An Imaginary Visit to a Past Vacation

As in Art, So in Life

March 31, 2014

As I mentioned in “Hello Sketchbook, My Old Friend,” I’ve been taking Laure Ferlita’s An Imaginary Visit to a Past Vacation class. Not for the first time, I noticed I’m learning more in art class than simply how to sketch—I’m learning lessons that easily expand beyond the art studio. As in art, so in life:

Preparation makes everything easier… Laure encouraged us to do thumbnails (quick sketches in a junk journal to figure out placement of images and lettering).  Before starting a sketch, I made sure I had my palette, full waterbrushes, paper towels and tissues, my color chart, my reference photos, and a scrap piece of watercolor paper if I needed a quick color check. Once I started, I didn’t want to have to stop to hunt something down. This is also a good way to approach new projects and experiences: figure out what resources you need to have before you get started so that you can proceed smoothly.

…but sooner or later, I have to start. I sometimes let myself get stuck in preparation mode, forever putting off action. Facing a blank page in my sketchbook feels remarkably like facing decisions or starting major projects. Once that first mark hits the page—or I take that first action—I usually relax and can continue without too much fuss and bother.

I’m often my harshest critic. I was pretty happy with my sketches in this class, but in previous classes, I have been frankly embarrassed to share my work. I could see only the flaws in it, how it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and how (I felt) it wasn’t as good as everyone else’s. My fellow classmates always found something good to say, and ways to encourage me not to give up. When I comment on my classmates’ art, I always look for something specific that I like about it, and I can always find it. I should be so generous with myself! I have a feeling my art isn’t the only area where I’m much harder on myself than is necessary.

As always, I had a great time in Laure’s class, and was able to take away more than just the beginnings of a new sketchbook. I still have one more assignment to complete, so excuse me while I get ready, get started, and ease up on myself. 

So what have you been up to lately?


The Accomplished Cat

March 28, 2014

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a cat, and I had forgotten some of the added services cats provide over and above being pets. Each cat has his or her own specialties, and here are a few of Prudy’s:

Alarm Clock. My cat alarm clock is set for 6:30 a.m. This is fine for the rare days that I need to get up that early—which, unfortunately for Prudy, are not that often. Many nights I must shut Prudy in my office/her bedroom so that I can get a full night’s sleep. My office is directly next door to our bedroom, so when her snooze alarm goes off at 7:15, I’m sure to hear it.

Declutterer. Some areas of our house now look a little, shall we say, minimalistic. For example, the dining room table, which used to have a lovely silk flower arrangement, is now a bare sheet of wood. Cats love to knock things off any surface they manage to get on, whether or not they are allowed on these surfaces. As Prudy’s ability to jump or climb has increased, so has the spareness of my décor—the sofa table, the aforementioned dining table, my dresser. Practically every horizontal surface in the house has been simplified if not stripped bare.  No, I suppose I didn’t really need that ceramic candle holder. But I’m still sad about the folk art cow she knocked off the kitchen sideboard.

Are you sure you need all these papers?

Natural Antidepressant. Prudy is super soft to pet and very purry—she purrs when she eats, she purrs when she plays, she purrs when she’s in the mood for affection. She’ll climb on my lap, lie down, and sometimes go to sleep. She’ll even lie on her back and allow me to play with her paws and stroke her pouffy tail. It’s kind of hard to remain down when faced with all that cuteness.

Asleep on my lap

It's exhausting work being this accomplished

Personal Trainer. Monday morning (a day I had to get up at 6:30—thank you, Prudy), as I exited the bathroom back into our dark bedroom where my husband still slept, my bare feet met something soft and furry. In an effort not to flatten her, I performed some of the most intricate dance moves I’ve done in a long time.

Artist. I’ve been taking Laure Ferlita’s Imaginary Visit to a Past Vacation class, and the first time I worked on an assignment, Prudy lay down on my open palette. I suspect all future sketches will have a little cat hair accent in them somewhere. A new way to incorporate texture!

I consider myself lucky to live with such an accomplished cat, and look forward to seeing what other services she will bring to our lives. Not a bad return on the minimal adoption fee at the shelter!

What are your pets’ specialties?

Being present

Being Present

March 26, 2014

“Being present to the way things are is not the same as accepting things as they are in the resigned way of the cow. It doesn’t mean you should drown out your negative feelings or pretend you like what you really can’t stand…It simply means, being present without resistance: being present to what is happening and present to your reactions, no matter how intense.”
—Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility 

Being present

This Morning...

March 21, 2014

I hear:   leaves rustling as they drop from the oak trees; a muted radio and the sound of a nail gun popping from a renovation going on nearby; Scout barking; the roar of a leaf blower; a far-off train whistle; the pool filter clicking on; various birds chirping and singing.

I see: sunlight and shadows making patterns on the ground and the surface of the pool; orchid buds opening, Spanish moss lazily blowing; ripples on the pool from the cycling filter; foliage trembling in the breeze.

I feel: mild, damp air; achy back (I’ve been sitting too long); cool metal of the chair arm.

I smell: Cold coffee in my mug; dirt; green and growing things.

I taste: Coffee and biscotti.

The weather has been perfect for sitting outside this week, and I spent some time reading and writing on the lanai this morning. I’m amazed by all the sensory input even when I’m sitting quietly in my back yard!

What did you hear, see, smell, feel and taste today?


March 20 Is International Day of Happiness—How Will You Celebrate?

March 19, 2014

Morning happiness

What: International Day of Happiness
When: March 20
Who: 193 member nations of the United Nations
Where: All over the world
Why: Because the happiness and well-being are recognized as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of people all over the world.
How: Up to you! Find or take a picture of something that makes you happy and post it to social media (use #happinessday to be part of the official celebration) or on the “Wall of Happiness.” Learn more about International Day of Happiness here.)

What makes you happy? Share your thoughts in the comments!



What Comes After?

March 17, 2014

I recently celebrated another milestone anniversary: 10 years of having my horse, Tank. I find this as mind blowing as knowing I’ve been married for 26 years and that I have a (nearly) adult child.

When I was looking for a horse of my own, and even when I bought him, I was totally focused on the goal of finding a horse. I wasn’t thinking about all the years we had ahead of us, the time we would share getting to know each other, learning to work together. Just like when I was dating and falling in love, or preparing to become a mother—I didn’t think so much about what would happen once I reached that milestone or achieved that goal. The “after” was a blank space in my mind.

What do we do after we get what we want—after we achieve something we’ve longed for? What happens after we fall in love, lose 20 pounds, have a child, get that coveted job, even buy that horse?

Reality sets in. The goal we once desired with all of our hearts is in our hands, and often we find it’s not all romantic dinners under the stars, buying new clothes in a smaller size, cuddling a sleeping baby, kudos from the boss, or galloping like the wind. There’s manure to shovel, diapers to change, compromises to be made and maintenance of all kinds to be done. In many cases, “after” lasts longer than “before.” How can we make the most of what comes after we reach a milestone or major goal?

  1. Appreciate what we have. Stop and look at what we’ve just achieved or received. Take it in. Isn’t it wonderful that we have this thing we have longed for for so long? Bask in the feeling and say a little thank you to the universe. It’s very easy to get caught up in the details, both good and bad, adjust to the new reality, and forget the work and sacrifices it took to get what we wanted.
  1. Don’t make comparisons with others. Since I came to horses as an adult—and a none-too-athletic one—my skills have grown more slowly than the young girls I often ride with. If I compared myself to them, I’d become dissatisfied with my experience, when what I have is all I ever wanted. If I compare my marriage, my relationship with my son, or my career with others’, I can become discouraged that what I have isn’t as outwardly “good.” Every person has his or her own abilities, challenges, lucky (or unlucky) breaks, and so on. And what we see from the outside is rarely the whole story. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
  1. Keep growing and learning. So we have this new thing/relationship. Now what? Is that the ultimate? How can we enhance and improve whatever-it-is? Growing and learning are what life’s all about. To return to my relationship with Tank, over the past 10 years I’ve spent most of my time learning, from the simple things (how to groom a horse or post a trot) to the more complex (how to “speak horse” or use tiny movements of my body to control where he goes and how fast).
If we appreciate what we have, don’t compare it with what others have, and keep learning so we can make it better, what comes after will better than we can even imagine.

What have you discovered about what comes after a big goal or milestone?

Since it's an anniversary, will there be (carrot) cake?

Allie Brosh

Random Acts of Reading

March 14, 2014

Did you know it’s National Reading Month in the United States? For me, every month is reading month. As I’ve mentioned frequently (possibly far too frequently), reading is one of my favorite simple pleasures. And I’ve been doing a lot of it, as usual. I’m determined to get a handle on the number of unread books I own, so I’ve been reading primarily from my own stacks, and trying, with mixed success, to curtail book purchasing. (So far this year I’ve spent only $3.75 on books—not counting books I’ve obtained through Paperback Swap and by using a credit at my local used bookstore.)

But I digress. The point (and I do have one) is that I’ve been reading from my own stacks while simultaneously trying not to rebuild them. I’ve read 11 books out of my 36-book goal so far. I thought I’d share a few bits and pieces from this year’s reads.

The first book I read this year, What Alice Forgot, was so delightful that I kept it in my library instead of passing it on. Alice Love thinks she’s 29 and pregnant with her first child when she regains consciousness after a fall at the gym. Turns out, she’s actually 39, the mother of three and about to be divorced. What happened during that missing 10 years? This book was fun to read, and also thought provoking: Is your life what you expected it to be 10 years ago?  

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, was my first classic of the year. I had never read anything by this writer, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I enjoyed this book very much. Set in Florida, it follows Janie Crawford’s search for real love and her true self, and isn’t that what we’re all looking for? A tiny teaser:

“She was a rut in the road. Plenty of life beneath the surface but it was kept beaten down by the wheels….mostly she lived between her hat and her heels, with her emotional disturbances like shade patterns in the woods—come and gone with the sun.”

Interesting fact: Hurston wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God in only seven weeks!

Take the Cannoli, a book of essays by Sarah Vowell, was an impulse buy at my library’s book store. I’d read one other book by Vowell, who is also a contributor to radio’s “This American Life,” and I love her quirky writing voice. One of my favorite passages from Cannoli:

“Heaven, such as it is, is right here on earth. Behold: my revelation: I stand at the door in the morning, and lo, there is a newspaper, in sight like unto an emerald. And holy, holy is the coffee, which was, and is to come. And hark, I hear the voice of an angel round about the radio, saying, ‘Since my baby left me I found a new place to dwell.’ And lo, after this I beheld a great multitude, which no man could number, of shoes….”

(And speaking of “voice,” I just learned that Vowell was the voice of Violet in one of my favorite animated movies, The Incredibles.)

Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, was a library book, I admit, but I couldn’t resist it. Brosh can make me laugh till I cry. The book contains original material, but some of it can be found on her blog. Check out these posts, also found in the book, for a taste of Brosh’s humor: “Dogs Don’t Understand the Basic Concept of Moving” or “The Party”.

What have you been reading? Any new discoveries?


"Busy" Is the Enemy

March 12, 2014

“If your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong….You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.

“The solution suggested by [research] is as simple as it is startling: Do less. But do what you do with complete and hard focus. Then when you’re done be done, and go enjoy the rest of the day.
—Cal Newport

Everyday adventures

Ordinary Happiness

March 10, 2014

As established research suggests, most of us realize we receive more lasting happiness from experiencing something than from buying something (unless we’re talking about, say, books or art supplies…or is that just me?).  But what types of experiences provide the most happiness?

I recently read about a study by some marketing professors examining this very question. Turns out, it depends in part on how old we are. The study, “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” broke experiences into two categories: extraordinary (uncommon and infrequent), like having a child or taking a special vacation, and ordinary (common and frequent), like watching a sunset or savoring a meal. They also examined the role of age in the amount of happiness these activities give us.

The study found that, “Although happiness from extraordinary experiences does not change with age, ordinary experiences elicit greater happiness as people get older and their time remaining becomes limited.” (You can read the study here.) 

I don’t think of my time remaining being “limited” (though, of course, everyone’s is), but I already embrace the idea that I don’t have to do something extraordinary to feel happier. Simple, ordinary, pastimes do indeed provide me with great pleasure. This is a good thing, because extraordinary experiences are not always available to me—they are “uncommon and infrequent” by definition. However, in the meantime, I don’t have to wait—ordinary happiness is all around me.

I’m not saying I don’t still want those extraordinary experiences—I certainly wouldn’t turn down a trip to London, for example. I’m lucky enough to have done some traveling, to have owned a business, to get married and to have a child, experiences that qualify as extraordinary, and I’m sure that plays a part in my overall feeling of contentment in my life. But until that next trip or other “big” experience comes along, I’ll be happy sitting on my lanai sipping tea, taking a walk, sketching, laughing with my friends and generally enjoying the simple pleasures and everyday adventures of life.

What simple pleasures make you happy? And what extraordinary experience would you most like to have?


Are We Having Fun Yet?

March 07, 2014

When you were a kid, didn’t you think being an adult was going to be awesome? You’d be free—no one would tell you what to do, you could play all day if you wanted to, eat what you wanted, go to bed (and get up) when you wanted to. You’d fill your days with fun!

Scout and Nick: these two knew how to have fun.

I don’t know about you, but except for dimly-remembered college breaks, adulthood hasn’t followed that pattern for me! I’ve gone from college to working full time, to raising a child while working part time, all the while taking charge of an apartment or house, etc. Even now, with my child in college and with no job to report to, I spend most of my time doing things to keep my life running: shopping, cooking, cleaning, oil changes, doctor’s appointments, vet appointments, doing research and writing, exercising (because I want to be healthy, not because I love it), paying bills… When, exactly, is all that adult fun going to start?

I enjoy (to some extent) and value almost everything I do, but I do few things “just for fun.” I also manage to turn things that should be just for fun into learning opportunities instead of just play. Take reading, for example. I can’t just read for fun. I have to take part in reading challenges. Though I am careful to choose only challenges that appeal to me and don’t seem too difficult to complete, somehow labeling it a “challenge” adds an element of pressure to reading.

What about spending time with my horse? When I ride, I’m not just having fun. I’m working to become a better rider or teaching him something, even when I’m not taking a lesson.

I’m not saying learning opportunities, challenging myself, and so on is bad. On the contrary, I think using things I like doing to learn and grow is a great idea. I also think that I take it to extremes.

I really want to have more plain, old fun and to live more lightheartedly, so here are a few things I’m doing right now to make that happen:

Adjusting my attitude. I’m stepping back from the “challenge” aspect of my reading challenges and simply choosing the book I most want to read right now.  With Tank, I’m lightening up my expectations of our time together, and at least once a week just hanging out with him with no agenda.

Increasing the fun factor in areas that aren’t primarily fun—like cleaning the house. I listen to music on my iPod or I turn on a favorite TV show and clean while watching, or during commercials. (I’ve whipped my kitchen into shape in the past two weeks watching HGTV.) I open Pandora while working in my office (I’m typing to Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man” right now.) I set a timer for 15 minutes and promise to quit work when it goes off and do something just for fun, like play with Prudy or read (for fun!).

Doing something just for the fun of it. No other reason. Just because I want to. Not because I’ll learn something or help someone, just for fun. Something that just occurs to me—like going to a food truck rally or spending the entire day in my pajamas.

Managing “false fun.” Who am I kidding? I have plenty of free time to do fun things—it’s just that I spend more of it than I’d like to in front of a screen, whether surfing the internet or watching TV. I enjoy both of those activities, and I don’t want to cut them out completely. So I have to manage them so I don’t play on the computer or watch TV when I have the mental and physical energy to do more worthwhile things, and so that they don’t eat up more time than they deserve.

It seems a bit ridiculous to have to put this much thought into fun—but I don’t think I’m alone in being hyper responsible sometimes, in feeling guilty if I’m not doing something “productive” all the time. I’m productive enough. And so are you. So let’s have some fun!

What do you do just for fun? When was the last time you did something just for the fun of it?

Wanna hang out?

Denise Low

I See a Young Woman

March 05, 2014

The persons we are when we are young are probably buried somewhere within us when we’ve grown old. Denise Low, who was the Kansas poet laureate, takes a look at a younger version of herself in this telling poem. [Introduction by Ted Kooser.]

Two Gates

I look through glass and see a young woman
of twenty, washing dishes, and the window
turns into a painting. She is myself thirty years ago.
She holds the same blue bowls and brass teapot
I still own. I see her outline against lamplight;
she knows only her side of the pane. The porch
where I stand is empty. Sunlight fades. I hear
water run in the sink as she lowers her head,
blind to the future. She does not imagine I exist.

I step forward for a better look and she dissolves
into lumber and paint. A gate I passed through
to the next life loses shape. Once more I stand
squared into the present, among maple trees
and scissor-tailed birds, in a garden, almost
a mother to that faint, distant woman.

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 Denise Low, from her most recent book of poetry, Ghost Stories of the New West, Woodley Memorial Press, 2010. Poem reprinted by permission of Denise Low and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 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.

Not quite 30 years ago, but still...


Hello Sketchbook, My Old Friend*

March 03, 2014

*with apologies to Simon and Garfunkel

I’m signed up to take another one of Laure Ferlita’s classes and looking forward to breaking in a new sketchbook! I just completed filling the pages of a sketchbook for the first time—though, truthfully, a few of the pages aren’t done. I can’t decide whether to go back and finish them, or just leave them as is. Whatever I decide, I’m not waiting to start a new sketchbook. I’ve got this one, and I’m playing with a color chart to get to know the paper. I think I’ll use photos from our New England anniversary trip for the class.

Everyday adventure, here I come.

Have you had any adventures lately?