December 19, 2009

"And so this is Christmas...

December 25th is almost here and depending on your religion, age, family structure, health, pocketbook, and traditions, this can mean very different things to different folks. Television and advertisers would like us to think it means the same thing to everyone--folks traveling to visit relatives, enjoying good food and opening beautifully wrapped presents; but of course that is the ideal. Grandma's cooking is yummy, Johnny gets the bike he longed for, Susie the doll, there's snow on the ground for snowmen and all the lions and lambs take a nap together.

And then there is reality, which we know is often very different. There's no need to even describe it. And, as I write this a big snowstorm is heading up the NE coast (see this morning's photo) and a clipper is coming down from the Great Lakes. Families already foregoing air travel for road travel due to budget expenses or disdain for being treated like sardines, are checking their AAA membership status, Mapquest, tire tread, and mental health and weighing the pros and cons of staying put. I walked outside just before sunrise and the snow is thick, wet, and falling hard here in the Appalachian foothills.

I love Christmas, but my expectations are realistic. I don't expect the world to transform that much during the month of December. A few decorations, a little tree, a light dusting of snow, time in the evenings to make presents, a few extra dollars for shopping, a good batch of sugar cookies, my mother's Swedish tea wreath recipe, enough to eat on Christmas day and, if I'm lucky, visits with both of my sons sometime around the holidays and I'm good to go. A loving husband, taking Bryce to a Christmas Eve service, having a healthy elderly mom to talk with on the phone, a just-turned-90 father-in-law to talk with as well--a just-graduated-from-college son gainfully employed; much to be thankful for, and none of it comes wrapped in $2.99 gift-wrap from Walmart.

If your family is facing hard times this holiday season, as many many families in America are, my heart feels for you; for I have faced one or two Christmases that were more challenging than I needed them to be. Times when life didn't feel very fair and I didn't feel very "Christmasy." When life felt as scarce as Charlie Brown's pathetic tree.

I can't give you a job, make your child well, fix your marriage, get you the car repair you need, or the home you need, or the health you need. But I can tell you that things can get better, there is always hope, and that you are stronger than you think. Time will bring change and answers and new opportunities. Hang in there. Do not give up. Focus on what is really important, the life and love in each day, the devotion you give your family; how hard you are trying.

To those of you who feel blessed already this season, maybe, if we each reach out and do what we can to those who need it, we'll impart some hope and practical help this holiday season. And not just this holiday season, but what I consider the "God's tough love months": January, February and March. A lot of people doing one or two self-less things can really add up, so if you are able and have the means, find something you can do for someone else, preferably someone else you do not know and who cannot pay you back.

I am now old enough to write the following sentence: "When I was a girl, my mother put a big orange in my Christmas stocking and I thought that was pretty wonderful; a sunny orange in the middle of winter."

We had grapefruit and homemade bread for breakfast. I don't remember what my presents were for most of the years I was the child in the home. In fact, my gift memories could be summed up as follows (in chronological order): a big plastic doll; a red tractor that I could ride when age 3.5; a Barbie swimming pool soon chewed on by our boxer, Ringy; an Etch-a-Sketch; a Texas Instruments calculator; a hand mixer; a gold locket.

I still have the locket. But, my memories center on the happy family feeling, the excitement decorations and music, and I remember that bread, the orange, and the grapefruit. The fruit was sent to us in Ohio from our grandparents in Florida, I'm sure. Our Christmases were happy ones, and very traditional for the times. (I know I've dated myself with the calculator reference.) No one went overboard, if my two working-full-time parents felt like they should do more, well, I always felt they did enough. How lucky I am to have these memories!

When my children were small, money was tight and there was a $50 limit. There were no DVD players, iPods, Visa gift cards, or ZhuZhu hamsters. Some years the $100 was hard to come by and we improvised. I don't remember any unhappiness, though, because of lack--Christmas was still fun. There were a lot of homemade presents and homemade ornaments. One of my sons would eagerly look forward to the advert. inserts appearing in the Sunday newspapers in December. He'd study them with happy intensity; and I'd study him and wish that I could give more. But if he was ever disappointed, he never let on. My boys were always happy with whatever they received, and loved, too, to give presents.

Recently, Bryce and I shopped at Jeffersonville Outlet for his gifts to others. It was uncanny, how he knew just what his grandmother, stepfather, and aunts might like. And how much fun the day of shopping was. Really 15 or 20 dollars can buy a nice present, if you keep your expectations realistic; but in my mind the best presents are often homemade. If you are running short this holiday season, on time, and money; or if the snow is falling at your home this morning and you cannot face driving out in it to Walmart one more time, consider the following gifts:

1) Take out a piece of paper and a pencil and write to that friend or family member, even the one you will see on Christmas day, just what their love and support have meant to you this year. What is your favorite memory of them? What experience together (vacation, holiday, crisis) speaks to your relationship and how were they there for you? Write it down. This letter will be a gift they can open forever. Put the letter into a nice card. If you don't have a card, take a Christmas card you got last year (saved them, didn't you?) cut out the picture and paste it onto a new piece of paper. Insert the letter, attach it to a small gift like a good smelling bar of soap, a small bag of cookies or fudge, a "gift certificate" to plow a driveway, clean a kitchen, give a facial, or babysit a child.

2) Take out photographs of past family Christmas celebrations. Scan them into your computer and arrange them as a collage using software you already have. Or copy and print the pictures out, and then using a glue stick or spray adhesive, affix them to a piece of paper or cardboard the size of a placemat. Once the pictures (don't use the originals, use copies of the pictures) are all affixed to the placemat-sized paper, cover both sides with clear Contact paper (available at discount and home improvement stores).

If you can't obtain the clear Contact paper, look around your house for flat plastic that can be taped or sewn: a clear shower curtain, new or in pristine washed condition sitting in your linen closet; a plastic page cover from scrapbooking work. Use it instead. Or, if you cannot do the whole big placemat thing, use photos copied to make smaller Christmas coasters (old Christmas cards can be used the same way, if you do not want to use photos.)

3) If you have leftover yarn and can crochet or knit, there is still time for that scarf, hat, or toy to be made. Never discount the power of a homemade gift. A sewn pillow, a child's drawing framed, etc.

Be creative, and be gentle with yourself and others. If expectations of material objects are high, counteract that with a dose of common sense, emphasis on what is really important, and the recognition that children will remember love and family traditions more than individual presents.

Take time to have a happy holiday. Remember to focus on what matters. Don't stress out about wanting to have things "perfect." They will not be perfect, but they can be "just right for you." May they be and may you realize the love, hope, and security that everyone needs to feel blessed by God, however you celebrate the concept and the holiday.

December 6, 2009

Ping Pong

Wow, everything old really is new again. CBS Sunday Morning had a segment on ping pong, specifically a club in NYC where ping pong is the in thing (celebrities, authors, Vanity Fair models, actors, and regular folk, see more here;contentBody). If CBS Sunday Morning actually gave a link or video to their story, I'd post it too, but too soon after broadcast, I guess...

Anyway, from about 1967-1969, many nights after dinner, my dad and I would retreat to the basement where we'd battle out adolescent energy and pre-high school angst (dating myself aren't I?) at the ping pong table.

By then, my ballet shoes had been languishing in a lambswool-lined shoebox for a few years and I hadn't yet taken up a paintbrush. We would relinquish that basement to another family in 1970, when we moved from a ranch home into an apartment as my older sisters settled into adulthood and I entered high school. But, before all that, I had my introverted dad's attention and we bopped, smacked, and lobbed that ball around a large green table many a night. I loved it, and no air hockey game at Kent State in the '70s, even with a good-looking guy friend, has stayed so fondly in my memory.

And now! Skinny women in miniskirts and stilletos, tattooed rappers, a guy with a Tshirt that says "Nude ping pong." Yikes what fun from afar.

I'd be happy with cherry syrup in a Coca Cola, a bowl of pretzels, a tabletop ping pong setup, and my wonderful husband in a flannel shirt and jeans, some good music on the stereo and the pong pong pong of that bouncing ball. There's a drivethru in Nelsonville that has a sign outside "Ping Pong Balls 4/$1." Maybe it's making a comeback.

November 18, 2009

November already? 7 songs for the season

It seems the holidays have arrived in 7 quick steps with accompanying music.

1) Ohio U. students returned to town and held big Halloween bash. (They did the mash, they did the MONster mash. It was a smash. It was a GRAVEyard smash.)

2) The leaves are a beautiful golden color, with light filtering through them each morning as we were forced to drive a new route, through the hills, due to road construction. (This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land, from Ca-li-forn-ia to the NewYork Is-lands...)

3) The construction came, came, came, then went. Sort of. (Ya take 16 tons and whatdaya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don't ya call me cause I don' wanna go, I owe my soul to the company store...)

4) The leaves fell. All 83,432,075 according to Tyler (the Pekingese's) count. (I'm faaaaaa-lling, yes I'm faaaaaa-aa-lling, I'm faaaaaa-lling, in love with you.) cue cute Pekingese face.

5) We watched baseball. Our team lost. (Take me out to the ball game... Take me out with the crowd. Buy me some peanuts and cracker jacks. I don't care if I never get back...)

6) Much sadness at death and injury of brave folks at Ft. Hood. (Did I ever tell you you're my hero? You're everything I would like to be? You can fly higher than an are the wind beneath my wings.)

6) We noticed it was November. (Let us break bread together on our knees. Let us break bread together on our knees. When I fall on my knees, with my face to the rising sun. Oh, Lord have mercy on me.)

7) I wore a scarf. (Button up your overcoat, when the wind is free. Take good care of yourself, you belong to me.)

And that about sums it up. I have no plans to replicate this with Christmas music next month, don't worry!

October 15, 2009

Fear of Spiders

I'm not certain if this post belongs on the "Open Your Hearts with Pets" blog or the creativity blog--like a lot of things in life, topics, musings, lessons overlap. One thing leads to another and before you know it, a real story emerges. Watch how I tie Halloween, spiders, Artist Trading Cards and David Sedaris all into one posting!

I have been afraid of spiders since the tender age of five. At that time, my parents and the parents of my friends who lived next door decided to take the irresponsible step of having a night out. The two girls next door came over to our house where my 9-years-older sister was assigned to babysit. While moms and dads were enjoying child-free moments at the local steakhouse (I assume, remembering my dad's idea of taking a risk was going to a new restaurant), Joyce tucked us into bed.

As I was drifting off to sleep in my big bed with my white pillowcase, a crack of light coming in from the slightly opened door, I opened my eyes one last time before entering the Land of Nod and there, right in front of my face, was the biggest, scariest spider my little-girl eyes had ever seen.

Screaming for my sister, who came running I'm sure from American Bandstand or a whispered conversation with her boyfriend, I flung myself out of that bed and proceeded to grasp a phobia that has hung around through decades of old houses, musty basements, camping trips, ceiling corners, and the sliding glass door on our house where daddy long legs hang out.

Joyce picked up my pillow, hastened to the kitchen, and sent the 2-inch wide spider on a journey down the drain. I was sent back to bed...but sleep took a long time coming.

For months afterward I woke in the middle of the night convinced that Hoardes of Horrible Spiders (hey, that would be a good title for a kids' book!) were waiting for nothing more than the chance to terrorize a little Ohio girl while she tried to get some shut eye. A preference for tight tucking of the blankets occurred around this time, as well as development of a strategy for handling fear. Rather than talk to my parents or older sisters, I decided to abandon my bed and start sleeping on the Early American couch in the living room. Once there, Grandma's afghan was tucked in on all sides, my pillow was checked one final time, and I would fall asleep.

My odd sleeping habits lasted quite a while, until a fear of spiders was replaced with a very real fear of earaches that plagued me with searing pain long before "tubes" were inserted into the ears of small children. I spent nights with my head on a heating pad and found another thing to dislike, the disgusting Dijon mustard-colored medicine I was given to ease the pain of "bealed" ears. My pillow was not covered with spiders in the night, but with liquid seeping from my ears. Perhaps this was some odd way the universe was preparing in me a sympathetic heart for the hearing impaired child I would one day parent, as I can clearly remember not being able to hear well during those flare-ups.

Any-hoo.... I'm tracing my anachraphobia to seeing the outline of that very large, very black spider on my very white pillowcase, while my parents were out on the town.

Fastforward to 2009 and the comfort I find in the sound of David Sedaris's voice as he goes on, with perfect inflections and pauses, about life in France and his office where spiders take up residence in the windows. I've got two of his books on my iPod: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" and "When You Are Engulfed in Flames." I believe the spider monologue was from the former.

Sedaris talked about how he named the spiders and viewed their intricate constructions, as I listened to him I thought of something I had done just two years earlier.

I'd moved from 100-year-old house to modern condo with my marriage to Mark. One morning, when taking the dogs out, I noticed the most interesting spiderwebs in the grass and on the shrubs. The webs were not like those often seen descending from trees, but were more like lacey trambolines or the white, peaked canopies artists use at craft fairs. It was the first time I realized, or thought about, the fact that different spiders produced different types of webs. These webs might have been built by spiders I could not be afraid of... I grabbed my digital camera and clicked, or rather pressed, away. (Don't you miss the satisfying click of an old-fashioned camera?) I ended up with several really cool photos of these spiderwebs, none of which I can locate now...

Back to the present... a few weeks ago I got up around 6:00 to make coffee. Standing and staring out the kitchen window, giving thanks for sunrise delivery of the Columbus Dispatch (arrival in Columbus: 7:30 a.m. arrival in Athens, 2 hours away from headquarters: 5:30 a.m.--go figure) I noticed a good-sized spider and a web adhered to the bottom corner of the kitchen window. But I wasn't afraid of it...mildly put-off, but not really fearful. Why?

Because of a book. About spiders? No, a book I'd been proofreading and designing for a client-author, Jeanne Webster. Jeanne has written a great book entitled "Strays." It's in the genre of "inspirational fiction" and uses wonderful stories from a Native American background to teach universal truths. One of the stories involves--you guessed it, a spider! Grandmother Spider to be exact. (for more information visit or click here to see the book on Amazon.) (That's our family's wonderful now-deceased dog, Buster, on the cover...)

In Jeanne's novel, Grandmother Spider dispenses advice to the main character, a young woman named Jane. When I read the story I was not one bit put off by the presence of a spider and I realized that between photographing the webs the previous year, and listening to David Sedaris's book this past year, I was perhaps OVER my anachraphobia! Could it be?

The test was right there in our kitchen window.

"Hello, Grandmother Spider," I said, my voice not even quivering.

She tucked herself back into the rather large, energy-inefficient crack between window ledge and window.

I didn't feel that was the place for her to be (not that enlightened yet, was I?) so I took the sprayer on the sink and sprayed the window casing, hoping to flush her back outside "where she belonged."

The next morning, she was back again, having rebuilt her web in the face of nearly insurmmountable odds.

Grandmother Spider never ventured, that I could tell, beyond the window. She didn't explore the countertop, marvel at Mark's expresso machine, chide the stainless steel mixer. She may have tiptoed her way to the sink for a sip of water, but I never saw it. I realized I didn't want to kill her, I wanted to catch her, but how?

I took a jar that I'd had set aside to return to The Village Bakery (best peanut-soy dressing this side of heaven is made there), and placed it over her most recent construction. Perhaps, I figured, she'd make a web inside the jar and then I could flip it over and take her outside.

Each morning, for a good week, she greeted me with a mixture of pride and deference, I thought, from her web just under the glass jar. But when I advanced my hand in the direction of the jar, she'd retreat to the crack in the window frame. Mark read the sports' section of the paper while I provided spider updates.

After a few days of this, I managed to slide a paper towel along the crack, preventing her escape and enticing her further into the jar. In this way, I was able to capture her and take her outside to the nice row of bushes growing on the far side of the house, far away from said kitchen window.

"Go on!" I said. "Make a new home." (I've said that to myself more than once, as well.)

It took her a while to release her eight little legs from the jar, but eventually gravity and a good shaking won out, and she disappeared from my sight. "How far I've come!" I thought proudly. "I'm no scared little girl anymore." (about time, you might think)

The next morning, like a co-dependent person fascinated by fear, I kinda missed seeing Grandmother Spider. But a reminder of her soon showed up in the post office box of all places...

Which brings in the creativity part of this posting...

I'm in the ATC Connection and Artist Trading Card groups on Yahoo. One such trade, ongoing, is the Alphabet ATC trade. "A" cards of course were first and my "A"s arrived that day. I opened it up, and there was a card featuring "AFRAID" with a woman in a fearful pose and a black plastic spider glued to the front of the card. It was created by Vicki Bettencourt, who had no idea what her card might mean to me and how it'd end up in this post.

So, now my spider saga has gone full circle. From fear, to curiousity, to information and appreciation, to conversation, to documentation... hey, this might work for all sorts of misconceptions I face. Thank goodness life affords the opportunity to work through them.

Postscript: Here is a recent (11/29/09) article on Spiders in the Columbus (OH) Dispatch.

September 7, 2009

As Summer Turns to Autumn...

I love the advantages of every season so much, it's difficult to choose a favorite. Perhaps even more than the seasons, I enjoy the changing. The sense that something new and different is on the way. The letting go and the moving forward. Important principles that have kept me sane for decades.

Letting go:
As night-time temperatures drop here in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio, let's take a moment to remember the summer of 2009. The blessings and the challenges. What we enjoyed and what we survived. Dreams that came true or hopes that were dashed. If the latter, can we find anything of benefit in it? If the former, what's next?

We let go of the lake, the hot sun, the sounds of children playing in the water... we let go of the way a cabin smells, popcorn cooked in a big kettle over an open fire, teenagers falling in love. We let go of languid evenings spent on vacation, or action-packed efforts at waterskiing, biking, rock climbing, canoeing. And now is the time to remember, to print those photographs out and place them in an album... to give thanks for anything good that came our way in the last twelve weeks.

The child who grew from kid to high school student. The mother who visited and deepened a connection with grown children. The sister who loves flea markets and always gets us. The flowers -- snapdragons, day lilies, roses, peonies, geraniums... The abundant forest, the sweet small yellow and black birds who love thistle and are the first thing I look for each morning.

The grill, the steaks, the corn on the cob. The tomatoes! The farmer's market. Cooler weather "up north." Summer camp. Riding horses, riding rails. Cheap thrills or expensive indulgences. Graduations of all sorts. Summer romances.

Now it is time for welcoming autumn -- the beautiful, vibrant, golden tease of quiet, reflective winter.

I spent 17 years in Florida and you could not over-estimate how much I missed the changing seasons, the hills, the ebb and flow of life "up north." Now, tucked away on this hillside, the trees and air alone tell me what is next. And it seems each year at this time I'm drawn to reflect on the past and plan for the future. This is when I think of goals, of what I want to do with my life, what I want to do with my time. What went right, what might need some fixing.

Living creatively means living consciously -- aware of not only what is going on around you, but what is going on inside of you. Learning how to let all of life happen around you but not necessarily within you. Protecting that part of you that holds a dream -- not coddling it, but treasuring it, and also asking something of it: What will you do? For any reflection that doesn't close, eventually, with a plan of action leaves us unsatisfied and incomplete. It's the action that leads to our dreams.

Hope is a great thing, but it isn't the thing. The thing, for each of us, is something we can remember, document, tell our kids about, photograph, write about.

As summer turns to autumn, what will be your thing: your hope materialized? And what can you do to reach it? Tap into your personal creativity, and the collective creativity of your place on earth, to make your dreams come true.

September 1, 2009

Big List of Halloween Links

Halloween is coming up before you know it, and it's not too early to browse the Web and find great clip art, baking recipes, and costume ideas. I've saved you some time from your busy schedule to locate and categorize these helpful Halloween-related websites. Enjoy!

Right-click to "open in a new window" and visit these sites.















This links list compiled and copyright 2009 by Janice Phelps Williams. Okay to copy up to THREE categories, but please give link back to If you want to print out this entire list of information and distribute to your class or group, that's okay. Please credit this blog as well.

August 23, 2009

Less Is More... District 9 and Why I Dislike the Rococo Period

Okay, where to start: Last night I found myself (yes, that's me, denying responsibility) in the movie theater watching District 9, a movie I can only hope to forget.

If you like movies with disgusting creatures, disgusting humans, lots of violence and weaponry, shakey filming, all wrapped around a not-so-subtle attempt to deliver a social message that could have been done in a way that doesn't remove one's appetite, then this is the movie for you!

I hated it. Hated the blood, the noise, the way the social message wrapped in visual effects felt like a comic book come to life with $30 million and too much time on its hands? Like a 10-year-old spoiled rich kid who was trying to gross out his mother while simultaneously claiming a social conscience.

I hated the quesy feeling in my stomach after having eaten a $25 meal and then gone to see this movie. Hated wondering what the filmmaker might next decide I needed to see.

Yes, I could have walked out. I didn't because 1) I hadn't driven. 2) There weren't better choices since Julie & Julia didn't start for an hour and The XGames movie sounded promising, but I didn't want to go in it on my own in the dress I was wearing, and I had already been beaten into mind-numbing anxiety by the awful District 9. And, I feel that anything my companion sees and seems to find interesting should be worth a look-see.

Perhaps the aliens can send out thought-beams through the theater screen...

What is it with movies and TV shows these days? Everything has to be spelled out, visually, for us as if we are captive idiots. The autoposies, vomiting, urinating, defecating... The torture, rape -- everything is shown in high-definition Technicolor. I'm sick of it. Actually, I've been sick of it for a few years now, (ever since I walked out of Seven) but no one seems to care. I must not be "the market" and I wonder why. I have more money to spend and more time on my hands than a teenager or a twenty-something. I buy DVDs, books, and magazines. I can't always remember what I don't like (I have to keep notes in my BlackBerry on what not to eat at a restaurant), but I do remember what I do like, and I'm what you'd call a "loyal fan" and support my favorite writers, musicians, filmmakers with that most wonderful form of gratitude: dollars.

Sometimes I wonder, is my disgust at current trends in movie and TV because of my age, my gender? One can't blame it on my politics (liberal) or religion (ill-defined). Or my naivite. Anyone who knows me realizes I've had enough life experiences to knock that out of me long ago. I do tend to be an optimist -- not a bad thing, I hope. I've surrounded myself with enough pessimists, excuse me, realists, to balance things out.

I'm a woman, but a quick search of District 9 reviews, shows at least two women liked the movie. Ugh. Somehow I feel better if I can blame this movie on testosterone. No offense, guys, but there are chick flicks and dick flicks and we all know it.

Less is more. I'm not using this in the
minimalist sense. Or the simplicity movement sense. The original quote and the background behind it, is well-described here.

"Less is more" is my way of saying "too much information" -- not in the way of "I don't want to know that" as in "I've heard enough about your husband's surgerical procedure" --- but in the way of "Yes, I'm a thinking person with somewhat of an imagination, you don't have to spell it out for me."

There are a lot of reviews online on District 9, but having been involved in marketing books for many years, some of the "reviews" sound like the writer copied sentences from the filmmaker's PR materials.

Roger Ebert, though, who started his review with this wonderful first line:
"I suppose there’s no reason the first alien race to reach the Earth shouldn’t look like what the cat threw up." Then went on to say:"Despite its creativity, the movie remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction."I’ll be interested to see if general audiences go for these aliens. I said they’re loathsome and disgusting, and I don’t think that’s just me. The movie mentions Nigerian prostitutes servicing the aliens, but wisely refrains from entertaining us with this spectacle." [Thank God for small favors, but I fear'd it was a'comin'.]

Which reminds me of this saying: "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." I'd like to be able to email that to the script-writers of one of my favorite shows, Bones, as I have to give my attention to something else during the first 10 minutes of each episode to avoid seeing human road kill on our 42" HD-TV. When a commercial comes on, I can look at the screen as it zips by on DVD's fast forward.

Here are a few more reviews:
"There is a lot of shield-your-eyes ickiness [did Steven Rea see me applying lotion to my hands intently during the movie] in District 9, a lot of violence and gore. What there is not a lot of, however, is humanity - even in the film's depiction of the inhumanity humans are capable of."Steven Rea at

"It's a bad joke that District 9 will be hailed for its 'originality.' "
Michael Sragow Baltimore Sun

"becomes almost instantly tiresome"
KYLE SMITH New York Post

Well, enough about District 9 and how much I hated it.

Let's move on to televisions and bad-taste commercials: the one with the girl with long hair streaming from her armpits as she rides on a tandem bike; the one with the pretty girl in a bathtub of brown liquid (something to do with a backed-up toilet)... Jeepers, some of these are on while I'm eating!

Which brings me to the nightly news: I used to wish, when my children were small, that I could have a 1/2 hour of peace and quiet during which I could watch the evening news (with dear Peter Jennings) and become informed on the day's events...

Now, my children are no longer at home and I am free to watch news as much as I want whenever I want. But, I gravitate to the 6:30 news and Brian Williams. Yet there are certain things I do not want to see. Video is not always needed. Words are enough. I know that when there are bad car crashes there are bodies; don't need to see the white sheets on the road. Don't need to see blood, snot, surgery, disfigurement, animal cruelty, or starving children while I eat dinner. Picky, aren't I?

I'm not saying I don't need to hear the news, but can we agree that video is more powerful than words and perhaps should be used more judiciously? As in "just because you can doesn't mean you should." Just because you can show video like youtube doesn't mean you should. If Brian Williams says they're starving, bleeding, oozing, or dead -- I'll believe him. No image necessary. I'm tired of losing my appetite.

So, you probably think I want the world to be wonderful, with Louie Armstrong singing his song in the background and little yellow butterflies zipping around my head while I think happy thoughts. Well, yes, thank you. Life can be pretty stinky and as much as I'd like to think otherwise, some people really do suck, and if I want to go to my happy place, then I damn well will. But, no, I don't need the world to be easy for me. I am well aware of all the awful stuff going on. I just like some warning when someone else's agenda is going to smack me in the face with their preferred image.

On the less-is-more campaign: I'd like to mention the Rococo Period of art (as long as the sci-fi people, and perhaps the South Africans and New Zealanders are mad at me, let's irritate the French).

When I was an art student, low those many years ago, we briefly skipped over Fragonard and Watteau so we could concentrate on important things like exercises where we sat on the floor and tried to "feel" like a piece of clay. Or contemplated our professors nail-clippings, saved over many years. I am not kidding.

When I started art school at 18, the first class I had showed a film that consisted of a naked man and a naked woman, jumping around in front of a black vinyl drap throwing buckets of water at each other; then it transitioned into the woman's eye being slit with a razor blade. Welcome to the world, baby girl. And for this my parents paid good money.

But around about that same time, a well-meaning relative I suppose, gave me a book of Watteau paintings and if I had that book today I could use it to make background paper for Artist Trading Cards because it was pretty, fanciful, decorative and sweet. Which is to say, I'd have no hesitancy in cutting up a Watteau print and using it to wrap a gift.

"Less is more" doesn't mean I prefer sweet. I mean, I do like sweet in a Mary Englebreit sort of way. And if you've seen my drawings of Jackie knitting, you will get a glimpse into "the way I want the world to be." But, like circus peanuts, sweetness doesn't satisfy the thinking person as a steady diet. There is a difference between a Hummel figurine and a Rodin. Also, I can appreciate the difference between decorative art and other types of art. I like Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall.

Maybe District 9, Seven, The Mangle, Hieronymus Bosch, and Salvador Dali are at one end of the "creative spectrum" (oh, that is hard for me to type). Fragonard, Watteau, Mary Englebeit and Harlequin Romances at the other. I, perhaps, am not a Minimalist, but a Middle-ist. Or maybe I just don't want to visualize hell.

In fact, maybe those of us who don't want to visualize hell, feel that way because we've seen too much of it in real life, not because we are naive. Sort of a take on "if they're talking about sex, they're probably not doing it." I've seen some dark stuff, man, and there's a reason people liked swing dancing during World War II.

I like the middle -- a place between giant prawns whose tentacles quiver in HD while I sit passively accepting whatever the filmmaker wants to show me next; and, let's say, You've Got Mail (which wraps the issue of chain bookstores pushing out independents around a nice, tidy romance).

In the middle, I enjoy Elizabeth Berg, Lisa See, Amy Tan, Dave Eggers, Jonathon Franzen, Sue Miller (all authors). Movies like "Jean de Florette, The Pillow Book, Out of Africa, Momentum, What About Bob?, Schindler's List, and many others entertained or taught me something. They were worth my time and my money.

I like a movie, or a book, or a friend, or a piece of artwork that beckons me to come closer and then, either
1) reveals to me something I didn't know and might want to know, or something I do know but didn't see in quite this way, or something familar that I never noticed, or something ordinary becoming beautiful, or the inner motivations of a character that portend to a larger universal truth or
2) entertains me.

But, the world is big, there are lots of people here, and many of them, many, many millions of them it seems, have completely different wants, tastes, and desires than do I. And some of them have enough money to make movies. I'm just going to have to do more research before walking into a theater again. Or, maybe I'll just stick to ordering DVDs on NetFlix where, if it's a dud, I just send it right back and move on.

Can we start a Middle-ist campaign?
Here's what I'd like to nail to the script-writer's door:
1) People menstrate, vomit, urinate and deficate: we know this. We don't need to see it.
2) We know about computers and special effects and it's a technique, not an art in and of itself. Learn the difference and use your gift wisely. Surprise me with your subtlety.
3) Respect your audience.
4) Don't write anything you'll be ashamed of in 20 years when your adult children see it.

Well, enough already. I'm gonna go watch CBS Sunday Morning. One of my favorite shows that informs and entertains. And I can watch it while I eat pancakes.

August 14, 2009

10 Tips for Launching Your Creative Business

Many, many years ago, after the end of my 13-year first marriage, I went to a counselor for career and life advice. She recommended to me three books, books I'd like to recommend to those of you who may be facing life-changing, life-challenging issues with job or family.

The three books were:
1) How to Be Your Own Best Friend by Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz (1971, 1986)
2) Feal the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers (1988, 2006)
3) Do What You Love -- and the Money Will Follow by Marsha Sinetar (1989)

All of them are available new or used on Amazon, for as little as 1 cent.
All are just as pertinent to life issues today as they were two decades ago.

It's Sinetar's book, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow that came to mind this morning. I took her advice, and she was right. I followed my heart, my "passion" some might say, and while the money wasn't always there as I wished it had been, and while I made a lot of mistakes along the way, the money did follow and, more importantly, joy and a sense of being in the right place at the right time followed. I was able to create the life I wanted to live, a life that allowed me to work from home, work with writers, utilize my creative abilities, face a variety of challenges that have kept me interested and compelled me to learn new things, be young at heart, take risk, and embrace life.

There were times I thought of giving up...looking for employment instead of self-employment; but, ten years later, I am still making a go of it and, for the most part, love my work every day. For that I am very thankful.

At this time in our country's history, when so many folks have been laid off their jobs (as I was twice before starting my own business), and when things feel "beyond our control" in many ways; I encourage those who are thinking about starting their own businesses to do the research, ask advice of your loved ones, and then, if it seems like a good idea, jump off into that wonderful unknown and follow your dream.

I was fortunate in that my dream didn't have any more start-up costs than the cost of a computer, which I bought on a credit card in 1998. I'll never forget, or cease being thankful for, my first client, Arshad Kahn, a Kashmir-born California investment expert. Arshad enlisted me to edit and layout two books for him, the first being Stock Investing for Everyone. Later, he sold the rights to his books to a larger publisher, Wiley. I'll never forget hearing him say, "I'll be your first client," and his check arriving soon thereafter. Thank you!

I'll never forget my previous employer, either, who had laid me off, telling me he wasn't going to "f--k me over" (gulp, this was not a phrase I ever used in a business setting, or any other for that matter). And you know what? He didn't. He sent me referrals and many clients and though some former co-workers had a long list of complaints against this man, he was fair and generous with me. And those referrals helped me build my client list.

I'll never forget a women who hired me to design her books: she was elderly and had written two books about how she was abducted by aliens and, basically, everything bad in her life had happened because of alien intervention. I didn't judge her and I did my best for her. Today, I am able to pick and choose the projects I am interested in working on; at that time, I worked on anything that came my way. I am thankful for every client I had in the beginning, when they made the difference between one trip to the grocery store a month or two. I am thankful for every client I have today.

There were a few projects I wish I had not done. A few clients who I found very difficult to work for. Even a few I choose not to work for. But in ten years and over 200 books I've designed and/or edited, those amounted to, literally, to those I could count on one hand.

Here are a few things I've learned in "doing what I love." Perhaps it will help those launching out with their own creative business:

1) People respond positively to sincere interest in their projects. If you are not interested in what their dreams are, they are going to know it, and they are not going to "bring you into" their project; i.e. pay you to help them reach their dream.

2) All business is sales. All sales involve solving someone's problem. Being a good problem solver really helps one be successful at business. And at life. Problem solving should be taught in school.

3) Stay up on the latest technology or trends in your field. Stay engaged. Don't be an "old fogey." If you have an Internet-based business, no one need know your age. That can be an advantage.

4) Happy clients tell others about you. Therefore, keep your clients happy. If you cannot for some reason keep them happy, figure out how to courteously decline working for them any longer. Be diplomatic, but be honest. If this happens repeatedly, re-evaluate your skills, your promises, and your marketing.

5) Ask those happy clients for referrals. Post those referrals online. Don't be shy about it, that's how you will get more clients. You can see what I mean at

6) Be willing to give some things away. People respond to a generous spirit. To optimism. To positivity. Figure out what you can give as an added benefit, and do so generously. (See the new book out by called "FREE: The Future of a Radical Price" by Chris Anderson. I am just starting to read it (downloaded it for 0 cents on Kindle), so cannot say much about it, but it is worth considering.

7) Don't work all the time. It's difficult, when you are starting a business and you love what you are doing, not to work 60 hours a week. I did when I first started out in publishing--actually from 1997 until 2001. Sept. 11, 2001. My sister, eldest son, and I were in Manhattan. We had an appointment at Publishers Weekly that afternoon. That morning, first thing that morning, we planned on being on the observation deck of the World Trade Center so that Bryce could see "the most beautiful lady in America" the Statue of Liberty. But, we'd seen the Michael Jackson concert the previous night (see my earlier postings on Bryce and Michael Jackson). We uncharacteristically (really, truly for all three of us) slept in, and when this little midwesterner returned to her Ohio home, she re-evaluated all the hours she'd spent in front of a computer screen trying to earn money while her youngest son grew up and left home. I will never get those hours back, and when I think on those first three years of establishing my business I remember a lot of work, a lot of fatigue, and all the things I wish I'd spent doing with my son; the places I wished we'd visited, the activities I wish I'd had the time and energy to do.

I'm glad I was able to work hard and earn enough to support my little family, but it cost more than it paid, if you know what I mean.

8) Engage your family in the business. Share with them the joys and challenges of running a business. (Though, perhaps, not the financial challenges. Be sensitive to the ages and temperments of your children). Pay them to help you, if possible. By investing them in this endeavor, you will build family relationships and teach them skills they will use later in life. Your resourcefulness and optimism in the face of obstacles will help them too.

9) Be an optimist, but be a realist as well. I am an optimist; and this has definitely enabled me to accomplish more than I had dreamed when I started out. But, oftentimes I have not been realistic. If you have a tendancy toward Pollyannaism, harnass the optimism and be willing to listen to the concerns of others. Develop techniques and safeguards to protect your interests and compensate for any areas where you have weaknesses.

10) Review and Plan. Time will go by pretty fast when you are running a business. Take time to document the projects you work on; to keep an up-to-date database of customers and projects. Review what worked and what didn't and establish goals for the coming year.

If you are starting a business, I wish you all the best. Working for oneself can be wonderful -- you can't get fired and you may thrive knowing your success depends on no one but yourself. You can meet wonderful people and learn to do and handle things you previously could not imagine. You can, and you will.

August 7, 2009

The Incredible Mod Plush Handbag

Ever stand in front of a bin of on-sale yarn and think "Wow, that is cool! And such a good price. I could make something out of that." A few months ago, I ended up with six skeins of Beguile (yes, it lived up to its name) by Yarn Bee. Each skein was 3.5 oz/75 yards. It's made of 100% polyester, sold through Hobby Lobby ( and was regularly priced at $5.27/skein. I got it for $1.99.

I started out crocheting a scarf; but I've grown tired of working up scarves lately. I like making them more than wearing them, and no one I know wants me to make them another scarf anytime soon.

I've decided when a woman can't wear some of the outfits she would like to because even though they are beautiful theylookhorribleonherbecausesheisnolongerasizeseven -- then accessories are the way to go. Here's my new philosophy: stick with well-made classic clothes that Ac-cen-tuAte the positive, E-lim-inAte the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don't mess with Mister InBetween ... okay, now I'm channeling Doris Day, right?

So, with these quality, flattering basics doing their best for our imperfect bodies, the fun comes in with the accessories: jewelry, hats, scarves, purses, shoes, etc., etc.

Those fortunate enough to have the feet and backs to handle beautiful shoes -- I envy you, sort of. Well, I envy the way your feet and legs look in those beautiful shoes. I cannot speak to the shoe obsession, and it's a bit embarrassing actually.

But purses, I love purses. Purses are perfect for creative Taureans who want to take all their wonderful stuff with them wherever they go. In fact, if I start traveling more, I might stretch the purse love to luggage love.

Anyway, I decided to use the Beguile yarn to create a modern purse. About halfway through it looked more like a plush pillow, but then I found a cool, sheer, black with colored polka dots shell top (given to me by my slimmer sister) in the back of my closet. I loved the material and design of it, but honestly, I'm not gonna be wearing that skinny top anytime soon. So, I cannabalized it to be the lining of my mod purse.

I can follow crochet directions, really I can. But I love making things up that I don't have to follow a pattern to do. It's very freeing and if I have to rip out and redo, so what? It's not a race. The more I crochet intuitively, the better I get at estimating what needs to be done.

For this purse, here are the basic statistics, if you want to try one on your own. The only stitches you need to know are chain stitch, single crochet, and slip stitch. It's that simple!

I used a US H 5.0mm wooden-handled hook by Susan Bates. (This is my favorite type of crochet hook because it is so comfortable, and keep the carpal tunnel syndrome that dared to visit me, years ago, at bay.)

I also used worsted weight yarn for the handle and top trim of the purse only. This yarn was pale yellow and was used to give strength to the handle. It was worked along with the Beguile yarn.

The finished purse is 13 inches wide at the bottom and 18 inches wide at the top. The handle is 30 inches long. The body of the purse is 12 inches from top to bottom.

1. Make a chain 13 inches long.

2. Double crochet into each stitch of this chain, to the end. chain 3 at each end, turn, and keep crocheting. (Note: I increased my stitches slightly as I went "up" the purse, so that it ended up being wider at the top. But if you prefer one that is the same width at top as at bottom, then count the double crochets and ensure your sides are even all the way up.)

3. When you have one side done, do the other side as well.

4. Single crochet the two pieces of the purse together.

5. For the handle: Starting with the yarn attached at one purse top, seam side, I made a chain, 30 inches long using Beguile along with the worsted yarn, crocheting with them both at the same time and connecting it to the seam side on the other side of the purse.

Then, I turned and chained three, skipped 3 stitches in the chain below, and singled crocheted. I did that all the way down the handle. Chain 3, skip three stiches below, then connect using a SC to the row below.

Make a total of three rows this way (the first row is your chain).

Then, to strengthen it, I started at one end of the handle, chained 3, then attached to the handle in a zig zag pattern (SC-ing it to the right, then the left, then the right) all the way up the handle to the other side. This was to provide some more strength to the handle. So, when you look at the handle, there are three 60 inch rows and over that is a zig zag row of a chain stitch, connected at the points of the zig zag with a SC.

6. When the handle was finished, I then (still using the two yarns) did a single crochet all around the top of the purse, just to give it a little finish.

7. I turned the purse inside out and the black shell almost fit it perfectly. I trimmed it off to fit and sewed it inside the purse. I even had a little leftover material, and with that I made a pocket inside the purse to hold a cell phone or keys.

8. I crocheted a clasp to hold the top of the purse closed, and sewed a button on each side of the clasp. (see photo).

I am not sure where I will take this Incredible Mod Plush Handbag, but I can fit my cell phone, iPod, Kindle, sketchbook, or even enough use it as a carry-on bag on an airplane, or as a marketbag. "Oh, the places we will go!"

August 1, 2009

Top Creative . . . various lists and links

When we look at growing and learning in our creative approach to life, let's keep in mind looking both inward and outward. Today, more than ever, we can find out about people throughout the US, throughout the world, who are breaking ground creatively. By looking at their work, reading their interviews, seeing what blogs are out there on creativity, and then making the important connection to our own life (i.e. "This might work, what if I try this?" "I hadn't thought of that." "That's not for me.") our boundaries expand.

Here are a few interesting links and lists on the subject of creativity.
Note: Appalachian Morning is now available on Amazon's KINDLE, so I've included the full URL for the links below.

100 Most Creative People in Business (2009): Fast Company magazine
"There are no rules about creativity. Which made constructing our list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business a tricky task. We looked for dazzling new thinkers, rising stars, and boldface names who couldn't be ignored. We avoided people we've profiled in the recent past. We emphasized those whose creativity addresses a larger issue -- from the future of our energy infrastructure to the evolution of philanthropy to next-generation media." and Sperling's Best Places: Best U.S. Cities to be creative.
1. Los Angeles, CA

2. Santa Fe, NM

3. Carson City, NV

4. New York City, NY

5. Kingston, NY

6. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA

7. Nashville, TN

8. Boulder, CO

9. San Francisco, CA

10. Nassau-Suffolk County, NY
The Top 10 Social Networks for Creative People
By Mark McGuinness 11/6/2008
This is a lengthy, substantive article, full of helpful links and quotes by creative professionals. If you are a professional musician, crafter, artist, graphic designer, writer, or web designer, or want to be, subscribe to McGuinness' blog and benefit from his expertise.

2009 "Creativity 50"
Each year, Creativity magazine publishes the "Creativity 50" -- a list of people who "made a significant mark on the creative consciousness of our industry and our culture as a whole." .
The full article is available by purchase from, or you can read the list of 50 folks on this site:

Top 10 Most Creative People in Movies and Television
June 18, 2009, Jeff Davis

10 Best Cities to Look For Creative Jobs

US News & World Report, July 15, 2009 Liz Wolgemuth
"For people in creative careers, you may actually be able to find work in this recession if you spend some time focusing your search on spots where the supply/demand ratios are more favorable. Here are some of the top cities for jobs from acting to architecture, according to data from
Wanted Technologies."

Do You Have These 11 Traits of Highly Creative People?
Dean Rieck

Creativity for Life:

Creativity Quotes:
Here's one: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." Albert Einstein

Mental Illness and Creativity:

Mashable: The Social Media Guide:

Aspen Idea Festival:

Creativity Myth: (an excellent article for those in business environments/corporations)

How to Be Authentic with People Who Love You but Don’t Understand You – Part 1
by Ken Robert on July 20, 2009

Innovation Calls For I-Shaped People
Bill Buxton

July 25, 2009

Creative Living: Shopping

When we begin to look at one thing in our life in a more creative way, we find that perspective influencing other aspects as well. Creative choices in earning money can lead to creativity in cooking. (It may feel like "no choice" but stay with me, please.)

Creative approaches to educating our children, can lead to creative thinking about our own educational needs. Yes, we do need to keep learning new things throughout our life.

Creativity can even be brought into our shopping choices. Today, folks are looking at shopping a bit differently than in the past. I haven't heard "shop til you drop" in a long time. It's fashionable to be thrifty. Yet, even the thrifty have occassions throughout the year to purchase a gift, and creative folks might want to consider purchases that benefit on multiple levels.

One such website is The Literacy Site: I like their creative approach to offering interesting, unusual products, while providing children with books and supporting other charities as well. Hunger, Breast Cancer, Literacy, Child Health, Animal Rescue, and Rainforest are their primary categories. I especially like the earrings that are available.

Today, it is probably more appropriate to think of creative ways not to spend money. But if you are going to spend money, consider using it in a way that benefits charities that are having a hard time, as donations and corporate funding are down. Stretch that dollar when you spend it.

For more information, look for the following websites or Google these phrases:
The Fair Trade Federation
Ten Thousand Villages
Where to Buy Fair Trade Certified products
World of Good at eBay
Fair Trade Resource Network
Inca Kids
Original Good
Minnesota Council of Foundations' list of charity shopping
Greater Good
How to Make a Difference in 15 Minutes: Charity Guide
Can Shopping Save the World?

July 19, 2009

Living a Creative Life: Part One

Living a creative life means so many things, from the way we approach our means of earning a living, to the way we interact with our spouse and children, to the way we furnish and decorate our home. For some, especially here in the lush natural beauty of the Appalachian foothills, creativity means growing your own food, canning it, and sharing or selling it. For others, creativity is found in the way a business is conceived and built: like Google, Amazon, eBay, Apple, or a few close to my heart, Lucky Press, LLC and

Creativity is a close friendship between one's heart and brain. Sometimes the results hit the mark. Sometimes they miss. Creativity needs to be nurtured, but failure needs to be accepted. Being comfortable with risk and drowning out the voices that would caution unusual choices, is an important part of creative success.

What percentage of hits in the MBA, baskets in the NBA, shots at the PGA, goal attempts at MLS are successful?

Today, approach one thing with an attitude of "What if?"

Dare to think outside the box. To hope. To imagine the most wonderful scenario.

Give yourself permission to try something new; even if no one else is interested. Even if it is something that scares you a bit to try. Just take that small first step and see where it leads. If you do, you may find it leads to a more creative approach to all the various aspects of your life. And that's what creativity really does. It helps us to live our best life.