How to Tap In to those Lost Moments

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#hopeful in India, 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

#hopeful in India, 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

If you’re a worry wart like me, you’ve heard the advice: “Learn to live in the Moment.” Do most of us even know what that means?

I recall a very fragile time in my life when every movement seemed like an uphill struggle. I told a friend that I felt I was swimming in a gigantic pool of water and I just couldn’t get to the other side. Have you ever felt like this? Perhaps you still do.

I did manage to get my head above water for a while. In looking back, I was able to recognize brief periods of peace. Small glimmers of joy. A tiny interlude of laughter. How could I capture that feeling and keep it with me throughout the day, even in frustrating, terrifying moments of pain and unhappiness?

Henna prints; India

Henna prints; India

  • The first step is to actually recognize the good things that happen. To savor them. To be grateful for the small miracles such as holding an infant in your arms and rocking them to sleep. Bliss! Singing a favorite song to a child at bedtime. And reliving those precious moments over and over again until your heart is too full for self-pity or sadness.
  • Make “awareness” a habit. A batch of cookies are a lot of work, but the smiles on the faces of your children when they come home from school is payoff. Focus on the details of life instead of bemoaning them. Shine them up and make them sparkle even when you feel there is nothing to be happy about. Slow your life down so you can “smell the roses” and begin to notice the minutia that usually passes you by. A random giggle, a tribute of dandelions from a preschooler. A call from a dear friend.
  • Do something! When you’re at your lowest, make yourself get up and do something. Even small accomplishments can boost your spirits. Get out of the house instead of moping. Take the kids or the dog for a walk. Even if you’re single, there’s something about nature that can draw you out. Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Pray. Memorize and say a poem out loud.
  • Try a change of scene. Taking a drive, seeing a new neighborhood or a new shopping area can perk up your spirits. Take a mini-vacation with the help of someone you trust. Get away for a few days and soak up some sun and sand. Water has a calming influence. Hearing it lap against the side of a pool or washing up on the shore is soothing and can bring you to a higher plane. Feeling a higher power in the sound of water may bring you comfort and peace.
  • Never give up hope. If you can’t fight the doldrums alone, get help. Don’t let depression beat you down. Give yourself the gift of time and space. Link up with a supportive friend. Look back on any progress you have made and have a celebration. Buy yourself something new. Make a determined effort to appreciate even small steps of progress.

These steps helped me reach a point where I could make some changes in my life and get the help I needed. Perhaps they may help you as well.

"Namesake" acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18

“Namesake” acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18

So much for Thrift for Thrift’s Sake

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“With these Hands — Love” a child loves her daddy while he sleeps.

Some people are more thrifty than others. As a spouse, with a family, you learn to pinch pennies, clip coupons and sometimes go without. But when thrift becomes the dominant force that drives your focus, and people’s feelings become less important than the “all mighty dollar,” you have a problem.

My daughter was married to such a man who suggested that she fashion her own sanitary products in order to save money. They also fed their dog old bakery scraps they received for free. In the end, the dog’s diet made him fat and unhealthy and their marriage started on the road to ruin.

These thrifty types will crop a dog’s ears and toenails without proper medical skill or tools. They find any means to get ahead even if it means “fudging” a little here or there, or even lying if necessary.

"Bella Bellissimo" acrylic on canvas SOLD (prints available)

“Bella Bellissimo” acrylic on canvas SOLD (prints available)

I also endured years of lectures about how much shampoo I should use (a dime-size dab); how many squares of toilet tissue was appropriate, and how much I was allowed to cut off the top of a strawberry. If I told you all of the other rules that surrounded my day, your head would spin, so I won’t.

“Waste not, want not” was not only a saying, it was a way of life. Our parents and grandparents went through the Great Depression. They lived in fear that there may not be money for the next meal. The Salvation Army and other charities kept many people alive until they could get on their feet.

For those lucky enough to have the space, a garden and a few chickens provided the sustenance to feed a family and perhaps sell the extra produce for money.

On a well-traveled road not far from where I live sits a small stand with a canvas top for protection from the rain. A brother and sister “man the fort” on weekends selling Georgia peaches, home-grown tomatoes and sweet Vidalia onions.

In our present economy there are signs everywhere of poverty and continuing unemployment. When the Stock Market plunged to new lows, I wondered if our country would slide even further into hard times.

“Money is the root of all evil,” the Bible says. But it is the obsession of money that is evil. The kicker is that thrifty people sometimes obsess over finances and subordinate other people’s needs in their miserly attempts to save money and to get more.

A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel in Bristol; matted and ready to frame.

A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel in Bristol; matted and ready to frame.

We’ve all read stories of millionaires and billionaires who died in poverty without ever spending a nickel for the simplest of pleasures. They didn’t take it with them. They never shared their abundance with a loved one or a neighbor. They went tight-fisted to the grave, but their grasp, their hearts were empty.

Money hard-earned should be saved, invested, and wisely spent. Being thrifty is prudent and smart when you have little of it and your needs include retirement, a home, and your children’s education. A couple need to work on this together and in consultation with each other so they have mutual goals. It is lack of communication that is the downfall of many.

Being thrifty is a good thing in hard times. Obsessing or pinching pennies and allowing money to become your focus, your God is when it becomes a destructive force which may lead to evil actions and failure.

Five Steps for Success in almost any Situation

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Sea Breeze

“Sea Breeze” 30×24 acrylic on wrapped canvas

My first full-time job after having raised six children was traumatic, to say the least. As a new divorcee’ my self-esteem was as low as my expectations. My emotions and brain were seriously fragmented.

I learned the hard way:

  1. To listen
  2. To focus
  3. To follow directions
  4. To assume nothing
  5. To check and double check the details

Along the way I discovered that these same rules work well in almost any situation.

Put yourself in a social setting where you know absolutely no one. You’re meeting new people and feeling self-conscious. “Will I remember their names?” “Where did she say she was from?” What’s her connection to the host?”

Now review that employee checklist above. The first step is to listen. Most of us are busy thinking what we’re going to say next and we fail to listen and repeat the information in our minds. We also lack focus and forget the details we’ve just been given.

If it’s a work-related gathering, you’ll need to follow important directions/instructions. You must never assume you know what is required, because usually you don’t. Once the project or assignment is underway, you’ll need to proof it, check the details for accuracy, and make sure your purpose was achieved.

Sea Nymph

“Sea Nymph” 24×18 acrylic on wrapped canvas

Now suppose you’re in a conversation with your spouse or significant other. Each of you wants to be heard. Be sure you listen with a desire to understand before you spout off your grievances.

Focus not on yourself, but your relationship. Follow your spouse’s lead and listen for hints or instructions that may guide your answers. Never assume you know what’s going on in his or her head because you don’t. You never know what another person is thinking.

Repeat back what you think he or she said (check and double check). When it’s your turn to express your views, you’re more apt to be listened to if you give the other person your full attention.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on wrapped canvas

In turn, these same skills are what a parent needs to teach a child in order for them to become good students, to make friends and to have a better relationship with you. Conversation is a two-way street, and both sides need to walk away satisfied.

Now put yourself in a prayer relationship with your God or higher power. Rather than always rattling off your needs and wants, expressing a little gratitude goes a long way. Listen tor the spirit to either warm your heart or speak to your mind.

Focus on this most intimate of conversations. Don’t let your mind wander. If you sense a direction for your life or are given instructions, obey. Don’t assume that God is either angry with you or that he doesn’t love you. The scriptures (his Word) say otherwise.

Check and double check means going back to the feet of God often. Any relationship requires nurturing and familiarity to prosper. This is especially true in a prayer relationship. Listening, focusing, and following through with what you know to be right will bring a light into your life that will clear the way for joy and prosperity.

And that’s my “Five Step” program!

The Perfect Ending

“The Perfect Ending” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

What if tomorrow never comes and you blew it?

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My summer literally started off with a “bang.”  On vacation, I fell face forward onto a hardwood floor. It literally felt like someone had taken a 2×4, swung it like a bat, and hit me across the face. Free falling onto a hard surface does shake you up.

When I returned from vacation, I had an EGD and another look at my esophagus and stomach. Then a week later, off to the hospital for outpatient arthroscopic surgery to remove my gallbladder. Are we having fun yet?

Obviously, my blogs and artwork have been on hold. But that doesn’t mean that everything else stands still waiting for me to play catch up. Life goes on, spinning slightly out of control as we who are left behind try to keep our balance and maintain some semblance of control.

This is the “stuff” of life that keeps us on our toes and makes us stronger for the road ahead. We are made of human flesh that is subject to accident, disease and illness. Our job is to learn to deal with it. Pain is part of life. One woman captured it beautifully when she said to a group of younger women, “after age 60, it’s just patch, patch, patch.”

God love her! That woman is now me. The clock never stops ticking and the calendar never stops turning. If we’re not careful, we will finish last!

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How many things do you put off until tomorrow thinking you’ll have more time later? Someday, you’ll write that book. You’ll take that painting class. You’ll learn how to play the piano. You’ll go back to school. By the time you get to “someday,” you’re in your forties or fifties and realize that your dreams will never happen because you procrastinated for the wrong reasons. You allowed your priorities to get so screwed up that your life will soon be over and you haven’t even started living yet!

Another thing that may cause us to go awry is word or event association. When my mother and father moved into a new house when I was about 13, they had just painted my bedroom a bright pink thinking I would love it. But “Lo and Behold,” I came down with the flu when we moved in and forever associated pink with nausea and illness.

images (8)Of course, the bedroom didn’t get repainted, but I hated that bedroom and the color pink for years. Only recently have I come to think it’s an okay color; maybe even pretty.

When we associate the things that happen to us with something we dislike it can forever throw us off track. It may not be anyone’s fault, really, but as long as we associate that person with the bad things we remember, any good memories will forever be affected in a negative way.

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A counselor once asked me to think of all the positive things that were going on in my life and write them down on one side of a page, and then write the bad things on the other. Of course, the list on the good side of the page was far longer. This exercise helped me gain a better perspective on what was perceived and what was actual – real versus imagined.

Sometimes our memory can play tricks on us if we dwell too much on the negative elements of a relationship or of our lives. The old fable of “The Tortoise and the Hare” is a good example.

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The race was on. The hare thought he was a cinch to win. Obviously he was faster, smarter, more surefooted than the tortoise. But the turtle had one thing going for him: “tenacity.” He knew where he was going and why, and he was determined to get to his destination.

The hare, on the other hand, was flighty, easily distracted, and arrogant. He also had “friends in high places” who could fudge for him here, and cover up there, and maybe for a few bucks, cover his tracks if he made a few detours or slips.

images (5)The hare had plenty of time. The odds were in his favor. Practice and effort were pointless. It wasn’t a race against time, for heaven’s sake. This was a turtle!

We all know how the story ends. The one with the most stick-to-itiveness won. The racer who never gave in and never caved in crossed the finish line.

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And so will I.  I’ll drag my battle-scarred body and my stapled belly to the computer and plug away, even though I’m in pain. In a few days, I will manage to start painting again. Defeat is not in my vocabulary. I may never excel in ways that I would like, but I’ll “kick butt” as long as I have breath. This, my friends, is how we get through life and still hold our heads up high.

Enlarge your Vision; Sweep out the Cobwebs, Make Way for Tomorrow

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Many people are good at “compartmentalizing.” They focus on one crisis at a time, and they don’t try to multi-task. They are persistent and dogged until the job is complete; full steam ahead. But they are so caught up in the task at hand that they miss out on the simple and sometimes important things that are happening all around them.

Take the University Professor who almost never flushed. He assumed toilets were supposed to work that way. Was he concerned about water waste? Was he being overly frugal? Or did he simply lack common sense? No matter how smart we are (or how smart we think we are); when we laser-beam on minutia the bigger picture gets away.

Naturally, we all have our own work and play styles. As we age, we squirm around until we’ve found that “sweet spot” that gives rhythm to our work and enjoyment to our play. Our pace of life compliments our personalities, and we say we are happy – settled.

Sea Nymph

“Sea Nymph” 24×18 acrylic on canvas; for sale

This is the exact time to measure your existence with your dreams, and your goals against reality. Are you content in this predictable routine you’ve built for yourself or have you only settled into familiar ruts?

Your own answer will determine if it’s time to shake things up. Life demands it!  Every now and then we must give our lives and our minds a good spring cleaning. Sweep out the cob webs, pull the dust from the rafters, and scrub out the build up and grime caused by last winter’s dose of cabin fever.

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Have you forgotten it already—how stifling and smothering it felt? I find it difficult to be creative when I’m surrounded by clutter and the walls start to close in. Once I’ve put those nagging pieces of humanity away, it frees my creative brain for bigger things. When my environment is organized and ready, then so am I.

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Those who work in a studio are blessed with a space that is always ready. Some of us must organize a space each and every day, along with all the other conflicts of interest; but this daily battle actually gets the creative juices flowing.

Not only must you and I file projects and appointments in our minds, but we need exterior compartments to organize them. I once was an organized person, but since I moved into a smaller space, I’m limited. I need to work smarter, in order to work at all. I’m rethinking new ways and places to put files so I can get to them when I need them.

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I have a book case full of old books that I’m going to send to Goodwill and open up space for square baskets and boxes to store those files that I depend upon.

How about you? Have you opened up your windows and let the fresh air of tomorrow clean out last winter’s traces? Are you preparing for a more productive year full of positives instead of negatives?

Now is the time to re-evaluate. Don’t put it off any longer. Stir the pot that’s swirling inside of you; choose your direction and go!

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Teachers should Nurture, Enlighten and Protect their Students

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"An Open Book" 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

“An Open Book” 16 x 20 mixed media on canvas

I come from a long line of teachers, and take pride in having five teachers in our family today. I revere teachers and respect their profession. As the mother of six children, I had a lion’s share of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings. Over the years, I’ve seen good teachers and bad teachers.

Ms. Morrell was my English teacher; a stern spinster, and the butt of jokes and complaints from her students. But without her, I may never have become a writer. She knew her stuff! She was firm, but patient. She insisted on good behavior and was a hard task master when it came to grammar. And she could see past the jeers and bluster of her students.

She encouraged me to enter the school’s literary contest and I won. She saw in me what I couldn’t see in myself. I remember her to this day, not as the frumpy spinster with the stern look, but for what she taught me: lessons that stayed with me throughout my life.

"Looking Outward" 3-D painting in an actual window frame

“Looking Outward” 3-D painting in an actual window frame

Mr. Holmstead was my History teacher; a fun-loving man who walked a shaky line between likability and control. Somehow he managed; not because of classroom rules or rigid authoritarianism, but through his own charisma and passion for his subject.

Whether you liked history or hated it, you were bound to love how Mr. Holmstead told a story. He captured your attention and made history seem relevant and wondrous. The test questions were easier to remember because of the performance and the theatrics he tied to each fact. Those who thought history was boring were in for a big surprise.

By noon, Mr. Holmstead already had a five o’clock shadow. By the end of the day, his tie had been loosened, his jacket hung on a chair and his sleeves were rolled up. We loved history because he loved history. His teaching was infectious.

And then there are the not-so-great teachers. I met one of them at a parent teacher conference. She was irritated by my energetic son. “He fidgets too much at his desk,” I was told.

“And why does he fidget,” I asked? Turns out my son finished his work before the other students and then he became a distraction. He even turned over his paper and doodled on the back (imagine that!) making his worksheet messy and dirty (the nerve).

By the time I finished listening, I knew there was nothing I could say or do to change this teacher’s mind. I did suggest that she give my son another sheet of paper to doodle on while he waited, but she refused, saying that she didn’t have time to cater to one student. Oh the “mind is a terrible thing to waste!” (Negro College Fund Slogan)

Here is the flip side to that story. In my son’s sixth grade year, he had a teacher named Mrs. Bush. The children loved her, not because she was lenient or friendly, but because they knew what to expect from her. Her discipline was consistent; her style full of expectation and follow through.

My son was still the same wiggly, talkative child, but she used that enthusiasm to their mutual advantage. When he sat fidgeting after finishing his work, she showed him how to use the classroom camera. He took pictures of designated materials under her supervision. And wouldn’t you know, the envious other children began to work harder to finish their work so that they could use the camera.

At one point, during their study of China, Mrs. Bush showed him a tiny picture of a Chinese dragon and challenged him to see what he could do with it. She gave him some brushes and paints and turned him loose on the classroom window. By the end of the day, he had completed a giant, colorful dragon; an exact replica of the original small drawing.

That painting amazed not only me, but the entire school. Mrs. Bush saw a glimmer in my son and harnessed his active mind and body; a true modern-day miracle worker. Teachers like this never scream for recognition or pay, but they deserve it. They simply do what they do best: teach children. I say God bless them!