Giving Thanks will Change your Life

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(The “Golden Rain Trees” are in bloom!” 1st the yellow flower spears, then the peach lantern seed pods)

Halloween is not over and here we are thinking about Christmas. Thanksgiving gets sandwiched in-between and almost forgotten. Ironically, the first two holidays are what I call “Give me holidays.” We ask for things and then wait expectantly to receive. The “glossed over” holiday in the middle is for “giving thanks.” But what do we do? We think about getting off work and indulging some gluttonous feasting.

Giving thanks is inborn in our DNA.  An atheist friend of mine is always pointing upward when she receives something good, and then pulling her hand back in embarrassment. She thanks “whoever” or “whatever,” afraid that she might get caught in actual gratitude toward God.

A few years ago she sold a painting. She lamented that she had only received $150 for it, and then proceeded to tell me that it went right into a new disposal for her kitchen sink because hers had quit.

“Don’t you see what a blessing that is?” I asked her. “You didn’t have the money to replace the disposal, and then you sold a painting for the exact amount you needed? Do you see the irony in that?” She simply charged it up to coincidence.

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(This photo shows the yellow spiked flowers that fall before the peach seed pods grow.

How hard it is to give thanks. We shrug it off with feelings of embarrassment, as if that makes us dependent on someone else or even God. And we’re far too smart for that! Besides, we had it coming.

We ignore our waiters at a restaurant watching them come and go as if they are beneath us, and instead reward them with a tip afterward if they satisfy us. We have become a nation of ingrates. Our mother’s called it being courteous. Our teacher’s called it being polite. In fact, when we were young we threw please and thank you around by the dozen to get a smile or a pat on the back.

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Now people bump into each other on crowded streets and buses, and simply grunt to show that they’ve been inconvenienced. Pushing and shoving has become the order of the day, even on crowded highways. Automobiles jostle for position weaving in and out like a game of bumper cars.

When was the last time you allowed someone to pull in front of you? And how about that driver waiting on a side street; did you let him or her pull forward into traffic?

Since when did we all become so selfish, so in a hurry?  Was it at the beginning of the computer age when life itself accelerated? First we became inwardly focused, and now we’re more technology focused. Eye contact is not only scarce, it has become scary; a thing to be avoided because it encourages intimacy and opens the door to conversation.

When was the last time your teenager looked you in the eyes with fondness and emotion? How often do you allow yourself a good soak in the tub to soothe those tightened muscles? What happened to those lost moments when you dreamt about possibilities instead of obstacles?

I fear that in spite of all our technology, we still feel like we must “Go, go, go” every minute, and yet we never catch up. We are in an endless pursuit of accomplishment. If we’re not aspiring or growing, we are getting left behind. Our “failure” complex has a grip on our minds that we can’t shake off. We’re out of breath and sweating even when we’re standing still.

As we ease into the rush of holiday preparation, the shopping and the anxiety let us all remember “the reason for the season.” Take the time to appreciate and recognize what is happening around you. Be grateful for those who try to make your life easier. Do your part to keep you and yours safe and free from anger and accidents. And as Tiny Tim said in Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” “God Bless us, everyone!”

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(Great granddaughter pumpkin hunting.)

The Dangers of Socialism are ignored Because of Promised Perks

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“Victims of War” are usually women and children. Here “History repeats itself!” 24 x 18 mixed media on canvas

In America, the Land of Plenty, we’ve grown soft. Many of us have experienced affluence, opportunity, security, a good education and a clear path to success.

According to a recent article by Cal Thomas “51% of young people between the ages of 18-29 do not support capitalism; yet even the poorest American lives better and has more opportunity for advancement than most of the rest of the world.

“Why does socialism receive such strong support among the young?” Thomas writes. “Could it be that socialism A.K.A communism is being peddled in our schools, and that newspapers and demagogues in the higher echelons of government are pushing socialism because it makes them richer and more powerful (votes)? After all, who wouldn’t rather get a check than earn one?

Thomas uses quotes to point out the fallacies of Socialism “both its false promise and its danger:”

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.” – Winston Churchill

“The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” – Margaret Thatcher

“The goal of socialism is communism,” Vladimir Lenin (No matter how many times Bernie and Hillary deny it!).

“Capitalism and its political sister, democracy, offer opportunity, not guaranteed outcome. Socialism is mutually shared poverty.” Cal Thomas

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“Prayer Circles” 24 x 18 acrylic on canvas

My previous blog was also politically motivated. We are in a critical juncture in America. We are leaving behind the principles that guided us in the past, and we are treating with disdain those Constitutional precepts that have made our country great for more than two hundred years. We are allowing our emotions and our lusts to determine our choices rather than history’s lessons of the past, truth or common sense.

Young people who embrace the promises and slogans of socialism should travel more to gain a perspective on what this lifestyle means. When I was last in Germany the wall was still up splitting the city of Berlin right down the middle. We were able to compare modern Berlin to its poverty-stricken sister in the East.

We cowered as we showed our passports and boarded the train. Eerie quiet confronted us on the east side as we walked into the first plaza. Red Soviet flags hung from many of the buildings. I was about to take a photo and was told by an uniformed guard that photographs were not allowed.

We used a lavatory in the visitor’s building. Coarse paper was in some cases provided as was a half-used bar of soap. We discovered later that toilet paper in East Berlin was in short supply.

People spoke softly or very little. We stumbled into a small café at lunchtime and discovered it filled with workers on their break. All eyes were upon us as we sat down. Then their private conversations continued. We were able to order something to eat and chose what the locals were having: a bowl of soup and a slice of bread.

We were able to bring a few souvenirs across the border upon our return. I chose some ordinary shops; a hardware store and a small department store. I wanted to see what the residents normally purchased and how they lived. I came home with a small shelf that was nailed with wooden pegs, and two planters that were made without any nails. We also bought our children a Russian set of nesting dolls made in the Ukraine.

It became obvious by the end of the day that the people lived simply and in constant fear. They, and us, were being watched and monitored. If the citizens received any goods or services from “The State” it was not obvious. When people are entrapped and they can’t travel or purchase fine things for themselves, they are nothing more than prisoners and slaves in their own land.

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“Prince of Thieves” 20 x 16  canvas — Oil on acrylic under painting

In socialism and communism the only people who eat well and spend luxuriously are the ruling class. Everyone else is a ward of the state. What happens is the ambitious and powerful rise to the top while the regular folks, the workers fall into poverty and stagnation.

Is shared poverty what you want? Will you trade your freedoms for dependency and submission? In the beginning having free healthcare, free education and food sounds fantastic. But all that glitters is not gold. Someone has to pay the piper and it just might be you.

 

Labor Pangs are soon forgotten Once you receive the Prize

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(Yes, here I am in all my exhausted and pregnant glory, expecting our 5th child)

Our first home had a cement floor that we covered with throw rugs to keep our feet from freezing in the winter. The kitchen was overlaid with grungy black tiles thickly coated with layers of old yellow wax. I knew it had to come off, but how?

Finally I tackled it! Not with a scrubbing-brush or gallons of product that our budget couldn’t afford, but with a razor blade. I knew I had to be gentle or scratch the tiles. I figured if I could scrape five or more squares a day while my two toddlers were napping, I could get it done in a few months. Speed was not the objective. A shiny black floor was.

By sticking to my guns, I beat my goal and had it done in a month. I reasoned that if I could do this with every dream and every challenge, just think what I could accomplish! Every time I walked into that room and saw the deep sheen on the floor, cooking for my family and taking care of my babes did not seem so daunting. I needed this kind of optimism because we ended up with six kids.

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After going three weeks over my due date, the first one brought 24 hours of excruciating labor. The doctor debated a cesarean section, but kept saying “let’s wait a little longer;” until finally her little head crowned and she was born.

The second child, a boy, was born 14 months later. My water broke at home and we rushed to the hospital. My husband was still registering me when he was born. “Wow, this birth thingie is going to be a snap from here on,” I thought.

It wasn’t. Four years later, during fireworks on July 5th , I went into labor with my third child, a boy. I was also three weeks overdue with this one. After another long labor, he weighed in at 10 pounds.

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Sidney, child #3

The fourth child introduced me to stress diabetes followed by two more ten pound babies and difficult deliveries. But once the births were over, and I held those precious humans-in-miniature and nursed them joyfully, the pain and suffering was quickly forgotten.

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(Chris #2, Holly #4, Paula #5, Sidney #3, Pamela #1

“Nothing worth having was ever achieved without effort.” Most of us have heard that Teddy Roosevelt quote many times. We’ve experienced it when we finally get that perfect job, or find the right mate after we’ve gone through several “duds.”

There are struggles and growing pains in every new thing we try. We think we will never find satisfaction or success. But if we’re patient, we may get to see completion. Then we realize we were watching the unfolding miracle happen before our very eyes.

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The first time you must  punish your child for disobeying the rules or for going against your family values, you probably experienced pain; perhaps even guilt or shame. Not that the punishment didn’t fit the crime, but that you had to do it at all.

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Paula, my 5th child (Aunt Jean’s paintings behind; and a baby quilt I made.

One of my daughter’s was forever breaking the rules. The frightful thing was that she accepted the “grounding” or the scolding willingly knowing that she deserved it. But that consequence didn’t stop her from disobeying the next time. Even as a teenager, if she were grounded for a week or even a month, it didn’t seem to make any difference. She just went out when she was free and again disobeyed the curfew. I didn’t know how to deal with her effectively.

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Here’s that cute little nubbins at age three.

Her father was absent most of the time. When I’d explain the situation to him, he seemed not to hear. His response was nothing as he left for work. My daughter had to experience the results of her actions again and again. Later in life, long after there was no one there to reprimand her except herself, she went through some hard times before the “light came on” and she altered her choices and behavior because it was healthier and safer.

We sometimes see ourselves in our children. We try to hold them back through warnings or discipline so they won’t have to experience the pain that we did. They could listen to us if they would. They could be obedient and save themselves a truckload of you-know-what, but they don’t. They go blindly forward in spite of our words and our anguish.

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Here’s all five of them on  the mountain with Mom, ready to throw rocks over the cliff. (# 6 wasn’t here yet.)

I always believed that if my children knew how deeply I loved them everything would turn out all right, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Accepting your child as he or she is with all their flaws and imperfections is the key to their own self-acceptance and outlook as adults. You need to continue loving them even though their life choices may not have been your own.

It may be difficult. You may not necessarily approve of their actions or behavior. You love them anyway. God does this for us as parents and we’re far from perfect. He loves His children unconditionally. Can we do any less for our own?

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#6, getting a bath in the sink.

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Learning to stand.

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#6 now a toddler, dressed up for church.

Five Steps for Success in almost any Situation

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“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.

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“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.

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“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!

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“The Perfect Ending” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

Physical Struggles are not all Bad

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"Broken" 11x14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

“Broken” 11×14 mixed media (SOLD); prints available.

Yeah, I’m slowly getting better after having surgery, but I’ve gotten way behind on my blogs and my artwork. My house is in a sad state of affairs because I can’t lift, bend, or even bathe yet. Had the staples taken out yesterday, and now another five days of showers only.

But what’s the alternative? Have surgery or continue feeling crappy because I was too busy to have my stone-filled diseased gall bladder removed? I do know that in a few short weeks, I’ll start reaping the benefits of the surgery and catch up with my other responsibilities. There’s one thing about work. It usually waits for you.

I’ll take a physical struggle any day over one that you can’t see. I learned this from experience. During a difficult marriage I felt like Don Quixote fighting windmills and imaginary demons. One day when we had a deluge of water from a downpour, our basement windows filled with water. The whole family was outside with buckets scooping water out and away from the house.

"Tickles from God" acrylic on canvas

“Tickles from God” acrylic on canvas

While bailing, I felt exhilarated. Here was an enemy I could actually see and I was doing everything in my power to defeat it. Every muscle in my body was engaged. Our family was working as a team. My husband and I were finally on the same side, fighting an enemy that was real. We were drenched when it was over, and we hadn’t succeeded in saving our basement carpet, but we were united around a common purpose.

The struggle invigorated me because:

  1. I had the tools,
  2. I knew what I was up against, and
  3. The outcome didn’t really matter because we all did the best that we could and we did it together.

I’ve had many challenges in my life, but most of them I worked on alone, and I was the benefactor of my efforts. The kitchen floor of our first tiny home was covered with black tiles that were so thickly coated with wax that every scratch and scuff showed. I made it a goal to restore its former beauty.

Each day I’d razor blade one or two tiles, three if my two babies were good. I kept at it doggedly. I made a decision that I didn’t care how long it took. I was more concerned about sticking to my goal and completing the task I had committed to.

"Looking Outward" (old window frame); acrylic on glass/canvas

“Looking Outward” (old window frame); acrylic on glass/canvas

Six months later the floor was done! I cleaned it and gave it a slight sheen. They looked like brand new tiles. This struggle not only gave me a better looking floor, but a sense of accomplishment. I had completed what I set out to do. I was determined. I knew that if I could do this floor, I could do anything I set my mind to.

In this way, I taught myself how to sew clothes for me and my children, make quilts, sew wall art, crochet, knit, cook, make bread and doughnuts, learn how to can fruits and vegetables, etc.

Over the years I followed this same “modus operandi.” I became tenacious to a fault. Sometimes I’d forge ahead even though it became obvious my efforts weren’t reaping what I’d hoped. Learning how to stop something that isn’t working is just as important as sticking to a goal and seeing it through. Once you determine when a project or a goal must be revisited, analyzed or changed you save valuable time and energy.

Your efforts must be guided and focused. What you learn from your failures and mistakes is just as important as what you glean from your successes. You have to figure out what struggles are worth it and which ones are not.

Run Your Laps Every Day – Reach for the Stars not the Dazzle of Fool’s Gold

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“Namesake” 24×18 acrylic on canvas

My oldest daughter ran track as did her younger brother. I remember the grueling contests, the aching muscles, and the near collapse after a race, the throwing up afterward, the dark side of competition all for the ribbons, the glory, the win.

Running gets in your blood. It drives you. My daughter could run miles on the steam of anger leaving from our house and traveling for sympathy to see her friend in another county; a different city.

I watched them both compete and admired their persistence. Peer pressure helped, but the adrenaline rush after a track meet was addictive.

I tried it a few times at the YMCA. The track was the diameter of the building. I ran around and around, and around. 15 laps equaled one mile. I did a lot of counting (and forgetting), and counting again. My “round” trip was tedious and boring. My goal wasn’t to win. I was competing against myself. The end game was to lose 10 pounds. I didn’t last long enough.

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“With These Hands — Hope” Oil on acrylic under painting; 16×20 canvas

I discovered that the difference between success and failure, for me, was being outdoors. I knew where to walk and just how long I needed to go. I used my car to gauge the distance. I started with five miles, then ten. After a few weeks, the pounds started to melt away. Exercise is much easier than counting calories, and more fun.

Every athlete, every runner knows you have to put in the time. It’s no different with any other skill or profession. Time equals distance, equals gain. “No pain, no gain;” you’ve heard it a million times.

The difference between success and failure is often as simple as this. One person spends his or her time vegging out in front of the “Boob Tube” while the other one does the laps, the practice, and the work to improve his or her skills or business.

One person reads books related to their interests and dreams, and another would rather spend his time making things with his hands. If either develops a skill and a driving interest, they have a shot at success.

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Open Book” 20×16 Oil on acrylic under painting; Original SOLD, but prints are available.

What is success? Does it mean money? Does it mean having all the toys and whistles? Or does it simply mean doing something that rewards you with fulfillment, satisfaction and a decent living? Of course, the answers are unique to each individual. But I guarantee that if you were in a devastating tornado or a destructive hurricane, you’d probably say what most people on T.V. say in the aftermath:

“These are just things. We can replace things. But my family – thank God they’re all alive!”

If you haven’t yet discovered what you’re willing to live or to die for, you haven’t really lived. If there is nothing on this earth for which you are willing to sacrifice your time, effort, and devotion to besides yourself, you haven’t really loved.

Many people can’t understand faith or a belief in something greater than themselves. Without a guiding force it is easy to get caught up in the moment and waste your time on quick gratification or cheap thrills. A guiding force or higher power can help you resist that which hinders your growth and success. A deep inner peace can empower you to run your laps, every day, until you reach the heights of your potential. It costs nothing, but it will change your life forever.

What Drives you to Distraction?

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How could you not look at this adorable face!

How could you not look at this adorable face!

Some things grab your attention more than others. The point at which you lose yourself may be different from mine. What slows you down and causes you to linger may depend on your ability or inability to focus on the task at hand. Whatever it is that beguiles you, deadlines are forgotten and appointments fade into obscurity. Once your thought process is disrupted, you’re hooked. You become like a cobra entranced by the magic flute swaying before your eyes.

This morning, my husband and I were shopping in “Fresh Market.” Similar to “Whole Foods,” Fresh Market is intoxicating; the brands and packaging alone could amuse me for hours. The sights and smells get my digestive juices flowing. The color of freshness awakens my taste buds. You simply cannot leave this store empty-handed.

My husband was content with a bottle of sparkling cider and some blueberries. I roamed the store hungering to buy. I could entertain myself for hours here savoring the samples, the freebies, and admiring the steaks and seafood I can’t afford. I vowed to come back alone so I could do just that!

"With These Hands -- Wonder" oil on canvas

“With These Hands — Wonder” oil on 16×20 canvas

My husband is a purposeful shopper. He doesn’t care to browse and admire. He knows what he wants and he goes in for the kill every time. We were in and out of there in 15 minutes leaving me feeling deflated and unfulfilled. Food is an all-consuming diversion, especially if you’re hungry.

You already know what a time sucker technology can be. Hours are consumed responding to comments and photos on Facebook, Pinterest, Trumblr and Instagram. As soon as you’ve mastered one program, there’s another one out there that promises even bigger results in accumulating friends and fans.

Many of these sites snag you in and then begin charging for their services. You play awhile. You stay awhile. And then they chew you up and spit you out!

My nephew, Kirk's family.

My nephew, Kirk’s, family.

Your friends and family can be a distraction unless they know the ground rules. Keep certain hours for yourself. No texting. No emails or phone calls. Nothing except what leads you to your desired goals. Reward your family and friends with shared time in the off hours. Respect their requests as well. Use their strength and yours to stay on target.

Television with its encroaching advertisements and enticing lead-ins pounces on your attention span like a rat catcher. You settle back for only a second, but once your rear-end sinks into that soft sofa you’re doomed. It’s obviously much more fun to watch a movie than buckle down to write or paint on an unresolved canvas.

Needy pets can spin circles at your feet and remind you of your neglect. By the time you play fetch or walk around the block, you’ve lost the thrust of your passion. Anything that weakens your drive paralyzes your mind. Writer’s and Painter’s block are real. They happen when you allow distractions to take over most of your day.

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“Bella Belissimo” 16×20 acrylic on canvas SOLD (prints available)

Demanding spouses can break your focus in one fell swoop!  Their interruptions and need for companionship can throw cold water on a hot idea. Wherever you are, and however you live, staying focused is a constant battle. You can either give in and lose your momentum, or you can set the ground rules and abide by them so others will take you seriously.