Monday, January 31, 2011

Every day is a learning experience

Sometimes I wonder how people could possibly be bored. Growing up there were a few things that I heard consistently from adults: "Boredom is a function of your own mind" and "If you're bored, I'll give you something to do."  The lesson I took with me into adulthood is that there is always something to do, and thus the idea of boredom is completely lost on me.  Now, I have felt at times that I just didn't want to do something -- that's different.  But I could never be bored, especially when each day provided such a variety of new learning experiences.

Take today, for example.  I have to learn how to nicely, delicately work with a colleague.  This has never been my strong suit and it is high time for me to learn this valuable skill.  My issue today is that I am responsible for the supervision of someone, say Student A, and my colleague thinks that my student isn't quite up to par.  I, on the other hand, quite strongly disagree and I have facts, observations, and years of experience with which to back that conclusion. I also know that said colleague is not at all familiar with Student A's particular area of expertise and is making a judgment based on limited information.  So how do I keep the colleague satisfied that Student A is progressing and keep mentoring Student A in a reliable and trustworthy manner?  How do I reinstate the peace between all groups?

The biggest issue for me, I think, is that I tend to be rather blunt.  Sometimes when I feel like a person is an idiot or ignorant or whatever I tend to let that show.  Over the past few years I've learned, through trial and error, that it's not a good idea to be quite that blunt.  I have to finesse situations, all the while saying that I am being true to Truth and to Myself.

It's hard to learn that being blunt and being honest are not always the same thing.  Sometimes one can be honest without being so blunt, so brutal. That is what I am trying to learn.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Does retail therapy count as an artist's date?

This weekend was busy, as are most weekends for most people, I imagine. I thought about doing many different things, but as I am looking back at what was accomplished I see that most of the things I originally planned fell by the wayside...and that's okay.

This weekend for the first time in a long, long time, I engaged in a bit of "retail therapy."  It was not, perhaps, an Artist's Date the way it was meant to be, but it was lovely.  I spent some of the time by myself, some of the time with my best friend, and all of the time enjoying the day.

Tomorrow is the last day of the month, day two of the fifth week of my journey through The Artist's Way, and a few days before some major deadlines for work and school.  It was good that this weekend was a bit of a break from life's daily grind, for tomorrow is another day.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Week Four: Tasks

I like the tasks for this week.  One very beneficial aspect of going through The Artist's Way is that it provides more opportunity for reflection.

As part of my job, I help arrange "webinars" for teachers on particular topics that might be interesting or useful for professional development.  This week, we had a lovely speaker, Jan Black, who shared her business, which is helping people find their "core brilliance" and, in the case of teachers, develop their "brand of teaching."  The whole idea is that when people understand what truly motivates them, the thing that they are passionate about, and they work from that thing, they will feel more satisfied, suffer less burnout, be more fulfilled.  I do believe it's true!  And while yesterday was my third time listening to how the process of discovering one's core brilliance works, it was the first time that I felt struck by lightening: I think I've discovered, at least in part, my core brilliance: creating.  I kept thinking about all the things that I like to do and wondering what they could possibly have in common, but I think now I know. Everything I enjoy is about creating something, whether it's creating critical thinkers and good citizens, creating meals, creating quilts or art projects or organized space, it all has the same underlying theme.

The tasks for this week will, I believe, help me delve into deeper reflection regarding this core identity. Again, like last week I am not going to do absolutely all of the tasks, but I'll pick a few, list them here, and then we'll see what happens.
  1. Describe your ideal environment (urban, rural, swanky, cozy).  I think that I already started to do that in a blog post earlier this week.  To that post I would add that I enjoy being in rural places as long as I can get to "civilization" (i.e., Target, World Market, Barnes & Noble) in a short drive.  I'd much rather live on acres in the countryside, able to walk into a quiet and cozy little town and find a cute little coffee shop on the weekend, than be trapped in suburbia or an urban highrise.  I hate living in neighborhoods.  Just the idea -- even if each house is on a half-acre lot -- makes my skin crawl.  That is, perhaps, one of the reasons why I love our current house so much: I can walk Lotus through quiet neighborhoods but we always return to our home that sits by itself and looks out over the foothills.   There have been times that I've thought it would be nice to live in a city just because everything is so close, but that's really not me...maybe it's the Fake Me who has tons of money and owns a vacation loft.
  2. Create a "private space" in the house, an area to sit and dream and reflect...and write morning pages. Perhaps this is a project for my Saturday?
  3. Plan an Extended Artist's Date (one that would take a whole weekend day).  I know that Artist's Dates are supposed to be solo, but I would love for this extended date to involve Honey and Lotus.  Maybe we could get out, go for a drive, hike a bit, take pictures of nature, stop and eat at a cute little cafe.  That's what I want to do.
  4. Get rid of a "low esteem" outfit from the closet. (Good Will, you're welcome.)
  5. Describe yourself at 80. [This corresponds with another task that I am choosing not to do this week: describe myself at 8. I don't remember much of life before I turned 19 or 20 unless someone reminds me of something specific. I think it's best that way, because when I start to remember I think Oh, this is why I wanted to forget. So eight year-old me is just going to have to stay hidden.]  I think that I will have to take Lotus for a walk and think about my 80-year-old self.
See?  All good tasks -- and a bit fun, too. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The reason why I'm anxiously anticipating the arrival of spring...

I love gardening. It probably has something to do with peace and quiet and sun, but I do love it.  Sadly, the soil in my yard likes to kill vegetables (even things like zucchini, which one would think should grow like a weed and produce enough that we drown in a pile of green, squashy veggies).  Now I garden in a space that we use a few miles down the road, but I could not say no to having veggies right outside my door, so we started container gardening.  On our front steps we grow tomatoes, tomatillos, citrus (although the usually don't ripen in our short summers -- but the flowers smell heavenly), peppers, herbs, and columnar apple trees.  Last summer was an odd season, since it was cold and rainy for so long and we never really had good growing weather, but we still were able to get some veggies -- and the green tomatoes left in November made great pie!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For a bunch of hooey, this is certainly filled with striking coincidences.

I've been reading up on numerology a bit lately, just out of curiosity.  Sometimes I wonder if I should find a book rather than rely on Google searches, in the hopes that I can actually find more answers.  I tend to think that it's probably just a bunch of hooey, but it's interesting and it provides a few minutes' distraction when I'm supposed to be doing something that I don't want to do.  So yesterday I read for a few minutes about "special traits/talents numbers."  The idea is that one assigns each letter in one's full name a number, and then the numbers are counted up and one's "special trait" number is based on whatever number appears in a "higher than average" ratio.  (Who even comes up with these things? And how does one come up with a system/theory like this??)

It took me about two minutes (maybe) to calculate my name and realize that I had four numbers that popped out (is that supposed to happen?): 1, 3, 5, 9.  And most of those appeared quite frequently, meaning, supposedly, that it's a very strong trait.  Like I said, I don't really believe in this stuff, I'm just curious (I want to know how it started, why, etc.), but I did find the descriptions very interesting:

1: You are strong-willed, assertive and possibly destined to be a leader. The more 1's in your name, the more tyrannical others will probably find your personality.
Well, I've been told I can be intimidating just by being me, so I guess that fits.  I'd just hate to be called tyrannical.

3: Chances are that you possess an extraordinary talent of some kind. The more threes that are in your name the more multi-faceted or stronger your talents are.
I have no idea if I have any special talent, but I am working to find it this year and discover my "core brilliance," whatever it may be.

5: You are likely to be a bit of a maverick who enjoys traveling and meeting people.  If you have a lot of fives you may be easily distracted and often accused of having too many projects going at one
time. Staying in one place bores you.

Okay, now this really hit the nail on the head, so to speak. One of my brothers was just telling me the other day that I need to focus because I always have too many things going on.  And I am always looking for something exciting, a change of some sort.

9: You are an idealistic individual who is probably generous and self-sacrificing to a fault. The more 9's you have in your name, the more likely you are to be perceived as a fanatic or religious extremist. Nines in your name can also signify psychic talent.
I definitely used to be fanatical and extreme! I like to think that I'm more balanced now.  But I also would hope that I am generous towards others.

So it's not much, really, just interesting, and I thought I would share.

In my dreams...

I don't know about other people, but I, for one, am quite addicted to looking at real estate sites and browsing what's on the market.  I don't intend to move, but I like looking at houses and dreaming.  Sometimes those dreams turn into something useful, like when Honey and I decided to move closer to The Big City and I knew exactly what I could find and for how much and what we could sell our first home for: the whole process, from contacting an agent to moving the last box into the new (current) home took fewer than six weeks.  Most of the time, however, I just look and dream and get lost in my own little world for a bit.

My latest dreams have been big, like we-could-only-afford-this-if-we-won-a-huge-lottery big.  Of course in this economy many of the truly crazy-expensive homes have stayed on the market for about five days past forever.  I tell myself that it's because one of these homes knows that it secretly wants to be mine and so it is waiting for that perfect moment where the impossible happens and I suddenly have the $900k or $2.5m or $3.8m and the house and I can spend the rest of our lives together, as we were meant to do.  Honey and I, conveniently, have very similar tastes when it comes to houses, and so I keep hearing the words "Well, win me the lottery and then we'll get that house of yours."  So that is one plan -- I haven't decided if it's Plan A or Plan B.  The other plan is that I will finish this gosh-darn novel (right after the goshier-darnier dissertation), a publishing company will grab it, Oprah will see it and love it, and Hollywood will offer me a movie-rights contract so that they can turn the story into a film starring Zooey Deschanel.  I haven't decided which plan has a greater likelihood of coming true. :-)

Instead of just dreaming and letting all dreams be for naught, I decided that today I would set out to learn what all three of these homes that I love have in common in the hopes that recognized patterns somehow prove useful.  With that intention in mind, I looked and was surprised by what I found.

1. All of the homes have a view.

2. The view can be enjoyed throughout the house, in each house, because all have massive amounts of windows.

This means that even in this dreary climate, there is plenty of natural light inside.

3. All of the homes have beautiful fireplaces.  Each fireplace is an architectural masterpiece, something beautiful and unique and comforting.

4. All have large, gourmet kitchens and beautiful bathrooms.

5. All have unique architecture (although what we like tends to fall into one of two categories: "Northwest" or "early 1970s."  In fact, two of the three homes were built in the same year: 1974).

6. All are on property (ranging from 1.5-54 acres, which is quite the spread, but the point is that they have space).  The property is landscaped and includes a pool. And each of my three "dream homes" has plenty of space to entertain (and by "entertain" I mean "feed large groups of people").

Now I could be grumpy or sad thinking "There's no way I'll ever afford this. Why am I torturing myself?"  Instead, I decided to continue the exercise and apply it to my life by asking the question What does my house have that is similar to my dream homes?

  • The house has a beautiful view, which we can see through our many large windows or on our small-ish deck.  

  • We have a magnificent stone fireplace.

  • The property is spacious, more than a half-acre, and most of it is fenced, which makes Lotus happy.

  • I am slowly but surely landscaping sections of the yard. (Side note, just so people don't worry: our pets are completely indoors, but when Hero was alive I'd let her sit outside near the deck when Honey and I were outside. She loved it. And I love this picture because it was taken during her last summer.)

  • We have a hot tub. (True, it's been broken since the gigantic freeze two years ago, but it will be fixed eventually, and that's kind of like having a pool.)

  • We have something like granite on the counters in the kitchen and bathrooms, and so even though they are teeny-tiny they at least look pretty.
  •  The house was built in the early '70s, and while it is a split-level, the exterior has a nice facade that makes it different or unique when compared with all the other split-levels within a few-mile radius.

    I love my house.  And it does have most of the things that I adore and look for elsewhere, so this list is a reminder of all of the things that are good right here, right now.  Sure, there are plenty of things that I wish were different -- I'd love a bigger kitchen, or a shower that was more than 2'x2' -- and yes, we've put in hours and hours, weeks upon weeks of work in the nearly four years of owning this home, changing the things that were atrocious when we bought the house and making it more beautiful and livable.  It's a nice home, not pretentious, not perfect, but good for us at this point in our lives. And it is with that reminder swirling around in my head that I can say to Honey, "Don't worry, I love our home, and I am happy to live here for years and years" least until we get closer to retirement. By then, maybe the dreams will come true.  :-)

    Week Four: Recovering a Sense of Integrity

    "This week may find you grappling with changing self-definition."  I wonder if that applies when I am still searching for what defines me?  It is suiting, then, that part of my job today involved hosting an online presentation by a woman who works with teachers to help them discover their "core brilliance" (whatever drives them/is unique to them) and their "brand of teaching."  This is something I am trying to discover.  I have plenty of words that I think suit me, and I know how some people describe me, but it is not yet distilled into a one sentence "I'm all about..." statement.  And so I reflect, and reflect, and reflect....

    The morning pages are a useful tool of self-reflection, but I find that for me, at least, they work best in conjunction with a 30-45 minute walk. Since I live in a place that rains a lot, walking outside is not always possible.  The best days, at least based on my first attempt to journey through The Artist's Way in 2008, are when I have time to write morning pages, take a walk, work in the garden, and then come inside to work on my novel.  The quiet of the outside is inspiring.  It allows my thoughts to roam on their own, searching for new fields in which to graze. Those days are so wonderful!  And perhaps that is why when I picture retirement (many years away), this is what comes to mind: my ideal day.

    As part of the work for this week, week four, the end of the first month, I am to do a few things very quickly (without time for Guilt Monster to pop up and start talking -- it's so exhausting to have a dialogue with him!):
    1. List five hobbies that sound fun.
      1. Tennis
      2. Drag-racing
      3. Horse-back riding
      4. Painting
      5. Dancing
    2. List five classes that sound fun.
      1. Painting
      2. Sculpting
      3. Photography
      4. Tai Chi
      5. Zoomba
    3. List five things you personally would never do that sound fun.
      1. Skydiving
      2. Scuba diving
      3. Pole dancing
      4. Singing on stage in a Barbara Streisand competition (is there such a thing?)
      5. I don't know what else...
    4. List five skills that would be fun to have. Can these be any skills, like the ability to transport one's self anywhere in the blink of an eye, or do they have to be real skills? The former would be more fun, but we'll stick with the latter for now.
      1. Karate or Tai Chi
      2. Painting
      3. Heal animals
      4. Sculpting
      5. Woodworking
    5. List five things you used to enjoy doing.
      1. Playing with horses (toys) and horseback riding (when I was under 10).
      2. Playing Wii (probably would still enjoy this if I found/made the time).
      3. Scrapbooking (eons ago)
      4. Reading a good book cover to cover without interruption
      5. I don't know, at least when it comes to the words used to. Is that strange/odd/sad?
    6. List five silly things you would like to try once.
      1. Wear 10" platform shoes.
      2. Help an undercover agent. (Wait, is that silly?)
      3. Pretend to be someone else.
      4. Have my astrological chart read. (Does this count as silly? What exactly is "silly"?)
      5. What else? Can I have a hint?
    I think that my inability to complete simple, small lists says something about me.  I just wish that I knew what it said!

    There is more to this week's chapter, but for now I am going to sleep.  Maybe my dreams will provide a bit of clarity.  They have been rather vivid recently!

    Update (1/28/11):
    The rest of the chapter for Week Four discussed reading deprivation.  What?!?! Give up reading for a WHOLE WEEK?!?!?!?!  I know that the purpose is to slow down and hear one's inner voice rather than having it drowned out by the words of others, but still...a difficult task.  Yet I can see how taking a number of days and filling all the time I would spend reading (articles for work, magazines, blogs, Facebook, novels) with other things might be beneficial.  When I first read about reading deprivation I thought "Oh, well, that won't be too hard -- I already fall asleep too tired to read most nights."  Then I started thinking about all the reading I do for my job, for school, for personal enjoyment (blogs) and realized that giving everything up for a week would be really difficult.  But I am going to try it in February, I think -- once the dang dissertation is done.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2011

    Week Three Check-In

    I wrote morning pages every day, although most of the time it was at night right before I fell asleep.  I also completed my tasks, at least the three that I chose for myself.

    I am starting to wonder what all of this will accomplish.  Am I developing a deeper sense of self?  I don't know -- and perhaps I don't know because I've made it at least this far in the past, so the material is not terribly new.  I do know that I am becoming more and more addicted to art and craft projects.  Not sure what that means.  It could be as simple as "there are other tasks that I need to do but don't want to do and so I'm putting them off in favor of something fun and crafty" or it could mean "I'm becoming crazy like my grandmother and great-grandmother, who were crafting queens and did things like create purses out of pop can tops before it was in vogue and in world trade stores for $45 a purse" or it could mean "I like crafts."  Whatever the answer, I will get to the bottom of it.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    When I grow up, I want to be Lemony Snicket.

    It's true. My dream of growing up to be Lemony Snicket has followed me ever since the first book in The Series of Unfortunate Events was released to the masses. The fact that I was already an adult when the book was published mattered very little. This author was able to weave wonderful vocabulary words into stories in such an artful way:

    "'Passive'" is an unusual word to hear from a baby, and in fact it is an unusual word to hear from a Baudelaire or anyone else who leads an interesting life. It merely means 'accepting what is happening without doing anything about it' and certainly everyone has passive moments from time to time. Perhaps you had a passive moment at the shoe store when you sat in a chair as the shoe salesperson forced your feet into a series of ugly and uncomfortable shoes, when all the while you wanted a bright red pair with strange buckles that nobody on earth was going to buy for you."

    My passionate obsession with Lemony Snicket is perhaps only just surpassed by my love of children's books.  Last year when I discovered that Lemony Snicket wrote The Composer is Dead, a "children's" mystery, I was ecstatic. Pair two of my favorite things together?!?  Could life get any better?  That question was left unanswered until today, in which the answer arrived with a resounding "Yes!" for today was the day I discovered another Lemony Snicket book: 13 Words.  It has beautiful, full-color illustrations, exactly the way a children's book should be. 

    And the best part?  The author of the blog Sugar Pop Ribbons is doing a giveaway of a prize pack revolving around this book!

    My fingers are crossed.

    But I'm not worried, if I don't win this and grow up to be the next Lemony Snicket, there's always my other goal: growing up to be Alexander McCall Smith.  (One of these days, I will be a published author!)

    A better version of a mod podge frame

    I was not pleased with my initial version of a mod podge frame:

    While I loved the paper, I didn't really think through using cardstock. Note to self: it doesn't work well if you need to bend corners.

    So I tried something else today.  I had another $1 wooden frame that I bought at Michael's months ago:

    I took a 12"x12" scrapbook-sized piece of regular-weight paper (purchased on sale for $0.25) and cut it into strips and then used Mod Podge to attach the strips to the frame. (Note to Self #2: 12x12 is barely big enough, so don't mess up -- or make sure to buy two pieces of paper.)

    The process of attaching the paper to the frame was made a bit more difficult by the furry baby who thinks she's a parrot:

    After I let the frame dry a bit, I opened some wallpaper cut-outs I bought at Joann's. 

    Each package contains multiple cut-outs and was only $1, but of course I used my coupons so that they ended up being $0.50 each and I have plenty of leftovers for future projects.  I attached a couple pieces to the frame, printed the quote I love on colored cardstock, and I now have a new piece of inspirational art for just a couple dollars!

    Christmas or Valentine's Day?

    I don't believe in Valentine's Day. It always seemed like such a made-up holiday, at least the Valentine's Day that Americans know and love. Instead of seeing hearts and winged Cupids and hearing love songs, the history teacher in me thinks about the religious observance of St. Valentine's Day (even though the Roman Catholic Church removed its observance from the calendar of saints in the 1960s).  Who was St. Valentine? I'm not sure anyone really knows, since it seems that there were several early Christian martyrs who shared the name Valentine and it had nothing whatsoever to do with romantic love.  Who wants to get all lovey-dovey on a holiday based on martyrs?  If that were the case, in my mind's eye Fake Me and Fake Honey would end up with a conversation like this:

    My dear, my love for you is as permanent as death.
    Oh Honey, I bought you these red roses to symbolize my love...and the blood of martyrs.
    May our passion be as spirited as the angry mobs who are responsible for the death of saints!

    Not really my thing. And so I avoid Valentine's Day.

    "But wait!" the English teacher in me screams. "Celebrating romantic love on Valentine's Day is still somewhat historical. After all, it was Geoffrey Chaucer in the 1300s who first wrote about Valentine's Day in connection to love."  True, English Teacher Me.  Score one point for you. (Even though History Teacher Me will point out that Chaucer was probably referring to Valentine's Day in the liturgical calendar, celebrated on May 2. But we'll just leave that aside for now.)

    It is interesting how cultures around the world have adopted certain Valentine's Day traditions over the past few hundred years. But I will stick with my antivalentinism, my refusal to be told when Honey and I must commercialize our undying love and affection for one another.

    My addictions to crafts and good deals, however, is unchanging. When in Joann's Fabrics the other day I saw Christmas items on 90% off clearance.  The white silk poinsettias and the red glass balls inspired me: what if I made one teensy-weensy concession to the dreaded St. V-Day  and put up the tiniest of decorations?  I rushed home and threw my idea together. 

    The only problem?  Honey walked out and said "It's January. Christmas is over."  So I put it to you: is this Christmas or Valentine's Day?  Be won't hurt my feelings either way.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    A tribute to my "followers"

    This blog has had a 100% increase in its official "following"!!  Okay, in reality that means we've gone from one official follower to two, but having those two makes me thrilled.  So thank you, followers.  You hold a special place in my heart. :-)

    The reason I love spray paint

    I love spray paint. My first attempts at art in painted form involved spray paint because it was cheap, easy, fun.  Honey says that I would love probably love screen printing since I love this form of spray painting so much.

    I love leaf art prints, but who wants to pay that price?

    Trust me: it's cheap, it looks good, and it's done in a short amount of time so it's very satisfactory.

    Steps to create art (sorry about the photos --next time I do this I'll take better pictures):
    1. Take canvas (save a Michael's or Joann's 40% or 50% off coupon and it's a good price) and choose leaves to use on the art.
    2. Pick a few extra leaves and test on newspaper. Spray paint the back on the leaf (with the most ridges) and press it on the newspaper. This will give you an idea of what it will look like on canvas. Once you have chosen leaves that you like - I recommend fern, palm, bleeding heart, or something else that has a lot of definition -- make sure you have clean leaves for the canvas.
    3. Spray paint the canvas. Sometimes a mottled paint, like this, is a nice idea: 

    1. Once the base coat on the canvas has dried, spray paint the back of the leaf and carefully press onto the canvas.
    2. Wait until it dries and hang up -- it looks great in-person, trust me! :-)
     Have fun painting!

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    A new use for scrap wood (Artist's Date, Week Three)

    Today I tried several different art projects as part of my "Artist's Date." Over the course of the week I found several art ideas that I wanted to try and today was the day! But first I needed to find a canvas (or several), so to speak. Canvas tends to be expensive, especially when one is experimenting, so I needed to find another idea. That's when I remembered: Honey always keeps scraps from house projects, so we probably had plenty of odd-sized wood pieces in the garage.

    There were three projects that I wanted to try:
    1. A mod podge photo collage that I first saw here.
    2. A painting of a landscape with the quote that I love and posted about here.
    3. A frame surrounding the quote that I love.
    After finding several scraps of wood, I sanded them a bit (just to get the rough edges off) and then put a base coat on each piece.

    The dark brown piece I used for the mod podge photo collage. I wanted to create a collage of a few pictures from our holiday trip to New Mexico last month.  It turned out okay, I think. (Yes, I know it's hard to see in this picture. Just trust me.)

    I then chose the other rectangular piece of wood to create a landscape painting, thinking that I would use it as a background basis for the quote I love.  As it turned out, Honey liked the landscape. I said "It's not done yet!" But Honey nicely said, "I like it the way it is. It looks really nice!"

    So of course I left it that way and then got another piece of wood and started over again.  I did something a little different on the second piece and decided I couldn't use that one, either, for an experiment with the quote.
    I put the painting aside for a bit and looked to the frame.  I mod podged the frame, but I used card stock this time and discovered that it's a bit unwieldy. Next time I'll know better, but for now it's okay.

    After the frame, I turned my attention back to the last piece of wood, something in the shape of a triangle. I knew that I wanted to try painting a branch and birds on it in addition to the quote, but I have no skill when it comes to drawing.  I went online, found a silhouette of a branch and modeled my painting on that. The bird was more difficult.  I tried tracing a bird silhouette and then painting it, but that didn't work too well, so I decided to stick with a simple line to represent a bird.

    Honey is glad that we've found a good use for wood scraps. I'm glad to have an inexpensive way to experiment in these crafts.  The furry babies are glad that I was so preoccupied that they were able to stay curled up together for hours without distraction.

    It was a good day for everyone.

    Friday, January 21, 2011

    Tasks for Week Three

    It is almost the end of Week Three in this artistic recovery and I am just now getting to the tasks.  Knowing that I did not accomplish many of the Week Two tasks made me decide that I'll pick and choose a few manageable things to do here.  I'll write them down and then later -- maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow -- I'll come back and update my progress on the tasks.

    1. A list of three nurturing friends and their traits. It was hard for me to create this list. I worried "What if someone sees this list and is somehow offended or hurt?" Then I realized it's not about that -- it's about recognizing traits that I find valuable and then learning how to nurture those traits.  So here's my list:
      1. MM -- She is so encouraging all the time and has such a great calming presence.  She listens to people and understands what's not being said as much as what's being said. She dreams and hopes and believes that the universe is out there ready to show us incredible things when we take the time to be present and aware. She's amazing!
      2. TG -- When I first met her, someone said "She's a you!"  I wasn't sure if they meant that as a compliment, but that's the way I took it. She has her own style and is very free to be herself. She's inspirational because it took her many years to feel like she could be that free, and now that she has reached this point she embraces it wholeheartedly. Every day is an adventure and she is always doing so much and being true to herself and her dreams.  She is also very nurturing and loving and accepting of people, but has no tolerance for BS -- one of my favorite things about her!
      3. GK -- He is very patient, kind, and always does whatever needs to be done in a situation, regardless of whether or not it's his responsibility. One example that keeps coming to mind is when we were walking and there was a piece of garbage on the sidewalk. He stopped, picked it up, threw it away, and kept walking -- all without breaking stride in the conversation. He is always encouraging, always an active listener, and remembers things about people so that the next time he sees them he can ask "So, how is ____ doing?" or "Did ______ go well?"  And when he thinks he might've made a mistake -- or not even a mistake, sometimes just made a decision that in hindsight was not the absolute best -- he acknowledges it immediately and is very humble.  Normally I would feel like people who do this are fake because I've had so many horrible experiences, but not with GK. He is very genuine and I look up to him as a mentor.
    2. Take an hour to do an artist-brain activity and listen to the insights gained. I spent part of my day painting, and while a bazillion thoughts were roaming through my head I did realize one thing: I want to take an art class sometime this year.
    3. List five people you admire and five people you secretly admire. What traits do these people have that you can cultivate further in yourself?  I think that I decided to just focus on a few traits. I could list the people I admire and secretly admire -- I did do that in my mind as I took Lotus for a walk yesterday -- but I thought about the traits that connect these people and that list (at least a partial list) is a good place to start here.
      1. Active listening
      2. Love of self -- embracing one's unique qualities and believing that they have value and then taking care of one's mental, physical, and emotional/spiritual self
      3. Drive and passion, usually to help others
      4. Ability to be okay with making mistakes (humility)
      5. Calming presence
      6. Love of others without tolerating garbage
    I think that I'll leave it at that for now.  Three tasks is a good set and hopefully a bit more manageable.

    A bit of sleuthing...

    One of the activities this week in chapter three of The Artist's Way is to do a bit of free-association to help work on a sense of self.  Here it goes...

    1. My favorite childhood toy We had toys? I don't know...probably the ceramic horses that were my aunt's in her childhood.
    2. My favorite childhood game was...playing war in the forest with the boys.
    3. The best movie I ever saw as a kid was...The Court Jester. It's still the best. The Princess Bride was pretty good, too.
    4. I don't do it much but I enjoy...reading a whole book in a day.
    5. If I could lighten up a little, I'd let myself...this is hard because I'm not sure what it would be. I keep thinking "No! If you lighten up you'll be a long-skirt-and-tie-dye-wearing hippie!" But then I realize I could lighten up in other ways, like letting the house go for a day and just sitting and reading. That would be nice.
    6. If it weren't too late, I'd...get a master's degree in European history.
    7. My favorite musical instrument is...the violin. I love the piano, too.
    8. The amount of money I spend on treating myself to entertainment each month is...well, if you count our Netflix bill, we spend $9.99/month on entertainment. If art supplies are counted, then maybe an additional $20/month, but only a few months out of the year.
    9. If I weren't so stingy with my artist, I'd buy her...a piano, a Silhouette machine, and numerous frames and canvases.
    10. Taking time out for myself is...something I'm learning to do.
    11. I'm afraid that if I start dreaming...I won't do anything productive.
    12. I secretly enjoy reading...thriller/suspense novels.
    13. If I'd had a perfect childhood I'd have grown up to be...I'm not sure because this is so far from reality. Maybe a famous historian.
    14. If it didn't sound so crazy, I'd write or make a(n)...album.
    15. My parent(s) think artists are...poor.
    16. My God things artists are...colorful.
    17. What makes me feel weird about this recovery is...the amount of time that it takes: on the one hand I feel good about creating things, on the other hand I worry that I am just wasting time.
    18. Learning to trust myself is probably...going to take a while.
    19. My most cheer me up music is...depending on the day, Sam Cooke or something from the Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong era or Pink Martini.
    20. My favorite way to business casual
    So I'll have to reflect on what this means for me and my sense of self.  Meanwhile, the section on growth hits home with its insight that creative recovery is a healing process and growth occurs in spurts. One of the suggestions is to learn how to be good to yourself. Do something nice to take care of yourself -- it doesn't have to be expensive, it can be simple, and then practice saying "yes" to the caring opportunities the universe provides.  I think that this is important especially when it comes to being ready to accept criticism for one's art.  Not all criticism is bad, but so many people have experienced shaming in life that sometimes criticism, even when it's well-intentioned, is hurtful.  I know that I tend to be extremely self-critical and then when I show something to someone else and hear remarks that aren't quite effusive praise, the little monsters inside of me jump up and start pouncing, making me want to run and hide.  It takes a while for me to sit back and calmly think about criticism and say "Oh, that makes sense, yes, that would help me improve such-and-such."  Then, of course, I am thankful for the feedback.  So hopefully with more reflection and understanding and growth I will get better at this whole process.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011


    Last night I wrote about synchronicity and today I experienced another example.  One of the blogs that I follow, A Thoughtful Place, posted a beautiful quote. The author of this blog explained how 2010 was a pretty difficult year, but that she is thinking about following some of her dreams this year. (Perhaps that's another word for living with intention, my theme for this year and my artistic journey.)  The quote was actually something this author found on another blog, The Shabby Nest.  That author, too, expressed her sense of exhaustion from the difficult year in 2010 and her hopes and dreams for a better 2011.  Yesterday I wrote that a number of my friends decided that they were going to be intentional this year.  Most of these women feel a need to get back to their own artistic self and discover whomever that person may be and live that life intentionally, with purpose and vivacity. Ladies, this quote is for you:

    "She went out a on a limb, had it break off behind her, and realized she could fly."
    Kobi Yamada

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Week Three: Anger, Synchronicity, and a Sense of Power

    Tonight I finally had a chance to go through chapter three in The Artist's Way.  I love the way that Julia Cameron explains the usefulness of anger.  Growing up I associated anger with all of the things I didn't want in my life: mean people, yelling, hurt, hypocrites, and about three tons of guilt.  I hated anger and I was a very angry person (albeit underneath the surface), which meant that my Guilt Monster showed up repeatedly. I told my monster to go away, but he knew he didn't have to listen.  I'd get angry soon enough and then I would feel guilty for being angry while my Guilt Monster just smirked.  As I became an adult, my outbursts of anger were under control.  I was a more reasonable person, a calmer person, and I didn't feel quite so guilty because I wasn't "angry," I was frustrated and frustration was totally acceptable.  This went on for years until recently I started feeling angry again. Why? I asked myself. What is the bigger picture here?  Those questions and the answers that I have experienced perhaps explain why the explanation of anger in this chapter resonates with me. 

    Anger, Cameron says, is a tool: we use it to spur ourselves into action.  It shows us boundaries, points in new directions, and can be used as a guide.  Thinking back over what causes me to be angry (more than just frustrated -- and yes, there are times when I'm legitimately just frustrated and not covering for some deeper anger), most of the causes of my anger are when I see people being abused, mistreated, manipulated in some way: few things get me upset like issues of social justice, love, compassion, and equality.  Aha! I thought to myself, So that's what's meant by "righteous anger"! I get it!  I feel like if that were the entire message in the chapter it would be enough.  But there's more!

    Just the other day I commented to a friend about how interesting it is that a number of us -- all independently of one another -- are focusing on being intentional this year.  It was as if the world was lining up and telling us I want you to start living with intention. Be in the moment. Enjoy life and be reflective.  It's just one example of the synchronicity I see in life.  In my younger days I called it God.  Then I called it coincidence.  Now I don't know what term to use, but I have seen -- in my own life and the lives of others -- that when one is on a pathway of intentionality or creative recovery then serendipitous things just seem to happen.  That is one of the reasons why I am so excited about this Year of Intention and working through The Artist's Way trilogy: I want to see what is in store for this year.

    "Chance is always powerful. Let your hook be always cast; in the pool where you lease expect it, there will be a fish." -- Ovid

    Tuesday, January 18, 2011

    Week Two Check In

    I've decided to run with the spirit of the law, not the letter of it.  If I were to look at what I accomplished last week in Week Two of The Artist's Way and base my judgments merely on what I did in relation to the tasks at the end of the chapter, I would be disappointed.  Have a look for yourself:
    • Determine where my time goes by listing five major activities and how much time I spent on them, dividing the list by "shoulds" and "wants." -- I did not do this, even though I thought about it.
    • List 20 things I enjoy doing and the last time I did each thing. -- I didn't do this. Or, to be more specific, I started this list. Then I wrote down more things in my morning pages, but I didn't follow up with when I did each activity. 
    • Out of that list, find two things to do this week -- even if it's only for 15 minutes. -- I did things that I enjoy, but not based off a list (I didn't create the list in the first place!)
    • Re-read my affirmations. -- I'll give this a sort-of. I skimmed the list to re-affirm myself and my direction, but I was not present/intentional in my readings. (Tsk, tsk!)
    • List ten imaginary lives (things I think in my dreams, if I were another me, I'd do) and see if there's some activity I could do that's related to a pretend Me. (Confession: One imaginary life is be a singer, like a singer of showtunes or Big Band classics. Today, I indulged in that a big by singing "Don't Rain on My Parade" at the top of my lungs in my car. It was no Carnegie Hall, but then again I'm no Barbara. I think we'll call it even for the week.) -- A bit here.
    • List ten "tiny" changes, then see about setting one in motion. -- Nada. Although I will say that the first thing that popped into my mind when I read this originally was "get a new cover for the duvet!" Needless to say, that is on the "sometime in the future" list.
    I would be pretty disappointed with myself if I only viewed my accomplishments, my growth as an artist, my journey of self-discovery as check-marks on the way to a goal. Instead I have taken the bold (for me) step to believe that self-discovery, recovery, and becoming an artist is more about the journey and the beauty in the road than it is about the destination.  To that end I can say that in Week Two I accomplished these things:
    • I posted on the blog at least once -- sometimes more often! -- each day.
    • I wrote my "morning pages" every day.
    • I wrote a couple mini-stories, like the one here.
    • In addition to the stories that I shared, I started writing a short story for children. It's not done yet, but when I finish I may post on the blog for some feedback.
    • I had an Artist's Date that was fairly successful, at least for my first attempt at any sort of painting.
    • I spent some time thinking about things that I love and I already have things to add to that particular list.
    • I spent some time looking at various crafty blogs, which inspired me to create more art. In fact, in the beginning of Week Three I've already done a few crafty things like make my own recipe for soup and reclaim a picture frame and I am looking forward to the end of the week and my official Artist's Date.
    So all in all I think that I am moving in the right direction. Two weeks down, 34 to go. What will the future bring?

    I am in love...with a Silhouette machine.

    I think that I will very quickly become addicted to crafts like my grandmother and great-grandmother. How can one not be when there are incredibly awesome tools like a Silhouette machine out there to make crafting even more fun?

    Of course the machine and its supplies are way out of my "I'll craft it if it's under $5" budget, which is why I was thrilled to see a giveaway on Keeping It Simple, one of the crafty blogs I now follow. Fingers crossed!

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    A "linky party."

    This was a cool idea and I thought I would share. One of the blogs I follow, Not Just a Housewife, apparently has hosted several "linky parties." The idea is that followers of the blog share some of their current artsy projects so that the creativity is spread around a bit. Isn't that a great idea? The current "linky party" can be found here:

    I personally love the skirts/sewing ideas. While I have a sewing machine and have been known to use it, my skill level is almost nill.  Yet these skirt ideas look simple enough that I may, in fact, attempt them!  The only problem? Now I have so many ideas for Artist's Dates that I am running out of actual days on which to do these projects!

    Do I see a contender for Artist's Date #4?

    It is quite possible that The Artist's Way is a disease.  I feel creativity spreading throughout my days and weeks. Today I stopped by the dollar store to get some batteries for Honey's BBQ lamp. While there I saw a hideous frame:

    It cried out: "Please, rescue me!" But what could I do with a hideous gold frame? That's when inspiration struck. I have spray paint (always a favorite). I have fun scrapbook paper (on clearance at Michael's!). I have Mod Podge.  It was time for a mini project. Not something big enough to be considered an artist's date, but something fun.

    I removed the glass and the matte from the frame. I spray painted the frame black to match the paper I chose. I then took the matte and cut strips of paper to Mod Podge along the inside:

    Once I let it dry, all I had left to do was reassemble everything and choose a photo! This was my first attempt, so it wasn't as perfect as I would like, but it works and I am excited to try it again. Poor, forlorn frames, fear no longer -- I will rescue you from a life of misery!

    Today's artistic endeavor inspired me to look around for other projects.  I've been looking for lamps for the family room, wanting something unique, in my price range, and "nowtro" (kind of like the 70s, but updated -- like our house). Tonight I found a tutorial for a wonderful lamp idea and I am so excited to try it!  It seems the ideas just keep coming. Yay!

    UPDATE (1/28/11):
    I realized that I should start offering links on my posts back to different crafty blogs where I've shared my ideas and found great new inspiration.  I've posted some "buttons" to various blogs that I love and have linked, but this is probably a better, more deliberate way of keeping track of things.  So here it goes....

    You can find this project on The Shabby Nest's Frugal Friday.

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    A few more blogs that I like

    This weekend I added a few more blogs to my list of "places I will check out on a regular basis." Some are family and friend blogs, filled with stories and pictures of people I hold near and dear to my heart. While they make me happy, the blogs may not be those that one shares with strangers. Instead, I finally rediscovered a few of my "crafty" and comedy blogs and thought that I would share. -- This adorable young woman always has such cute ideas. She is, in fact, the one that inspired me to try to Mod Podge something last week.  Her current post is about an idea for Valentine's Day.  I don't believe in Valentine's Day, I don't use red and white color combinations, I try to avoid useless decor and knicknacks, and this project would not match any place in my house but it is so cute that it makes me want to try. Now I'll have to think about what I can do to modify this and make it work for my life. -- I believe that the author of this blog may in fact be a long-lost sibling. Not only does she create drawings and tell stories like my brother Tin Man, her experiences must be similar because all my siblings end up laughing so hard that we forget to breathe. My brothers believe that they invented "Seven Games to Play with a Brick" and that the author was just spying on them during their childhood. -- I'm really into crafting, as you might be able to guess from the blogs that I follow. This does not mean that I am a crafty person by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a few places I turn to for inspiration. This is one of those places.

    Another crafty blog can be found here: or here: or here:

    One thing that I noticed about most of these blogs: they are written by stay-at-home moms. I am impressed by their craftiness.  So if you are bored or if you want to try a craft project or maybe you just want to give your brain a rest and look at pretty pictures online for a few minutes, check them out. I'm sure that you, like me, will find inspiration for a future project among the many ideas from the minds of these clever authors.

    Soup and bread on a rainy day

    This morning Honey decided to make yogurt from scratch using a very simple recipe discovered last week.  The idea was inspired by a page in The Pleasures of Cooking for One, which spoke to the ease of making  yogurt from scratch, an idea we've talked about but always been too scared to try. We found that turning the light on in our oven keeps the milk at the right temperature, around 100 degrees, so the process of turning milk into yogurt is a piece of cake. Honey loves plain, sour yogurt, and it's a great addition to the english muffin recipe we use every week. (Side note: we've used whole milk and skim milk and like the results of each -- it also makes an excellent substitute for sour cream.)

    One of the reasons we needed more yogurt is that the english muffin recipe we use calls for yogurt (and we've tried numerous recipes -- this is our favorite).  Well, it doesn't exactly call for yogurt. It calls for buttermilk powder and we've modified that to mean "yogurt" since we think it tastes better.  Every week or every other week Honey goes through the day-long process to create these muffins because we eat them every morning for breakfast. Yum!

    Since one of us was being so productive, the other decided that she, too, better find a way to be productive today. We always make a big pot of food Sunday evening and take the leftovers as lunches throughout the week, but we are going to a friend's for dinner tonight and so we needed to make something earlier in the day. We're also trying to watch what we eat in an effort to adopt better eating habits and maybe slim down a bit in the process, so we decided that this week's big meal would be soup.  Lentil and split pea soup, specifically.  I looked at numerous recipes and did not see exactly what I wanted, so I decided to make my own.

    Rainy Day Lentil Soup
    2 small onions, chopped
    1 tbsp minced garlic
    2 carrots, shredded
    2 celery stalks, chopped
    1 poblano pepper, chopped (opt.)
    1 can diced tomatoes
    1 c. lentils
    1/2 c. yellow split peas
    1/2 c. green split peas
    1 tbsp olive oil
    Juice of 1 lime
    10 c. water

    Spices, to taste, so approximately:
    1 tbsp. Madras curry powder
    1 tbsp. chicken bullion powder
    1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
    1 tsp. chile powder
    1/2 tsp. each cumin, ginger, paprika
    1/4 tsp. each cinnamon, cardamon

    Fry the onions and garlic in the oil until they start to caramelize. Add the pepper and fry for 1-2 more minutes, then add the water and bring to a boil.

    When the water is boiling, add the lentils, split peas, curry powder, and chicken bullion. Let it cook on a low boil for about 30 minutes until the lentils and peas are almost fully cooked.

    Add the remaining ingredients and cook for 10-15 more minutes (until the lentils are cooked and the flavors are well-blended).

    Time for lunch. Yum!

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Artist's Date, Week Two: A Geometric Painting

    A picture Matthew took of a piece of art he liked inspired this week's "Artist's Date."

    The piece was made out of metal, which is far beyond my skill level or current desire to master, but I liked the concept.  I thought about painting a canvas, but the size I wanted was a bit too expensive for my comfort level (at least when something's an experiment), so I bought thick posterboard designed for acrylic paints, purchased the main colors that I wanted (knowing I had a few more colors at home and could probably fill in gaps that way), and started on the project.

    Whenever I decide to start on an art project -- and it doesn't matter whether it's quilting, painting, writing, photography, or anything else -- the furry babies decide that they must help. "Oh look," Bunny says to Nora, "Mom has a lot of supplies! I bet she needs our help!"  Nora of course responds by saying, "She's such a good mom, we wouldn't want her to do all this work by herself! Let's help!"  This is what happens:

    After I spend a good 15 minutes moving one cat after another and trying to convince Lotus not to walk underneath me as I am moving cats, I start working on the project. I used painter's tape to create the patterns on the board. The 4' square, although cumbersome, helped me create squares and rectangles that had actual straight sides.

    By this time in the process the cats were tired. They had worked hard trying to help Mommy.

    I used a metallic bronze for the borders between the shapes, so it took three coats (instead of the two coats of paint for each shape), but it's done.

    It's not perfect, but it's a first attempt and so that's okay. I think that in the future I'll try this type of thing on canvas with smaller borders.  I also thought of a way that I can do geometric designs on the cheap, but that, I think, will be for next week's Artist's Date.
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