Roads May Be Winding, but They Always Bring Us Home

Throughout my life, I’ve learned that home is not a place – it’s a state of mind.

While sitting on a stool at my kitchen counter, my eyes were drawn to the pond just past my sliding glass door and postage stamp sized patio. Every time I look at it, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to look once summer finally arrives.

In its current state, with a beaten down black heavy duty plastic protective ring around it, it’s hard to imagine it looking beautiful. But somehow I think it will end up being quite lovely. It’s funny how most of the time, even though we can’t imagine how our things in our life will turn out, they turn out to be better than expected. Sometimes it just takes a while to get there, and the roads we have to travel are often bumpy and full of detours.

My mind began to wander through the events that brought me to from the Midwest to Upstate New York. It’s been a heck of a decade, plus one year.

From Omaha to Philadelphia

In 2008 I was working for a company in Omaha, NE; the company was going through a lot of change and as often-times happens when companies are acquired and leadership changes, activities such as “right-sizing” and “right-salarying” didn’t take long to occur.

As someone who had been with the company for quite a few years and had been hired into management while the original owner was in place, I saw the writing on the wall and knew it was time to take action.

In June we had a family meeting, and I explained that since the acquisition had taken place, many of my colleagues had taken salary cuts and some had also had their positions “eliminated.” It didn’t take long for them to understand the gravity of the situation, my job was in jeopardy.

We talked it over, and everyone agreed that it was time to consider a move to somewhere outside of Omaha. It was a scary proposition for them, as Omaha was the only place they had ever lived. But they understood, as the primary and often-times sole income earner, it was critical that I was employed.

The next evening, I had the most incredible news to share; in one day, I had been contacted by three recruiters about three different positions. It was mind boggling, I hadn’t even updated my resume or my LinkedIn profile. The best part was that they were all positions in the field of E-commerce Customer Experience, which is where my professional passion lies. I pretty much took this as a sign. 🙂

After several months of interviewing (it’s amazing how long the process takes), I was offered a job in the Greater Philadelphia area. On Super Bowl Sunday of 2008, I boarded a plane at Epley Airfield and watched the Super Bowl at a T.G.I.Friday’s in Bensalem, PA. while my family hosted a party back in Omaha. It was surreal, to say the least.

At the beginning of September, my seven months of commuting between Pennsylvania and Nebraska came to an end. I met the family in Chicago to see my daughter off to college before we drove back to Omaha to finish packing up the house.

It was hard to say goodbye to my beautiful red brick, three-story colonial home – even more so because I barely got the chance to enjoy the fabulous kitchen we had remodeled. But, it was where life was taking us, and I had to have faith.

We cleared out the few things that were remaining in the house while the movers loaded up the truck, with hugs, tears and farewell waves our three-day trek with a 12, almost 13-year old boy and two mini-dachshunds began.

Apartment Life in Yardley

Although our beautiful home had been on the market for a few months, we were unable to sell it before we moved in the fall of 2008 (yeah, 2008 – not a good year for selling houses) so we found ourselves in a three-bedroom apartment in Yardley, PA.

It honestly didn’t bother me, because at the time I was confident that we would ultimately sell our house in Omaha. It was in one of the most popular areas of town, and it seemed unthinkable that no one would buy it. How wrong I was.

It was our first move in 10 years, give or take a few months, since we moved into the house we had just left behind. The number of boxes was daunting, and it was clear that additional trips to the storage unit were going to be necessary.

Beth surronded by boxes in the Kathy Stree Apartment

Whenever I move, the first order of business is to get the kitchen put together. There’s something about preparing and eating a home-made meal that helps me feel more settled in a new space.

The kitchen in the Kathy Street Apartment

The first meal I prepared in our new abode, was Quiche and it tasted heavenly. The two years we spent in this three bedroom apartment were tough. It’s a long story all on its own and, while it had its bright spots, overall it was a very challenging time. Let’s fast forward to my next big move which was to a rental house two miles up the road from the apartment complex.

Life on Pine Grove Road

After a tumultuous search for a house to rent, I finally found one. It took months, and I couldn’t get over how difficult it was. All I could think of was how important it was for me to find a new place for my youngest son and me to live. We were both desperate to get out of the apartment, and at the age of 15, he really wanted to live in a house with a yard, and I wanted to provide it for him.

My new landlord is an artist, and little did I know that meeting her and renting her house would change my life in so many ways. It was, and I’m sure still is, a very, very fine house – I hope the people who are living there today are as happy as I was.

We had a yard, three bedrooms, a living room, den, and a basement – but my favorite space from April until October was my three season porch, which took a while for me to get organized.

First, I had to arrange to move everything from the apartment on Kathy Drive to the new house on Pine Grove Road. Fortunately, my new landlord let me start moving my things into the house a good month before my lease began, in fact, she even suggested it. In her clipped Brittish accent, she said, “The previous tenant has already moved out, so the house is empty. I see no reason why you shouldn’t start moving things in before you actually take possession.” She handed me the keys.

Every night for the month before Christian and I officially moved from the apartment to our new house, I packed as many things as I could into a laundry basket and six boxes and loaded them into my car. The following morning, on my way to work, I stopped at the house to unload the boxes. I unpacked and organized after work, and before I re-loaded the laundry basket and moving boxes. Of course, I started with the kitchen.

Getting the kitchen ready in the Pine Grove Road house

I was able to transport a good share of our belongings and left only the heavy lifting to the movers. I have never been so relieved to say goodbye to a place, and say hello to a fresh start.

We celebrated the first night in our new home by watching “Iron Man” on the big screen t.v. in the basement, sponsored by the cricket who chirped so loudly we could hardly hear the dialog. It makes me smile to think back on that night.

A few weeks after moving in, I arranged for the moving company to deliver the boxes that had been in storage for two years. I was a basket case, it was the opposite of hoarders. To the dismay of my parents and my son, the most frequent phrase out of my mouth that day was, “I haven’t used that in two years so I must not need it.” I don’t know if my son will ever forgive me for giving one of the movers our lawn mower. Thankfully, he stopped me before I tossed out the good china.

For the second time in two years, I found myself surrounded by boxes.

Beth surrounded by boxes on Pine Grove Road

It took from October until the following June to clear the three season porch that would become my favorite place to hang out and create. The boxes were labeled less than accurately, plus they’d been in storage for two years, so as you can imagine, Christian and I tired quickly of guessing “what might be in this box?” He was out as soon as he found the paintball equipment.

The first year we lived there, I focused on sprucing up the front yard and flower beds.

I didn’t do much in the way of fixing up the porch other than cleaning it out and buying a bit of furniture. Money was a constraint. The second summer was a different story. A woman named Maria, who I met through a running group, saved the day and made the porch updates affordable.

Oddly enough, I bumped into her at the grocery store, and as we were catching up, I told her about my porch dilemma. The harsh winter months had not been kind to the blinds, and I wanted to find an affordable solution.

“Maria, I’m almost there.  I just need to find someone who can sew and knows where to buy inexpensive material to make window coverings for my porch.”  I said.

“Beth
I sew
”

I don’t think I gave her an option when I replied, “Oh Maria!  Will you make me some window coverings?  I’ll pay you, just let me know how much.”

She introduced me to Jomar, a store in Philadelphia, that can only be described as Home Goods, and TJ Maxx meets Jo-Ann Fabrics and a flea market.  I left the store with twenty-two yards of quality fabric for $22.00.  She had a vision, and I had trust. The outcome was amazing.

The six years that I lived in the house on Pine Grove Road were interesting, to say the least, and included more than a few significant life changes. They were also full of positive changes, and it was while living there that I discovered I’m a writer and an artist. It’s also the time in my life in which I truly learned to have faith and appreciate serendipity.

From my first drawing lessons in the Art Studio at Patterson Farm to the challenging lessons at Princeton Art Council to my online writing classes through E2toGo, I grew and changed. I rediscovered my joyful spirit and sense of curiosity. I had no idea just how much my life would be enriched by my move to Pennsylvania.

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It was not without its bumps, hurdles and challenges – but, I not only worked my way through all of them. I became stronger because of these experiences.

Back to Omaha?!

The road back to Omaha was long and one that frankly, I resisted. When I left Nebraska in the fall of 2008, I was sure I would never move back. It’s not that Omaha is a lousy place to live, in fact, it’s a city with a lot to offer – in my opinion, it really is a hidden gem. But, I had no family there, I had done a poor job of keeping in touch with the few friends I had made, and to be honest, I didn’t believe I had what it would take to face memories of the past.

Unfortunately, the job I left Omaha for didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I left the company after four years and entered the world of self-employment. 2015 marked my third year of freelancing as a website consultant and content writer, and due to a variety of reasons, I decided to find a way to re-enter the world of corporate America.

For me, it turned out that being self-employed was far more appealing in theory than in reality. Sure you can work from anywhere and theoretically you can make your own hours, but in my experience, there is no such thing as taking a break. There’s also the expense of health insurance or the risk of going without, the constant challenge of drumming up new business while keeping existing clients happy, and then, there’s the solitude.

In the end, it was the constant state of being alone that made me choose to update my resume and my LinkedIn profile. After years of writing about E-commerce technology and best practices, I wanted to be back in a role where I was making things happen rather than one of providing sound advice and wondering if it would be executed. I also wanted to return to a leadership role and be part of a team.

After almost a year of searching, and of countless interviews, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at a company in Omaha. Although I swore I would never return to Omaha, the opportunity to get back in the E-commerce game, plus the prospect of working with some of my favorite peeps from my previous Omaha gig made it a no brainer.

In all honesty, I had no idea how heavily the cards were stacked against me. Re-entering the corporate world into a role that is very technology dependent after being out of the industry for four years is practically unheard of. Thank goodness for tenacity, good relationships, a good career track record and a bit of ignorance!

It was hard to leave my friends and the life I had made in Pennslyvania, and even more difficult to leave my youngest son and move half-way across the country, but it was exactly what I needed to do.

Friends graciously hosted a farewell gathering at Snipes Family Farm, a night full of love and laughter, and one I will always treasure.

Going away party with my friends in Yardley (2)

This lovely circle of people helped me grow and expanded my world in more ways than I can describe.

I left Omaha by car as a married woman with children at home and two dogs, I returned by plane as a single woman with grown children and a cat.

Life in Omaha

I can best describe my return to Omaha as a soft landing. Although I made the move by myself, there were friends at the other end to welcome me and make the transition as smooth as possible. In spite of my lack of communication during the years I lived in Pennslyvania, people were at the ready and volunteered to pick me up from the airport, help me move into my new apartment and treat me to many welcome back lunches and dinners.

Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I made the decision to rent my apartment sight unseen and move in the day after arriving in the city. I wasn’t in the least bit prepared to live in an empty space for the week or so that it would take for the moving company to arrive with my belongings. All I had brought with me was one suitcase with clothes and toiletries for me and another with things needed for Miss Mia, my cat.

Suitcase packed for a cross country plane trip wiht a cat

My dear friend Gina thought of everything and had a care package prepared for me. It contained an air mattress, hangers, toilet paper, a shower curtain, bedding, towels and a few essential kitchen supplies. It was brilliant, even the cat thought so.

Mia sleeping on the air mattress in omaha

My friend Stacey met me on the day I moved in and brought me a welcome basket, a feast of fruit and a bottle of wine.

A week or so later, I once again found myself surrounded by boxes and the task of unpacking and organizing a new home. Of course, I started with the kitchen and worked my way through the boxes and into the creation of a beautiful space to live.

I settled into life in Omaha with relative ease and enjoyed the chance to reconnect with friends and to make new ones. It may sound odd, but I believe my return to Omaha was a necessary step in my personal and professional journey.

From a creative perspective, it took me almost the entire two years that I lived there to find an opportunity to participate in an art class that was taught by a professional artist. However, I had great fun attending more than a few “paint and sip” classes and exploring “how to do acrylic pouring” videos on YouTube. My dining room table was covered in a yellow plastic artist’s tablecloth and a project in progress more often than it was set up to host guests.

The strange thing was that while I was exploring visual art with fervor, I struggled to write even once a month, let alone once a week or every day. I guess it just goes to show that there is a season for everything.

I didn’t move to Omaha with the expectation of staying there for the rest of my life. However, I didn’t expect that my return to the city would only be for a couple of years. But in June of 2018, for the second time in my life, I received three calls from three recruiters within one business day. It was impossible not to take it as a sign that it was worth at least having the conversation and that it was time to make an inventory of the reasons to stay or move on.

While my job was secure, leadership changes in the company had caused a significant shift in my responsibilities, and my role was no longer focused on the website customer experience.

I decided it was time to move on, but only for the right opportunity.

It was a whirlwind summer and fall full of interviews. It culminated in back to back in person interviews in mid-October, one in Pittsburgh, PA and one in Syracuse, NY. I never dreamt I’d be in a position to have to choose between two opportunities, but there I was. The decision wasn’t easy, but in the end, I decided to accept the opportunity with a company headquartered in Syracuse, or more accurately, Liverpool, NY.

As my welcome to Omaha began, with lunches and dinners, so did my departure back to the Eastern part of the country end. I hosted a farewell brunch with my eclectic group of Omaha transplants, a wonderful tradition that was started and carried out most often by the most gracious M.J.

I couldn’t resist the urge to model my new black winter coat with its fur-lined hood during brunch.

My co-workers sent me off with a gathering as well. I was overwhelmed and delighted by the turnout.

My third going away gathering was the most special of all in some regards, it was with my circle of friends who are regulars at Fernando’s. Fernandos is a Mexican restaurant in Omaha, there are two locations, but the one on 75th and Pacific is by far the best. The margaritas there are second to none.

While I was living in Omaha, I fell into a rather bad habit of stopping at Fernando’s for dinner multiple times a week. Who can blame me, it was literally on my way home from work, and as I mentioned, they have the best margaritas in the country.

The plus side of this bad habit is that I met some wonderful people, and made some genuine friendships. On my last night in Omaha, they all gathered at the restaurant to see me off. It was a night of hugs and laughter. The following morning I began the three-day cross country drive from Omaha to Syracuse.

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 the movers arrived at my apartment and packed up my belongings. On December 5th, they loaded them onto the truck, and I settled into a pet-friendly hotel with Mia, which conveniently, was close to Fernando’s.

Thursday morning I double checked the contents of my trunk and headed east. This time, thanks to Gina’s wisdom, I was prepared to move into my new townhouse with no furniture. My trunk contained boxes with essential supplies such as dish soap, toilet paper, hangers, towels and bedding; boxes which were intended to (and did) double as nightstands. Of course, it also was packed with the basic things needed when one is traveling with a cat.

Trunk Packed for Move to NY

After a night in Indiana, where I was mistakenly identified as a trucker (it’s a long story), followed by a night in Erie, PA, I arrived safely in Liverpool, NY on the third day of driving.

It was a Saturday, not usually a work day for the folks who manage the property, but they were gracious enough to meet me and turn over the keys and garage door opener so I could move into my new townhouse (once again rented sight unseen, but a perfect place to land).

Daylight Drive in Liverpool

I unloaded my car, made a trip to Walmart and another to Target and set up my bedroom- complete with a new Smart T.V., a luxury air mattress, two divine cardboard box nightstands and a couple of inexpensive lamps.

Air Mattress and cardboard box night stands

As of today, I’ve managed to unpack all of the boxes, and I would say that my new home is mostly in order. I have two remaining corners of chaos to deal with, a painting to try and repair, there’s still art and pictures to be hung, and I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of my new furniture. But all-in-all, I think I’ve managed to make a somewhat cookie-cutter layout feel like a home.

For me, cooking a home-made meal is the first thing that makes a place feel like home, and surprisingly I’ve done a lot of that since moving here. The second thing is having friends and family visit, which is something I’m looking forward to, May is going to be a marvelous month!

So here I am, in Liverpool, NY, starting a new chapter and establishing a new home. I have a feeling that it’s going to be a great experience, it’s certainly off to a beautiful beginning.

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.

moving day_2008

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.

moving in_2008

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.

worry

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.

beth & dad

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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Letting Go of “Why” and “How”

Serendipity is one of my favorite words – it means a “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprise”. Lately though, I’ve been thinking more and more about the role faith and the power of conscious intention play in the delivery of “serendipitous outcomes.”

Speaking for myself, it’s easy to say we have faith when things are going well, it’s a different story when things aren’t going our way. During times of smooth sailing, we tend to sit back and just enjoy the ride. We don’t question why things are going well and we don’t try and “fix” things.

But, when the waters get rough, all of the sudden our egos step in and trounce all over faith. Some of us begin to worry relentlessly; we ask, “why is this happening to me?” and begin to plot and plan desperately about the “how” we’re going to make it better rather than asking for help. We forget about all of the times in our past that we were certain there was no hope and seemingly out of nowhere came a serendipitous solution.

One of my favorite personal stories related to this topic is how I came to live in my current house and the series of events that have unfolded as a result.

My youngest son and I were living in an apartment and for a variety of reasons it was really important for us to find a new place to live; we both wanted to find a house to rent. Sounds easy, right? As it turned out, the process took several months and was fraught with many disappointments and a lot of tears.

At the time, the bigger question for me was, “why hasn’t my house in Omaha sold?” It had been over a year since we moved to Pennsylvania and the house we owned was still occupied by renters and I was in no position to buy real estate on the East Coast. I also had a whole lot of “how” questions,  the most pressing were:

  • How am I going to furnish a house? (we sold and/or donated most our furniture before we moved)
  • How will I afford a higher rent?
  • How can I avoid moving for the next 3 years until my son graduates from high school?

I’d have to admit that I was both bitter and angry about the situation at the time. Now I’m sincerely grateful for it.

After more than a few false starts, I received an unexpected text message from my realtor that quite literally changed my life; it said “I believe I have found the perfect house, can you meet with the owner tomorrow morning?”

My landlord is an artist (I’ll get to that in a minute), she not only rented me a nearly fully furnished house – there was just the right amount of space left for my own personal pieces of furniture and everything melded together in perfect harmony. The night after we first met, we negotiated a monthly rent I could afford and I signed a 3 year lease.

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The more interesting part of the story is how meeting her and moving into this house has been a catalyst for my artistic endeavors and profound changes in the way I think. By this time, I’d discovered that I have an ability to write but I had yet to tap into the potential of my visual artistry and I was struggling desperately with the notion of self-acceptance.

The summer I turned 50, my landlord, Jeanne Marie, introduced me to the work of Julia Cameron through the book Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity. As a result, I began to understand that it’s OK to be vulnerable and ask for help – people will still love and accept you.

I began to take chances in new ways like registering for a drawing class and sharing my progress with other people. One drawing class led to another and my style continues to develop and emerge.

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I could go on and on about all of the wonderful experiences I’d have missed if my house in Omaha had sold and I hadn’t moved into the house I’m renting now.

It’s amazing to me that my 3 big “how” questions were answered, and it certainly wasn’t a result of all of my “what iffing” and trying to control the outcome. It also strikes me that somewhere in the deep recesses of my subconscious I must have been hoping and praying for the opportunity to discover my creativity and to find a way to accept and love myself.

Over the past few years, I’ve become much more aware of the peace that comes with letting go of the “why” and the “how.” I’m learning that when we focus on the outcomes we desire rather than the methods by which we think we can achieve them, life is easier and more rewarding.

A few things I’ve come to believe.

  • Asking for help from God, the Universe or from other people is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength and it’s one of the ways that we connect with each other and and it’s one of the only ways that we can hope to receive and/or achieve abundance and fulfill our life’s purpose.
  • We have free will and so do others, perhaps there are times where things in life don’t work out quite the way we think or hope they will and it’s a result of someone else exercising their free will – it happens, we need to accept it and move on. The “why” doesn’t really matter.
  • We think and “pray for” what we “know” is best for us, but we rarely know what we actually need and trying to control the “how” let alone the outcome only serves to limit us.
  • We think a whole lot smaller than we should. Lots of reasons for this, fear of criticism and failure – fear of rejection and ridicule. Truth is our life’s purpose is a lot bigger than we can possibly imagine it to be, if we are open to letting it happen.

The “how” really isn’t up to us and the “why” doesn’t matter.

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.

Bursting Into Fall

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.

fun flowers

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.”

new paper_experimenting with ink

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.

dreams and memories_final

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

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.

Mia_01_14_2015

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.

32_IMG_1231

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

Welcoming the New Year with an Open Heart

I had this really great and “philosophical” post about new years resolutions written and ready to post and I made one wrong move and all 700 words or more are now somewhere in cyberspace never to be read.

Maybe it was a sign that I was being too preachy rather than writing from my heart.

Long story short, I decided to take a different approach to setting resolutions or goals for the new year. Instead of setting goals like “losing weight” or “regaining physical fitness” (both of which I need to do),instead I let my subconscious flow through art.

I created two lists, the first one contains very specific things that I want in a relationship. As I drew, I focused on my desires and let them guide me. It looks like a dream-catcher or a tambourine – maybe I was channeling my inner Stevie Nicks. 🙂

dreamcatcher

The second list was bigger – it was my version of a New Year’s resolution.

new years resolutions

In a nutshell, my resolutions boil down to this:

  • Believe in yourself
  • Rejoice in your gifts
  • Explore the unknown
  • Accept compliments
  • Refrain from judging without understanding
  • Love and take care of yourself so that you may serve and give to others

Above all else know that we are all worthy of love and happiness.

new years resolutions_dreamcatcher_i am worthy

Happy 2015!

Two Steps Forward & One Step Back = A Giant Leap Forward

We’ve all experienced times in our life when it feels like everything is going in the wrong direction and you can’t turn around without facing another obstacle that seems impossible to overcome. Then, when you least expect it all of the pieces fall into place and both the present and the future are bright and beautiful.

Things got off to a rough start in 2014. I can’t say it was much fun to experience the major winter storms, a terrifying blow out on the interstate, three separate power outages, multiple nights without power, more than a few unexpected (and expensive car repairs), and last but not least a pair of broken eye glasses.

It  would be an understatement to say I was less than positive after the long winter, I was downright depressed. I’m affected by seasonal depression and this year the state of sadness lingered well into the spring. Thankfully I learned about the teachings of Louise Hay just when I needed it most.

If you’re not familiar with Louise Hay, she’s a metaphysical lecturer and teacher who believes we all have the power to heal what’s broken in our lives and attract positive outcomes by changing our mental patterns. Positive affirmations are an integral part of her teachings and work.

Her book inspired me to find a positive way to cope with my feelings of depression and hopelessness. It started as a personal challenge to create one small piece of artwork and focus on a positive thought for each day. It somehow morphed into an online journal and 125 consecutive days of writing.

My early entries into the art journal were direct quotes from Louise Hay, author of “You can Heal Your Life.” In fact the original plan was to use one of her direct quotes as the message for the day. After about five or six entries into the project I changed direction and began using her affirmations as inspiration and wrote a positive saying of my own. Each piece of art also has an accompanying journal entry that ties into the saying.

I am Perfectly Imperfect

In addition to changing my approach to the actual words of inspiration, the process for creating the individual pieces of art started one way and ended up being completely different. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t very practical to paint the card and create the artwork one at a time, so I changed my approach and started to paint anywhere from 10 to two dozen at a time.

water color backgrounds

For the most part I used every piece I created without trying to make each one “perfect.” I used my mistakes as opportunities to create “happy accidents.”

I accept a helping hand

I was able to correct a fair number of misspellings by turning the letter into a flower or butterfly, however there ended up being more than a few that couldn’t be used. In some cases the background was too dark and in other cases I just didn’t like my choice of words.

Initially I ripped up the pieces that didn’t work and tossed them into the trash because I didn’t want to be reminded of the mistake and the lack of forward progress. Then one night it occurred to me that there might be some value in them and I began to store the tiny pieces of colored paper in a plastic sandwich bag.

Trees were a recurring theme throughout the project so it seemed appropriate to find a way to create one final tree out of the scraps. My original idea was to draw the tree trunk in ink and create the leaves out of the paper fragments.

Tree of Dreams Sketch
As tends to happen in art (and in life) the plan changed with new information and experiences. As I experimented it became obvious that the entire tree was meant to be created in the form of a collage.

Tree of Dreams and

3
The next step included glue – not for the feint of heart. The process took several nights of gluing, patience, and guts. I was happy with the outcome but it didn’t feel quite finished.Tree of dreams without background
At the risk of ruining several hours worth of work, I decided to add a background.

13
After the first installment I was certain I’d made a critical error and my choice would result in ruining the beautiful tree. The orange was “too orange” and nothing felt like it was blending together in a way that made sense. After all of the forward progress I was back to wondering whether or not the collage would turn out well.

I seem to be wired to keep going even when it feels like there’s no hope in sight and so I kept gluing. The final outcome couldn’t be further from my original vision and I also couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

Tree of dreams final

I’ve learned a lot about myself and life through art. It’s not about where you start or even where you finish. It’s how we handle the collection of steps along the way that sometimes feel all wrong but end up leading us to exactly the right outcome.

From “Doodles” to “Drawings” and more…

Mixed Media Tree

More and more often I find myself doodling in my journals in addition to writing. My mind starts to wander and all of the sudden my pen lands on the page opposite of my words and a form that must have been hiding in my sub-conscious starts to emerge.

sunflower emerging on journal page

Sometimes the entries turn out to be very detailed and take a couple of sessions to finish.

Sunflower Journal Entry

Other times they happen in one sitting.

Tulip Journal Entry

Don’t ask me how long they take, because when I start to write or draw I lose track of time. I doodle until I can’t draw any more and if it’s not finished, I return to it the next time I feel like it.

I never would have guessed that drawing would become such an important part of my life, let a lone a way to unwind. It seems like just yesterday that I mustered up the courage to attend a drawing class and spent months completing my first sunflower.

sunflower_first drawing in over 20 years

It’s a little deceiving to post these images together because the drawings are completely different in scale. The sunflower from my class is easily 9 times larger than the individual journal entries. It’s also in pencil, not ink and was inspired by a picture in a lesson book not solely from my imagination.

I also never would have guessed an online “doodle and lettering” class would help me gain confidence in my abilities and get in touch with my second-grade art girl.

i am me - Doodle Art Dress

The thing that’s interesting to me is that I clearly have a “style.” I know that probably sounds strange to say, but it’s not something I ever would have imagined myself saying out loud.

Sometimes I wonder if I should challenge myself more and move beyond sunflowers, trees and butterflies. They seem to dominate my art, but maybe that’s ok.

There are Always Options

I’m enjoying the casual and non-stressful exploration of my creativity and some really interesting pieces of art are emerging. My recent affirmation art journaling project has resulted in two additional pieces of work that are completely different from anything I’ve done before (other than the fact that trees are the main subject 😉 ).

This “affirmation Forrest” grew organically as a result of the project. It began as a sheet of paper that I used to try the lettering of a phrase on for size and as a place to clean off the extra ink from a gel pen and doodle tree trunks.

Forest drawn in Ink

My latest project is a “rainbow tree,” for lack of a better description.

Mixed Media Tree

The tree is made up of tiny pieces of paper. They are actually “rejects” from backgrounds I created while working on the affirmation journal.

Initially if something didn’t work, I tossed it – then one night as I was tearing one into little pieces it occurred to me that there might be a creation hiding in them, so I started saving them, and voila! It’s still a work in progress and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Occasionally I wonder if I’d be “further along” with my art if I’d continued taking more formal classes on the other hand I can’t help but think that some of my more recent efforts never would have happened if I had. It seems my definition of being an artist is evolving and I’m learning what it means to me.

Some day I may return to the classroom setting, but for now I’m going to explore my creative side in my own way and in my own time.

I Speak for Myself

I Speak for Myself

It’s hard to believe that this art and journaling project is winding down and will be concluding within the next few weeks. Unless something gets in the way, I will end up writing the final entry on my birthday.

It started as a personal challenge to create one small piece of artwork and focus on a positive thought for each day; it has somehow morphed into a journey of personal growth.

My early entries into the art journal were direct quotes from Louise Hay, author of “You can Heal Your Life.” In fact the original plan was to use one of her direct quotes as the message for the day. After about five or six entries into the project I changed direction and began using her affirmations as inspiration and wrote positive thoughts of my own.

water color backgroundsIn addition to changing my approach to the actual words of inspiration, the process for creating the individual pieces of art started one way and ended up being completely different. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t very practical to paint the card and create the artwork one at a time, so I modified the process and started to paint anywhere from 10 to two dozen at a time.

I take things quite literally, and when I first started creating the actual entries ahead of the next day felt like I was cheating the process and the goal to “focus on one positive thought” for the day.

What happened in reality is that it freed me up to focus on my writing. Writing a journal entry for the saying on each piece of artwork was also not part of the original plan.

The only thing that was actually part of the plan was to share the thought for the day along with the inspiration and maybe say a few words about it.

Over the course of the past 113 days and 108 entries, my writing has grown and changed from high level observations and interpretations. It’s become much more personal and “real.” I’ve found great joy in expressing myself freely and honestly. My creative confidence has increased and I believe it is reflected by the difference between my first entry

I release the pattern in me that created this. I am at peace with the world. Louise Hay

and my most recent ones.

There are Always Options

I Speak for Myself

The project and the process has kept my head in a positive place during some difficult times and has been a great reminder that we can use negative energies such as fear, anger, and doubt to create something wonderful and worth sharing.