Blending Two Separate Families – there’s an App for That!

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There's no Business like Show Business

Wedding rehearsal begins with “There’s no Business like Show Business” my kid’s favorite song from childhood.

Just kidding! There isn’t an app.; but my son, a science teacher, used a chemical experiment to show the children that it is possible.

Blending Family

Blending Family “practice run”

Chris was lucky enough to have his older sister Pam, a “Celebrant” officiate at his wedding. The input from the couple and the expertise of Pam made for a lovely ceremony. I have photos of the rehearsal on Friday, and the official wedding on Saturday, June 25.

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Pam Torres Officiater

The weather cooperated and we had clear skies both days. The backyard was in full bloom and the sunshine bathed us in glorious light. After the rehearsal, we binged on ham, macaroni and cheese, bread and green beans. Later we had croissant sandwiches and yummy desserts.

To avoid the heat, the wedding took place at 10 a.m. the next morning. Attendees each took a rose and placed it in a circle around the couple, symbolizing the love of family that surrounded them. Music was also performed by the groom’s younger sister, Holly; a duet with her daughter Amelia. Holly’s husband Mark played the trumpet after the couple were pronounced man and wife.

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Encircled in love and roses.

Friends and relatives congratulated the two families and then went inside for coffee, wedding cake, and conversation. Funny stories and experiences were shared and remembered. The photos speak for themselves.

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Holly & Amelia sing duet; Griffin wearing hat, and Pam on the right.

Hope and faith made the experience joyful. The future is unknown to all of us. We usually walk confidently into our lives knowing that much of what happens is in the hands of fate. For believers, trusting in God to walk with us gives us an additional edge over those who are skeptics.

Below, Tamara’s mom discovers she has cake on her shoe from cutting the wedding cake.

I hope time and shared experience will blossom in the lives of my son and his new family.

I now pronounce you man & wife

I now pronounce you man & wife

How to Break Free from an Unhealthy Relationship

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“Broken Hearted” 11 x 14 pastel in matt & ready to frame

I enjoy watching old re-runs of “Raymond” on T.V. The humor reminds us of our own humanity. This dysfunctional family makes us laugh as we see the painfully obvious results of their follies. Personal relationships should help us grow and learn, and bring joy and satisfaction into our lives. In “Raymond” we see the twisted insecurities that bring the exact opposite.

I thought about Raymond when I read a local article written by Jayme Hodges, MSW, of the Lee Memorial Behavioral Health Center titled “Unhealthy Relationships Not Always Apparent to Those Involved.”

Jayme wrote “We often focus on the positive qualities of a person, which can distort our perceptions of any negative behaviors. We also may explain away negative behavior by saying ‘he or she is just having a bad day’ or ‘he or she is under a lot of stress.’ Low self-esteem and/or low self confidence also keep people in unhealthy relationships because they believe they can’t do better.”

From my own experience I would add that you shouldn’t feel guilty if your gut instincts tell you that something is amiss. Your mental and emotional health depends on an accurate analysis. Discussing your feelings with a close friend or a counselor will help to ground you in reality.

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“Drawing and 1st level of acrylic paint on a family portrait”

How can you tell that you’re not overreacting or just imagining things? Hodges suggests “Pay attention to your own emotions and listen to those around you. Take the time to reflect on the relationship because you will have a better chance of recognizing if the relationship is unhealthy and what steps you can take to work on or end the relationship.

“If you are experiencing an unusual amount of emotional distress – especially if it interferes with your ability to complete routine daily tasks; if you are more irritable or angry with people or situations, or if you are isolating yourself from family and friends when you normally would not, you should consider seeking professional help.

“Interpersonal and romantic relationships are important to your mental and physical health. These relationships should help us grow and learn, and bring joy and satisfaction to our lives. Healthy relationships should be an equal partnership. They should be built on trust, respect, honesty, support, open and effective communication, listening and fairness.

“Unhealthy relationships, on the other hand, are often marked by manipulation, lack of trust, abuse – which could be emotional, physical and/or sexual; coercion and threats; constant criticism and lack of support; and isolation from family and friends.”

#hopeful in India

“#Hopeful in India” 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

Raymond and his family seem to be stuck in a never ending cycle of insults and abuse, floundering in the aftermath of dysfunction, but it provides their audience with laughter and feelings of sympathy. We warm to their imperfections and assaults on one another. But in real life, the results of this kind of behavior in relationships can be disastrous.

If you are experiencing any of these dark and imprisoning tactics, please seek help. Your mental and emotional health depends on it.

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

Tina Turner Sang: “What’s Love Got to Do, Got to do with It?” Well, I’ll Tell You!

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“The Dance” 11×14 pastel, matted and ready to frame.

Some people are so thick skinned; you have to pound them over the head before they get the point. Others shrivel or weep at the drop of a hat. The saying “Their bark is worse than their bite” describes those who protect themselves with bravado because within they are a “soft touch.”

Tender hearted people often build barriers to protect their vulnerability. Over time, they may alienate the very people they love out of fear of being hurt. If they let others in, their real personality; their faults and failings may be exposed? They could be taken advantage of or manipulated into doing something they may not want to do? So the walls go up and intimacy along with its attendant joy is denied.

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“Broken Hearted” 11×14 pastel on Bristol; matted and ready for framing.

After experiencing the highs and lows of “love and romance,” I told one prospective mate that I didn’t play games and I disliked those who do. “If you don’t like something – just say so. What you see is what you get,” I said. “I pretty much tell it like it is.”

Of course, that works fine when both are in agreement. But if one person lays himself bare, and the other holds back then the rules of the game are broken. You end up in a relationship where you think you know the other person, but you don’t. Full disclosure is not only fair, it should be mandatory.

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“Americana” 16xz20 acrylic on canvas (ON SALE)

When you buy a home, full disclosure is the letter of the law. You want to know there are no major problems in the structure of the house or if the plumbing or roof leaks. When you agree to marry a spouse, you want to know if he or she has the ability to cope in a pinch or are they going to blow up every time the tension rises. Are they built to weather a crisis or are they going to leak and run whenever the going gets tough.

Too often important character traits are missed while the “games are played” or flaws are blown off in the heat of romance. It is difficult to find someone who is not only unselfish, but honest and straightforward. This applies to friends, too. Genuine friends are never jealous of another’s achievements. They can share in the limelight and enjoy the other’s success. They’re not afraid to stand beside you when the curtain falls or when triumphs turn into failure. They’ve got your back!

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A beautiful bride filled with hope and promise.

“To love and to cherish ‘til death do you part” is not just idle chatter. It is a commitment, a trust, a promise to be open and honest with each other. Love is action. It is in the “doing” or lack thereof that many relationships thrive or fail. Emotions are fickle. When they are lacking, act as if they are still there and the feelings will return.  Friendship can supply the foundation that holds lasting love together.

Spouses and lovers should be best friends. Love and passion can waiver through the years, but likability stands the test of time. A friend is someone you can count on always. They never let you down. They are not fickle in love or loyalty. If you want to have lasting love for a lifetime, be sure that the one you idolize and cherish is also a friend you’d be willing to go to bat for; better yet, someone you’d be willing to give your life for if that were required.

A Joyful Heart, 11 x 14 pastel

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

Interludes of Happiness are the Underpinnings that Strengthen the Soul

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“Americana” acrylic on canvas

Just when you think your life is on an even keel, something or someone wipes the gloat off your face and you’re down. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s this: Change is inevitable. Unpredictability is the norm.

The in between times when love seems never ending, when peace pervades your universe and you think nothing can go wrong that’s just when it does. Those prime times are short and fleeting. They come and go like breathing in and out. They arrive just before or shortly after a crisis.

Make the most of these tender moments because they never last. They are what memories are made of when we have nothing else to live for. These heavenly highs help relationships weather the uneven tides of emotion and anger. They give life zest and nourish a heavy heart.

"Kindred Spirits" 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

“Kindred Spirits” 30 x 24 mixed media on canvas

Think of these pleasant pauses, these cherished nanoseconds as seeds. They can’t be saved or stored except in memory; but they can reside within us and provide a web of interconnecting fiber that can give our life structure and continuity. These interludes of happiness “relieve the darkness of the past and the gloom of the present.” (C.H. Spurgeon)

Like a flickering light in the gloom of darkness, these seeds of joy gives us hope, sustain us, and keep our feet planted on solid ground even when all of life is crumbling around us. This kind of strength is what makes heroes out of common men. When a tragedy happens, they respond. They just do it, never thinking about the risks to their own mind or body nor their inhibitions and weaknesses.

Human capacity is never fully tested on this earth. Knowing that somewhere within us is the action needed to meet our convictions is reassuring. Manufacturers and engineers know all about tensile strength when it comes to machinery and materials. Tensile strength is all about the ability to be stretched or pulled out of shape before breaking. Even though human beings are not machines, they are still resilient and capable of super human fetes when necessary.

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on canvas

These seeds of hope, faith, happiness and joy that grow to fruition within us make us stronger, more teachable, and more bendable. This ethereal structure helps us to endure sorrow, pain, anger, hatred, envy or the loss of a loved one, the failure of business or marriage. This foundation is what helps you get up when you fall, and why you take one step after another even though you don’t feel like walking or going anywhere.

Savor the good times. Remember them in the bad times. Make more of these moments every chance you get. This is the web or safety net that will give you courage when you need it the most and the resiliency to hold on a little longer when your heart is breaking.

Sea Swirls

“Sea Swirls” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Change comes to all of us. Nothing stays the same. Ride the waves, my friend. Your life’s journey will sometimes lift you up and at other times slap you down in the grit of despair. Don’t give up in the heat of the moment. Coast and surf until you gain some traction. You will survive.

(This blog was delayed by the unforeseen, but it also gave me my subject matter.)

The Ghosts of Halloween’s Past – the Devil is in the Details!

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Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

On Halloween night at our house, I made a big pot of chili that the children were too excited to eat. When they returned from “trick-or-treat” with their father in tow, they had to down a few bites before they were allowed to dive into their candy.

After six children and many Halloween celebrations under my belt, we ended up with a large costume box filled with various themes and sizes. The box was a big hit with neighborhood friends and provided hours of entertainment all through the year.

The old Raggedy Ann and Andy costumes my husband and I wore to an adult party were in there plus the simple white pillowcase with cutout eyes and a cottontail glued to the rear. Ears were tied with string and could become a rabbit or a sheep depending on how tall the toddler was and how long the ears.

at Stone Mountain in Georgia

at Stone Mountain in Georgia

Once I became a Geisha girl using a silk Japanese robe my son had given me. I wound panty hose around a 1960’s fur hat and turned it into black towering hair. After my face was painted white and makeup had been applied, I finished my “look” with white stockings and black platform thongs. My friend said that was either the ugliest costume she’d ever seen, or the best one there; she couldn’t decide which.

As a youth teacher and leader, I disliked Halloween events. When children or teens hide behind a mask you never know what kind of demon is going to emerge. Many a tyrant was born on Halloween night when they thought others couldn’t see who they really were.

Adrianne and Jaidan

Adrianne and Jaidan

Many people go through life wearing disguises of one kind or another. They hide behind a false front and then take off their mask when in their own familiar surroundings.

We all try to make a good impression and put our “best foot forward.” We want people to like us. But there comes a time when the masks either come off willingly as people try to gain intimacy or the disguise is revealed painfully later on. The adage “better late than never” doesn’t work in this case. In relationships the “sooner the better” is always best.

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In your interactions with others watch for these red flags:

  • Outbursts of anger or temper tantrums. The person’s mask sometimes slips to reveal these important inconsistencies. They may apologize profusely and have convincing arguments for their behavior, but trust your own gut instincts. If the other person is covering up an uncontrollable temper, imagine the fireworks when the mask comes off permanently!
  • Irrational behavior. Tirades, spending or eating binges that come out of nowhere may be deep-seated and bubble to the surface when a hot button is pushed. This person may have emotional issues that are way out of their control and probably yours.
  • Public outbursts. If causing a public scene doesn’t bother them, then erratic loud behavior in private may be the “norm.” When their own actions don’t embarrass them, nothing you can say or do will make any difference. If you dislike public displays, make a fast exit from this person.
  • Treatment of other people. How they treat their mother or other close relatives may tell you a lot about their history and habits. If they treat strangers and outsiders better than those who are close, beware! This type is a performance artist always looking for applause and admiration. Around family they really let their hair down. Courtesy and thoughtfulness go right out the window.
  • Beliefs and values are out of step with actual behavior. Some people brag about being honest yet they look for every excuse to justify cheating, slipping into a second movie theater without paying, covering up a mistake or blaming it on someone else.
  • Possessiveness that requires an accounting.  “Why didn’t you call?” “Where were you when I called?” Who were you talking to just now?” You’re constantly bombarded with questions from this insecure type. They doubt your answers. They want to control your time, your friends, even your relatives. They smother you with affection, but it’s just another means of control. They want you all to themselves. Your life, your needs, your wants suddenly become smaller and smaller until you disappear altogether.
  • The green-eyed monster disguised as love. “Were you flirting with him?” “I saw you smile.” “Your line was busy for 30 minutes! Who were you talking to?” As the song goes: “Every move you make, every turn you take, I’ll be watching you.” When the mask finally comes off, it becomes obvious the only person they love is themselves. With this jealous man or woman you’ll feel guilty even when you’re not. You can’t do anything right. Being human is a sin.
  • A raised fist, a not-so-gentle jab may just be the beginning. Physical abuse is escalating behavior. In the beginning it may start with shouting and name-calling. Eventually the threats turn into action. If you see a glimpse of this when the mask is still on you’d better watch out! When they’re in their comfort zone they may take the velvet gloves off.

Watch out for those red flags, not only on Halloween, but every day of the year. When the smile and boasting phase is over and the disguises come off, be sure you don’t end up with a real goon or a ghoul!

Tags for Living

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“And all that Jazz,” 11 x 14 acrylic on panel

My daughter, Holly, mailed me her favorite book. Inside was a colorful gift tag splattered with flowers; and on the reverse side, a handwritten note telling me how much she loved me, and that she hoped I would enjoy reading the book. The tag became my bookmark as I turned page after page, thinking of her.

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it was the tag that intrigued me. Time and again, I returned to her note and the shiny painted flowers on the back. My mind churned. What was there about this tag that called out to me? Thoughts bubbled to the surface.

Our lives are controlled by tags, or at least influenced by them. Tags are everywhere:

  • Tags for luggage, tags for identification, price tags, tags for washing instructions, tags for sizes, tags on foodstuffs, gift tags, sales tags, dog tags, gurney tags, toe tags, healthcare tags, tags for gardening, tags for equipment, fertilizer tags, warning tags and status tags for every substance, action, and product in the world.

Wouldn’t it be great, if there were tags for how to live your life? Tags for newborns might read:

  • “Fragile — handle with care,” or “feisty when wet, change often.” Or how about “stubborn and willful — requires coaxing,” or “prone to temper tantrums — distract if possible.”

Tags for teenagers might suggest:

  • “Prickles when angry — hug anyway,” or “count to ten and listen, really listen,” or “sasses back when cornered — don’t argue, just walk away.”

Newlywed tags might stave off marital grief:

  • “Requires lots of attention — likes to be pampered” or “sleeps soundly — wake up gently” or “thinks taking out the garbage is a man’s job — just do it,” or  “listen closely —  it might be a test.”

As I pursued this line of thinking, I realized we already have tags for living, and they cover every facet of human life. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible, but most particularly to the book of Proverbs.

There are mini-instructions for raising children, being a good spouse, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a faithful follower. Here are some familiar ones:

  • “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Prov. 22:6 NIV)
  • “He who spares the rod (correction) hates his son (or daughter), but she who loves her children is careful to discipline them.” (Prov. 13:24 NIV)
  • “Discipline your child, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death.” (Prov. 19:18 NIV)

Remember the newlywed tags I proposed? Try this proverbial advice:

  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a hard word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1 NIV) Good advice for an argument over how to squeeze the toothpaste or hang the toilet paper.

How about this marital gem:

  • “A patient man (or woman) has great understanding, but a quick-tempered person displays folly.” (Prov. 14:29 NIV)

Quarrels over sex and money are the main reasons many couples get divorced. The antidote?

  • “He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from a calamity.” (Prov. 21:23 NIV)

Add the turmoil of alcoholism to the mix, and you triple the trouble.

  • “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1 NIV)

Proverbs has countless tags for being a good neighbor:

  • “A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.
  • “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.” (Prov. 11:13 NIV)
  • “Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house; too much of you, and he will hate you.” (Prov, 25:17 NIV)

Last but by no means least, there are instructions about government leaders; those politicians who hold our lives in their hands:

  • “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” (Prov. 26:24-26 NIV)

We can only hope that the “assembly,” the press and the people will do their job and expose the hypocrisy of each and every politician.

Some people say: “God doesn’t talk to us today. He turns a blind eye to disaster and allows good men and women to suffer.  If there really were a God, wouldn’t he protect us and keep us safe? Why is he so silent?  Why doesn’t he tell us what to do?”

Hello?  All you have to do is pick up the book — “The Book!” Read the words of God. Turn the pages. Follow the tags or mini-instructions God has already given. Apply the information. As Sherlock Holmes once quipped: “It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”