Category Archives: living well

Finding Inspiration


Sometimes I just need to spend a couple of hours browsing through antiques and artsy fluff to get a project rolling. Recently, Lochinvar and I wanted to create a photo studio space in our basement and a dressing room from a laundry catch-all area. These projects allowed me to contemplate some revamping in other rooms, too – including the guest room and our bedroom. With four spaces and plenty of furniture whirling through my head, I needed some thematic ideas. So, on a whim, I spent a quiet afternoon at Merchant’s Square in Chandler.

This is one of my favorite places to pass a hot summer day because I always leave with decorating ideas and a few chuckles from the quirkier items that abound. For instance, check out the wooden clogs that look like Lego blocks. These puppies would make a great Cosplay costume addition, but not something I’d wear on a daily basis. Can you imagine the noise?


0625181227.jpg  Then, there’s the knight-in-shining-armor themed table lamp. I fear my feline friends might try to stage a joust with these accoutrements. Or, worse yet, it might provide weapons for would-be intruders.


And, as long as we’re talking about about weapons, whose bright idea was it to invent an indoor horseshoe game? Note it says “Rubber shoes reinforced with steel” on the box. I think my Ragamuffin would have destroyed every piece of glass in the house with permission to throw around these things. (And we won’t even discuss the fact that Father looks like he’s about to shout Ole! while young Betty appears to be practicing for the high wire.)


After a bit of mucking around, the silliness factor gave way to more inspirational items like these romantic doodads. The doll themed coloring book would make wonderful artwork for a girl’s room or an antique style dressing room, as would the lace angel wings. (I have to admit, I looked at those for quite awhile trying to image where they might end up in my house.


Of course the porcelain meets paper doll also seemed to fit in with my romantic vision which would perfectly complement many of the whimsical beribboned tags. All of these items were the vision of a single vendor who had lacy French-feeling frippery to spare. I think I could have decked out an entire room in that one shop, and I felt an instant kinship to its anonymous owner.

As I continued to amble down the aisles, my eyes and hands were drawn to many pieces of painted furniture, but I especially fell in love with the old Paris maps on the drawers of this piece. The colors are so beautiful and delicate!


I also love the wrapping paper lining on the drawers of this chest. Just opening up an empty drawer feels like an adventure among the flowers.


In addition to the lovely romantic furniture and decor items, several vendors offered beautiful pieces of wearable art. Here, a plain linen shirt became a jacket bedecked in crocheted doilies, embroidered table toppers, and an assortment of vintage lace odds and ends. The maker had an entire rack of shirts, jackets, and dresses that I would love to wear about town.

Finally, I fell for this vintage purse with an adorable under-the-sea theme. This is the perfect piece for those always-be-a-mermaid days. (Sigh)

As I browsed, my brain considered that I could create the new dressing area as a homage to vintage frilliness and keep it for myself, but (alas) Lochinvar had design plans of his own (dark wood, leather, and a blue Oriental rug). So, I settled for cleaning out and rearranging the guest room with its antique bed, painted desk, and handmade yo-yo bedspread and pillow shams (Thanks, Mom!)

0626181056a0626181056bIn the end, Lochinvar also suggested that I could work some fru-fru magic on our bedroom. (Of course, he didn’t have to say that twice!) So, that project is currently underway. I have already added curtain panels from Goodwill (a bit of sheer lace over a print at the window and some dotted swiss in the archway), reupholstered the seat over the tub, hung some peacock art, and added a comfy chair to the space. Meanwhile, those map covered drawers continue to dance through my head as I survey two night stands, a headboard, and a foot board. I think they’re calling my name!






I tell myself every year that I’m not going to do school work during the summer, but I always end up taking classes, attending week-long planning sessions, putting together presentations, writing quizzes, scouring the internet for cool lesson ideas, and reading articles in preparation for the next school session. This year has been no different.

As I feel the summer drawing to a close (I’m signed up to conduct freshman boot camp in a week and a half.), I realize there are several things that I wanted to accomplish that haven’t gotten done. Some of them are deep cleaning house chores, but several of them deal with creating myself as an artist. So, I decided to ignore the chores and work on the art. That means I’ve spent some frustrating hours rebuilding my new website. (Yes, this is the third time. Cross your fingers; it’s almost done!) It also means sending applications to be juried into a couple of local artists’ groups. Yesterday, one of the applications asked me to describe my “process.”

This set me back for a few minutes while I contemplated how I go about creating anything. The creative process is different for each of us, and I’ve never really thought about what mine looks like from an outsider’s point of view. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s pretty silly and somewhat invisible.

First, I turn on my tunes. I have a 262-song playlist on my computer that I use specifically for creating. It includes the likes of Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, The Eagles, Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, Bread, Jim Croce, The Fifth Dimension, Rod Stewart, Van Morrison, .38 Special, Simon and Garfunkel, Elton John, Charlie Daniels, Molly Hatchet, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey, and many, many more musicians. The cranked up music usually leads to me singing along (loudly) and dancing around my work room. (Yup! This is the silly part, but it feels good!)

Usually, the theme has been rolling around in my brain for a few days. (This is the invisible part.) I lie awake in the silence of the wee hours of the morning envisioning topics like angels, sweet felines, the ocean, flowers, or butterflies – all among my favorites. In my head, I see beautiful watery colors that swirl and roll together like storm clouds. Thus, by the time I get to my studio space, I have an idea that’s been bubbling up for a day or two, so I start pulling materials while I’m dancing about.

Last January I reorganized my creative space by sorting all of my materials by color. (Previously, they had been sorted by type or theme. For example, all the ribbons were in one box, and all the paper flowers in another.) Now, pulling out a basket of color is a great deal of fun. I empty the basket on to my work table and start sorting through the items to get some inspiration for dressing up my theme.

Next, I leave the mess on my table and head to my drawing space to create the big ideas that I’m going to paint, color, and embellish. While I’m usually a very organized and tidy person, the chaos of the dumped basket with a pile of drawing pens and music playing creates a free and fun atmosphere that lightens my soul. Which, of course, is the point of the whole exercise.

After I have completed the drawing, I take it back to the table and transfer it to whatever background I’ll be using like card stock, a canvas, an old tray, a cigar box, etc. (Recently, I picked up a small curio cabinet with three little shelves which has been calling my name.) Once the main ideas are on the background, the fun really begins. I break out the paint or alcohol markers and sift through embellishments.

At this point, I usually decide I need a couple of other colors or at least some metallic touches to spice up the piece. So, I “have” to break out another basket of stuff to play with. Of course, after a couple of baskets are dumped, the chaos can become overwhelming, and I need to walk away for awhile. (Here, my feline friends hope that I’ll forget to close the door to my work room so they can knock everything off the table and play with it.) It’s usually a day or two before I get back to finish my project, and by that time my brain has sorted out the details of its own accord. So when I open the door, I’m confronted with a “mess” to clean up, leaving out only what I’ve thought about for the last 24-48 hours. I crank up the music, put stuff back into baskets, and move along with my piece.

Allowing my brain time to process something on the back burner, making a mess, and then figuring out how to clean it up and finish what I started seems to be my way of dealing with just about any project I’m working on from planning a dinner party to creating a research unit for my English classes, or constructing a piece of art. I know that it’s really the down time that gets the job done. So, when I feel I have the most work to accomplish, I often have to remind myself to do something else, that walking away for a short time will provide the answers I need.



Crafting Can Save the World (or at least your sanity)


Frequently people ask me what I “get” out of crafting. They point out that it takes a lot of time, it can be messy, and the materials take up valuable storage space. While all of these ideas are true to some extent, crafting provides a plethora of benefits.

working-with-handsWorking with your hands invites a “can-do” attitude. Each time we create something, we learn that we are capable of creating something. I realize this sounds simplistic, but the truth in that statement can be profound. Many of us spend our lives thinking we’re not capable of doing something. We tell ourselves we could never have that job, or be in charge of that project, or finish that degree. This negative self-talk convinces us that we are not able to complete complex tasks. However, when we create, we learn through trial and error. We use productive struggle in a safe environment. After all, craft projects are not matters of life and death, so we’re allowed to get them wrong, and then fix them on the next attempt. With each small success we learn that we CAN do things; we CAN figure out how something is put together; we CAN have another shot; we CAN change our minds; we CAN learn and grow and become.

accomplishmentCrafting gives us something to show for our effort. This goes hand-in-hand with that can-do attitude by providing a sense of accomplishment. Many of us are frustrated in our jobs because at the end of the day we don’t feel like we’re any closer to success than we were the day before. This kind of frustration is rampant in my profession because as a teacher it can sometimes be years (if ever) before a student tells me how I helped him or what I taught her. While I do the best I can every day, at times I just need to feel that I finished a project so I can step back and admire my handiwork.

imaginingCrafting helps us see the world in a different way. Many of us spend our days in front of a screen – television, smart phone, computer monitor, etc. These bright, moving projections (or static lines of text – as the case may be) frame our world with visual, but non-tangible elements. (After all, we can’t pet that adorable Lil Bub no matter how many times we smile at her photo.) This removal of texture and three-dimensional objects can make the world seem flat and far-removed. When we manipulate wood, paper, fabric, beads, or paint, we come into physical contact with our surroundings. Our brains and eyes are provided with a different kind of stimuli which in turn helps us see our environment, our world, from a new perspective (not to mention giving our tired eyes a rest).

color-and-textureCrafting is cathartic. Color holds connotations for our society at large and for each of us individually. Vibrant colors like red, orange, and yellow make us feel alive and energetic spurring us to move forward. When we create something using these colors it seems to become imbued with that energy, and perhaps the creation makes us smile each time we see it on display. Colors like blue, green, and purple express another mood. Thus my studio becomes a place where I can express emotions freely without having to explain them to anyone.

giving_a_giftCrafting a gift for someone shows how much you care. I know that sometimes “homemade” conjures up images of clay ashtrays and cotton ball Santas made by our elementary-aged kiddos, but a piece of art contains a lot of heart. (Cheesy, but true!) When we make something beautiful for a friend or family member we are giving that person a piece of ourselves and a reminder of our most precious resource – time. These kinds of gifts can become cherished mementos of loved ones. As a matter of fact, Lochinvar and I have a Valentine’s Day tradition of only spending a dollar for each year we have been together. While we’re coming up on our 23rd anniversary which provides a little leeway, this was extremely challenging when we were young (and poor). One year he spent two dollars on some pastel colored paper. He cut the paper into squares and folded them into origami flowers. Then he used wire remnants to make stems and put them in a vase from our cabinet using old marbles to hold them in place. This lovely reminder of his gentleness and care lived on my desk at school for many years (until time and moving made them so ragtag that they fell apart). Each day when I came to work and saw my paper bouquet I felt loved. There is strength in that lasting warmth, for the giver and the receiver.

alg-knitting-jpgCrafting can be a social event. While I carry out most of my artistic endeavors alone in my studio with old rock and roll playing in the background, sometimes others get involved in my projects. Several years ago I created a fairy wand from silk flowers, ribbon, duct tape, and light weight dowels. These wands were thematically related to a musical that Lochinvar was directing at school, and we planned to sell them as a fundraiser. Since this required us to make quite a few, we created a little assembly line operation and enlisted the help of others. By the time we were done, not only did we have fairy wands but we also had memories of laughter and fun. A craft project is a great “in” with people. Creating something concrete together also helps create intangible connections with those around us.

Hopefully, the next time someone says, “I just don’t get it,” you’ll be able to explain why she should join our crafty ranks to save the world – even if it’s just one little corner of it.



The Color of Spring


Everyone has a favorite color. Mine is blue. I love all shades from pale, nearly white icy blue to the deepest inky midnight-funk-jazz blue. A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to visit Glacier Bay in Alaska where the gray, mineral-filled water makes the ice appear a vibrant aquamarine. It was heaven. Of course, if you just slide around the color wheel a step, you’ll hit the greens – which are also near and dear to my heart. So, imagine my excitement when I took a look at the Pantone Color of the Year – “Greenery.” (FYI: According to the website, Pantone’s color of the year is “A symbolic color selection; a color snapshot of what we see taking place in our global culture that serves as an expression of a mood and an attitude.”)


I realize that Pantone released this color choice about a month ago, but (apparently) I’m not on the inside track for these things. Go figure. This color of lemon leaves, early March grass, and Kermit the Frog, represents a pretty big leap from the 2016 colors of the year (Yes, there were two!) which were Rose Quartz and Serenity – think pale pink married to pale blue to create some lovely shades of hazy purple. Excluding those dreamy tones, the colors have been bold and/or vibrant for the last 10 years: Marsala (2015), Radiant Orchid (2014), Emerald (2013), Tangerine Tango (2012), Honeysuckle (2011), Turquoise (2010), Mimosa (2009), Blue Iris (2008) and Chili Pepper (2007). However, in 2006 the color was Sand Dollar.

All day I’ve been contemplating Sand Dollar. Though the color is definitely a neutral beige, the name conjures up the perfume of salty air, the feel of the waves tugging at my toes, and the sun reaching its golden tendrils across a blue expanse as it sinks below the horizon. (Sigh.)

Just naming a hue carries such visceral associations that I can close my eyes and picture the last time I saw it and contemplate what a wonderful, colorful world we live in.


Living Better is Art


Over the holidays Lochinvar and I took some time to rethink how we live. We both agreed that we need to live “better” which means changing how we approach daily tasks and time allocation. This includes spending less time in front of the television and more time pursuing creative endeavors, being more mindful of what’s happening around us and less absorbed in our cell phones, scheduling down time to make sure we feel mentally rested each day, and going out to “do things” instead of focusing on chores. (Yes, they still get done, but they are of secondary importance.)

In addition to this mental switch we have decided to treat our bodies to better living, too. Like most Americans we could stand to lose a few pounds, but more than that we just need to move. To that end, we have started building 30 minute “work outs” (and I use the term loosely) into our schedule three times a week. Getting some exercise has always been low on our to do list because (like everyone else who works 40+ hours a week) we’re tired. However, we feel that our bodies will reward us with some extra stamina for all the walking we do on annual vacations, so we’re willing to try. In addition, we have decided that exercise need not be just a four-letter word (like “walk” or “bike”) but also a five-letter word (like “dance”). To this end we are attempting to teach ourselves West Coast Swing dancing.

Yesterday I found a good video series that has the basics in small bite-sized chunks, and we gave it a whirl. (Here’s the link to Swing Shoes if you’d like to learn, too!) While neither of us is a particularly great dancer, we did have some laughs (and some frustration) trying to dance in the living room. After practicing the basic steps while counting together, we put on Pandora and tried to move with the music. Overall we did alright, I think. This morning I could still remember the basic steps we learned yesterday (which is a win for me). But when the music didn’t seem to exactly fit the beat (thank you Mr. Music aka Lochinvar) we lost the West Coast Swing and reverted to Two Stepping. Of course, if the goal is to raise the heart rate a little, this works. On the other hand, if the goal is to learn to Swing dance before our cruise next summer, this digression was not helpful. Hopefully, we’ll be able to add a couple more moves later this week.

In the interest of variety, we rode our bicycles today which is always an enjoyable activity. January in the Valley of the Sun generally holds clear skies and temperatures in the 60’s. The fresh air feels good breezing past my face, and the green belts are lush with winter grass. As an added bonus, everyone we meet who is walking a dog, playing with kids in the park, or taking an evening stroll, smiles and waves as we roll by. This friendliness is contributing to our sense of living well since it makes us feel connected to our neighborhood and the people around us who usually go unnoticed.

I really hope we can maintain our commitment to these changes. Although the “old” me wants to come home and be a couch potato, the “new” me is enjoying the sense of accomplishment and time well spent at the end of the day. Over the last couple of years our lives had become so hectic that we rushed through everything and focused all of our energy on work. But our recent discussions reminded both of us that our jobs are how we make a living, but it’s what we do with the rest of our time that makes a life.