Artful Living: Applying the Five Es

June 29, 2012

Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, Athens

I recently completed Laure Ferlita’s online art class, An Imaginary Trip to Greece, an experience that qualifies as both a simple pleasure and an everyday adventure. One of the main focuses of her classes is learning how to quickly capture a scene on location where conditions can change quickly, you can be interrupted, etc. One tool Laure stresses in class is the “five Es”—concepts that help us figure out what we want to sketch and how we can make each sketch uniquely our own. The Five Es are: Evaluate, Eliminate, Edit, Exaggerate, and Embellish. Always on the lookout for principles that could be useful in living a happier, more artful life, it occurs to me that the five Es could be quite usefull:

Evaluate. Just as an artist evaluates his or her subject to find its most pleasing aspect or determine what is sketchable in the time available, you can evaluate your life to see how it's running. What feels good and bad, how you’re measuring up to your standards, how you’re progressing toward your goals. Taking stock of the who, what, when, where and why of life. In stopping to evaluate, you bring awareness to your life instead of drifting (or charging) around mindlessly.

Eliminate. On location, once you’ve chosen your subject, you want to eliminate anything that doesn’t significantly add to the sketch. You simply won’t have time to get every detail down on paper, so choose your details wisely. In the same way, life is short! After you evaluate it, you might decide you have some things to get rid of. Maybe literally, like that closet of items you want to donate to charity or a stack of old magazines and catalogs you’ll never get around to reading. Maybe it’s a chore or other commitment that has outlived its usefulness. It might even be a person who drags you down every time you’re together. What can you get rid of to make your life better?

Edit. In sketching and life, once you’ve decided what you want to focus on and what you want to eliminate, what’s left? Maybe you don’t want to eliminate something all together, but you can pare it down or simplify it.

Exaggerate. In class, Laure advises students to “use your creative license to exaggerate the elements to make it a great piece of art.” In sketching, that might mean darkening the values, or adjusting the direction of the light hitting your subject to make a more interesting composition. To translate this into life, choose to focus on, encourage and support the positive.

Embelish. The fun part! In art, this is where you add your own style to your sketch. In life, this is where you find ways to make it more beautiful—buy the fresh flowers, eat the chocolate, go see that movie, play, concert or sporting event that interests you. Life should be more than a list of chores and responsibilities.

Just as Laure’s five Es make sketching on location easier and more fun by giving me a framework to help me choose a subject and execute a sketch, using the five Es as a framework for living helps me feel like an artist in my own life. (And thank you to Laure for introducing me to these principles in art and in life!)

Do you have any principles that help you lead a happier, more artful life?



June 27, 2012

Dana Gioia, who served as Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, did a marvelous job of bringing the arts to Americans, arguably the best job that anyone in that position has done. He was a fine poet before he took that job, and he is a fine poet after. Here’s an example of his recent work. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Pity the Beautiful

Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with big daddies
granting their wishes.

Pity the pretty boys,
the hunks, and Apollos,
the golden lads whom
success always follows.

The hotties, the knock-outs,
the tens out of ten,
the drop-dead gorgeous,
the great leading men.

Pity the faded,
the bloated, the blowsy,
the paunchy Adonis
whose luck’s gone lousy.

Pity the gods,
no longer divine.
Pity the night
the stars lose their shine.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2011 by Dana Gioia, whose most recent book of poems is Pity the Beautiful, Graywolf Press, 2012. Poem reprinted from Poetry, May 2011, by permission of Dana Gioia and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.


Soggy, Not Sunny Florida

June 25, 2012

For the past three days we’ve been getting rain, rain, rain from Tropical Storm Debby. Our windows have looked like this (or worse):

Our pool looks like this:

The water is almost overflowing!

We’ve been lucky so far, though. We haven’t had any high winds, tornadoes or power outages, unlike other areas. According to the latest storm track, Debby might make landfall near Florida’s panhandle, blanketing nearly the whole state with more rain.

I’ve put aside the errands I planned to do today, in favor of sticking close to home, staying dry, and charging all our battery-operated electronics. (I remember what happened last time our power went out.) I’m keeping our AC running cooler than normal today. In case the power does go out, we won’t get hot and sticky quite as soon. I’ve also located the flashlights, and the batteries for the lamps and fans.

Welcome to summer/hurricane season.

No, this isn’t how I planned to spend today, but that’s OK. There are always more than enough things wanting my attention here. Monday usually sets the tone for my week, and I want to make good use of it, even though the gray and rainy skies make me want to go back to bed!

How will you spend today?

The orchids enjoy the rain.

Everyday adventures

Family, Friends

June 20, 2012

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn't depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.”
Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

(I’ve had family visiting for the past five days so I haven’t been online much—I’ll be catching up on reading, commenting and posting in the next couple days!)


Some of My Favorite People Are Aunts

June 13, 2012

I only have two aunts, but they are both special members of the family. This poem, by Joyce Sutphen of Minnesota, captures for me the warm, loving feelings the word “aunt” brings to mind.

The Aunts
I like it when they get together
and talk in voices that sound
like apple trees and grape vines,

and some of them wear hats 
and go to Arizona in the winter,
and they all like to play cards.

They will always be the ones
who say “It is time to go now,”
even as we linger at the door,

or stand by the waiting cars, they
remember someone—an uncle we
never knew—and sigh, all

of them together, like wind
in the oak trees behind the farm
where they grew up—a place

I remember—especially
the hen house and the soft
clucking that filled the sunlit yard.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine.  It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.  Poem copyright ©2010 by Joyce Sutphen from her most recent book of poetry, “First Words,” Red Dragonfly Press, 2010.  Poem reprinted by permission of Joyce Sutphen and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation.

First impressions

I Owe You an Apology Garden & Gun...

June 11, 2012

for the slightly snarky tone of my post here. After several blog readers gently corrected my impressions of you, I bought your June/July issue and checked out

You are most certainly not aimed at careless gun-toting yahoos, but at upscale readers who appreciate the uniqueness of southern culture and have the disposable income to purchase custom bicycles or handcrafted tables, and visit Bermuda on vacation. I quite enjoyed the article “Pit Stops,” listing readers’ favorite places to stop on a road trip in the south—everywhere from cemeteries to art museums to roadhouses and produce stands. (Two places I know and love were listed: the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art and Bok Tower Gardens.)

So please forgive me for my uppity attitude and let’s be friends.

Which just goes to show something I should already know: you can’t judge a book (or magazine) by its cover (or title). Do not make assumptions about things or people without taking time to get to know them.

Have you had any unexpected and pleasant surprises lately?


The Hopeful Hours

June 08, 2012

Last week I got the chance to read Laura Vanderkam’s upcoming ebook (out June 12) What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. Vanderkam is the author of 168 Hours (which I briefly discussed here), and All the Money in the World

The title intrigued me—even though I wouldn’t exactly call myself a morning person, I do like to get up before everyone else so I can have some quiet and uninterrupted time alone. This is especially important to me because my husband and I share an office. Now that summer vacation is upon us and I don’t have to wake up so early to make sure my son gets off to school, I still plan to get up before everyone else so that my priorities don’t get lost in the daily shuffle.

And, according to Vanderkam, that’s why those pre-breakfast morning hours are so important to successful people: “[They] have priorities in their lives and early morning is the time they have the most control over their schedules.”

In this short, readable guide, Vanderkam draws on scientific research as well as anecdotes to illustrate how successful people use those crucial morning hours to nurture their careers, their relationships and themselves, and gives suggestions to help you make over your own mornings.

“The most successful people know that the hopeful hours before most people eat breakfast are far too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities,” writes Vanderkam. This makes sense to me. I know if I get my most important or most difficult task done early (or at least started), I’m in a much better frame of mind when the inevitable distractions and less-than-important-but-still-urgent tasks take over. If, on the other hand, I spend the hour before breakfast playing Mahjong Titans on my computer or reading random emails, I can easily find myself at 3 p.m. wondering where the day has gone and what I have to show for it.

I especially appreciated Vanderkam’s parallel between saving money and time use: “If you wait until the end of the month to save what you have left, there will be nothing left over. Likewise, if you wait until the end of the day to do meaningful but not urgent things like exercise, pray, read, ponder how to advance your career or grow your organization, or truly give your family your best, it probably won’t happen.”

As Vanderkam notes, every morning feels like a new chance to get things right. Starting off the day with success—accomplishing something meaningful to you, no matter how small—can only help the rest of the day to feel successful, too. She concludes, “When you make over your mornings, you can make over your life. That is what the most successful people know.”

What is your morning routine? How does it help you have a successful and productive day?

Note: For more discussion of morning routines and how to tweak your own, please see Also, I received no compensation for this review (other than an advance copy of the ebook) and the opinions are my own.



June 06, 2012

“No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.”
—James Russell Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal”



June 04, 2012

Spent the weekend on the beach with my wonderful husband celebrating our 24th anniversary (very belatedly—our actual anniversary is in January!). I’m a little sunburned, despite sunscreen and shade, but more relaxed than when we left. It was such a pleasure to be away from responsibility and to-do lists, to be with each other with only fun on the agenda. We walked on the beach, swam, did a lot of reading and poked around in some antiques stores and a flea market. I even did a little sketching:

Our room:

Sea grapes--I've never seen the grapes before!

Don't these look inviting?

It was a great way to start our summer. Hope your weekend was just as happy!


Every Day's a Holiday

June 01, 2012

When I turned my wall calendar page to June this morning, I found a list of 2012 international holidays stapled inside. I was about to toss it, when I stopped to take a look. Along with the more traditional holidays like Christmas, New Year’s and various independence days, other countries celebrate some memorable and colorful holidays such as:

Picnic Day (Australia—Aug. 6) 
Tomb-Sweeping Day (China and Hong Kong—Apr. 4) 
Day of Goodwill (South Africa—Dec. 26) 
Waitangi Day (New Zealand—Feb. 6) 
Coming of Age Day, Children’s Day, Respect for the Aged Day (Japan—Jan. 9, May 5 and Sept. 1, respectively)    

Not to brag or anything, but we here in the U.S. have quite the array of holidays and  “National Month/Day of” designations ourselves. For example, in addition to the well-known Father’s Day and Flag Day, June contains some of most lighthearted and silly of these.  How about Chimborazo Day (June 3)—celebrating an inactive volcano that is supposedly the point on Earth that is closest to the Moon and farthest from the Earth’s center? Food lovers celebrate National Cheese Day (June 4), National Chocolate Ice Cream Day (June 7), Iced Tea Day (June 10), Corn on the Cob Day (June 11), National Fudge Day (June 16) and National Bomb Pop Day (June 28)—among others!

To work off all that ice cream and cheese, you can get outside for National Trails Day (June 2), National Running Day (June 6—also National Yo-Yo Day) or Go Fly a Kite Day (June 5).

Kites. Go fly one on June 5. Photo courtesy Falto.
Other days of note: Weed your Garden Day (June 13), World Juggling Day (June 16), Eat Your Vegetables Day (June 17), Take Your Dog to Work Day (June 22), Camera Day (June 29), and Meteor Day (June 30).

And, of course, there’s always Donald Duck’s birthday. Mr. Duck made his first appearance in the cartoon “The Wise Little Hen” on June 9, 1934. Happy 78th birthday, D.D.!

Believe it or not, these are just a few of the days in June with official celebrations! Click here for a more complete listing.

What do you want to celebrate today? Me, I’m celebrating National Doughnut Day—meet me at Krispy Kreme for a free doughnut!