Proper Pineapple Project Bag Unboxing

One of my favorite hobbies is crocheting.  I just started about a year and a half ago and learned a lot from watching YouTube Channels.  I found the Proper Pineapple pretty early on and just love watching Holly and her family.  She just always seems like she’s having the best time!

Recently, I ordered a Halloween project bag from her website.  The package was so cute that I decided to test the video feature on my new camera by doing an unboxing.  Here it is:

KEEP GOING 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times & Bad, a review

I have mentioned before that I struggle at times to keep up a daily writing practice.   I was starting to slip off again after a fairly successful month of regular writing.  I found myself crankily (it’s a word now!) wondering if it really mattered as I turned on the car radio during my lunch break.  The next words I heard were, “KEEP GOING.”

Austin Kleon, author of the book KEEP GOING, 10 WAYS TO STAY CREATIVE IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD, was being interviewed by Kai Wright on WNYC.  I was so grateful for this coincidental encouragement that I bought his book the next day.  It’s a short book.  The 201 pages alternate between graphics and double-spaced text.  It’s more like 100 pages of written content.  Overall, I enjoyed this breezy presentation but I would have preferred a little more writing and a little less space.

The first five chapters were on-topic. Kleon offers practical, executable advice to creatives on how to keep going. Every Day is Groundhog’s Day reminds us that the key to being a prolific artist is a daily practice. It’s “a repeatable way of working that insulates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world. They all have identified what they want to spend their time on and they get up and work at it every day, no matter what.”

Chapter Two, Build a Bliss Station, is about creating time and space for your work. Forget The Noun, Do The Verb reminds us to focus on the work rather than what we are trying to be. Chapter Four, Make Gifts, is a call to shift our attention from worrying about money and metrics and to remember our love for the craft. Kleon demonstrates in The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraoridinary that we need to slow down and pay attention or risk missing the inspiration that is all around us waiting to be discovered.

I loved the first five chapters.  Kleon was thoughtful in the way he expressed these concepts.  He included relevant anecdotes and quotations from other writers and artists who have inspired him.  Unfortunately, he went off the rails in the second half of the book.  Most of the remaining chapters were filled with his opinions about the role of art in the world rather than the how-tos that comprised the first half of the book.

Kleon’s thoughts might be interesting but I didn’t buy the book for out-of-left field pondering like this bit from Chapter Six, Slay the Art Monsters:

“If making your art is adding net misery to the world, walk away and do something else.  Find something else to do with your time, something that makes you and the people around you feel more alive.  The world doesn’t need more great artists. It needs more more decent human beings.”

The last four chapters were full of similar propaganda except for When in Doubt, Tidy Up.  That whole chapter had nothing to do with tidying up; it was just filler about sifting through the crap in your office because you might find something inspiring. The chapter title was nothing more than a blatant attempt to steal a little of Marie Kondo’s popularity. Kleon even references her book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and why he doesn’t think it is useful to artists.

All in all, I would say KEEP GOING is worth picking up.  I would just retitle it to KEEP GOING Five Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad (+ Some Other Art-related Thoughts from the Author.)

Bad Day Recovery

Yesterday kicked my ass!  It’s the only way to describe it. Yesterday was so bad that I still felt crappy and sad when I woke up this morning. I could tell you why but I think it would be more productive to chat about getting over it.

I admire people who can instantly compartmentalize hurt, anger and disappointment.  I want to be one.  I tell myself when life gets me down to just put it out of my mind and not let another moment get ruined. It seems simple enough but I find it so hard! I am the type of person who always ruminates  about what went wrong, even when I don’t want to.  I replay the frustrating or painful scene over and over in a futile attempt to make sense of it.  Sometimes, I think of things that I wish I had said (or hadn’t!)

Enough! Life is too short to be miserable!  I decided the best way to get back in a better frame of mine was too take care of myself.  My first order of business was to get some exercise.  Coincidentally, I needed to drop off my car for an inspection.  Even though the weather is sort of gloomy today, it wasn’t cold or rainy.  I found walking to and from the garage pleasant.  Seeing Spring budding all around and listening to the birds, newly returned from their winter dwellings, was soothing for me.  I find that I crave a connection with nature the most when I have been through something stressful.

When I got back, I took the dogs for a walk too.  Often, I’ve read the best way to help yourself feel better is to help someone else. The dogs always seem so happy when they get a walk, it’s hard not to get caught up in their enthusiasm. My Chauncy makes the cutest noises while I am putting his leash on, as if he can’t wait another second to get out the door. It’s such a small thing but it makes a big difference in their day.

After we got back, I decided to cook myself a hot lunch.  My lunches are usually cold sandwiches while running errands on my lunch hour.  So, a hot meal in the middle of the day felt almost luxurious!  It was also needed.  I tend to not very eat well when I’m upset.  So, needless to say, dinner was less than stellar last night. Some good nutrition was definitely required.

Exercise, service, contact with nature and some good food are great ways I have found to lift my mood.  Here are some more:

  • Stimulate the senses.   I have found that filling a room with I scent that I enjoy usually makes me feel better. Lavender is my standby for reducing stress. It’s not called aromatherapy for no reason! Baking bread or some other delish treat is also a good go-to for a happy nose.
  • Do something you love doing. It’s hard to feel crappy when I am crocheting or making jewelry. It’s also helpful to have something else to focus on, particularly for those of us who tend to dwell far too long.
  • Keep a journal.  Sometimes, it can really help to just write out it all out. Not a writer? Speaking to a good friend who is great at listening can release a lot of frustration too.

A Hard Goodbye

Last week, someone I have known for 30 years passed away. He was the father of a very dear friend.  This was not the first time a parent of a friend passed but in those other situations, I didn’t really know their parents. I may have been introduced to them once at an event and that was the sum total of our acquaintance.

Mr. Z was different.  He was more like family to me than a parent of a friend.  He was a kind and gentle soul.  He treated me like one of the family. I was warmly welcomed by him and Mrs. Z at holidays and other family events.  He never just gave me the perfunctory “hello, how are you?” greeting. He would hug me and ask me what seemed liked a billion questions.  He really cared about me and wanted to know that I was doing well.

When I got the call, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I knew his health had been deteriorating over the last 10 years, and more rapidly for the last six months,  but I still hadn’t let myself contemplate that the end of the road was near for him.

I believe in God. It is a comfort to me at a time such as this to know that Mr. Z is in a better place.  I realize his body had gotten tired and was no longer able to support him.  His passing was in many ways was a blessing. Yet, I still feel the pain and sorrow that comes with knowing that there will be no more hugs or questions. Having known Mr. Z for so long, it felt like he would always be there. I realize that’s not a logical thought but that’s the way I felt.

Hard goodbyes like Mr. Z remind me of how fragile life can be.  We get so caught up in the small stuff of life, we forget (or ignore) the fact that no one gets out alive.  I am very aware at the moment of how vulnerable we all are. I think the best way to honor Mr. Z’s life is not to fear death but to embrace life instead by celebrating and being grateful for the opportunities to have known people like him.

Need More Time? Make Decisions Less Often

I mentioned in my recent blog post, Wake Up, Write (Right), that my goal was to write first thing in the morning. I have been doing a fair job of forming that habit. However, in order to enhance my chance of success- I need to make a few more changes.

Morning is a very busy time that requires me to make a lot of decisions: What to eat for breakfast; what to wear; what do I need to accomplish today; what to bring for lunch and so on.  It can be challenging to focus on writing when there is a whole day to prepare for as well.  How can I get the peaceful, productive writing time that I need every day?

I believe the answer may be to make as many of those other decisions in advance, as possible.  If I prepare all my lunches for the week on the weekend before, then I can just grab and go each day.  I can do the same thing with my clothes.  If I plan and assemble all five five outfits needed in advance, including jewelry and accessories, I’m saved from making all the tiny choices involved in getting dressed each day.

Paring down decisions, thereby saving time and energy, has been practiced by many successful people including Albert Einstein and former President Obama.  They both simplified their daily decisions by each buying several of the same suits.  So, all they had to do was put them on; no thought required.  The late Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, was also famous for his daily uniform compromised of jeans, a black turtleneck and sneakers.  These gentlemen were aware that humans have a limited capacity to make good decisions over time.  So, they eliminated having to make certain choices like what to wear. Thus they were able to fend off decision fatigue longer.

Decision fatigue, quite simply, is one’s diminishing power to keep making good decisions, the more decisions you have to make.  Have you ever watched the TV show Say Yes to the Dress? There was an episode where a man surprised his girlfriend with a proposal and then dropped her off at Kleinfeld’s Bridal right after to buy her wedding dress.  The woman was so overwhelmed with the enormity of having decided to get engaged, there was no way she was going to pick out a wedding dress the same day.  She probably had trouble picking what to have for dinner that night. Forget fatigue, she was decision exhausted!

My hope is that by prepping my week properly in advance and eliminating as many of the daily decisions as possible, I can wake up and write with abandon every single day.  We shall see…

Frozen Fruit

Want to Look and Feel Better? Drink Fruit

My skin has been aggressively dry this winter.  My hands were starting to look like they belonged to a 150 year-old alien creature.  They remained, dry, scaly and wrinkled no matter how much water I was drinking or how much cream I slathered on them.  My face wasn’t faring much better.

I wondered why I suddenly seemed to be aging so rapidly.  What was different?  I realized I wasn’t eating enough fruit.  I used to drink green smoothies most days.  I had tapered off because, quite frankly, I don’t like them very much.  Greens and fruit blended together tasted okay but I can’t say I enjoyed them.  I don’t particularly want to see that shade of green early  in the morning either.  I also found that they repeated on me for several hours after I drank them.  I much prefer to eat greens in salads.  I personally seem to digest them better that way.

I hadn’t realized that when I dropped the green smoothies, I stopped eating as much fruit.  This week, I began drinking fruit smoothies with my breakfast and the difference was immediate.  My hands became recognizable as my own again.  They were suddenly soft and supple. The skin on my face also smoothed out and plumped up again.  My whole body felt better inside and out. My mid-morning desire to snack even went away.

My experience isn’t just anecdotal.  Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients.  These properties are vital to our overall health and well-being. Fruit is also usually high in fiber. The increased fiber from the fruit is probably the reason I have been fuller longer and was able to ditch my mid-morning snack.   Fiber, of course, also helps the body rid itself of waste and harmful invaders.

The base of my smoothie is always a banana and almond milk.  I add a cup of various frozen fruits to this starter: mango, pineapple, and berries. I thaw them out in the fridge overnight.  I don’t really like super cold drinks.  When the ice crystals hit the back of my throat, I start coughing.  I figure using softer fruit is less wear and tear on my blender too.

I know fruit smoothies get some flack for containing a lot of natural sugar.  However, since the fruit is still whole when I blend it, the fiber and nutrients are intact.  It isn’t as though I am getting all this sugar in a concentrated form like I would with just juice.  So,  I am not that worried about it.

How about you?  Have you been experiencing very dry skin this winter? A fruit smoothie might just  be the delicious solution that you seek now that Spring has sprung!

Reality TV Shows Should Have Warning Labels

I have a confession to make.  I’m not proud of this- but maybe if I admit it here-the spell will be broken.  I watch several of the Real Housewives programs on Bravo. Not all of them- I have my limits.  I watch the Beverly Hills, Orange County and New Jersey addict- er rather, editions.

The most disturbing part is I don’t know why I find myself tuning into watch these faux reality programs. They are fake even though they feature real people in their actual homes. Beyond that to suggest many of the storylines on these shows actually happened would be ridiculous. Every week, it’s the same parade of fashionable, privileged women getting drunk, being catty and stabbing each other in the back.

Puppygate is the current “scandal” that is being exhausted on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.  Allegedly, one character adopted a puppy from the rescue business of another character and Lucy Apple Juicy (great name!) ended up at a shelter.  I do not believe this happened at all.  Yet, I have watched them drag this tired storyline though all four episodes of the season so far.  It’s a seemingly endless contest of who betrayed who and who is using the situation to get back at a rival for past indiscretions. You would think I’d have something better to do with my time!

So, why do I keep tuning in? (Sigh) I’m not a psychologist but I do have a theory.  I suspect that I get a bit of kick out out of watching rich people, who seem to have every advantage imaginable, act like morons.  It doesn’t reflect well on me that I would enjoy something like that but I don’t think I am alone.  There is something reassuring about it.  You can say to yourself, “hey, just one of her kitchen cabinets is worth more than my car but at least I never sprained my ankle while drunkenly jumping into a hot tub naked!”  (Money really can’t buy you class!)

The Germans call it Schadenfreude. It’s the pleasure derived by one person from witnessing another’s misfortune.  I don’t know if Andy Cohen, the producer of these franchises realized he was tapping into this complex human emotion when he came up with the Real Housewives but he has definitely profited from it.  It sounds awful, doesn’t it? Deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune?

Before you judge me, let’s go back to the fact I don’t think that most of the storylines are real. In fact, when some actual reality has crept into these shows like the passing of one character’s beloved mother or the ongoing battle with heart disease that another character’s husband has been enduring, I have been genuinely moved.  I think it’s actually these unscripted situations that really keep these shows on the air. Without these poignant moments, you would be inclined to forget that you are watching real human beings at all.

Perhaps now that I have confessed my sins, I won’t be compelled to watch anymore… or maybe just one more episode…or I’ll just finish out the current season and then never watch again…

Wake up Write (Right)

“Write everyday at the same time,” is the advice you hear given to writers over and over again.  I have always felt guilty that I have not established an effective daily writing routine.

I have tried writing at all different times: morning, evening and even my lunch hour but nothing stuck for long. My lifelong dance with insomnia made it difficult to write at the same time every morning. My lunch hour was inconsistent as well.  I could probably write at the same time every night but I am too drained at the end of the day most of the time.

To some people, I know this sounds like I am just making excuses but I am sure there are other writers that struggle with the same dilemma. The goal is not to construct the perfect prose every time you write  but you do want to give the best you have to it each day.

I was watching Joanna Penn’s interview with Sarah Painter yesterday. Penn posed the proverbial question about when and how often to write.  A few things stood out for me in Painter’s response. Painter said that she established writing as a daily habit by making it automatic.  She decided to do it first thing when she woke up.  She keeps the computer on the bedside table and grabs it right after opening her eyes.  Her lovely husband brings her a cup tea every morning. (I’ll have one of those, please!) So, she is all set to go. She doesn’t even get out of bed. There is no choice about whether to write.  In fact, the only choice would be- to not write.

The idea of making writing automatic was fascinating but then I thought,  “what about when insomnia keeps me up for half the night?” Painter’s very next words, as if on cue, were, “the reason I like writing first thing in the morning so much is because I am less awake, I’ve got less resistance.” She also pointed out that since the day hasn’t really started yet, there are no distractions.

I read Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, so I was familiar with this process of using a cue (in this case: waking up) to change a habit but hadn’t considered it as a way to establish a writing routine per se. Often people use it to stop doing something like smoking or to remember doing something like flossing after you brush your teeth. I was curious to see if Painter’s routine might work for me.

All day long yesterday, I kept thinking to myself, “wake up, write. Wake up, write.” (I was delighted when the play on words hit me: “wake up, write. Wake up right!” How perfect a mantra is that for establishing a new habit?) I was excited to test it this morning.  As is often the case, I did not sleep well. I was awoken by the phone ringing. So this morning the routine was more like “wake up-talk to Mom-write” but I did it. In fact, you are reading the results right now. I feel comfortable calling day one-albeit not perfect-a success.

My plan is to stick with Painter’s writing routine and “Wake up-write. Wake up right” every day!

Tasha Tudor

The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a review

Recently, I borrowed a book from the library that was published in 1992.  1992 probably seems like a lifetime ago to many of us.  The internet was a nascent network available only to Vax nerds.  Cell phones were only in the hands of a privileged few.  Life was a little slower, quieter and simpler 27 years ago.

1992 was a lot quieter, simpler and slower for renowned illustrator Tasha Tudor who chose to live on a quiet rural Vermont estate with a menagerie of domestic and exotic animals.  Her 1830s lifestyle is beautifully captured in The Private World of Tasha Tudor, a coffee table book by Tasha Tudor and photographer Richard Brown.

The photographs alone are reason enough to pick up this book. It is filled with pictures of Tasha Tudor in her environment. Divided into the four seasons, you will see lush photos of Tudor’s gardens, as well as the inside of her home with her oil lamps, old-fashioned wood cooking stove, homespun linens and beautiful handcrafted items. There are also photos of Tudor with her grandchildren wearing the early 19th Century clothes that Tudor preferred.

“I’m very fond of men. I think they’re wonderful creatures. But I don’t want to look like one. When women gave up long skirts, they made a grave error.  Things half seen are so much more mysterious and delightful.”

Tudor’s humor, wit and frankness fill the pages opposite the photos.  She was someone who knew what she wanted from the time she was a little girl. She was convinced she had lived before in the 1830s and felt more comfortable in that way of life. So, she masterfully recreated a 19th century lifestyle while enjoying a very successful career as the award-winning illustrator of almost 100 books.  One quote that really resonated with me was:

“When I’m working in th barn or house I often think of all the errors I’ve made in my life. But I quickly put that behind me and think of water lilies. They will always eradicate unpleasant thoughts. Or goslings are equally comforting in their own way.”

Great advice! When I realize I am dwelling too much in the negative past, I also try to think of something that makes me happy like my dogs or a beautiful garden.

The book is filled these sorts of self-reflections and other helpful observations. Above all, it gorgeously displays a life that is deeply connected to the natural world, as well as, being in tune with the seasons of nature rather than being ruled by the artificial, digital timing of Today’s world.

I would highly recommend The Private World of Tasha Tudor if you would like to experience the serenity of the 1830s through beautiful photographs and the brilliant musings of a satisfied woman who brought to life the world of her dreams.

While there is light…

I was having a perfectly lazy Sunday morning of laying around and crocheting while previewing audiobooks from the online library catalog when the power went out. I realized I better get my lazy tush up and get done what I could while it’s still light out.

I sprang into action, changing sheets, tidying up and doing whatever could be done without electricity. The power came back on about 40 minutes later.  I had a thought while I was checking the soy ice cream to make sure it was still good.  (One can’t be too careful about these things!) I thought that electricity is such a luxury.  It makes you feel like you can do whatever you want whenever you want.

Stay with me.  This is not a post where I am going to implore you to be grateful for electricity.  You already know all about that, right? I thought so!   It’s actually about something more serious.  It’s about the illusion of having time to do what you want, whenever you want.

Luke Perry, actor and 90s heartthrob, died earlier this week after a massive stroke.  He was only 52 years-old.  He had a steady role on a TV show.  He was the proud father of two kids, nearing adulthood.  He was engaged to be married.  He had what appeared to be a really great life and much to look forward to.  He seemed to be fit and healthy.  Would he have any reason to believe that it was all about to end?  As wonderful a life as he seemed to have, I imagine that he would have liked to have accomplished, learned and experienced even more.

So, I am going to sign off with a question and a blessing: What do you want to get done here on earth before the light goes out?  May you accomplish and experience all that you’ve dreamed of doing, being, serving, loving and having.

Now get busy!