Category Archives: Essay

Creative Juice #251

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Creative Juice #251

A lot of beauty in today’s articles, curated especially for you.

  • Do you like Irish step dancing?
  • If you read my post about the Sirens, you know I love to sleep.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing. And lots of links, if you enjoy going down rabbit holes.
  • I may have included these father of the bride photos in a previous edition of Creative Juice. You know what? They’re so beautiful, you should see them again.
  • Beautiful fruit photography.
  • Read your children some books about kindness and talk about how to make a difference in the lives of the people around you.
  • I’d never heard of Sonny Curtis, even though I’m familiar with two of his most famous songs; but I love his daughter’s essay about him.
  • Would you believe there are 800 pairs of herons living in Amsterdam? Maybe because of the canals. . .
  • Ingenious and useful creations from toilet paper rolls.
  • A mom’s June sketchbook pages.
  • I love this Instagrammer’s ICAD cards.
  • How a quilter pieced a 60-piece block perfectly!

Dad Memories

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Dad Memories

Father’s Day is coming up, and some memories of my dad are surfacing.

My parents came to the United States as German immigrants a few months before I was born. Dad was a trained baker, but he didn’t earn very much the first few years in the US. To make ends meet, he took a second job as a groundskeeper for a couple who owned a large property. One day while he mowed long grass, he accidentally ran over a rabbit’s nest, killing the mother rabbit and most of the babies. One baby was unharmed; he put it in a box and brought it home for me. I named him Thomas.

Wild bunnies do not make good pets. Thomas jumped out of the box and hid behind the sofa, leaving “presents” on the floor. The next morning, Dad said we had to release Thomas back into the wild. He took Thomas out to the backyard and let him go. I watched him hop away while I cried my eyes out.

When I was little, our old family car died, and it sat in the driveway for a time. Dad called it my “play car,” and I would sit behind the steering wheel and pretend I was driving. I loved it. For a while. Then I kind of forgot about it. One day a tow truck came to take it away. I cried. I thought my dad had it towed because I wasn’t playing in it anymore.

I think I was in first grade when our class read a story in our Weekly Readers about a child who made a clown doll, and we were all given the assignment of making a doll like the one in the story. Well, guess what? Six-year-olds have no idea how to sew a clown doll. I think every child who “completed” the assignment brought in a parent-made doll. At my house, for some reason, my dad decided to make mine. He didn’t follow the sketchy directions in the story (but no one’s parents did—every clown doll looked completely different). Dad repurposed an old blue striped curtain to sew the clown’s body. He stuffed it with dried beans.

Dad, June 2009
Dad, June 2009

Dad didn’t share his feelings with us much when we were growing up, unless he was displeased with us—then he made sure we knew our bad behavior was unacceptable. I remember when I was a teenager, I accused him of not loving me. He was bewildered. He said, “Don’t I work hard every day so that you have a roof over your head and food on your plate?” To him, his love was evident; he didn’t need to state the obvious.

But after he had a stroke in 2000, whenever we spoke, he always always said “I love you.”

When my mother passed away in 2004, my brother and I helped plan her Requiem Mass. Bill gave the remembrance; I did the scripture readings. Afterward, Dad told us how proud of us he was. I don’t remember him ever saying that when I was growing up. (I don’t know if he never said it, or if I just can’t remember.)

My brother Bill took care of my parents from at least 2000 on. Dad survived his stroke, but had a slow decline after my mother died. Late in 2013, he was hospitalized. Bill kept him company. He knew the end was near, and he was determined that Dad would not die alone. Two days after Christmas, he left Dad’s room for a couple of minutes, and when he returned, Dad had passed away. It was almost as though Dad waited for Bill to leave before he departed this earth.

If your dad is still with you this Father’s Day, please give him an extra hug for me.

Stifle your Inner Pessimist

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pessimist

Merriam-Webster defines pessimism as “an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome.” We all have our moments when we view our glasses as half-empty, but when people are plagued by pessimism, frankly, they’re no fun to be around.

Often, people become pessimistic when they are under stress. Losing a loved one or a job, or experiencing a crisis such as a fire, an accident, or an illness can color your outlook with gloom.

But pessimism harms you:

  • By stealing your joy when something good happens, because you anticipate everything that could go wrong (yes, she agreed to go out with me, but when she finds out I earn minimum wage, she’ll dump me for someone richer)
  • By preventing you from making positive changes in your life, because you fear you’ll fail (I could apply for a promotion, but if I don’t get it, everyone will think I’m a loser)
  • By highlighting other people’s worst qualities, which will destroy your trust
  • By giving you a negative attitude about life, causing anxiety, depression, and even physical ailments like insomnia and high blood pressure, which can weaken you and make you susceptible to disease

Though a pessimistic attitude is harmful, there are times when a moderate amount of pessimism is useful:

  • When you’re contemplating an investment, you’re more likely to scrutinize it to be sure it’s a solid opportunity for you
  • When someone phones you with a deal that’s too good to be true, you’re less likely to fall for a scam
  • When someone you know to be unreliable makes a promise, you won’t count on them, so you’ll create a backup plan; or you’ll be pleasantly surprised when they keep their word
  • When you’re asked to take on a responsibility that you know is out of your skill set, you’ll find it easier to decline

Nevertheless, too much pessimism will affect you negatively. It’s important to change your mindset to allow for positivity. Some strategies to try:

  • When something you anticipate being problematic actually goes smoother than you expected, celebrate it! Say out loud, “That went better than I thought it would.” Analyze what went right—the customer service representative knew just how to handle your concern (be sure to thank him); the miscalculation you made was caught and corrected before it had a chance to affect anything; the work product you thought was too ordinary turned out to be exactly what the client was hoping for. Then file your success in your memory bank to refer to when you’re in a similar situation.
  • If you suspect your friends are avoiding you, do a little honest introspection. When you get together, do you vent your frustrations? Talk about all your problems? Shoot down possible solutions? Try this little experiment. Call one of your friends, and ask him something about his life. How was his vacation? What did he do, who did he see? Listen, and resist the impulse to steer the conversation onto a negative topic. Instead, ask more questions about your friend’s experiences.
  • When you have to do something you’re worried about, instead of focusing on all the things that could go wrong, imagine what the best possible outcomes would look like. Is there something you could do to prepare for a good result? Maybe wear an outfit that makes you feel more professional? Do a little research or review policies? Tape an affirmation over your desk?

When to Squelch the Impulse to Buy

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It’s happened to all of us—we go to the mall, or to a website, to buy something for a special occasion. Maybe it’s a dress, or maybe it’s a gift. The first thing we see is a viable choice, but we think maybe we’ll see something nicer or less expensive if we keep looking. Hours or days later, we’ve not found anything better, so we go back to that first thing we saw, but it’s now sold out. Or maybe it’s still available, but you wonder why you wasted so much time hunting for the elusive unicorn.

At this point in my life, I often buy the first acceptable thing I see, just because it’s expedient. But not always. There are situations when you shouldn’t trust your first impulse:

  1. When your budget is tight. If you’ve had a few large unexpected expenses recently, like replacing a major appliance or getting a costly repair done, it would be irresponsible to choose the first shiny thing you see. Research and see if you can find a better price someplace else.
  2. If you’re a shopaholic. If your default mode is retail therapy, there will come a time when you’ll have to operate like an accountant rather than a free spirit. Is this purchase really necessary? Do you (or the intended recipient) already have something like it? Where will you/he/she put it? Is it a good value?
  3. When the item has an obvious design flaw. This should be a no-brainer, right? But sometimes our hearts get in the way.

Ten years ago, I wanted a blazer. Other women I knew looked so professional in blazers, but I’m short and heavyset, and I looked like a stuffed sausage in one. The blazers I tried on always felt tight at the buttons. So I kept looking. For months.

One day I found a black velour jacket with no buttons. I put it on, and it just draped beautifully on my body. My wardrobe at the time was mostly black; it would literally look good with everything I owned. It was $50, which was a little more than I wanted to spend, but I decided it would be worth it because I’d been looking for sooo looong.

There was just one thing. Along the opening, there were loose facings. And the facings kept shifting and showing.

I know just enough about sewing garments that I knew facings could be sewn down. However, tinkering with that facing in velour was beyond my skill. I didn’t think I could do it without making a mess of it.

I tried that jacket on again and again, and as I moved in front of the mirror, the facing kept sliding into view. I knew the facing would drive me crazy and detract from my pleasure wearing the jacket, but it nearly killed me to put it back on the rack.

Unbelievably, in the very next store, I found another black velour jacket, but this one had been constructed so that the facing was enclosed in a seam. Brilliant! And it was only $20! And I also found a black wool buttonless blazer for $20! So I both them both! I still wear both of them to this day.

There are times when buying the first thing you see works out well, but sometimes restraint is called for. How do you know when? Think things through carefully.

Now it’s your turn. Have you missed a good deal because you were holding out for something better? Was there a time when waiting turned out to be a better strategy? Share in the comments below.

Breathe

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Breathe

I guided Greg, my husband, through 10 reps of an exercise. “Now, rest and breathe.”

He took two shallow breaths and said, “What’s next?”

“No. Really breathe. Fill your lungs and slowly empty them. Don’t treat breathing like it’s just one more thing to get through quickly. Your body needs oxygen. Every cell in your body needs oxygen.”

“That’s what they kept telling me at physical therapy.”

“See? I didn’t make it up.”

Anyone who’s ever taken a Lamaze class knows the importance of breathing. (Am I dating myself? Do they even teach Lamaze to pregnant women anymore?) Deep breathing while doing strenuous physical tasks, like giving birth or lifting weights, boosts your energy and helps lessen pain. The worst thing you can do while exerting yourself or while experiencing severe pain is to hold your breath. (Okay, you do hold your breath while bearing down to give birth; but that’s after taking a few deep breaths to prepare.)

Breathe

Deep breathing also helps you diffuse intense emotions, such as panic. When you are upset, breathe slowly and deeply to give your body more oxygen, and your heart will slow down and stop pounding.

When your blood is fully oxygenated, it speeds nutrients and vitamins to your cells, discards wastes promptly, and facilitates your immune system. Deep breathing can also lower your blood pressure.

Breathing helps you maintain your focus, and it also helps deepen your enjoyment. When you’re outside enjoying nature, don’t you intuitively take deep breaths? Breathing activates your endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones and neurotransmitters. If you want to be happy, breathe all the time.

Don’t underestimate the simple act of breathing. It’s essential for your well-being.

Creative Juice #230

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Creative Juice #230

Twelve tantalizing articles to spark your imagination this weekend.

Rebirth of Hope

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I am writing this on Wednesday afternoon after watching Joe Biden’s inauguration. My eyes teared up through his speech, and Amanda Gordon’s poem, and Reverend Sylvester Beaman’s benediction. I feel relieved and hopeful after the nightmare of the last four years and the attack on the Capitol earlier this month. I thank God for this day. I am thankful that Biden is our new president, and I especially welcome his message of healing and unity. As I listened, my heart raised two prayers: Yes, God, make it so! and Show me what I must change in myself to help make the United States the country You want it to be.

To be a united country, and especially a united democracy, does not mean that we all share the same beliefs. How could it? Our beliefs are formed by our faiths, our races and heritages, our upbringings, our educations, our economic statuses, our occupations, and our experiences. We are all different, and each of us brings something unique to the table. So, how do we come together? How can we arrive at consensus?

We need to respectfully listen to one another. Ask people what they mean by what they say. Ask them why they feel as they do. Listen to their stories. Not so that we can change their feelings to match ours, but so that we can understand. And not that we necessarily have to accept their values as our own, but to see what we can learn, to fill in the gaps of our own knowledge.

I believe there are absolute truths, absolute rights and wrongs. But when we hold to our views rigidly and make decisions based on absolutes, our choices may have unanticipated consequences. That’s why we need to consider what people different from ourselves have to say. We need to see the whole picture.

We are going to disagree with each other. But that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to rebuild our country. If we understand each other, we can find ways to support each other. It’s going to take work and change on the part of every individual (yes, I just said you have to change—but I admit I do, too) to heal the division and inequity in our country, and it won’t be fixed in four years. But we can make progress before we hand the work off to the next generations.

Please, God, bless America. Bless our new president. Guide us as we work toward a more perfect union. Amen.

8 Things I’m Thankful for in 2020

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Thanksgiving

So, is 2020 going down in your history book as the Worst. Year. Ever? Yeah, me too. Greg and I had so many health issues to deal with in 2019 that I thought for sure this year would be an improvement. I was wrong.

Yet even with all the challenges 2020 has brought, there also have been blessings. So I humbly thank God for all the good that I have witnessed:

  1. My husband is alive. Greg has been struggling with vertigo for years. He’s tried a variety of treatments, and they’ve all helped a little, but he still had debilitating balance problems that caused him to repeatedly fall and hit his head. His last hope was surgery for the spinal stenosis that the doctor determined was the cause of his problems. So on March 11, Greg went into the hospital for a discectomy and fusion from C-3 to C-6 (in his neck). We were assured that this was a routine procedure and he would be in the hospital for one night, two max. Unfortunately, Greg did not snap back after surgery. To make a long story short, he lost the ability to walk and to swallow, and he was extremely disoriented. Eight days after surgery he went into the ICU with aspiration pneumonia, influenza B, H1N1, and metabolic encephalopathy. The next day the hospital closed to visitors due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It would be ten more weeks before we saw him again. Fifteen days after surgery they inserted a feeding tube into his stomach, and sent him to a skilled nursing facility. He came home at the end of May. He still has many physical challenges, but he is slowly improving.
  2. Greg and his brother have reconnected after very little contact for many years. When I didn’t know if Greg was going to pull through, I realized Peter would be devastated if he didn’t have a chance to talk to Greg. I decided to call and let him know Greg was very ill, so if he did pass away, Peter would at least have a little bit of time to process it. Peter and Greg were eventually able to talk to each other on the phone, and they’ve spoken every week since.
  3. My son is fully recovered from Covid-19. He’s the only member of our family who’s been stricken, and we were concerned because he’s diabetic. He took good care of himself, and we ran errands for him. (He lives nearby.)
  4. Friends reached out to us to offer assistance and make sure we’re okay. If I do have a need, I know multiple people I can call for help. I am so touched by the outpouring of love, not only to me, but throughout the country, as people cared for their neighbors.
  5. We have remained financially solvent through the pandemic so far. We have everything we need. We were able to contribute to the local food bank and also help our son, whose job was eliminated.
  6. Our other son was promoted in his job. It means a little more money for him, and a lot more responsibility, but it’s nice to see him recognized for his dedication and skill.
  7. We have hobbies and the time to pursue them. We are both retired teachers, and I am so relieved we don’t have to deal with the difficulties of working during a pandemic. I pray for all the people who are tasked with juggling extra duties and precautions, and I thank God for the people who are keeping our world running.
  8. Zoom. In March, my Bible study proposed we start meeting again via Zoom. I’d never heard of it, and I was reluctant to learn a new technology. But Zoom and other apps like GoToMeeting have been like a life preserver, allowing me to connect with people I care about (and also to see doctors remotely).

As much as I mourn the loss of life-as-we-knew-it, I am happy that I’m having positive experiences as well. We will get through this rough year if we reach out and help each other.

Thank you, God, for loving us and for your provisions for us. Help us to join in and help our neighbors negotiate this difficult time. Amen.

Now it’s your turn. What are you thankful for this year? Please share in the comments below.

Serendipity

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Magic

We’ve all had the experience of carefully planning our day only to have everything go haywire. No matter how hard you try, obstacles arise that prevent you from doing what you need to. Mistakes get made. Flights are missed. Deadlines are unmet. Your to-do list grows instead of getting checked off. It’s frustrating.

Then you’re faced with redoing your task or at least correcting the errors. So much more time-consuming than anticipated. You might have to change your schedule, work late, get someone else to pick up your kids from school, buy take-out for dinner. Bummer.

But sometimes you do something by accident, and it turns out better than you’d expect. Maybe you get lost, and the person you ask for directions ends up becoming your new best friend—or your spouse. Or you misspell a word, and the typo makes you think of an amazing twist for the story you’re writing. Or you load your brush with too much water, and the way your colors run together changes the way you continue your watercolor painting.

Maybe these random events are not as unplanned as they seem. Maybe they are orchestrated by your own subconscious, or by God, or by your muse. Sometimes it’s beneficial to just go with the flow and see where it leads you rather than forcing things to go your way or starting over from scratch.

There’s even a name for these happy accidents—serendipity, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

Inventors and health researchers occasionally stumble on discoveries and new technologies by accident. Artists, musicians, and authors often give examples of serendipity when discussing their processes. Friends have told me of having an unexpected repair they have no way of paying, only to get a surprise refund check in the mail for the exact amount they need.

Some people say everything happens for a reason. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. But when you’ve been given a situation that’s not your first choice, maybe it’s worth it not to react too quickly. Breathe. Wonder. Let possibilities present themselves.

Related reading: More discoveries made by accident.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever experienced serendipity? Does it ever surface in your work? Share in the comments below.

The Creative Soul

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I’ve been introspective lately, thinking about big topics, such as the presence of God in our lives. I want to be a person who is led by God, and I’m having trouble hearing Him. This would normally be a topic for my Religion and Politics page, but I’m going to leave it here, in the main part of my blog, because it’s also related to creativity.

God is the Creator, and He made us in His image. That means that to a certain lesser extent, we are creators also. We’re cooks and builders and artists and inventors. We make stuff.

I believe my ideas come from God, but sometimes I don’t know what to do with them. I’ve come to a dead stop on some of my books because I know they have the potential to be so much more than they are, and I don’t know how to get them there. I need God to show me what His plan for my work is. I want to catch His vision. I want to plug into His creative power, but I don’t know how to access it. Where is it? Can I reach it with my mind? Or is it deeper still? Is it in my heart? My soul? My spirit?

I’ve prayed about it, and waited quietly for an answer, but it’s been months and I haven’t heard anything yet. And so I wonder.

A book I’ve been reading with my Bible study group mentioned that the soul knows when you’re on the wrong path. I feel like I’m on the wrong creative path and I’m searching for the right one, but I’m so lost. I sensed a whisper that I should define soul, so I’m following a rabbit trail trying to get a handle on it.

Is my soul the same thing as my spirit? I googled the difference between soul and spirit, and one of the articles that came up looked at scripture for answers.

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).” The way the sentence is structured in the original Greek infers that we are made up of three distinct parts: spirit, soul, and body.

Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV).” You can divide the soul from the spirit just as you can separate joints from marrow; they are two distinct things. But they are also intertwined; it takes something sharper than a double-edged sword to separate them. Have you ever tried to sever a chicken leg joint in order to cook or serve dinner? It helps to have a sharp knife, but even that isn’t enough by itself; you really need good technique not to botch it up. Why? Because it isn’t designed to come apart easily. It would not be beneficial to the chicken for her legs to come off with ease. The word of God divides soul and spirit. What does that even mean?

Glory Dy, the author of the article I read, says “The soul is basically our mind, our emotions, and our will. It is who we are as human beings.” When I tried to define soul in my Zoom Bible study on Monday, I said it is our true self, our essence. I’m not sure I have it nailed down.

In contrast, Dy says, spirit is where we experience God. It is how we connect to the divine.

I’m sorry that my post today raises more questions than it answers. I’m not being very helpful today. If you have insights on the soul and/or the spirit, please feel free to share in the comments.

More thoughts on soul vs. spirit.