A Beautiful Lesson in the Art of Giving and Receiving

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Today I went for a walk, little did I know that I would be taught a most valuable lesson about giving and receiving, from a 4 year old girl.

About 1/2 way through my walk I crossed paths with two women and 5 little girls who were enjoying the sights along the canal. I couldn’t help but notice the little blonde girl walking toward me and how proudly she held four goose feathers in her hands.

She looked up at me and stretched out her hands, “would you like one of my beautiful feathers?”

“Of course I would, thank you so much for such a wonderful gift.”

Her entire body, not just her face, lit up with the pleasure she felt in giving me this very precious gift.

As I walked away, goose feather in hand, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. It was clear that to her, this was not a dirty goose feather, it was magical and beautiful. Tossing it aside wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her face if we crossed paths again and I had tossed aside her gift.

The perfect solution came to me and I tucked the feather into my pony tail.

I thought about the nature of giving and receiving. It’s become clear to me that being a good receiver is equally important as being a generous giver. This tiny girl’s face lit up the world with joy when I accepted her gift, I can’t help but think that her light would have dimmed if her gift had been rejected or ignored.

On the final stretch of my walk I encountered the group again. Tiny brown eyes looked up at me asking, “do you still have the feather I gave you?”

I pointed to my pony tail and turned around on the path, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I do too.”

She held out the three remaining feathers, “would you like one more?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes, you need two.”

“Shall I put this one in my pony tail also?”

Tiny hands clapped and she said “yes.”

I tucked the second goose feather into my hair and turned so she could see it.

“Oh my, you look like you have two beautiful birds on your head.”

Words can’t describe the warmth that filled my heart or the smile that spread over my face and hers.

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Artist’s note: The feature image represents my interpretation of the day. Out of context I doubt it has much meaning, but I like to think that my little friend would find it beautiful.

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Rain Doesn’t Make a Day Awful, it Just Makes it Wet

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Saturday was a plan C sort of day. A few weeks ago my friend Dan invited me to join him and his parents to check out the Tall Ships Festival on the riverfront in Philadelphia. A trip into Philly to spend an afternoon with friends is always fun and the festival was a unique opportunity to learn a little about naval history.

L’Hermione, L’Hermione, “A French replica of the 145’ long Concorde class frigate of the French Navy.” Image credit: Tall Ships® Philadelphia Camden

As luck would have it, the forecast for Saturday was 100% chance of rain in the afternoon, not exactly the best kind of weather for an outside activity like touring massive ships with very tall masts and impressive sails.

Dan called to let me know that our group had expanded from 4 to 6 people and because of the rain he was organizing plan B, a visit to the Barnes Foundation Museum and dinner in Center City. Exploring one of the finest collections of Post-Impressionist and early Modern paintings sounded like a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Between Thursday and Friday afternoon, the size of our group dwindled from 6 to 4 to 2. Dan’s condo is in the middle of a kitchen remodel and since the Barnes Foundation is something that can be visited at any time, it made more sense for his parents to visit another time. It also made sense to move to Plan C, a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A new exhibit, Discovering the Impressionists: Paul Durand-Ruel and the New Painting, had just opened at the Museum of Art and we wanted to see the collection before it moved on to another city. We reviewed the train schedule and he ordered our tickets for the exhibit to allow for plenty of time between the trains arrival and the admission time.

I love taking the train into Philly it’s fun to be able to relax and read or people watch instead of being stressed out by heavy traffic, potholes, and parking in the city. The train station is always lively and it’s not uncommon to hear the beat of drums or a beautiful harmony created by two violins played in unison.music performers in the train station

The clapping hands and tapping feet within the audience energized the drumming, dancing, and singing. I couldn’t resist putting a dollar in each of the buckets on the “stage” that hosted these 5 enthusiastic performers.

Dan and I met up on the other side of the station and ventured out into the drizzle to hail a cab. We started our adventure at a local pub and sampled a couple of beers while catching up and waiting for our assigned time for entering the exhibit to arrive. It was a short distance between the pub and the museum and although we used our umbrellas they barely got wet.

The museum supplied an audio recording to add background and insights about various paintings and artists featured in the exhibit. It was a great idea except I couldn’t get them to work properly for the life of me. Sooo, after trying and fumbling with two different devices I gave up and just enjoyed the masterpieces through my own eyes and interpretations.

At the end of the tour Dan surprised me with a gift of 6 tiny color pencils from the museum gift shop – I think it’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received. :) They’re almost too cute to use.

color pencils from the museum

Our walk from the museum to the restaurant was an entirely different story from the walk earlier in the afternoon. I held my umbrella as close to my head as possible and followed Dan’s feet through the wet sidewalks and puddle filled streets.

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By the time we got to the restaurant our clothes were dripping and we could do nothing but laugh about our state of severe sogginess. I think it’s a good thing that I didn’t look in a mirror, I can only imagine that my hair must have resembled something that belonged on the head of a clown and not anything like it did when I started the day.

The restaurant is located in a renovated firehouse and has some of the best beef brisket I’ve ever eaten. (In case you’re wondering, the person in the picture is a random stranger who was sitting at the bar)

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It’s across the street from the Eastern State Penitentiary Museum – which is now on my list of “must do adventures.”

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After dinner we managed to hail a cab to the train station, but not quite soon enough to avoid getting drenched again – proving once again that neither of us were going to melt in the rain.

In reality, it would have been tempting to stay home and plan our adventure for a sunny or at least dry day, but we would have missed out on an awesome day and time spent with a good friend.

Cardboard Boxes, Bottle Caps, and Cats

Sometimes it feels like life is a series of retracted “I’ll never…” statements, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Almost two years ago ago I held Annie and Romeo on my lap for the last time and said a tearful, difficult, but humane farewell to each of them.

the puppers

Their parting wasn’t unexpected although as anyone who has ever had pets can attest to, it still wasn’t easy.

For a variety of reasons I swore up and down that I would never have another pet.

Then one day Christian showed me a few pictures of his girlfriend’s cats while telling me stories about their adorable antics and how low maintenance they are compared to dogs. Knowing my feelings about getting another pet, he was careful not to interject too many obvious references to his desire to have a cat become part of our home.

Coincidentally, I’d also been reading about the benefits of owning a pet as it relates to emotional health and feelings of well-being. There’s something about caring for a living being that helps to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

Having a pet forces one to get up in the morning rather than bury themselves under the covers and worry about everything under the sun. It’s also almost impossible not to smile and maybe even laugh out loud when you see a cat hanging out in a cardboard box

mia in a cardboard box

or a tiny basket.

Mia in a basket

There’s practically nothing better than laughter to lighten a mood, and I have to admit that cats are funny. :)

The more I read, the more appealing the idea of having a cat became. Although I don’t think there’s really such a thing as a hypoallergenic cat, I wanted to find a breed that is as allergy friendly as possible. Surprisingly there are 10 breeds that are considered to be good options for pet owners who have friends and family members with allergies.

After two clicks I fell in love with a picture of a Russian Blue, not only do they produce less of the stuff that people are allergic to, they are one of the prettiest breeds I’ve ever seen.

One thing led to another and a single Google search led me to Cats Bridge to Rescue, a local non-profit animal shelter for cats and kittens. Lo and behold the third cat on the adoption page was a perfect match. A 1 year old female Russian Blue named Mia.

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I sent Christian a text:

“What would you think about a cat named Mia?”

Four days later we became the proud and happy owners of a new cat. She quickly made herself at home and began exploring the whole house within just a few hours after arriving home.

She’s been home for 4 months and true to her description on the shelter’s website Mia is very friendly and quite social. She’s not cuddly, but does seem to prefer to be in the same room as Christian or I are hanging out in. During the day we spend a lot of time in the den,

Mia looking out the window
and now that it’s nice outside, we like to hang out on the porch.

Mia sitting on the porch window sill

In the evening she’s my art buddy.

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Her favorite toys are plastic bottle caps – one cap can keep both of us occupied for a long time. It’s hysterical to watch her pounce, capture, and bat the bottle cap around with her paws -> watch here.

I never thought I’d have another pet, let alone a cat, but I’m really enjoying having Mia in my life. Proof positive that the old saying “never say never” is one worth heeding.

Mia

Start with the bigger picture and worry about the details later

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Recently I’ve been learning about composition in creating two dimensional art. It’s not just about how the objects relate to each other, it’s also about how the artist relates to the objects.

The first step is to decide which components of a setting are interesting and intriguing enough to be a part of the composition, then you have to think about how much space you have and how to go about making the most of it.

We’re given an entire canvas to fill so there’s no sense in leaving uninteresting blank spaces around the subject matter.

Once we know what we want to include and maybe more importantly why we want to include them it’s time to start putting things into position  – loosely defining the shapes, locations, and relationships between the objects within the composition.

It’s tempting (for me anyway) to concentrate on one part of a drawing in an attempt to perfect it’s shape and dimension without regard to the larger picture and how it relates to it’s neighbors.

The interesting thing about art is that even the spaces and shapes between the objects are a part of the story and give clues to the artist about the relationships between the objects.

One of my biggest obstacles and sticking points when it comes to drawing is overcoming the desire to draw what I think I should see vs what is really in front of me.

Today’s art class started on time and as usual the small group of students surrounded the subject matter with easels, paints, and pencils. My seat was at an angle which presented a challenge for me.

When I look at something that I know is circular in shape from a head-on perspective that’s how I want to draw it. It’s hard for me to draw the perfect circle as a squished hoop even though that’s how it really looks from my vantage point.

But after some guidance I figured out how to do it. And I began to grasp an understanding of why it’s important to start with the larger shapes and relationships and refine them without immediately jumping into the detail.

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Composing art is actually a lot like life. We often-times get bogged down in the details and worry too much about making one particular aspect of our life “perfect” before moving on.

When we take a step back and consider the entire picture and all that life has to offer, it becomes easier to envision the shape we want things to take and how the different aspects of our life fit together.

My drawing isn’t finished, but there’s a sense of direction and a feeling of progress.

The details are the finishing touches not the starting point.

GMO Awareness Survey – College Research Project

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Are GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) good or bad?

Supporters believe GMO foods are the next best hope for feeding the planet while critics believe that genetically modified foods are unsafe and are an underlying cause of many of the health and environmental issues in the U.S.

My youngest son is a student at Drexel University and is curious to learn more about how well people feel they are informed about GMOs and whether or not they are concerned about them.

Please help him with a research project by answering a few questions about GMOs.

Every Little Thing is Gonna Be Alright

Three Little Birds Acrylic Painting

It’s almost impossible for me to believe that it’s been 3 months since I first wrote about my 3 Little Birds Project. Where does the time go?! 

How it All Started

It all started with the size and medium that has become my favorite and that I’m most comfortable with. My collection of ink pens and markers is well organized and I’ve also been told it’s also enviable.

Ink Pens

During the months leading up to the 3 Little Birds project, I’d grown extremely comfortable using ink on canvases the size of a greeting card to create a variety of drawings inspired by nature.

Hydrangea Ink Drawing

I was content spending my evenings immersed in this world of comfortable familiarity.

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It was without conscious intention that I branched out slightly in subject matter and a sea of swirling dots and teardrops became the leaves on a tiny whimsical tree.

Tree of Hope
An explosion of color brought the tree to life.

tree of hope

Little did I know, that this small step out of my comfort zone would set the wheels in motion and lead me into an unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating place: a friend of mine reached out and asked me to do a painting for her inspired by this whimsical tree and her anthem, Bob Marley’s song Three Little Birds.

The Facebook conversation went something like this:

S: “Hey. I am inspired! I need something above my fireplace. you can create it!” :)

Me: “what are you picturing?”

S: “So my new mantra is three little birds. Bob Marly song. But i need color. Your tree with an inset with 3 little birds in colors would be incredible. Your first commission!”

Me: “omg, my drawings are small.”

S: “You’re going Big!” 30 x 20 at least.”

Me: “holy buckets! that’s big for me, but okee dokee”

S: “Get ready for the big blow up! I’m confident that you got it.”

In some ways it seemed a little crazy to say yes. After all, I had extremely limited experience with painting, had never drawn a bird, and had never drawn anything that big, and it was going to hang over her fireplace for many to see.

I don’t know how to explain it, but although it was scary and intimidating, it was also exciting to think about trying something new, big, and different.

3 Little Birds Come to Life

From the beginning of January to the end of March my dining room table was covered with a bright yellow “Kinder Mess Matt,” aka a plastic table cloth designed to protect nice surfaces from messy craft projects. (designed for children, perfect for me)

Three Little Birds
In the beginning, I stuck with ink to gain confidence in drawing cute little birds and experiment with the color and composition.

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After playing with acrylic paint to decorate the cover of an art journal
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I bought a canvas and spent a few weeks learning what it felt like to work on a surface other than paper, which brushes worked best, and how to recover from mistakes .

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At long last I was ready to tackle the final version. Admittedly, the difference in size between the original and the yet to be completed final version of the tree was more than a bit overwhelming to think about.
Canvas size comparisons
The large version didn’t get off to a smooth start. Thank goodness acrylic makes it easy to completely cover one tree with a layer (or two) of paint and allows the artist to keep on going without having to abandon the canvas.

Now for the fun part, lots and lots of color. I started with red,

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added in some yellow, green, and blue along with the three little birds so they wouldn’t get lost.

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Mia was my faithful art buddy throughout the entire project, although she may have just been interested in keeping an eye on the birds.

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The devil is in the details. Truth to be told, this was my favorite part of the project. I can lose myself for hours in the small but important details.

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A little over two months after I posted the ink drawing that inspired it all I finished the painting,

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had it packed and shipped to Omaha, NE and it’s now hanging above my friend’s fireplace.

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The entire project was fun, rewarding, and challenging. It made me stretch in ways that felt uncomfortable at first but ultimately helped me grow and gain confidence.

It was another lesson reinforcing the importance of being open to possibilities and the value of saying “yes” to trying something new even if it scares us.

Perhaps more importantly it was a reminder that there is potential living within each of us that is far greater than we can possibly imagine.

3 Little Birds, the slide show

I wish I could have set the slide show to the Bob Marley tune, but licensing it was a bit out of my price range, so I opted for something free and “sunny sounding.

Truth, Knowledge, Happiness – If I write what I really think…

flower garden doodle journal inspiration

There are no three bigger words in our vocabulary outside of truth, knowledge, and happiness. Each word taunts us, each word beguiles us, each word makes us hope we can figure out why we’re here on earth and what we have to live for.

I started writing and sharing my thoughts publicly a few years ago. My kids and I have had more than a few laughs over my being mystified that people could “find me on the internet.

I’ve sporadically shared my thoughts through writing and art over the past four years. For the most part, each post has been carefully considered before publishing it. Several thoughts in my mind –

  • if i write what i really think, will the people i love still love me?
  • if i write what i really think, will the people i love still respect me?
  • if i write what i really think, will the people i love listen and be open to what i believe?
  • if i write what i really think…..

would it open people’s hearts and minds?

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I think it might.

There May be Snow on the Ground, but there is “Spring” in My Step!

First day of Spring 2015

It seems that Mother Nature got the wrong memo on Friday. Instead of sending sunshine and flowers for the first day of Spring, she delivered around 5 inches of snow. While the snow won’t stick around for long, according to the forecast colder than normal temperatures will be here for a while.

In spite of the cold temps and Spring snow showers (which by the way were beautiful), I have emerged from the season of Winter blues earlier and stronger than ever before. First day of Spring 2015The seasonal feelings of sadness and depression arrived right on schedule in late October, but unlike previous years, my spirits began to lighten toward the end of February instead of the end of March. There have been years in which the black cloud of seasonal depression didn’t lift until well into April.

If you’re not familiar with Season Affect Disorder (SAD), it’s a mood disorder which is characterized by depression and it happens at the same time every year. It zaps your energy, makes it a challenge to get out of bed, and turns the world into a “glass half empty” kind of place.

There seems to be a direct correlation with the lack of sunshine and shorter days and the onset of the feelings of depression. For me,they seem to creep in so slowly that I don’t recognize them until it’s too late. I find myself thinking, “wow it’s not going to affect me this year,” then the hammer falls and I find myself almost physically unable to get out of bed in the morning.

Last year I discovered the value of light therapy in the morning and the evening. And I stumbled onto the benefits of having a creative outlet to occupy my evenings. Even with these tools to fight the negative feelings and lethargy, the winter of 2014 was one of my most difficult bouts with this condition.

This year I decided not to wait and see whether or not the inevitable would happen. I began using my lamp that mimics natural outdoor light at the beginning of October (before the feelings of depression started to hit me), made a conscious choice to do something creative every day, and registered for a drawing class to make sure I got out of the house.

For the most part it worked. While I still experienced feelings of sadness, they were nowhere near as severe as in previous years. I believe one of the major benefits of my early and consistent treatment approach is that the cloud lifted sooner.

A few weeks ago I added a new tool to my arsenal, a natural light “Wake-up Light.” I very quickly became a fan.

Wake-up Light

The light simulates the sun rising. The light starts to illuminate 30 minutes before the alarm is set to go off and by the time the alarm chirps, it’s fully lit. The theory is that the emulation of sunrise releases certain chemicals in the brain that say “it’s time to wake up.” I don’t know about the science behind it, but I do know that it works for me.

Since day one of using it, I’ve found it easier to get up in the morning and I absolutely have more energy throughout the day. Over the past three weeks I’ve moved my wake up time from 8 am to 6:30 am and am beginning to fear I might be in danger of becoming a morning person. :)

I honestly believe that it’s helped to accelerate the earlier than normal exit of those pesky winter blues.

The “Spring” in my step has motivated me to register for a half-marathon in June and exercise is once again a part of my daily routine.

Hello Spring!

Weekend Shenanigans and Celebrating Friendship

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Seven years ago, I stumbled across an online community for wannabe triathletes as well as triathlon veterans, not a place I’d ever  have imagined myself fitting in. Much to my surprise, through online fitness challenges, mentoring forums, and individual training blogs I’ve “met” and formed friendships with people across the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Over the past seven years, many of us have also become friends on Facebook, but the connection on BT (beginnertriathlete.com) remains a special one. People check in on each other weekly, if not daily.

We’ve “watched” each other’s children grow up, celebrated personal victories, and mourned together over the loss of friends and parents. We’ve sent virtual hugs and cried real tears during times of personal hardship and have kicked up our heels with joy for the good and happy times. We’re cheerleaders and confidants.

On more than one occasion I’ve taken a train, plane, or automobile to travel hundreds of miles meet one of my virtual friends in real life. What may shock some, will seem cool to others – not only did I travel to meet them, they welcomed me with open arms, amazing hospitality, and a place to rest my head for a night or two, even longer if needed.

The majority of my trips have been related to participating in a race. There’s nothing better than having a safe and welcoming place to stay the night before an event. It’s also awesome to share the early morning pre-race ritual and jitters with someone who is experiencing the same feelings.

Being connected on more than one social platform has its advantages. You always know when one of your friends is planning a party and can casually take them up on their “open invitation” to come visit. It’s simply a matter of keeping an eye open for pictures of large shipments of Mardi Gras beads to posted on Facebook and inviting oneself in a comment.

inviting myself to the party on facebook mardi gras beads

The response was almost immediate and I was DARED to attend.

the dare to attend

I made some noise about accepting the DARE, asked for some details and started to seriously consider making the trip from Philadelphia to Lake Lure, North Carolina to attend the party.

the details

The party was scheduled for February 28th, so the weather forecast played a role in the final decision. As it turns out, I threaded the needle and made the 12 hour drive (each way) in between winter storms.

The weekend shenanigans kicked off on Friday night in Roanoke, VA. I made it to my halfway point just in time to see the lights in the hotel restaurant go dark. Fortunately the Holiday Inn that Hotwire selected for me offered complimentary shuttle service to and from any of the local eating establishments.

I chose TGI Fridays because it was close, I had a coupon, and figured it would be laid back and quiet since it was fairly late. My expectations were more than a little off; there was only one seat left at the bar and a ten minute wait for a table. I opted for the bar.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a place where everyone gets carded, the females are on the prowl, and the males are primed for the hunt. I also don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much bling, leather, and leopard print in a single room. Too bad the fashion police weren’t there to call out the woman in the skin tight body suit –  embellished with tiny imprints of the “hang loose”surfer hand symbol (can’t even describe how bad it was).

Who knew that I’d picked one of the local hot spots for singles to hang out? So much more I could write about the evening, but it’s time to move on to the main event.

I arrived in Lake Lure on time and not in the least bit frazzled. Between Google Maps and my friend’s most excellent directions there was no way I could make a wrong turn or miss my destination.

We had just enough time for a hug, a walk around the property, a glass of wine, and a bit of gabbing before the co-hosts and guests began to arrive. The house looked spectacular, every inch of the main floor was covered in beads and sparkles.

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Of course, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without costumes and masks. After much laughter and exchanging of hats, we concluded that Robin’s outfit called for the Jester’s hat and the 1920’s circa feathers worked best for me.

mardi gras party

We looked cute, but I’m fairly certain the cape won the prize for best costume.

the cape

The food was incredible.

Amazing food

Once the party started, the dining room was the most popular room at the party, well maybe with the exception the other side of the house where the Tarot card reader was burning incense and tapping into the future.

Each guest picked a number when they arrived and when their “number was up” it was time for their reading. Somehow or another, my number was 3, not saying it was rigged in any way – just saying I’m lucky. :)

The night was filled with toasts to newly wedded couples, explanations of why I was there, wine bottle opening demonstrations, roulette for high stakes prizes, and most likely some neighborhood gossip which went over my head. It was a wonderful evening, but there seemed to be too few hours between putting my head on the pillow and the knock on my door in the morning.

A sinfully delicious breakfast was followed by a long, long nap, and a delightful dinner. What could be a better way to spend a day?

Sadly the party is over (for this year). The beads and masks have been gathered, the dog and kitty cats are once again free to roam the house, and I am safely back in PA.

the party is over

The story is far from over though. I look forward to future shenanigans and an ongoing friendship.