. There’s that time frame between the thrill of the beginning and the excitement of the finished piece where I get discouraged and hate what I’ve done. I see all my “mistakes.” Sometimes I’ll walk away for days – the last time I walked away turned into two years. I have uncompleted drawings that I’d like to finish, but for this first time back in awhile, I wanted to do a new picture.

Usually, when I persevere and continue working, I get past what I don’t like and get a finished product which pleases me. There’s that sense of accomplishment. I can’t compare my work to anything anyone does. What’s ironic is that when I look at other works of art, I prefer the crisp lines and fine detail, yet that’s not how I work. Then again, one of the aspects of my work is in creating the “illusion of detail.”

What also amazes me is, after I’ve been away from the drawing for awhile, what I notice in the picture I’m working on compared to the photograph I’m using as a guide. Why didn’t I notice the reflection came over farther? Why didn’t I see that branch bent the other way? How come I didn’t see that tree should be taller?

This never fails and it intrigues me. Luckily, I’m not trying to do an exact copy of the photo. The photograph is just a guideline to the drawing. I still want to capture the essence, though, and I want to have sizes proportionate. 

And so, the work continues. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What’s Holding Me Back in Writing my Book

Doreen Virtue, who wrote “The Courage to Create” says, “Write the book you wish you could read.” 

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. What kind of book do I want to read? I like biographies, histories, and travel; mostly non-fiction (although I do occasionally read fiction). I don’t want fluff jobs. I want the truth, the authentic journeys, and not just the facts. I am intrigued by what people think, how they react, their emotional journeys. I want that personal-ness.

I’ve been mulling over issues about the latest journey; the trip to Wichita, Ks. So much of the traveling had me scared and miserable. The driving was stressful; the downpours added to the anxiety, there were crappy hotels, hours of boring driving in heavy traffic, having thoughts spiral around in my head, and getting with the wedding party and being around strangers in situations not comfortable for me. 

What’s really funny is that once I got home, I realized what a wonderful experience it was. I concentrated too much on my nervousness when I was driving and yet, the overall trip was utterly amazing and I saw some great sites (and sights). It was awesome seeing family I’d not seen in years. Yes, I would do it again – well, maybe not the same place because there are so many other places I want to see – but I definitely love exploring this country by driving.

I’m struggling with the book. I don’t want it to be boring. I don’t want to offend anyone. I want my story to show the truth (my truth, how I saw things, knowing my view of situations may not be how someone else sees them) and that it’s not all roses and great times.

So, how do I write the book I would like to read?  Number one is being true to myself and telling my story, and my story isn’t just words. The journey is also about pictures; sharing what I see with my readers. Yes, I know that, as a writer, I’m supposed to do that with words, but words are not enough, not when I also have a picture. Plus, taking photographs is part of who I am. 

Number two is that I need to stop worrying about what others will think. Like I said, I never want to offend anyone, but life isn’t perfect. As much as I want to be kind and a good person, a whole-hearted authentic person, there are times that I won’t live up to what others expect. I have to be me.

I’m figuring out some things and have an idea to help the book along. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Learning Something New and Learning Something New

Today it’s hitting me about my attitude towards learning anything new. This is a strange statement to make because I have learned so much these past few years and I’m constantly learning something new. However, I have been graced with a few awesome opportunities, and because there are huge (for me) learning curves, I’ve totally balked at taking these advantages. This is causing me guilt and grief. It would be awful to blow these chances.

Learning these programs will greatly increase my online presence, help me be a better photo editor, and give me greater ability to get my books written. These programs will be immensely helpful, yet every time I pick up the book to study or make the attempt to practice on the computer, my mind totally turns into a snarling mess of angry, confused snakes. 

What’s with that? Is it about following book directions? Is it about trying to work through all the lessons on subjects I don’t care about to find the meat and potatoes of what I want to do? It’s easier to just stay with the old and familiar programs.

So, I procrastinate. I put it off. I promise myself I will get to it. I get a whiny, “I don’t know where to start” mantra in my mind and I keep promising myself, “One of these days I’ll get to it.”

Yesterday, a friend posted a saying from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “If you believe it’s going to be difficult to learn something new, you’ll experience the difficulty you predicted.”

Gosh, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing! It’s all about my attitude. Duh!

Then last night I was reading “Greatly Daring” by Brene Brown. She defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. 

This is it, too. Learning this new stuff definitely fits the uncertainty subject. I don’t like the not knowing. I don’t want to “practice”… why isn’t practice a four-letter word! It will take too much time. And reading what to do isn’t like someone showing me what to do. Reading means I have to decipher what is written if I don’t fully understand. (Do I sound like a little girl throwing a temper tantrum? That’s what I feel like when thinking about this.)

It’s risk. Do I take the courage to delve into these new lands? Sometimes I like ruts. I’m comfortable knowing what I know. I feel I’m leaping into the unknown where there’s the fear of failure. What if I can’t do it? (But, I know I can.) 

Then there’s the emotional exposure, and for me, that will be living up to what I learn. I will have to put myself out there with these new tools. I’ll really have to get working on my books (and I’ve been dragging my feet about this, too). I’ll have to do better photography. Plus there’s the guilt of wasting a gift that someone was gracious enough to give me. How bad is that?!!!

Maybe the messages and readings these past two days are telling me it’s time. I have to give up the belief I’m lazy and just do it. I am NOT lazy! I do a lot every day. However, I can do things better. I have to make the time to learn the new programs. (This reminds me of my mother always wanting the magic pill from the doctor to make her better. I want the magic to automatically drop the new knowledge in my head so I already know it.) 

A final note: Another message coming through lately is not focusing on the end result, but enjoying the experience of the journey.

Yep, I need to adjust my attitude, forget about the end result and allow myself to have fun on the journey of learning.


Friday, November 11, 2016

What Happened to “Proud to be an American?”

This morning I am saddened by the news I heard last night. I try to avoid news at all costs because it depresses me so much. Unfortunately, I caught a news clip when I turned on the TV last night and I can’t stop thinking about it. I keep hearing some woman’s voice screaming into the camera. What the HELL is the matter with people! I am appalled that this country is turning into a violent nation – or is this just all the media wants to throw at us.

This election had to be one of the worst ever for slander, mud-slinging, anger, hate, and now, now that it’s over, horrible violence and protesting the results. Is America turning into some kind of militant country where violence is becoming the ruling force?

Myself, I have hope for this country. This is MY country and I love it! 

The election, no matter what side of the fence you are on, is over. We have a president-elect. People VOTED and the person who won had the most votes. I don’t understand the protests and the violence is gut-wrenching. Is this an America to be proud of? And if the other side had won, would there have also been the protests and the violence?

All this violence is making me feel we are no better than other countries full of hatred and violence. This isn’t the America I know and love. And yes, I know there have always been problems. We are not perfect. 

But, we are a country built on freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is a good thing when it’s for positive results. People have the right to protest and speak their minds. I understand that people get angry (and hurt), however, destruction and violence doesn’t solve anything. It creates heartache and despair and more anger.

One big thing we have to remember: It's not the words that come out of someone's mouth, but the actions of that person that matters. Look how many make pretty promises then don't live up to what they say? A person's actions and what he or she accomplishes for the good is what we should all focus on!

How can anyone respect these kinds of action? Violence is brutal with no logic or common sense. When people lose control and let their emotions erupt in anger and they in turn get others all riled up, the situation deteriorates. No one wins. Violent acts just make the protesters/perpetrators look like idiots. Why would anyone want to listen to someone who acts like that? I don’t get it. Violence is NOT the way! Violence will only beget more violence. 

I know people think violence is the way to get their voices heard, but often when people are overly angry, they don’t make sense when they talk. They don’t really get heard because those listening and watching can’t get beyond the horrible actions.

I’m not saying I agree with everything that went on during the elections. I truly believe the entire system needs to be revamped. I believe all the mud-slinging and slander during the elections brings everything to a boiling point and people lose sense of what’s really important. What is truly best for this country and for us, its people. 

I want to be proud to be an American! However, seeing these acts of violence makes me feel ashamed. Please, people, let’s work together. We need to be more courteous to those who don't share our views. It's OK to disagree. Let's build respect for all.  I have hope – we have to hold on to hope. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Learning Tough Lessons

Speaking up and speaking out take courage. Too often I bite my tongue and let people walk all over me. Today I take courage to speak out, and while it may not be in the direction where it should go (that would take more courage than I possess at this time), I am saying something about what happened. I cannot let it continue to stew inside me.

I was asked to do a job for a guy in July. I was a little apprehensive because the subject is out of my comfort zone, but I was excited, too, because I would learn a lot. He agreed to my hourly price and at the first meeting, he paid me for two hours. We did the first interview for which I wrote an article. Then there was an event at which I took photos (which I sent to him) and wrote another article. 

I emailed copies for approval. There were multiple phone calls with changes, additions, and more changes after the original article came out. One call was 8:30 p.m. There were calls and emails about ads in the newspapers, more changes, and after working on an ad, he decided against doing it.

I emailed a final bill. He refused to pay! I told him my time is important. I have a lot going on and took time out of my busy schedule to take this project on. All the phone calls and the writing and then making changes take time. He was the one who kept changing his mind about what he wanted to say. As it was, I didn’t even charge him for all my time spent on this project.

A month went by and I got a phone call. He said he’d pay what he owed me if I’d do another article for him. He said he’d call with a time and place. I never heard another word. How low can one get? 

Needless to say, this whole issue has left a sick feeling in my stomach. My dreams have been haunted and his name keeps popping up to remind me. I put a lot of effort into the project. I always try my best to do a good job. My heart and soul goes into what I do and to be taken advantage of is crushing. But, I have to move on from this.

I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about how to handle the issue. Some say I should take him to court… but I can’t go through that. If I’m not willing to go that route, I have to let it go. It’s hard with so much going on that keeps reminding me of what happened. It’s a constant effort to force myself to not think about it. I’m angry and hurt and all I think is sleaze, scumbag, and creep. I don’t like to think this way about anyone.

One way to get it out of me IS to get it out of me and to do that means I have to talk about it. As you can see, I’m not naming names, although with all the political bashing that goes on, this would just be one more. Am I angry about it? Of course, I am. How can I not be? I’m out $200 and time I could have put into other projects. Plus, it’s the ethics of it. This incident just supports what I believe about big business and politics.

There is a lesson in this although I haven’t quite figured it out… yet. Maybe I have to get it out of me before I can see clearly the lesson.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Driving to Wichita, Day 9

Day 9, Thursday
Hampton Inn, Kansas City MCI

I am up at my regular time. As usual there isn’t anything appealing for breakfast, but I do get more coffee to bring back to my room where I spend the rest of the morning. The journaling takes longer than usual because I keep getting up to do odds and ends. Then I buckle down to start the week’s work. The calendar folder is cleaned out for the time being and I’m editing articles when Eric messages. They were able to get a direct flight and arrived earlier than planned. We make arrangements for lunch and I’m on my way to pick them up by 1 p.m.

It’s a beautiful day with bright sun, low humidity, temps in the mid 70s with a slight breeze. It is wonderful to see familiar faces. I’m excited to have company and although I’m driving, it’s nice to have someone else figure out the directions for awhile. We go to a nearby Ruby Tuesdays and enjoy steaks, salad bar, and great conversation. I drop them back at their hotel after a quick stop at a convenience store and I’m back at work by 3 p.m. 

The pool outside my window calls to me and at 4 p.m. I decide to take a break, change into my swim suit, and head to the pool. The water is cool, refreshing, and just what I need. I do my usual exercises and take 12 photographs before heading back to my room. 

Birds nest in a tree by the pool.
I import the pictures, delete eight, edit a couple, and post one to Facebook for our photo-a-day. Then I work until 6:30 before settling down for the night. This hotel may be nicer than Comfort Inn, but the TV reception is terrible it keeps going out. There are only two channels I care to watch - Food and History. I read during commercials.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Conscious Effort

Ever since reading “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the words and demand “Constant Vigilance!” comes to mind. Although the character turned out to be a bad guy, those words often jump out at me – because we need to keep constant vigilance on how and what we think about. (I forgot that recently and needed to be reminded.)

Yes, we need to be reminded. When I forget to keep constant vigilance, I go through periods of sadness and depression. For instance, lately I’ve been too overwhelmed with work – in my mind. I feel I am constantly working and even though I enjoy and choose what I do, those feelings of always working weighed on the mind and brought me down. I think and think and think until I am tired all the time and flattened on the bottom of the well. 

Constant vigilance! Constant vigilance is needed to rein in too much thinking especially when the thoughts turn negative. Oh, dear, the ego part of me whines, something else to work on. But it’s important and can make a huge difference in how we get through the day. I find in keeping negativity out of my thoughts, I am less tired and more inspired throughout the day. The little things don’t get to me and thinking is actually clearer.

We don’t have to make constant vigilance feel like work. It’s like building a gate which, once in place, doesn’t need to be built again. We just have to make the conscious effort to close the gate when too much negativity is knocking. 

We can’t totally stop bad things from happening. Life isn’t all roses and happily-ever-after fairy tales. How we deal with situations is the difference from a wholehearted life and one of “woe is me.” I’ve been working on (yeah, the word “working” works its way into my conversations, but I don’t have to experience it as a bad thing) reducing the impact of negativity in my life. We can choose what we want to think about!

Here are some things that I am doing so that I spend more time “Walking in Beauty” and less time feeling like I’m drowning in all the awful things happening in the world:

1. STOP listening to news and what the media is spewing forth. 

I know some people actually find it entertaining, but remember: If we are allowing ourselves to be surrounded with this horror, nastiness, and negativity, then this is what our life is going to be filled with! Is this how we want to be in life? Is this what we want our children growing up into?

Or, at least, limit what we are listening to, limit the amount of negativity we allow ourselves to be bombarded with. Remember, the media’s job is to sensationalize, do anything they can to sell their story whether it is the truth or not. They take a small piece of the truth and manipulate it and easily change the context of what really happened. Then the public runs crazy on that manipulated information. They sell more stories when they can rile up the public. (I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel used and taken advantage of.)

2. Do not listen to commercials! 

Think about it. Think about what is being pounded into our brains day after day after day. Remember, repetition gets imprinted into our being. What are commercials telling us? They’re saying we are not good enough, pretty enough, handsome enough, skinny enough. They’re telling us we’re depressed and we need all kinds of drugs (but only the drugs run by Big Pharma). They’re saying that to be happy we have to have more gadgets, new cars and trucks, bigger and better what-evers. 

Is this what we want our souls to be filled with? Will all these things that don’t fulfill us as human beings and put us farther into debt make us truly happy? They may make us happy on the surface, but do they fill us with joy in our hearts? It’s all fluff, all surface immediate gratification and means nothing long-term. (Again, this makes me feel used and abused.)

3. Make the choice of what we want around us. 

Those of you who follow me on Facebook have seen the changes I am making on and in my home. My home is not the cookie-cutter, go-with-the-latest fashion ideals. I choose the colors that make ME feel good. I put pictures on the wall that I love. I make little affirmation signs to remind me to think positively using words and sayings that help me be a better person, that help me be ME.

Maybe part of this is because I never wanted or want to be just like the next guy. I want my own little quirks. And you know what? I don’t HAVE to be like others. That doesn’t mean I don’t like others or they don’t like me.

What do you want to surround yourself with? What truly makes you feel good? 

4. Simplify.

Opportunity is wonderful, but sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming. Life has become too complicated. Sometimes it is better for the soul when we can just sit back and do nothing. One of my favorite sayings is an old Spanish proverb that translates to: “How nice it is to do nothing then rest afterwards.”

That doesn’t mean we sit back all the time. Work is still important. It’s about finding balance between work and relaxation, connecting to nature, and letting ourselves see the beauty around us. It’s taking the time to spend precious moments with family and friends… and not to do anything but have good food and good conversation.

5. Finding words to inspire us.

I have a couple of mantras that I say over and over when negativity comes knocking (which I write on the affirmation cards I mentioned earlier). I’ve already mentioned “Walk in Beauty.”

“Think only thoughts of Love and Success and that’s what you’ll get.” I’ve shortened it to Love and Success. Every time I start thinking a negative thought, when going to bed at night, and getting up in the morning, I repeat Love and Success over and over. (And for me Love and Success is capitalized in this instance.)

Creating beauty for myself creates beauty for others.

My work is ignited by my passion and that’s exciting!

Breathe in…  Breathe out…

I feel the wonder and joy of life.

It takes a conscious effort to be positive. This doesn’t mean we have to take on the fake life-is-perfect persona. We need to tell our stories, the not-so-good along with the happy times. We can’t hide from it and we can’t pretend stuff doesn’t happen.

We need to be aware of the words we choose; in our heads and to others. We can heal from our down times by making the conscious effort to be happy. Yes, it’s sometimes difficult, but it can be done. When we fall down, we get back up.

We can do it!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Snake Oil Salesmen and Charmers

I am strong, yet I am vulnerable. When I get hurt, I run and hide. I protect the who-I-am by keeping it safe from the world. I am strong inside, but is the who-I-am too thin-skinned to let out in public? 

Last night’s reading on living authentically and wholeheartedly triggered remembrances of years ago. Wait! I’d worked on this before. What happened between then and now? When did I fall off the spiritual/self-healing path I’d been on for 20 years? Let me think… there’s a huge gap in my spiritual work between living in Barrington and in Hillsborough where I live now – the Bradford years.

Something happened in Bradford that caused me to turn away from all that I’d worked towards. I spent time last night looking back and I found it. I can’t remember the exact details, but I remember the incident and what led up to it. I remember the pain, the betrayal, and the subsequent turning away. 

People today know me as a writer, editor, photographer, and artist, but how many know I was a healer; a darn good healer? And I was working at becoming even better. A few of us were developing a healers’ group. He was a charmer and talked the good talk, but ultimately, he was a full-of-himself snake. (He was so good he even had my mother duped and she didn’t go in for any of this healing stuff!) Friendships were destroyed and the Light that we had developed between us was snuffed out.

The end result was I walked away; never read another book on healing, never talked about it, stopped playing my flutes and drums, stopped doing Tai Chi, and only did one or two massages  afterwards, eventually even giving that up. My good-sized self-help/healing library got thrown in the dumpster along with the massage oils and I sold the massage table. I turned my focus totally to my other talents. I stopped learning, stopped wanting to learn, unless it was about work.

I loved living in Bradford, but for that one incidence. I gave up on my spirituality and locked it away, hiding it, and not acknowledging it. And perhaps that was one reason why the last few years with my mom was so hard. I didn’t use my spiritualness to help me when I needed it most, when she needed me to be strong. (I’m sorry, Mom.) 

It was very hard for me to move to Hillsborough, however I have become spiritual again thanks to Annette Vogel who gave me “Wishes Fulfilled” by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I’ve never been a Dyer fan, but had to read the book because she gave it to me. 

That book… I guess you could say, woke me up again. Not that I believe everything he said (I read a book or watch a TV program and can find something that will help me… like searching through the weeds to find a rose and I certainly found plenty of roses. Then, a guy told me about Brene Brown and I got three of her books: “I Thought It Was Just Me But It Wasn’t,” “The Gifts of Imperfection,” and “Greatly Daring.” (I haven’t read the latter yet.) And Annette told me about “The Courage to be Creative” by Doreen Virtue which is an awesome book!

So now, I am back on my path and that fills me with such joy. I feel I am learning something new every day and it’s exciting.

Oh, and about snake oil salesmen and charmers? Read the headlines. Listen to the news. Commercials and ads are all snake oil salesmen. Be careful who and what you listen to and support. Be vigilant! Don’t get caught up in someone’s charisma and charm and buy into their pretty words.

As a writer and word person, I know the power of words. Do NOT go by what you are being told, but check the real facts about everyone and everything they say (or what the media says they say). Look at your politicians as people, not what’s coming out of their mouths! Will they live up to their promises or are the just selling the public? Are they parroting what someone else wrote for them? Are they selling the public what whoever paid for their campaign dictates? 

They are all snake charmers weaving their charms to hypnotize and brainwash. Or they’re creating so much nastiness which is addictive to many people. Is this really what you want imprinted in your souls?

Think about it. I’ve learned my lessons with snake oil salesmen.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Spiritual Side of Sasha

Much of my writing comes from what I call The Muse of Divine Inspiration. Those times when the words pour into me, mixes with what’s already brewing inside, then spills out onto the page.
(This is funny because I meant to write The Muse OR Divine Inspiration, but now that I see OF Divine Inspiration, I like it.) 

Yesterday I got yet another flash of that inspiration: Write letters to The Divine.

Dear Divine, Today I get your message about living wholeheartedly and just attempting that concept brings about a deep sense of peace throughout my entire being. My mind quiets down and I feel more open. Thank you. 

Dear Divine, Thank you for reminding me I am a courageous woman, and not only about traveling alone. I am brave just for standing up to be me, for daring to be different and not follow the norm, or going against what I think others would have of me. 

Dear Divine, It’s OK if I only focus on one project at a time. For that hour or so, I can be fully and wholeheartedly on the job at hand and not be thinking of all the other things I want/need to be doing. After that time is done, I can move onto the next project with a clear mind. 

But I struggled with saying “Dear Divine.” Just saying “Divine” sounds like a human name (and too similar to Bette Midler’s “The Divine Miss M) and to me, the divine I am talking about is THE Divine. The Divine is god-like, all encompassing, spirit; something all-that-is and not to be confined to a human name. And to say Dear The Divine doesn’t sound right.

This subject was on my mind off and on throughout the day. I knew it would come eventually. I had to think it through. The Divine, like The Muse when she visits, is more than what we can put into words. And while The Muse always feels like a “she” to me, other angels and spirits can be genderless and while I understand some people will know their helping spirits’ names, I seldom, get a name. 

So, how do I start my letters? I don’t want to say, “Dear God” because: It’s been done before, God has a religious connotation and I am spiritual, not religious; and somehow my experiences feel different from God. 

Maybe I should not use the word dear. I could do “To The Divine” like we do “To the Editor” for the newspaper, but that feels too impersonal. The Divine, The Muse, God, Great Spirit, the Universe, Angels (whatever the name) are all very personal relationships. There is something all-encompassing – I’ve tried for years to describe what I experience for my own understanding. Sometimes there are no words in our language. 

Today, I’ve come up with: 

Dear Divine Presence, Today I realize that trying to come up with a name for you is like putting you in a box. How can or why should one possibly confine All-That-Is? And thank you for reminding me that we are all part of the All-That-Is. Love and Success, Sasha

Dear Divine Presence, Today I get your message about sharing these messages. Yesterday you reminded me of my courage and now I realize I have to be brave again. Thank you. Love and Success, Sasha

I am wondering if I can be brave enough to share these on FB. It would be a break from all the politics and woes of the country and world.

But I don’t know if Divine Presence is quite right either. Maybe I could do:

Dear Sasha, Thank you for reminding me that I am one with All-That-Is. I am one with The Divine Presence. Love and Success, Sasha.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Driving to Wichita – Day 8

At Powell Gardens 
Day 8, Wednesday

A great detour

I wake up sick of crappy hotels. I’m tired of the ugly floors, the lack of cleanliness in corners, the questionable bathrooms, the chipped corners, peeling wallpaper, etc. Thankfully, the beds have been clean, but everything else about the room stinks!

I need to make a decision whether to continue with Comfort Inns or switch to the more expensive Hampton Inn. I check Comfort Inn website in Kansas City where I have my reservation. Today they are offering a rate of $71 per night. My reservation is for $88 for Thursday night and $106 for Friday. I call the hotel to ask for a price break and he tells me that the $71 is for online booking only and he won’t give me a discount because I already have a reservation. What? Needless to say, this is the last straw, I cancel my reservation.

I am so done with Comfort Inn! I’m sad because I really liked the ones I stayed in while traveling south, but between the fluctuating prices and the awful conditions of the rooms, I’ve had it. 

I go to the Hampton Inn website and sign up for HHonors, then call the Hampton Inn at KC MCI (airport) and book a room for three nights; one at $107 and two at $89 plus all the taxes: sales, Platte County, and an arena fee (whatever an arena fee is). There, I did it!

It’s getting on to 10 a.m. by the time I haul the luggage out to the car. I am so upset with this place I won’t even look at the desk clerk or anyone on the way by. I’m afraid if anyone speaks, or if the guy behind the desk should ask how my night was, he might not like what I’d say… or I’d start crying and feel like a fool. (I already feel like a fool for putting up with these places for seven nights.)

I stop for gas before getting on the interstate. It was raining lightly earlier and now it’s coming down hard. I still can’t believe people don’t slow down. How can they see? All I can do is concentrate on staying between the two white lines on either side of my lane. The rain passes and the driving is enjoyable. 

Missouri is beautiful. The landscape reminds me of New York and New Hampshire. I am at a loss for words in trying to compare them. They’re kinda (I like the word kinda as opposed to kind of) like back home, but there are subtle differences. Maybe it’s because New York has more wide-open farmland and rolling hills than New Hampshire, and Missouri is even more open with less trees. 

I love driving through places like this.
There are not a lot of advertised attractions. It’s too early in the day for winery tours, but a sign for Powell Gardens sounds interesting and I take Exit 31. A sign at the end of the ramp says 12 miles to Powell Gardens. Here we go again with another long drive to the middle of nowhere. I pass through Bates, Mo., make a left somewhere and travel for what feels like a long time on Route Z. Surprisingly I come out onto another major route, U.S. 50. The sign for Powell Gardens points left. Uh, oh, this is crossing multiple lanes of traffic. Thankfully, traffic is light and I easily cross the west-bound lanes to head east, and a short distance farther is the entrance to the gardens on the left and crossing back over the west-bound lanes.

Powell Gardens

Powell Gardens in Kingsville, Mo., is Kansas City’s 970-acre botanical garden. The land was purchased in 1948 by George E. Powell Sr., who later donated 640 acres to the Boy Scouts who used it until 1984. (Even today Scouts can earn badges through educational programs offered). The property was further developed into the horticultural and natural resource center it is today. The facility has year-round programs and events, miles of walking trails and gardens, ponds, fountains, and even a beautiful, nondenominational wedding chapel. Each spring the visitor education center becomes a tropical rainforest to house butterfly exhibits and special exhibits are on display every summer. 

The 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden is known at the largest edible landscape in the U.S. and at the “farm,” visitors can climb the observation silo for fantastic views and stroll more gardens. A trolley is available to take visitors to various sections of the property.

For more information, visit

I love old farms, but why no roof on the silo?
I pass an unmanned ticket booth and find a couple of parking lots. I’m not sure which is closer to the visitors’ education center and choose Lot B. It’s 11:40 a.m., the sky is till overcast and the temperature only reads 75 degrees, but it’s quite humid. The surrounding landscape is pretty with rolling hills, fields, and trees, but nothing to wow me. I can see barns and a silo over the tops of the trees and take a couple of photos. 

I limp across wide-expanse of cement to the entrance of a huge, modern, contemporary building. There are no welcome or entrance signs. I’m not sure which door to go to, but when I see people exiting one with shopping bags, I figure that’s a good place. 

Inside is a huge, cavernous building, but pleasant. A young woman at a desk near the door says admission is $10 with $1 for the trolley. The theme of the current exhibit is Jurassic Park with sculptures in areas of the park. She directs me to a back door onto a terrace where I will catch the trolley and after exploring the inside exhibits, I go outside.

I chase butterflies
The gardens around the building are beautiful. I chase a butterfly while waiting and wonder what kind of a trolley will fit up this path. I picture something small like a golf cart. I look over a chest-high wall and see the trolley waiting below. Uh, oh, how do I get down there?

The path meanders like a maze and the driver is still waiting by the time I get there. I’m his only passenger. He says he rides around all day picking up people at the various stops. First stop is at the Marjorie Powell Allen Chapel and before I say I’m not interested, he moves on. 

I love the chance to get a tour

He points out the first dinosaur sculpture. It’s nice, but more of an attraction for kids. He stops near a little pergola and tells me to take this trail, staying to the left. It’s an easy walk, circles around through some woods and over bridges, and he will pick me up over on the other side. If I need to rest, I can sit on benches along the way. 

Rest stop
He drives off and I take a couple of photographs of two Adirondack chairs covered with lichen. No, I don’t think I’ll sit in anything like this. I head off down the trail stopping often to photograph mushrooms, leaves, and vegetation. This is the kind of walking I like. There’s shade and I can hear running water. 

The mulched path comes out onto a pave trail. I take the left strolling slowly to explore the surroundings. I start to cross a wood-decked, metal-railed bridge and see two strange-looking wading birds over the side on the left. Ah, two of those dinosaur sculptures. 

About the artist: Guy Darrough, a self-taught fossil expert, created these amazing life-like sculptures for Powell Gardens’ 2016 summer exhibit. Visit for more information.

Quetzalcoatlus juveniles 

Beautiful walk -- two arrows on left pointing up

I turn to look over the other rail and two signs point up. I look up. On a tree are two stranger-looking birds. What the heck are those? Wait, they’re not moving. Oh, they’re sculptures, too. 

A nearby storyboard explains these are both pterosaur (Tare-uh-sars), flying reptiles that did not evolve into modern birds. The first two are juvenile Quetzalcoatlus (Ket-sal-koh-Aht-lus), believed to be the largest flying animal ever of the late Cretaceous period. The two on the tree are Sordes, of the late Jurassic period.

I continue on my way thoroughly relishing the peacefulness of this trail as it meanders over streams, around trees, and through lush greenery. Most the plants that flower have passed, but some hostas are still waving their bell-like blossoms atop tall spikes.

A place for peaceful contemplation

Hypsibema Missouriense, Missouri's state dino
The woodland trail gives way to a more open perennial garden. The path here is brick with a beautiful cut stone wall on one side. Ornamental grasses are mixed in with black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, and others with the names that elude me. Many flowers are past blooming, but late summer bloomers are vibrant. There’s such a variety of plants, shrubs, and trees. I love this! 

Flowers mixed with ornamental grass

Copper King hibiscus with a bug

Do I continue on the pond trail or go to the trolley stop?
The path continues to a pond. I consider going around to the other side, but I see the trolley coming from the other direction and turn back to make my way to the stop where two ladies are waiting. Barb is from Portland, Ore., and her friend, Deb, lives a few towns away here in Missouri. They tell the driver they want to go to the farm. I decide to tag along. On the way, he tells us they make their own frozen pops here with flavors like chocolate blackberry, mango peach, and more. We’ll have to try them.

Looking up inside the silo
This is the farm the top of which I could see from the parking lot. It’s not an old farm and is only a couple of barnlike structures built specifically for educational purposes. The bigger barn also offers a snack area with a covered pavilion. They experiment with different produce and grow everything on the property. Currently they are trying to grown pomegranate and plantains. 

I had to lean over to see down from topside.

The silo isn’t a real silo, but an observation tower. Deb takes the spiral staircase to the top and Barb and I opt for the elevator. What gorgeous views! We can see far out over the property and look down at the gardens close by. There are many themed gardens: vineyard, fruit trees, four quilt gardens, an authors’ garden, and a garden designed for kids. 

Quilt garden

 We descend to the ground and wander the gardens after sampling the pops. Barb and I have the peach mango and Deb has blackberry chocolate. Many plants are familiar, but some are not. I am intrigued by okra as I’ve never seen it as a plant (I don’t like okra), but it’s a pretty plant. These gardens are amazing and the array of vegetables and herbs has us oohing and ahhing. Rain begins to fall and we make our way back to the barn just in time to catch the trolley back to the visitors’ center where we say goodbyes. There are still miles of trails to be covered and I never make it to the other side of the pond.

I stop at the information desk to get the easiest directions to Kansas City. After being here for two and a half hours, there isn’t any way I can remember how to get back to I-70. As it turns out, I don’t have to go that way. The woman gets out a map and says to stay on Route 50W to I-470 to I-435 to I-70 to I-35 to I-29 and take Exit 12 for the hotel. I’m on my way by 2:10 p.m.  

Route 50 is a pleasant drive. Traffic picks up on the interstates and there are a few confusing left exit ramps. I’m never sure which lane to be in. I do not enjoy city driving and even though I was in Kansas City in 2003, it doesn’t relieve the anxiety. (Maybe the older I get, the less I am able to cope with crowded conditions.) I turn the wrong way off Exit 12 and have to back track. Then I go past the Hampton Inn because vegetation is growing up around the sign and have to turn around again.

I pull up to the hotel’s entrance. Right off the bat, it’s welcoming and looks and smells clean. The clerk gives a warm greeting, assigns Room 230, and hands me a bunch of delivery menus. The elevators are around the back and I can park there. He’ll send someone down with a luggage trolley and by the time I drive around the building, that gentleman is waiting. He even loads the trolley, wheels it to my room, and unloads it for me. Wow, what great service! He says this is one of the first Hampton Inns ever built, if not the first.

My room overlooks the outdoor pool. Ah, pretty, maybe I’ll check it out tomorrow. I settle in, call Pizza Hut for delivery, and set up the laptop to do a little work before relaxing for the night. 

End of day overview: 
Average weather: humid, heavy rain, overcast, light rain; 75/81 degrees
Places visited: Powell Gardens, Kingsville, Mo.; Sasha rating: 5
Miles driven today: 150
Trip total: 1,580
Hours driven: 5 
Hotel:  Hampton Inn-KC, MCI, Mo.; Sasha Rating: 4 – big improvement!
Meal: Pizza Hut; Rating: 3
Expenses: Gas, $19.96; meals, $35.27 (counting $3 pop at Powell Gardens), hotel: see day 11 for the three-day total

Lessons learned: Speak up when a room isn’t up to my standards. Take more time exploring beautiful areas.