Category Archives: Essay

Questions to Understand Yourself Better


Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

But what does that mean?

I googled “know thyself” and found many interpretations. So I’ll define it the best I can, and you can refine or edit my definition as you see fit.

To know yourself is to be aware of your strengths and your weaknesses, to celebrate your uniqueness, and to strive toward an ideal.

The Bible says we are made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26); therefore, we have great potential for love (because God is love—see 1 John 4:16). And because God is the Creator, we are also creators, though not on as grand a scale. But unlike God, we are not perfect. Our human condition can always use a tune up.

The tune up starts with examining ourselves and taking stock.

The examination can take many forms. Meditation. Journaling. Asking ourselves questions.

Here are some questions to help you know yourself better:

  • How am I loving? How do I interact with the people in my life—my family, my friends, my coworkers, my neighbors, my superiors, my acquaintances? Am I helpful? Critical? Kind? Judgmental? Generous? Competitive?
  • Does my work contribute to society? (Sometimes it may be hard to tell. Easy jobs to evaluate: brain surgeon, yes; bank robber, no. The more mundane occupations get a little harder: supermarket checker, yes; waste management engineer, yes; professional gambler, no. Professional football player, that’s a hard call.) If your work helps only yourself, maybe you should check out the next question.
  • What am I doing to make the world a better place? Am I volunteering? Am I donating money to good causes? When I see someone in distress, do I stop and help? Do I clean up my own messes?
  • What do I do well? What are my skills and my gifts? How am I using them?
  • What are one or two skills or qualities where I am lacking? Am I patient? Do I keep in touch with my friends and extended family? Am I physically fit? Is my spending out of control?

The reason for asking yourself questions like these are to understand yourself, so that you can use your resources wisely. You may want to “spend” yourself more effectively. You may find things about yourself that you want to change. Knowing yourself truly is a path to wisdom, a way to grow and to live wisely.

Why am I including an article about knowing yourself on ARHtistic License? Because your self-knowledge informs your art. Whether you are a quilter, a songwriter, a visual artist, or a writer, what you create comes from deep within yourself. Your art can be part of the healing process for yourself and for others who experience your creations. Knowing yourself will make you a better creator.

If your self-examination reveals way more negatives than positives, you may be suffering from depression, or guilt, or low self-esteem, and you may need some help getting out of your slump. Counseling may be in order. At very least, sit down with someone you trust and talk about your concerns. Sometimes someone who knows you very well will be able to point out strengths you didn’t know you had.

Thank You for the Fish

Zentangle, Inktober2019,

The other day, I made tuna salad for lunch. Just a can of tuna, a tablespoon of mayonnaise, some chopped sweet onion, and a sprinkle of salt and a dash of pepper. No bread, just straight out of the bowl. It tasted so delicious, so satisfying. My heart said, Dear God, thank You for the fish.

Then I chuckled. How strange to thank God for the fish—it wasn’t like I caught it all by myself. So I continued, Thank you for the fisherman. I’ve seen enough episodes of Wicked Tuna that I know catching a tuna is no easy feat.

But I didn’t get the fish from the fisherman. So I said, Thank you for the factory workers who cleaned and prepared the fish and canned it.

But that wasn’t enough, either. So I added, Thank you for the truckers who transported the fish to the warehouse. Thank you for the stockers who put it on the shelves of the grocery store. Thank you for the cashier who rang up my grocery order. Thank you for the employee who put my purchases in the trunk of my car.

God used my simple lunch to remind me that whatever work a person does, it’s a holy occupation that He uses to bless the children He loves (all of us!). Every job has importance and value and dignity. Even if it’s not glamorous. Even if it’s backbreaking. Our work is one way we honor God and serve each other.

Dear God, thank you for your bounty, and thank you for the laborers who distribute it. Amen.

How to Live a Simple Life


I don’t know about you, but my life has become very complicated. Since Covid, my life revolves around taking care of my semi-disabled husband. I don’t go anywhere, except his doctor and physical therapy appointments, and quick trips to the grocery or hardware store.

I blame technology. Or it may be that I’ve just gotten too old.

To avoid having to navigate the grocery store, I’ve been ordering my purchases online and then picking them up. (Although my husband misses the supermarket. He makes me take him there for weekly outings.)

We both have been ordering things we need on Amazon, although Greg usually needs my help with anything involving the computer.

Is it just me, or is anything having to do with healthcare complicated now? Making a doctor appointment often involves being on hold for half an hour. And then you have to go to a patient portal to fill out paperwork. And my day is constantly interrupted by automated messages asking me to confirm appointments. And trying to get a refill of a prescription is a nightmare. Everything is automated, with lots of unnecessary steps being repeated over and over. Somehow, the prescriptions never make it from my doctor’s office to the pharmacy on the first try. And the prescriptions aren’t ready when they’re promised. Arrgghh!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to simplify my life. What does a simple life look like? How do I get there?


This is what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Pray every day, every hour, every minute.
  2. Don’t ever get sick.
  3. Laugh.
  4. Drink lots of water.
  5. Eat lots of vegetables.
  6. Walk a mile every day. While you’re walking, notice things that are beautiful. Smile at the people who are walking dogs or accompanying children or working in their yards.
  7. Stay single. (Oops. Too late for me. Maybe for you too.)
  8. Don’t have kids. (Oops. Also too late.)
  9. Be selective about who you give your phone number and/or email to.
  10. If you live in a small town, consider staying there for the rest of your life.
  11. Stay away from social media. (Yeah, big talk for a blogging lady.)
  12. Don’t acquire lots of stuff.
  13. Give away your stuff. Keep only those things you use and/or love. When your living area gets cluttered, give away more stuff.
  14. If you can’t get by on public transportation, buy a really good used car, if you can find one. Not a flashy or expensive car. By good, I mean a reliable car that will get you from point A to point B. Not red. One or two years old, with as low mileage as you can find (under 15,000, if possible) and keep up with maintenance. Then drive it for about 200,000 miles or 15 years, whichever comes first.
  15. Find two or three people whom you really like, people who are smarter and kinder than you. Cultivate them as friends. Keep in touch with them. Get together often. Learn as much as you can from them. Every few years, add one more person like that to your circle.
  16. Despite point #7, it does really help to have someone you love. Maybe pick someone from point #15 to marry.

That’s the best I can come up with.

Now it’s your turn, creative people. What did I miss? What are your best strategies for simplifying your life? Share in the comments below.

Creative Juice #279

Creative Juice #279

Lots of quilts and artwork.

The Ultimate Summer Day


I went for a walk the other day a little after noon. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a light hoodie, and sandals. I live in the Phoenix area, and the temperature was in the mid-60s.

(But earlier in the morning, when I took the dog out, in my PJs and terry robe, the temperature was about 40 degrees. I know, I’m spoiled. I suffer when the temp dips down below 50.)

I came home from my walk, took a shower, and dressed in denim bermudas and a long-sleeve shirt.

I don’t like any weather that involves raking or shoveling. Winter is enjoyable here, but I really like summer better, even in the desert; though in the 100+ degree heat, I’d prefer to be in the pool if I have to be outside.

Sea and sky

My ideal summer day is based on the ones I experienced as a 15-year-old growing up in New Jersey. The sky would be blue, the sun warm, the temperature in the mid-to-upper 80s (though with the typical 85% humidity, it would be much less comfortable than Arizona dry heat), and I would be at the beach. I’d have a cooler with me, with cold soda and sandwiches and snacks. I’d have no responsibilities for the day—no job to go to, no meals to prepare, no appointments upcoming, no pressing deadlines to meet. And I’d have a friend with me, preferably one of the opposite sex.

When our kids were little and we still lived in New Jersey, but closer to the Pennsylvania border rather than near the Atlantic shore, we might drive half an hour to a lake to have a change of pace from the backyard pool. But my ideal day still included sun and water.

When we moved to Arizona, we bought another house with a pool, because we knew it would play a big part in our summers. A lot of people don’t like having pools, because they see the upkeep as tedious and expensive. But we had five kids. Going on a one-week vacation during the summer would cost us more than the price of a year’s worth of pool chemicals. And really, if you invest in a good pool vacuum, maintenance only takes maybe an hour or less a week. When the kids were young, we were in the pool every day. The kids’ birthday parties were always pool parties (except for Andy’s—he was born in December).

Now, with our kids all grown, we are not in the pool every day from April through October. Greg’s not been in the pool in years. I average about a dozen dips per summer, though every time I go in, I wonder why I don’t do it every day.

Only six more months till summer.

I can’t wait.

Creative Juice #274

Creative Juice #274

This week’s offerings are heavy on writing advice, but you don’t have to be a writer to love the first two articles.

What I’m Thankful For

What I’m Thankful For

Thankfulness should be a continual state. “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18 HCSB).” Even when circumstances are less than ideal, thanking God for them puts us in the exact right position, where we are able to walk with God and are accessible to all the blessings He wants to give us.

As we approach our national festival of Thanksgiving, it’s customary to give thanks for all the good things that have happened since last year. Here is the top of my list:

  • My husband is still with me. In March 2020 Greg had a surgery that didn’t go well. He survived, though life is a daily struggle for him. I thank God for each day that we are together.
  • Even though Covid-19 is still with us, infections are down, due to vaccination.
  • My daughter is getting married next month. (She was supposed to have a wedding last fall, but, you know, Covid.)
  • My son, whose job disappeared when the pandemic started, has a new job.
  • We’ve reconnected with Greg’s brother and his wife.
  • We have lots of people to send Christmas cards to.
  • We have a great team of health professionals taking care of us.
  • I enjoyed swimming this past summer.
  • I’m having fun making quilts.
  • We’ve been able to go to church a few times when Greg’s strength has allowed for it.

A few years ago I started a gratitude journal after reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. A lot of my entries are repetitive—thanks for tasks being completed, lost items found, good news from our children. Nevertheless, I think gratitude journaling is a productive discipline. There’s so much disturbing news in our world—shootings, cars running down parade-watchers, political discord, extreme weather, people trampled to death at concerts—that it’s easy to become cynical and depressed. Let’s balance the bad by celebrating the good things in our lives.

Now it’s your turn. Think of three things you’re thankful for, and share them in the comments below. Or if you’ve posted about them in your social media or blog, shoot us a link so we can rejoice with you.

Wishing You a Quiet Halloween


“What kind of Halloween candy are you buying?” Greg asked me.


“What? We’re not giving out candy this year?”


Greg is disappointed, but you know what? For many years he’s spent Halloween night watching television, and the responsibility of answering the door has been all mine. He’s not missing out on anything. (Except eating Halloween candy, which neither of should be doing anyway.)

Not that giving out candy is such a strenuous job around here. There are no children living in our cul-de-sac anymore, and the last few years we’ve had fewer than a dozen trick-or-treaters.

Last year I turned off the porch light, but I don’t think anyone came out. We were on a Covid upswing at the time.

This year we’re on a downswing, but in our county as many as 2000 people a day are still coming down with Covid, about the same as last year. However, many people have gone back to doing “normal” things.

Greg thinks I’m being overcautious because I insist that we stay at home by ourselves.

I think I’m being totally reasonable. The other day I found out that one of our long-time acquaintances, a woman who works at our local supermarket, lost her husband to Covid six weeks ago. They both got sick, but he didn’t survive.

Covid is still killing people. More than 736,000 dead in the USA alone. I don’t take that lightly. Of that number, less than 0.1% have been children. An insignificant number? Not to the 700 families who are mourning.

If I still had kids, I’d buy them lots of candy and let them wear their costumes at home and play silly games and take lots of pictures. You parents do what you think is best, but I’m wishing you a quiet Halloween.

Remember When We Thought 2021 Would Surely Be Better than 2020?


Boy, were we wrong. It only took 6 days to show us what a train wreck 2021 could be. The attack on our Capitol was a historical low point for American democracy.

Covid-19 continues to rage, and nurses are dropping out of the profession because they are burned out. It doesn’t help that most of the patients that they are seeing are ones who chose not to take the most important step to protect themselves from contracting the disease—getting the free vaccine. People with other health issues are having to wait because Covid patients are using up all the resources including hospital beds, ICUs, and oxygen. That doesn’t seem fair.

In my neck of the woods, schools reopened six weeks ago, and soon they’ll resume all over the country. But are they safe? At least 1000 schools in 35 states have already closed due to Covid outbreaks. I don’t understand how people can be against students being required to wear masks. Yes, it’s not ideal for learning, but neither is illness. How many children will die before parents take the threat of disease seriously? I’m so glad that Greg and I are retired. I would resign if I were still teaching. In fact, that’s what many teachers are doing.

After twenty years, the United States military is out of Afghanistan, and it’s a disaster. I was one of the people who thought it was a good idea to go in, and a good idea to get out. Arguably, there may never have been the possibility of a positive outcome, but it still hurts to see the Taliban take over and ISIS pop out of their hidey hole.

Wildfires and floods continue to devastate our country and the world. Hurricanes pound the Caribbean and the southern and eastern US. Homes, businesses, and countrysides destroyed.

Passengers are beating up flight attendants. Flying hasn’t been fun for a long time, but now it’s a total nightmare.

We all want things to get back to normal, but we’re pushing it, and that doesn’t work. I bet that the combination of Labor Day get-togethers and school openings cause another spike in new Covid cases.

One thing that impressed me in March of 2020 was the outpouring of help that I witnessed in my community and throughout the country. While some people are continuing to be there for others, I now see a general lack of willingness on the part of many to be inconvenienced for one more second. That makes me want to just stay in my bubble, away from the barbaric hordes of rights-demanders.

I’m longing for 2021 to be over. Surely 2022 has to be better than this, right?

The Truth

The Truth

Speak the truth.

That’s easier said than done.

It’s hard to speak truth if you don’t want to argue, don’t wish to offend, don’t care to defend yourself.

It’s also hard to speak truth if you don’t know what the truth actually is.

Sometimes, when you dig, you find out what you thought was true actually isn’t.

We make assumptions based on our own experiences.

But not everyone has the same experiences I do.

When we make generalizations based on our own experiences, we are not speaking for everyone; we can only speak for ourselves.

That reminds me of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant. We ought to hesitate to make pronouncements until we understand the whole picture.

Sometimes I think we speak at our own peril. There are concepts I’ve believed so devoutly, that I’ve shared widely, that I no longer believe. How do I take my words back, these beliefs that I professed, sure that I knew whereof I spoke?

How can I prevent myself from speaking words I will later learn aren’t true?

It would be better to be mute.

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

The older I grow, the more opportunities I’ve had to speak with people who think differently than me and who challenge what I believe. And the more I process, the more my beliefs don’t stand up to deep scrutiny.

I think we oversimplify the complexity we ponder. We try to tame it, to get our minds around it. The universe is big. God is big. Our experience is small, too small to be definitive. If we live and learn, we add to our knowledge base, and we must abandon the beliefs we once held as true but now recognize as wrong, or at least limited, incomplete. Growth requires change. A changed mind is a growing mind.

The truth is out there.