New Beginnings and Beautiful Outcomes

Every artist was first an amateur.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hot Shops Art Center is home  to more than 80 local professional artists and multiple gallery spaces. Although I haven’t yet attended one, I’ve heard the bi-annual Open Houses are amazing and grow in popularity each year. A visit to the Hot Shops is definitely now on my artist’s date list!

As an amateur artist, never in a million years did I think that I’d have the opportunity to create art in such an inspiring place, but the weekend of October 13th a dream I didn’t even know I had, came true.

The night before, with no small amount of nervousness about the workshop and jumping into unknown territory, I loaded up my car with a laundry basket full of supplies, along with a half dozen big scary canvases.IMG_5044

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The name of the workshop was “Big Juicy Abstracts,” taught by Beverly Todd, a local professional artist, and beautiful human being.

The list of materials, which included canvases, specifically called out the requested size of canvas. 38″ x 38,” as a starting point – in case you’re wondering, that’s equivalent to the height of a taller than average three year old.

The majority of my artwork has been completed on canvases and pieces of drawing paper between the sizes of 5″ x 7″ and 10″ x 20″, with two exceptions.

The first and most significant was the three little birds painting I created a few years ago at a friend’s request.33_three little birds final on white background

Over the past two years, I’ve dabbled in acrylic through multiple visits to local paint and sip venues

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and through spending countless hours on YouTube channeling the techniques of other artists to create something uniquely mine.

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I’ve learned a lot, have had tremendous fun experimenting, but something has been missing – the opportunity for a more structured, hand’s on learning environment.

I didn’t realize how hungry I was for such an opportunity until I saw the promotional post for the workshop in my Facebook feed. Although I normally dislike the promo zone on Facebook, in this instance I was grateful for it.

The weather was gray and gloomy, but my spirits were high as I unloaded my car and traversed to the open studio space. I was the last to arrive, which surprisingly meant that I ended up with the best spot in the room, the one with the most natural light.

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I set up my station as quickly as possible and settled in to learn and explore.

Abstract art is an interesting concept, so often we judge “good art” based upon how accurately it represents our physical world. In other words, how well the artist recreated a landscape or the impression of a person or an object through paint, ink or pencil.

Abstract art, is often criticized and misunderstood. I have to confess that prior to learning a bit more about the art of being abstract, I too have thought, “Why is this piece of art great? A five year old could have done this.”

What I know now, is that part of makes abstract art great – is exactly that. It’s created from the heart and soul, from a place of feeling. A place that’s sometimes happy and sometimes sad – a place that’s completely human. That’s how children create, from the heart and without overthinking it.

Over the course of the two day workshop, I also learned that while abstract pieces may appear to be randomly assembled to the untrained eye – there are very purposeful intentions behind the patterns that have emerged on the canvas.

We took time to “loosen up” and try some creative techniques on for size, things like making marks on a canvas with charcoal before painting.

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Seemingly insignificant actions, with unexpected outcomes.

By putting myself into a playful state of mind, and by following the intuitive input of the teacher – I quit procrastinating and painted.

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I’m not going to lie – it was a struggle to get to this point. The concept of painting on a such a large canvas was intimidating, and watching the seasoned artists around me fill their canvases with paint made me pause and wonder whether or not I was in the right place.

In many preceding drawing and painting classes, I’d never completed the work during the allotted class time. Frozen by my comparing mind, I’ve almost always allowed perfectionism to trump playfulness.

What I came to understand later in the day, as we shared our art – and what we learned, is that I’m far from alone. Even the most experienced artists in the group felt like they’d stepped way outside of their comfort zone and were unsure, but happy with where they had landed.

As it turns out, we’re not really alone. We just need to be brave enough to try.

In an unprecedented weekend, I completed not just one – but three pieces of art. I do believe it’s the first time, outside of a paint and sip experience, that I’ve actually completed a piece within the time-frame allotted.

This piece was particularly daunting, the size of the canvas was beyond my imagination, or so I thought.

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It was a fabulous high energy weekend! I somehow think it’s a glimpse into the future.

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A Creative Reboot

“We are never too old to be young at heart. Being young at heart means simply being willing to be a beginner.” ~ Julia Cameron.

On September 15, 2011, exactly seven years ago to the date, I picked up the book “Walking in This World” by Julia Cameron and began my creative journey in earnest. It was and still is a non-linear path of both self discovery and exploration.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to attend an all-day intensive workshop led by Julia, one of the most inspirational authors in the creative world. The opportunity found its way to me as a part of a three day Creative Reboot workshop held in Santa Fe, NM.

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What an amazing and energizing day it was!! The time in Julia Cameron’s workshop absolutely flew by. It was worth every penny. Not only was she wonderful, the attendees were as well. The positive energy in the room was contagious and uplifting.

It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be surrounded by at least 200 creative, compassionate, caring souls. It’s safe, it’s comforting, it’s affirming and it’s rejuvenating. It’s just what the doctor ordered to help me break through the creative slump I’ve been experiencing for the past several months.

Every teacher has had a powerful message for all of the artists in attendance, each one of us connecting with the teachings in our own personal ways.

The final workshop on Friday night concluded with a Firewalk, yep, a Firewalk. Approximately 200 brave and more than slightly skeptical individuals, including your’s truly, walked over a bed of hot coals after chanting to the beat of a drum to raise the overall vibration and set individual intentions.

It took more than a few long moments for the first person to be brave enough to take the walk, but once she did it took mere seconds for the rest of us to follow suit and take our turn walking barefoot across the red embers.

It was empowering and thought shifting. From the time we are little, we’re told that fire burns. There’s no part of our rational mind that would say “walking across hot burning coals is a great idea.” But somehow being there, being caught up in the pulsing energy of the crowd, watching each novice firewalker be enveloped in hugs at the end of their walk made it feel like a very good idea.

We were all exhilarated afterwards. Each of us had been courageous enough to face and overcome a long held limiting personal belief, and not about the dangers of fire – the fire was the teacher.

Now, I’m not advocating for people to go out and try something like this on their own. It’s kind of one of those things that should be supervised by professionals. :). However, I am advocating, and recommitting myself to take a look at my own limiting beliefs – the “things” that are getting the way, to get back to creating powerfully and trusting in Divine timing.

The workshop is only half-way over. There’s another session led by Julia Cameron, entertainment this evening (I wonder what that will bring…) and more sessions tomorrow, but I had to take a few moments over my lunch break to celebrate my creative reboot.

I find it fascinating to know that this event coincides with the exact anniversary of my first creative reboot guided in part by the words of Julia Cameron; this time in person.

I’m back!

Ideas Are Meant to Be Shared, Not Hidden

DO NOT COVET YOUR IDEAS. Give away everything you know, and more will come back to you. The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually you’ll become stale. ~ Paul Arden

About a month ago, I experienced a a strange case of mistaken identity at one of the local Paint & Sip shops. The encounter left me bewildered and disturbed; in a nut-shell, I was accused of signing up for the class with the purpose of “stealing ideas” for a competitor. Every once in a while, an unpleasant experience will stick with me for longer than I want it to, and this has been one of them.

The good news is that it fueled a creative growth spurt and challenged me to explore and try new ideas. It’s been an interesting process that started with hours of watching YouTube videos on a quest to learn how to add texture to acrylic paintings.

It’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube. Tissue paper and Modge Podge are my new best friends!

There’s No Such Thing As a New Idea

Mark Twain says it best.

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

After watching dozens of videos and absorbing the various ways other artists use tissue paper and Modge Podge into their creations, I prepped a few canvases and gave it a whirl. I didn’t have any tissue paper on hand, but I did have an envelope full of handmade paper from one of my adventures in Pennsylvania.

Five years after attending my first paper-making workshop, I finally found a way to use some of the pieces I’d experimented on with ink pens. It took a bit to muster up the courage to rip, crinkle and paste the individual pieces of artwork onto a canvas, especially since I had no idea how or if it would turn out.

I’m happy to say that it turned out beautifully and it’s now part of my office decor.

colorful handmade paper collage

After the “incident” at the Paint & Sip class I randomly decided to go the Family Dollar store and see what kind of tissue paper they had on hand so I could continue experimenting with collaging.

Brightly colored balloons layered on top of a tissue paper sunset now also occupy a couple of walls in my office.

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Repainting a Canvas…

Until recently, the only artwork that I displayed in my office were paintings from the various Paint & Sip adventures. Now all of the walls but one contain my “own” creations, or in other words, pieces that were inspired by many difference sources but weren’t the result of a two hour guided class.

Replacing my Paint & Sip darlings accelerated the need to decide what to do with the completed paintings that were piling up behind the door. I couldn’t bear the thought of tossing them, but it also didn’t make sense to hang onto a bunch of paintings that would probably never hang on a wall again.

The answer came to me one night after hanging up a new mixed media piece in my bathroom. Coincidentally- or maybe not, I hung it next to the first painting I completed at the Corky Canvas.

It might sound strange, but in this one image, I saw my past, present and future as an artist. The realization of how far my work has progressed since last fall surprised me more than a little bit and it inspired me with an idea to recycle my Paint & Sip pieces into new works of visual art.

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Just like with my handmade paper, it was scary to take the first step and potentially ruin something I had created and held dear. Without a particular plan in mind, I moved the painting from the bathroom wall to the easel and started the process.

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Step 1: Prepare the canvas with Gesso

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Step 2: Add texture with white tissue paper and Modge Podge,

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Step 3: Paint the background by mixing gold and white paint

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Steps 4 – 6: Paint some flowers, add some stems and apply a few finishing touches.

Oila! An original painting , completely inspired other artist’s work and ideas.

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The past month has flown by and my makeshift studio has been in constant use. It’s amazing how one three hour experience fueled a month’s worth of creative growth and exploration.

It’s too bad that some people are so worried that someone is going to steal or take credit for their ideas; they’re missing out on one of the best parts of life, sharing.

 

Life is a Beautiful Mosaic in the Making

“She never seemed shattered; to me she was a breathtaking mosaic of the battles she’s won.” – Matt Baker

For the past few months, my thoughts and feelings have found their way into the pages of my journal and onto more canvases than I can count -but for some reason, I haven’t been sharing them here.

This morning I woke up with a “funny” feeling that today is right day to start reconnect with my first creative love, the art of bringing experiences to life through words. Ironically, when I logged in I discovered that today is my WordPress.com anniversary! Six years ago I wrote and published my very first blog post, Wow! That was ‘Eye Popping 3D!’  

Reading the post for the first time since writing it, was a great reminder of how much capacity we have for growth at any age and stage of life. It also made me think about how much life’s experiences, good and bad make us who we are. It’s how we get through the difficult encounters that defines who we are and in many cases, the toughest experiences in life pave the road for the most joyous and beautiful times.

Disappointment is a Part of Life

I’ve become a bit of a ‘Paint and Sip’ venue groupie since moving back to Omaha. It’s been a great way to have some social interaction and be creative at the same time. Overall it’s been a positive experience, but as with anything in life, you’re bound to eventually hit some unexpected twists and turns in the road.

A couple of weekends ago, I met up with a friend for an evening of catching up over dinner followed by a couple of hours of painting at one of the local venues. Unfortunately the evening was a little disappointing. I’m not sure which was more distracting, the “while your paint is drying” games that were better suited to a bachelorette party than an evening of painting or the obnoxious drunk attendee.

She couldn’t seem to stop herself from painting her own thing at the expense of the rest of us who wanted to hear what the instructor was saying. It was pretty hard to focus on painting when she kept interrupting the flow of the class by shouting out things like, “It looks like we have a bunch of conformists here…”

It was great to spend time with my friend, but the painting ended up in the dumpster and I was left feeling like I hadn’t gotten my creative fx for the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon I decided to try again. All of my usual haunts were either hosting private events or the classes were full so I tried somewhere completely new. I’m not going to go into details, but it was a complete bust. There was a strange case of mistaken identity, intentions and integrity (mine) which left me feeling bewildered and disappointed.

The painting didn’t end up in the dumpster, but I’m going to sand off the paint and glitter and use the canvas to remove the negative energy and create something of my own.

A Mosaic in the Making

Neither a long walk or a margarita helped me shake off the icky feelings from the afternoon and I couldn’t figure out how I was going to recover and fulfill my desire for a creative outlet. On my way home I randomly decided to go the Family Dollar store and see what kind of tissue paper they had on hand so I could continue experimenting with collaging.

It was a shopping bonanza!

I could have purchased Starburst scented candles (for a dollar), but that just seemed like a really bad idea. 🙂

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Instead I walked out of the store with $30 worth of treasures – enough tissue paper to make several collages, a set of sheets to use for a drop cloth and a box to store art supplies in.

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After my trip to the Family Dollar Store, I cranked  up the tunes and blocked out the rest of the world with candlelight, a paintbrush, Modge Podge and balloon patterned tissue paper.

As the balloons came to life on the canvas, the unsettled feelings from the afternoon and previous evening floated away.

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It’s funny… Without the two “icky” experiences, I never would have thought to create a collage using balloon patterned tissue paper from the Family Dollar store.

Nor would of that ‘one thing leads to another’ phenomena have happened and I never would have thought of creating something using tissue paper, sand and shiny shell-like embellishments. My mosaic, a work in progress – just like life.

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Every Picture Tells a Story

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” ~ Pablo Picasso

After nearly a year of art journaling and drawing my way through some seriously faith testing times, I’ve landed in an amazing place. I never would have dreamed that my perfect job in a perfect place would be back in Omaha, Nebraska – but here I am!

Although Omaha has been my city of residence on three separate occasions and for the majority of my life, moving back hasn’t been without more than a few adjustments. Some of them I foresaw and have been easier than expected.

It hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought it might be, to get up every day and put on “real clothes,” makeup and drive to the office instead of padding downstairs to my desk wearing yoga pants and fuzzy socks. The perfect hair salon practically dropped into my lap and the location of my apartment couldn’t be better suited to my lifestyle and interests.

Others, like living alone, are taking me longer than anticipated to feel comfortable with. Slowly but surely I’m adjusting to living in an apartment and to evenings and weekends without impromptu visits, bear hugs and sharing a plate of appetizers at Fridays with my youngest son.

The one area of my life that I expected to flow from the East Coast to the Midwest without disruption, was the relationship with my inner artist and creativity. It didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t identify myself as an artist or a writer during my previous life in Omaha or if it’s because my new apartment doesn’t have the clearly defined studio space I’d hoped for.

Whatever the cause may be, it’s been far more difficult to tap into my inner child and let the art flow than expected and for some reason, I simply stopped making art.

Paint & Sip Franchises to the Rescue

Mid-December marked nearly four months  of my paint supplies being tucked away in a drawer and my unfinished ink journal and favorite pens sealed in a gallon size baggie. Every time I thought about drawing or painting,  nothing would come out. It was as though the stack of ink drawings and the nearly completed art journal had been created by someone else.

Art classes are difficult to find in the dead of winter, and so after hearing positive things about the local paint and sip studios I decided to give one of them a try as a way to jump start my creative journey in Omaha.

Paint and sip franchises such as the Corky Canvas and Canvas and Cabernet are springing up across the country. They offer a “unique way to uncork your creativity,” in other words they serve wine and other libations to patrons that are brave enough to paint, many for the first time since kindergarten, in a group setting.

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My first experience was interesting. The studio felt empty.

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Only a handful of women gathered around the tables closest to the platform at the front of the room. Freezing rain and snow deterred the rest of the attendees from learning the difference between a big, a “shmedium” and a small paint brush – all highly technical terms that every artist needs to know. 🙂

In spite of the bitter temps outside, the room quickly warmed up with artistic enthusiasm. The instructor led us through the painting step by step, and offered individual guidance to the budding artists in the studio. The music selection ranged from songs that took me back to high school day to modern day hits, that thanks to my kids, I not only recognized – but could even sing along if I felt so inclined.

I had’t thought about it before now, but perhaps it’s no coincidence that a large flower was the subject of the first drawing class I took in Yardley

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and, albeit a much simpler floral piece, was the subject of my first group art session in Omaha.

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Much like the first time I dipped my toe into the world of art, my goal on that frigid Saturday morning was to create a “masterpiece” that matched the original artist’s work. Success meant replication rather than interpretation, in spite of the instructor’s encouragement to change up colors and/or do something different if we felt so inclined.

It may seem unlikely to some, but for me, the Corky Canvas and its sister paint and sip venues became a way to bridge the gap between who I was when I left Omaha and the artist I discovered in Pennsylvania.

With each new session, I’ve grown a little more daring and instead of using the painting on the schedule as a template, it’s simply a source of inspiration with guidance provided by the instructor.

First, I went totally crazy and painted a huge moon, filled the branches with petals and made the blossoms on the tree pink instead of white.

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Next, I went out on a limb (pun intended) and painted three birds instead of two. The background was lighter than the model painting, the field below was quite different and for the first time, the branches started feeling like my own.

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The creative block ended on Valentine’s weekend. Picture a red umbrella at the bottom of a grey and white cobblestone path lined with quaint street lamps and a picture perfect silhouette of a couple dancing in the rain at the opposite end.

As much as I love the idea of the picture perfect couple dancing in the rain, it didn’t work for me. It’s not where I am right now.

And so instead, the path in my painting turned out to be tempered with color and emotion. The umbrella is disproportionately large, but for some reason I love it. Rather than a couple dancing in the rain, the silhouette is me. A woman, yet at the same time still a girl, reaching out to pass through the curtain of rain into a place and time that is filled with more blue skies than gray.

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Last weekend brought me back to the more whimsical me.

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Six months after moving into my apartment, I’ve begun to carve out a space for a “studio,” it could be otherwise referred to as my dining room table. Unexpected guests will just have to understand. 🙂

The first piece I created in my new studio is very fitting. It ties together so many experiences from the place that I moved from to the home that I’m in the process of making. It’s a reminder to remain in the present rather than speculate about the future.

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Make Art and Share it With the World – The Sidewalk Chalk Project

I grew up in the Midwest and there was nothing better than a warm Spring day to shake off the chill of winter and enjoy being outside. As the days heated up, the countdown for school letting out for summer began. My childhood memories of summer are full of things like sleeping in, chasing fire flies, swimming pools, games of kick the can and decorating the neighborhood with sidewalk chalk.

Not all children are as fortunate as I was, we certainly weren’t wealthy but I always had everything I needed and then some. Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly aware of just how very fine and fragile the line is between those who have and those not.
I can’t say that I’ve experienced it first hand, but I would imagine that summer days are just as easily filled with boredom and feelings of hopelessness rather than joy and lightheartedness if your family is on the verge of poverty.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by what feels like a state of scarcity in our world and to convince ourselves that the problems are too big for us to influence or change.

The Power of One

My friend, Jennifer Broderick, an artist in Ohio is an amazing example of how “just one person” can make a difference. Earlier this spring, a neighborhood with sidewalks decorated with sidewalk chalk art caught her eye, as did the evidence of a lack of financial means. Over the course of a few weeks and more than a few walks, the sight of children playing outdoors and the smiles on their faces was the start of something big.

Toward the end of April, Jennifer posted some pictures of her driveway which was covered in big X’s and O’s; it turns out that she had started leaving packages of chalk and notes of encouragement outside her house to inspire the children in the neighborhood to continue to play outside. Her post motivated more than a few artists from across the country to contact her directly and offer to donate chalk and money to help her with this inspirational project.

Driveway covered in sidewalk chalk
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

A few instant messages later, I placed an order for a package of big, fat pieces of sidewalk chalk in assorted colors and thanks to Amazon’s most excellent product recommendation engine, the order also included a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen wands. I thought that the bubbles would be a great extra surprise and something the kids would enjoy.

The image of kids playing with the bubbles was so delightful and distracting that I neglected to update the ship to address with Jennifer’s information and the order was on its way to Pennsylvania thanks to Amazon’s exceptionally fast fulfillment process.

Two days later the unopened box occupied the space next to my piano and my intention to send it to Jennifer was thwarted by news that caused an unwelcome turn of events in my own financial situation. In light of my change in circumstance, it seemed like spending money to ship the chalk and bubbles wouldn’t be prudent.

For the next couple of months, I enjoyed following the progress of Jennifer’s sidewalk chalk artists as their works of art transformed her neighborhood into an outdoor art show.

Sidewalk Chalk Heart and Circle Art
Photo Credit: Jennifer Broderick

Project Sidewalk Chalk had evolved from Jennifer leaving sidewalk chalk on her front stoop to a full-blown community outreach project. Throughout the summer, she is attending numerous events to hand out individual packages of chalk to over 300 children within the community. Each donation includes a warm personal note from Jennifer explaining a little about the project and to spread the message: “Remember to be safe, make art and share it with the world.”


In the meantime the sidewalk chalk I’d purchased was still taking up space in my living room and I continued to debate with myself over spending the money to ship it.

What was holding me back? The bubbles. I knew that the shipping cost for the chalk and the bubbles combined would be more than what I had paid for the entire order, it didn’t make sense to pay return shipping on the order for the same reason and so the box continued to take up space.

Last week I had an “aha” moment! The bubbles and the chalk did not have to stay together and if I just shipped the chalk it would be affordable and although my personal situation hadn’t changed it felt like the right way to spend a few dollars. I wrote Jennifer a note, drove to the local shipping store and sent the chalk to Ohio with a prayer of thanks and a smile.

The only thing left was to figure out what an empty nester was going to do with a gallon of Miracle Bubbles and a dozen bubble wands.

Facebook to the Rescue!

I took a picture of the bubbles and accessories and posted it in “Lower Makefield is a Great Place to Live,” the Facebook group for the community I live in.

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Almost immediately a woman from the area responded, “I’d be…I have granddaughters that love bubbles.” I sent her a friend request and an instant message to make arrangements, it quickly turned into an “It’s a small world” kind of moment.

She had been blowing bubbles with her grandchildren a couple of days before; they enjoyed it so much she used up an entire bubble wand and she was planning to buy more before they visited her again. Her youngest grandson is 15 months old and has Downs, she was also using the bubbles as a way to potentially help him to gain fine motor skills by reaching out to grab at them while one or more float in front of him.

As we made the pick up arrangements, we discovered that not only do we share the same zip code, our houses are less than 5 miles apart, her husband was a former patient of my chiropractor and she and her husband did some work with a lawyer who rented office space from my chiropractor when she owned the building. Crazy!

The bubbles are now in the loving hands of a grandmother and her grandchildren. 124 pieces of sidewalk chalk made it safely to Ohio.

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Jennifer privately shared a few pictures of children who had already received their gift; they were adorable! We want to keep them safe, so I can’t share the pics publicly – but I’m sure you can imagine the smiles that surrounded the “Thank You” sign as they posed with their sidewalk chalk for the camera.

Believe in Possibilities

Sometimes it can be tough to believe in positive outcomes, especially if you’re going through a stretch of “bad luck.” Like many people, there have been times in my life that have really tested my faith and my ability to be optimistic.

I’ve always considered myself to be a “cup half full” kind of person, however I’ve come to the realization that there is more to having a positive outlook on life giving lip service to the belief that “everything will be alright,” but letting the chatter in your head control your actions.

One of the many blessings in my life are my parents, they have lived through many difficult situations and have always maintained a positive outlook on life. My dad is a big believer in the power of a PMA, aka – positive mental attitude, and he lives it every day of his life. That’s not to say that there aren’t days that his optimism wavers, he’s human after all.

PMA could also stand for, perseverance means achievement; my dad faces every obstacle head on and somehow finds now to make the word No mean Next Opportunity.

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The drawing is from an art journal that I created as an outlet for my thoughts and emotions and to help me remain focused on the positive as I’ve been working my way through a recent set of challenges.

Near the beginning of this most recent “Adventure,” my friend Marilyn, gave me a beautiful postcard with this very meaningful quote from Art Mitchell – “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The message really reinforces the way my dad approaches life and never gives up.

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Father’s day seems like perfect time to share a personal story of perseverance and growth, with many thanks to my dad for his unwavering support and for being an amazing role model for all of us. I am deeply grateful for all he has done for me and I know he is a big part of the reason that I am the woman I am today.

A look into the past….

On a warm September day in 2008, I watched the movers load our belongings onto the truck with mixed emotions and a few tears on my face. My thoughts ping-ponged back and forth between sadness and joyful hope. It was difficult to be leaving friends, family, a beautiful home and everything that was familiar and safe.But it was exciting to think about the possibilities that our future in Pennsylvania held.

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When I accepted the job in Pennsylvania, it seemed like nothing could go wrong and the future held nothing but rainbows and unicorns. Maybe I wasn’t quite that optimistic (or unrealistic), but I was really confident that it was the best thing that could have happened for my family and myself both personally and professionally.

We put our house on the market and my seven month commute between Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia began. It was a rather grueling trek back and forth, but it offered the opportunity for my daughter to finish out her senior year of high school without moving.

My youngest son was 12, and although I knew it would be difficult for him to move and adjust to a new school, new and very different living arrangements – I was confident that he would be able to adapt and in the long run it would help him grow and develop in positive ways.

Our move to Pennsylvania has been full of new beginnings and life changing events, but not at all in the way I would have imagined them to unfold.

I had landed my “dream job” with a financially sound company, or so I thought. The job was great, but the financial health of the company was not; two months after my start date, they declared Chapter 11. I was scared, but because I was the primary income earner, we had no choice but to move and hope for the best.

The real estate market in Omaha was depressed, just like everywhere else in the country. In spite of St Joseph statues and wonderful real estate agents, we were unable to sell before we moved, which meant that our new home was going to be in an apartment.

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It certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was such a major change for all of us and it was not what I had hoped for. My unrealistic and unhealthy belief at the time was that we moved “because of me” so it was my responsibility to make everything perfect and as familiar as possible rather than asking for help and support.

After moving the challenges and obstacles seemed to gain momentum and magnitude.

In those days the voices in my head were working overtime.

I spent every minute of every day worrying. I hashed and rehashed the decision to move.  I beat myself up about the fact that the house back in Nebraska hadn’t sold and we were losing money every month. I speculated about the viability of the company I worked for and whether or not it would emerge from Chapter 11 and if I would be spared from any future layoffs.

I blamed myself for my husband’s unhappiness and deepening depression. I spent hours agonizing about my youngest son Christian and the fact that the ‘normal’ trials of being in eighth grade were amplified by a new school in a new state, being the only child left at home, and having to make new friends – something that is easier said than done when you’re the new kid from Nebraska and you started school almost three weeks late. I wondered if we’d be able to afford to fly my oldest kids, Jeff and Katie, out for occasional visits and I held myself accountable for it all, most of all, for the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to fix any of it.

There was no escaping the voices and daily I slipped further and further into a self-imposed state of emotional isolation. At work I found myself going through the motions and while I interacted with my direct reports, a handful of co-workers, and of course my boss. For the most part, I kept to myself and limited my contact with people to office hours only. I quit calling or even sending email updates to friends, and I talked to my parents and kids only when I thought I could fake a positive attitude.

I had no choice but to drag myself into work every day and do my best to appear upbeat and confident.  As the primary and now sole income earner I couldn’t afford to lose my job and it was the only escape I had from the dreary apartment and my relentless anxiety.  The voices took a back seat for a while every day while I managed my way through the work day. They were always there but just not as loud. By this point in time I’d had years of practice in compartmentalizing my personal life and my work life.  Lessons learned early in my career taught me to keep people at arm’s length and keep my personal life to myself.

Back then I didn’t realize or understand one of the underlying messages my dad lives,believes and had tried to communicate to me – worry doesn’t change tomorrow, it just takes the joy out of today.

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There were so many things I didn’t understand during that time in my life; concepts and practices that would have helped me maneuver more easily through a divorce, the financial strain and embarrassment that accompanied nearly foreclosing on my house and the challenges and blessings of being a single mom in a city half-way across the country from my family and closest friends.

I’ve not only made it through the majority of the initial challenges that came after my move; life is much richer because of them. It sounds strange to say, but I’m actually grateful for them because I’ve learned:

Self Love is the first step…

Self love is not the same as self indulgence or self acceptance. It means that we treat our bodies and our minds well, enjoy the person we are in the present, forgive and release the people and things from our past that hold us back and embrace our future with confidence.

I could write an entire book about the lessons I’ve learned over the past few years; lessons about being present and not dwelling on the past, tools for facing difficulties with positivity instead of catastrophizing and letting the negative chatter in my head control my actions.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned, and the most important one is that we only destroy our selves and sabotage our happiness when we hang on to regrets from the past, refuse to forgive ourselves for being human and compare ourselves to others as a way to measure success.

I suspect my dad finds the whole ‘self love’ thing to be a bit ‘woo woo,’ but I think that’s because he has an innate understanding of the importance of it.

Being Present is the next step…

I have never met two people who are as good at making the most of every experience as my parents. We moved a lot while I was growing up, and each time we moved they approached it as though it was the last place they would ever live and quickly made friends and became a part of the community.

My parents don’t “vacation,” they take trips. Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Hawaii with them. The entire trip was amazing, but I think if I had to pick, I’d say Wednesday was my favorite day. The last thing I expected that morning was for my dad to announce that he wanted to go zip-lining. His exact words (or close to) were, “I’m going to be 80 this year, who knows when I’ll have another opportunity to go zip-lining, so let’s do it.”

Talk about being present in the moment and making the most of things! I know for a fact that there were plenty of things on his mind that were “worry worthy,” but instead of focusing on things outside of his control, he chose to embrace the moment and experience something new.

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He may sometimes get lost in his own thoughts, but he definitely knows how to live life to it’s fullest and doesn’t let challenges or obstacles weigh him down.

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Believe in Possibilities….

Believing in possibilities is so much easier and rewarding than speculating about all of the possible negative outcomes that may (or most likely not) happen as a result of a current situation.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

Many, many thanks to my dad for all he has taught me about the power of positive thinking and the importance of believing in possibilities.

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I Thought it was just a Drawing Class, but it Turned out to be a Lot More

Bursting Into Fall

We all have days in our life that are significant turning points. Often-times we tend to think only about major life events such as getting married, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one as the milestones along the way that shape us the most.

These events certainly are important and life changing, but I sometimes think some of the less apparent interactions and activities may play as big of a role as the obvious ones. I can think of more than a few such days in my life and how something as small and innocuous as signing up for a drawing class as an adult has changed my life in ways I never would have imagined.

On March 1, 2012 I hesitantly opened the door to a whole new world, I thought it was just the door to an art studio. Three and a half years ago I was afraid to pick up a pencil and draw a circle on a piece of paper. Today I can say with pride and joy that I’ve sold a few pieces of work and thoroughly enjoy exercising my creativity nearly every day.

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More importantly, I can say that crossing the threshold into the art studio on that cold day in March set into motion a series of experiences that have helped me become a better person. I thought I was just going to learn how to draw, but it turned out to be much much more.

It’s ok to be perfectly imperfect

In fact it’s totally awesome to be perfectly imperfect. Whether it’s human nature or societal expectations, we almost all have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves a “failure” if we feel that we don’t measure up. I’ve learned that it’s both an exhausting and limiting way to live.

My teacher of this lesson has been art, specifically drawing in ink. When you draw in ink, if the pen slips and goes in an unintended direction there are two choices. You can crumple up the drawing and give up, or you can find a way to make it work. More often than not, there’s a way turn the mishap into a part of the drawing; I’ve come to think of this as“knowing how to resolve the lines.” And it’s an approach that can be applied in all areas of my life.

I still find it strange, but I no longer dread making mistakes because I know they often-times turn out even better than the original idea after I take a step back and think about how to make the “oops” work in my favor. Believe it or not, this fun little ink rendition of a cat perched in a tree looking at a full moon is full of “happy accidents.” 🙂

cat in a tree

It doesn’t work every time, and that’s ok too, it’s all about recognizing the difference between an opportunity that might be different from what we planned and also knowing when to cut our losses short and move on. It’s also having faith that even though there are obstacles and set backs, we’re still moving in the right direction and we never know how things are going to turn out in the end.

It’s never too late to bloom

It is never to late to learn something new and potentially discover things about yourself that you didn’t know. I really do believe this.

Sure there are certain things that it may be too late to attempt, it’s unlikely that I’ll become an astronaut – but then again I’ve never had the desire to be one, so that’s perfectly ok.

Lately it’s occurred to me that we tend to think about successful people in a somewhat one dimensional way. We look at where they are today and mistakenly think that they’ve always enjoyed success and abundance. My bet is that in most cases, the people we maybe envy because they “have it so easy,” are people who kept moving forward, kept learning and adapting to overcome and succeed in spite of the set backs and heart breaks along the way.

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We are all teachers and students

During the course of my life, I’ve been blessed with good teachers and I don’t mean just in the classroom. If you think about it, nearly every moment of every day and certainly almost every interaction has the potential to be a teaching moment.

The lessons don’t all have to be big and earth shattering, the small lessons are just as important. The key is to be open to learning from others as well as sharing what you have experienced. You never know how you might inspire or touch someone in a positive way and all of us should be striving to constantly learn and grow.

Even Michelangelo has been quoted as saying, “I am still learning.”

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Perseverance, Faith and Self-Confidence

Lastly, for today, March 1, 2012 opened the door to being aware of and understanding the importance of perseverance, faith and self-confidence.

It took me roughly three weeks to finish my first drawing for the class, it took everyone else roughly three hours. It was no small feat for me to keep going and not compare myself to others in the class, but at the end of the three weeks, I was amazed and pleased with the outcome. It was a lesson in perseverance in addition to drawing and shading.

For me, art is a bit like meditating and it forces me to be present in the moment rather than worrying about the future or “what ifing” about the past. The act of spending more time in the here and now and less time trying to control the outcome has deepened my faith and belief that what I need will be taken care of.

The more I let go of trying to control the outcomes, the more at peace I become.

Self-confidence – wow, it’s actually amazing when I think about how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown since that fateful day in March. Now instead of feeling nervous and anxious about taking a beginning level drawing class, I seek out opportunities that are challenging and will stretch my skills, knowing that the classroom will be full of artists much more advanced than me.

The confidence that I’ve gained through improving my skills and learning new things has overflowed into the rest of my life as well and I’ve never felt better about the person I am, inside and out.

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Yep, I thought it was just a drawing class, but it changed my life.

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

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.