Category Archives: Articles

The Irish Cultural Center, Phoenix, Arizona

The Irish Cultural Center, Phoenix, Arizona

Right in the center of bustling, modern Phoenix rises a complex of stone structures reminiscent of medieval times.








Pass through the gates and you realize you’re somewhere magical.

The Irish Cultural Center is many things: a monument to a people devastated by famine; a place where Irish-Americans can research their roots; an academy where you can learn to play harp or bodhran, speak Gaelic, or dance Irish and Scottish dances; home to a rare facsimile of the Book of Kells; a library housing collections of Irish literature and history. It is also where the Phoenix International Folk Dancers meet every Tuesday night, in the building pictured below.


By far the largest building is the McClelland Library.





The Visitor’s Center looks like a quaint Irish cottage. It also contains a gift shop.


Though the buildings look hundreds of years old, they were constructed after 2000.


And here is a monument commemorating  the deaths of 1,500,000 people during the Great Hunger of 1845-1850:IMG_0605IMG_0607IMG_0606

For more information about the Irish Cultural Center, see their website.

Guest Post: Writing a Memoir of Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery by Marilyn L. Davis

Guest Post: Writing a Memoir of Restoration, Renewal, and Rediscovery by Marilyn L. Davis

Thanks to Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog and to Marilyn L. Davis for this insightful article.

Two Drops of Ink: A Literary Blog

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“It has always been on the written page that the world has come into focus for me. If I can piece all these bits of memory together with the diaries and letters and the scribbled thoughts that clutter my mind and bookshelves, then maybe I can explain what happened. Maybe the worlds I have inhabited for the past seven years will assume order and logic and wholeness on paper. Maybe I can tell my story in a way that is useful to someone else.” ― Nancy Horan, Loving Frank

While Nancy Horan’s book is a novel, this passage helps explain the power of memoir or reflective writing. I’m a huge fan of the genre, in part, because it began my recovery from substance abuse, but more importantly, this type of reflective writing healed me in ways I could not imagine when I first started writing.


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Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Review: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

When I read How to Write Funny last year, I was disappointed to find that many of the writers who are considered geniuses of comedy aren’t very funny to me.

So I perused all the books on my shelves and thought about who I consider funny. I like cerebral humor. I like wry, twisted observation.

I came up with two authors: Anne Lamott (see my review of Bird by Bird), and Sarah Vowell.

Sarah_Vowell by Tammy Lo

Photo by Tammy Lo

If you’re not familiar with Vowell, she was a popular contributor to This American Life on NPR, and the author of many commentaries on American history and culture, and the voice of Violet in the animated movie The Incredibles. I saw her speak in person at a writers conference many years ago.

Assassination Vacation is a cerebral and wry account of a marathon pilgrimage Vowell took to various sites connected with the murders of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, accompanied on various legs by a friend, her sister Amy, and/or her (then three-year-old) nephew Owen.

How could that possibly be funny?

Vowell makes it so. Let’s eavesdrop on a conversation in the book:

Bennet asked, “You know that Kevin Bacon game?”

“The one where he can be connected to every other movie star?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Assassinations are your Kevin Bacon. No matter what we’re talking about, you will always bring the conversation back to a president getting shot.”

He was right…Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up McKinley.

Assassination VacationOh. I almost recognize myself in that exchange.

Vowell collects interesting but random facts and shares them with us. For example, “Mary Surratt’s D.C. boardinghouse, where John Wilkes Booth gathered his co-conspirators to plot Lincoln’s death, is now a Chinese restaurant called Wok & Roll.”

Here is how Vowell describes the tour guide who leads her through the Oneida Community, a former cult commune in New York, and briefly the home of Charles J. Guiteau, the assassin of James Garfield:

…Joe Valesky, a retired Oneida native who taught high school American history for thirty-six years, gives me a guided tour.  Someday, I hope to be just like him. There are people who look forward to spending their sunset years in the sunshine; it is my own retirement dream to await my death indoors, dragging strangers up dusty staircases while coughing up one of the must thrilling phrases in the English language: “It was on this spot…” My fantasy is to one day become a docent.

Did I mention I love nerds, being one myself?

Vowell is annoyed when while trying to find the place where a particular event happened, there is no marker:

I am pro-plaque. New York is lousy with them, and I love how spotting a plaque can jazz up even the most mundane errand. Once I stepped out of a deli on Third Avenue and turned the corner to learn I had just purchased gum near the site of Peter Stuyvesant’s pear tree. For a split second I had fallen through a trapdoor that dumped me out in New Amsterdam, where in 1647 the peg-legged Dutch governor planted a tree he brought over from Holland; until a fatal wagon accident, it bore fruit for more than two hundred years. To me, every plaque, no matter what words are inscribed on it, says the same magic informative thing: Something happened! The gum cost a dollar, but the story was free.

Sarah_Vowell by Loren-zo

Photo by Loren-zo

And her writing is so picturesque: “…the McKinley National Monument in Canton is a domed edifice on top of a hill. It’s a gray granite nipple on a fresh green breast of grass.” Tell me you didn’t smile when you read that.

Sarah Vowell loves history, and she has the knack of making it interesting to those who might rather stick needles in their eyes than read about past tragedies. You may not think a book about presidential murders could be entertaining or actually funny, but Assassination Vacation is.

What about you? Do you like history? Have you read anything by Sarah Vowell or heard her speak? Share your opinions and insights in the comments below.

Helping Children Learn to Write

Helping Children Learn to Write

Doing Life Together

girl-writing-2Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic used to be called the 3 Rs—the three basic skills necessary for success in life. Your children’s teachers will thank you if you encourage your kids to write. Here are eleven ideas to help you:

  1. Child as young as two years old: Give her a pencil and paper and encourage her to “write”—even if it looks like scribbling. (Watch her to be sure she writes on the paper and doesn’t accidentally poke her eye.)
  2. Three years old: Go through a wordless picture book (preferably one you’ve “read” him before—a good one is Peter Spier’s Noah’s Ark) and ask him what’s happening in each picture.
  3. Four years old: Have her practice writing the alphabet and her name. (Call your local school and find out what handwriting model they use. I grew up with the Palmer method; my children were taught D’Nealian. You can find D’Nealian alphabets…

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Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story by C.S. Lakin

Review: Writing the Heart of Your Story by C.S. Lakin

I read a lot of writing books. This is one of the best I’ve ever read.

I’ve long been a big fan of C.S. Lakin’s website, Live Write Thrive. So when a deal came along for the Kindle edition of Writing the Heart of Your Story: The Secret to Crafting an Unforgettable Novel, I ordered it.

The books we remember years after we finish the last page are the ones that connect with us on an emotional level. Lakin’s book takes us on a journey to discover what’s at the heart of the story we’re writing, and how to make that heart connection with the reader.

The thirty chapters of the book are divided into five sections, defining heart, and explaining how to heighten it in your characterization, plot and theme, scenes, and more.writing the heart

Lakin encourages writers to put a lot of thought into the very first page of the novel. She’s devised a checklist of 13 items that should appear on page one. The list turns some common writing advice upside down, but will compel the reader to turn to page two. “Think about the emotion, feeling, or sensation you want to evoke in your reader…establishing immediately…the drives, desires, needs, fears, frustrations of your protagonist. Not only do you need to show her in conflict…you also need to reveal her heart, hint at her spiritual need, show her vulnerability, and what obstacles are standing in her way. In the first scene? Oh yes.”

Latin is a plotter rather than a pantser, but she plots strategically, planning how she will impact the reader before she even starts her manuscript. She tells us to RUE: resist the urge to explain. She challenges writers to take out all but maybe three short sentences of backstory.

Lakin also sends us to our bookshelves to reread our favorite books and analyze them for the elements she presents. There we find proof her strategies work.

She shares hints she’s gleaned from other writing books that help writers identify elements of heart. For example, she recommends Elizabeth George’s practice of free writing about her characters. “Call it muse or divine inspiration, but freewriting, like journaling, can draw from a deep well of experience and emotion. Things float to the surface of the mind when you do this, and I will guarantee that some of your best ideas for your character will come through this exercise. You are delving into the mystery of your character, and this exercise will bring out their secrets.” (I can’t wait to try that idea!)

I love the questions Lakin raises in Chapter 19 for building conflict and complications:

  • What’s the problem about? How can I make it bigger? If I take my protagonist out of the story, what does that problem look like in universal terms?

  • How can I make this problem the protagonist has harder? How can I make things worse in the outer world and in his personal life?

  • How can I make the effects of this problem worse for other people as well? How can I broaden the scope of this problem so it affects a greater scope?

  • What does this problem push people to do that they wouldn’t normally do? How can I blow that up bigger and make them do worse things?

  • How can I make it harder for my protagonist to solve this problem? How can I raise the stakes so more is at risk? If I have just one thing at risk, what other things can I add and put at risk?

Lakin gives special consideration to the setting of each scene:

Where is the best place I can put my character to have this scene unfold and lead to the important moment revealed in this scene? Rather than pick something off the top of your head, which is what a lot of writers do in their rush to put a scene down, you will find that if you deliberately and judiciously choose a setting that will best serve the interests of your plot and your character’s need for that scene, you will have a much more powerful novel.

While reading Writing the Heart of Your Story, I found myself running to the computer to rewrite sections of my work-in-progress.

I’m currently reading Lakin’s novel Intended for Harm. It’s interesting to see how she uses her strategies in her own work.

Writing the Heart of Your Story is a book I intend to reread often—whenever I start writing a new novel and whenever I start editing it.

MIM Again

MIM Again

In April, my daughter, Carly, visited from Brooklyn, New York. She mentioned she’d like to go to the MIM.

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix is one of my favorite places in the world. I’ve been there at least five times since in opened in 2010. I’ve written other posts about The MIM.

Here are some of the sights we saw on our visit (click on the smaller pictures to enlarge and reveal captions):

The mariachi exhibit:




tapa from Oceania, a textile made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree:


Grand piano made for Czar Nicholas I of Russia:


Pretty cool, huh?

What about you? Have you been to MIM, or to another musical instrument museum? (I know there’s another in Paris, and maybe elsewhere.) Share in the comments below.

#ALCGC2017 May Check-In

#ALCGC2017 May Check-In

“The ARHtistic License Creative Goals Challenge for 2017” is quite a mouthful. I’ve created a shorthand nickname for it. Let’s use the Twitter hashtag #ALCGC2017 to tweet about our goals.

Another month down. How are you doing on your creative goals?

I missed a few days of Scripture reading. I’m back on track now.

I haven’t gotten a handle on the clutter in my study. ARG!Palette bing free commercial

I’ve written no poetry in National Poetry Month.

I’ve done no artwork.

I’ve focused on getting a month ahead on my blog. I’m close.

I finished my rewrite of The God of Paradox into a Bible study, just working on it on Saturdays since the first of the year. I’m planning to test-drive it with my Bible study group, when we finish our current book (Hebrews).


I’ve made good progress on rewriting The Unicornologist this past month.

And I received two paychecks for articles this month—my first writing paydays in seventeen years. “How to Hold a Writers Retreat” is in the May-June 2017 issue of Christian Communicator. (I forgot about that one—submitted it eighteen months ago.) And Primary Treasures bought my article, “Putting on Full Armor” for a future issue. (I originally wrote it twenty years ago. I’ve been spending my Sunday writing time rewriting and submitting manuscripts in my file cabinet from back in my freelancing days.)

guitarI’m up to page 42 in Essential Elements for Guitar and Unit 12 in The Sweet Pipes Recorder Book. Making slow but steady progress on guitar, recorder, and piano.

So, I’ve had some successes and some failures this month—par for a creative’s life.

If your progress this year has been mixed, it’s okay to reevaluate your goals and adjust them. I set ambitious objectives this year, and I’m not doing as much as I think I’m capable of, but I am working my little buttinsky off.

Now it’s your turn. ARHtistic License was created to help foster growth among the creative community. I’d love to know how all of you are doing so far in 2017, so I (and ARHtistic License readers) can encourage you. Don’t be shy! If you’re keeping accountable on your blog, paste a link into the comments below. Or if you don’t have a blog, just tell us your successes and your challenges this past month. Check in on June 1, 2017 to share your progress during May.

X is for X-ray Art

X is for X-ray Art

Found on Etsy. Click on the link below each photograph to see more information.AK-47


Water pistol

Water pistol.


Assorted subjects.

High heel boot

High-heeled boot.

Butterflies in stomach

Butterflies in the stomach.



Xray tech charm

Xray technician charm.

Lab vet

Lab “vet” studying patient x-ray.

Snake v. Chipmunk

Snake vs. chipmunk. Several different colorations.

Hadrosaur foot

Hadrosaur foot.


Animal x-rays.

Holding Hands

What loved one wouldn’t wear these entwined hands? Perfect gift for only $7.95.







Fish 2










Cyclist's heart

What beats inside a cyclist’s chest.

Gummy bear

Gummy bear. (Wait a minute. Is this for real?)

Some of these are really gorgeous. I would love the seahorse and the leaves hanging in my house.

What about you–did you see any you like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

V is for Van Gogh

V is for Van Gogh




Vincent Willem van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art.


Van Gogh: The Starry Night

Born into an upper-middle-class family, Vincent was a quiet, serious child who liked to draw.


Van Gogh: Fishing Boats on the Beach at Saintes-Maries

As a young man, he pursued his interest in art by working as an art dealer. After he was transferred to London, he fell in love with his landlady’s daughter, but his feelings were not returned. He succumbed to depression, and was ultimately released from his firm. (Click on smaller images to enlarge and reveal captions.)

He turned to his faith, and served as a missionary in southern Belgium. After that, he briefly held a series of jobs as a teacher, a minister’s assistant, and a bookstore clerk.

He drifted in ill health and solitude before moving back home with his parents in 1881, where he took up painting. His younger brother Theo supported him financially, and the two maintained a lively correspondence by letter. Vincent’s early works, mostly still lifes and depictions of peasant laborers, contain few signs of the vivid color that distinguished his later work.

In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris, where he met members of the avant-garde, including Paul Gauguin, whom he greatly admired. Vincent’s paintings grew brighter in color as he developed a style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in the south of France in 1888. Van Gogh invited Gauguin to join him there and paint together. Their friendship was short-lived, and ended after an argument and a violent confrontation with a razor, when in a rage, Vincent severed part of his own left ear.

Van Gogh suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions. He neglected his physical health, did not eat properly, and drank heavily. His depression continued and on July 27, 1890, Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver. He died from his injuries two days later. He was only 37 years old.

In just over a decade, van Gogh created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most of them in the last two years of his life in France, where he died. They include landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits, and are characterized by bold colors and dramatic, impulsive and expressive brushwork that contributed to the foundations of modern art. His work was largely unappreciated during his lifetime. Today he is considered a creative genius.


Van Gogh: Wheatfield with Crows

Most of the information from this article came from Wikipedia.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow @VanGoghTheLife and see a new Van Gogh painting every day—some of which you’ve undoubtedly never seen before.


Van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhone

Other posts about van Gogh on ARHtistic License:

What about you—do you like van Gogh? What other artists do you like? Share in the comments below.

S is for Stradivari

S is for Stradivari

Antonio Stradivari (1644—December 18, 1737) was an Italian luthier, a crafter of string instruments. He is considered the greatest artisan in this field. The Latinized form of his surname, Stradivarius, as well as the colloquial “Strad” are terms often used to refer to his instruments. Scholars estimate that Antonio produced 1,116 instruments, of which 960 were violins. It is estimated that around 650 of these instruments survive.


Antonio Stradivari by Edgar Bundy

It is believed that Stradivari was a student of Nicola Amati, apprenticed from 1656–58, and produced his first decent instruments in 1660, at the age of 16. His first labels were printed from 1660 to 1665, indicating that his work had sufficient quality to be offered directly to his patrons. However, he stayed in Amati’s workshop until about 1684, using his master’s reputation as a launching point for his career.


Cremona, Italy, where Stradivari was born.

In the early 1690s, Stradivari made a pronounced departure from his earlier style of instrument-making, changing two key elements of his instruments. First, he began to make violins with a larger pattern than previous instruments; these larger violins usually are known as “Long Strads”. He also switched to using a darker, richer varnish, as opposed to a yellower varnish similar to that used by Amati. He continued to use this pattern until 1698, with few exceptions. After 1698, he abandoned the Long Strad model and returned to a slightly shorter model, which he used until his death. The period from 1700 until the 1720s is often termed the “golden period” of his production. Instruments made during this time are usually considered of a higher quality than his earlier instruments.

Husky 214px-Stradivarius_violin_front

Stradivarius violin, photo by Husky

Stradivari’s instruments are regarded as amongst the finest bowed stringed instruments ever created, are highly prized, and are still played by professionals today.

Click here to listen to videos of world-class performers, such as Anne-Sophie Mutter, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, and Yo Yo Ma, playing Stradivarius instruments.

The Vienna Philharmonic uses several Stradivari instruments that were purchased by the National Bank of Austria and other sponsors.

Information for this article came from Wikipedia.