Monday, November 30, 2009

Here's our front door, all decked out for Christmas. First, I hung a lighted garland over it (Actually Jim & I hung it; he's such a gentleman that the sight of me on top of the ladder with a hammer in my hand disturbs him.) Then I began attaching the floral mesh to it by gathering bunches of it and securing them with the wire fronds of the garland. Finally, I attached the big balls. I'm not sure how stable they are. I just hope friends or family don't get conked on the head when they come to visit.

I'm getting together with Sybil and Rita to play some more with the floral mesh, this time making wreaths. I'll post a photo of mine, however it turns out. We went to a Christmas decorating workshop the other day at a nursery open house. The only tip I learned was to begin at the corner of the fabric in order to get a bias pouffiness (I wonder if that's a word...) from it.

I've also hung quite a few lights. If I get any good photos of them, I'll share them, too, red ones on the front porch and green in the back, so many that Jim said planes may mistake the deck for a landing strip.........

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rusty Stars

I bought this rusty star garland in Canton, Texas last summer. It's one of those decorator elements that looks interesting any time of year, and for Christmas, I added a few blue balls. It just makes me happy looking at it.

I have a friend who has lots of free time on her hands and a gorgeous, big new home that she wants to decorate herself, but she doesn't trust her own abilities or taste, and I was thinking about what it takes to create home decor, or any art for that matter. There are some professions where the licensed, trained practitioners want us to believe that what they do requires a special commission from God, and they've sold that notion to many of us. The most valuable thing I inherited from my mother was the belief that I can do anything I set my mind to. Now mind you, this bravado has taken me down some long and winding roads where I floundered and eventually decided that I wasn't committed enough to devote the time to learning that it required, so I was on to my next adventure, but I honestly don't recall ever thinking I couldn't do something.

One of my favorite quotes says, "Creativity is allowing ourselves to make mistakes; art is knowing which ones to keep." So, I s'pose that believing I can do most anything frees me to see my mistakes not as failures but as additions to my garland of things that won't work......yet another learning experience, another rusty star.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Deck the Halls

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas! I started my Christmas music Playlist today, hope you like the songs. I love Christmas decorations, and I've begun adding Christmasy touches here and there. I would rather decorate a little at a time than try to do it all in one day, and I'll share some of it with you as I go along. Then maybe you'll come help me undecorate after Christmas. Right.

My friend, Bonnie, gave me my first glass block gift, which I thought was simply gorgeous, and since then I've made 2 others, with at least one more in the works. You either have to drill the hole in the side where you insert the lights or buy pre-drilled blocks. I've bought a glass drill bit, and the block on the right side of the mantle is waiting to be drilled........If I don't get around to it this Christmas, chances are there will be other Christmases. It's best to frost the 4 sides of the block so that the lighting wires don't show so much; I used etching cream, but there are lots of ways to frost glass. Then tie the block up in some beautiful, wired ribbon, and you're done. I've bought a few actual Christmas gifts, but they're not wrapped yet. Don't you just love this time of year??

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I Can Cook Lobster!

This is a quickie blog post about cooking that I wanted to share with you. Jim doesn't care for lobster, and we don't have to eat the same things, but it's easier, so I've always passed by the big ol' lobster tails at Sam's till this week while Jim is at camp. On a whim, I picked up a package and brought it home, then began to have second thoughts because I didn't know a thing about cooking them. Here comes YouTube to the rescue! There are several videos on the subject, but this one really appealed to me.

It's super easy to follow, takes about 30 minutes from start to finish, and my tails came out perfect! I ate one for dinner with a baked potato, fresh asparagus, and a Cesar salad and saved the other one to go in a salad tomorrow. They had been frozen but tasted really sweet and fresh. Who says you gotta go out to get great seafood?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Things I learned at ArCA Conference

Well, I made it back home.
The Arkansas Counseling Association powers-that-be decided for us to gather this year in Fort Smith, as opposed to beautiful Hot Springs where we've met for years. I've never thought of Fort Smith as being a destination, just a rural Arkansas town stuck out there on the border between us and Oklahoma that you drive by to get somewhere else; when I entered the address into the GPS, the guide's voice said, "Why in heck would you want to go there?" But it turned out to be a pretty good conference, as conferences go, and I thought I would share a few bits of wisdom with you that I learned.

1. Don't wear fancy jeans to a conference. Sitting down most of the time, you're going to want to cross your legs some, and even though the jeans I wore on the first day, the ones with beaded designs down the legs, got compliments, crossing my legs was uncomfortable and also ruined the beading.

2. Some presenters show up every year, and I always sign-up for Roger Young's sessions. This year he talked about biofeedback, something I've known about but haven't really tried. I always have cold feet and hands, and he showed us how we can warm them up just by thinking about it, and in the process lower our stress. Remember mood rings? They're Galvanic Skin Response detectors; he used electronic gadgets, but mood rings are based on the same principle. As kids we thought they were magic, but they're actually reading the temperature of our skin. Mr. Young gave us a Stress Test, and mine showed I'm not very stressed, but back in the day, my test paper would have spontaneously combusted.

3. A hot topic this year was Internet Predators. People tell me I sound like a little girl on the phone, and I've always wanted to help the police to lure and capture perverts, so I got up the courage to ask the presenter how I could help, and he said private citizens can't get involved, only law, scratch that notion. Anyway, I won't ruin your day by sharing what he told us, but pedophilia is much more pervalent than you can imagine. It's one of those nasty realities that normal people try not to think about, and that's why the pervs are so free to move among us; the internet is their new "playground". Detective Ernest Ward made us leary of even going online because............ did you know that if you Google and accidentally bring up one of his watched sites, your IP address is automatically entered into his data base? Scary stuff! I remember years ago, looking online for a quote by Alan Alda about taking responsibility. I was going to use it in a classroom presentation. Somehow I ended up at a nude movie star site! Well, these days, I don't guess butt nekkid movie stars are that big a deal, but I'm just sayin'.

4. Sometimes I'll choose a session that I know won't all be sitting, like the one on Brain Gym. Brenda Wood had us romping around and doing movements that had us all giggling but would be even more fun to do with little ones. The exercises are supposed to reconnect parts of the brain that we need for focusing and learning; mine haven't been connected in so long that they're no longer on a first name basis, but I plan on buying the book to see what Ian, Mollie and Rani think about it. You can find it on

5. Choosing between the offered sessions is a big deal, but by the third day, everyone, including the presenters, is on overload and very tired so it's best just to pick sessions on the ground floor and nearest the front door, car keys at the ready..........

I did get inspired to try some new artsy things that I'll most likely share with you later.
Hugz, and thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bright Side of the interview with Anne Marie Bennett

Today I'm honored to share with you a brief book review and an interview with author, Anne Marie Bennett. As I read her book, Bright Side of the Road, I had to deal with my own emotions because the women in my family have been ravaged by cancer. I've lost two aunts to breast cancer, my mother had a mastectomy, and another aunt deals with recurring leukemia. Anne is also an artist, which is how I connected with her, and I believe her artistic vision, in large part, helped to define her attitude in dealing with this harrowing detour in her life's journey. Readers will be humbled and inspired by her gentle, positive acceptance of her role in dealing with cancer. This blog is a little longer than my usual posts, but I hope you'll get yourself a cookie and a cup of something warm to drink as you tarry for just a little while longer and read Anne's take a topic most of us try not to think about at all.

The book is written in journal style:
"Thursday February 28
A bright and windy day shines through the window as I settle myself at the kitchen table, warm in my sweatpants and large red sweater. A bagel with jelly, a mug of decaf with cream, and my empty journal laden with possibilities are spread out before me, along with several half-finished art projects. What shall I do today? The thought of all this uncluttered time ahead of me is very healing."

Q. Anne, I believe in creative visualization and positive self-talk. How much of the outcome of your recovery journey do you attribute to your positive outlook?

A. My surgical procedures, chemotherapy drugs and radiation therapy allowed me to be physically healed, but I also found myself in need of emotional and spiritual healing, wounded by my fears and by my uncertainty about the future, confronting loss on several levels, and struggling in quicksand when it came to my relationship with Spirit at the beginning of my journey. So my emotional and spiritual recovery was based largely on my ability to accept my feelings and change my thoughts (my definition of positive outlook).

Q. A great deal of our fear of breast cancer is the prospect of losing our hair or having our bodies disfigured. Can you please speak to this and how you dealt with it?

A. My own journey took me through several physical changes. I gained a lot of weight, lost my hair (and not just on my head!), got catapulted into early menopause and lost my libido. Trust me, I was not happy about ANY of this!

For me, my resistance to those physical changes disappeared the day I realized (about halfway through the journey) that I couldn’t do anything about it. I was on this journey, and this is just how things were. I could waste a whole lot of energy bemoaning the fact that I didn’t look like I used to, or I could just relax and go with the flow. It became almost like a game to me, finding the bright side of any situation, especially the baldness. What could be good about not having hair? Well, I saved a lot of money at the drug store, not having to buy conditioner and styling products! Also, I saved a lot of time every morning and there was a great freedom in that, not having to purposely “look good” every day.

Also, my left breast was still present but deformed because of the two lumpectomies and lymph node surgery; I felt lopsided and ugly in my own skin, and I’d never felt that way before. In the last chapter of Bright Side of the Road, I describe my experience at a Women Living with Breast Cancer Retreat at Kripalu which is a center for yoga and health in the Massachusetts Berkshires. At the end of that retreat weekend, we all got into a hot tub together, after placing temporary tattoos on our cancer-torn bodies. And right then, stepping into that swirling, frothy water with 17 other women whose bodies were in equal or worse disrepair… I suddenly realized… I really got the fact that it’s what’s inside of me that’s way more important than what I look like. Because I had grown to love all of those women in the course of the weekend, and it didn’t matter one iota to me whether or not they had one breast, or two breasts, or deformed breasts, or scars on their belly or legs from reconstructive surgery. They were who they were because of what was inside of them. That was a huge awakening moment to me, a sacred moment of realization.

Q. It's been said that we're fully actualized only when we can thank God for our challenges. Elsewhere online you mentioned "angels rearranging your soul furniture". How has this experience changed and/or blessed your life?

A. Yes, a friend of mine in college used to say that about any big thing any of us were going through. I always loved that, and wish I knew where he was right now to thank him for that beautiful image! I used to read about people who lived through cancer or some other traumatic event, and if they said things like That was the best thing that ever happened to me, or I am grateful that this happened to me, I thought they might seriously be a little bit crazy. But now I seem to be one of those people!

I can honestly say that my breast cancer journey has both changed and blessed my life in some beautiful ways. First of all, I changed my priorities. I was given the gift of several months off from my full-time job, which was no longer serving my needs for creativity and joy. My time off, although filled with fatigue from my treatments, reminded me of my passion for writing and art. So I went back to that job part time and actually left it three years later so I could pursue my creative work full-time instead. I never thought I would say this, but my my cancer gave me more than it took away. I was given love and support from family and friends that surprised me and was soothing to my soul. I was given a closer connection with Spirit. My practices of gratitude and meditation gave me a whole new outlook on life.

Q. Most of us have experienced the letter or phone call to go back for a second mammogram, and we panic and begin bargaining with God and mentally rewriting our wills. Please talk about your emotions after being told you actually had cancer.

A. What immediately entered my mind was absolute terror. It was completely surreal. My thoughts went something like this: I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t WANT this to be happening to me. I don’t have time for this. Am I going to die? Get the cancer OUT of my body. And really, my immediate response was fear. I know some women whose basic emotion was anger, but I didn’t feel much anger. I cried a lot those first few days (just ask my husband!), until my next appointment with my doctor where we created a treatment plan of action. After that I felt a little better and decided that breast cancer wasn’t going to kill me, it was just going to be one more interesting thing about me.

Q. You've looked at life from both sides now, Anne. Please share with us how to be helpful to someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Did you want people asking about it, or would you rather they had just acted as if everything was "normal"?

A. This is a really good question, Cat. Every person is different, but I will tell you how it was for me. After I was diagnosed, I chose to tell everyone I knew about my cancer. It’s important to remember that this is a choice that a cancer patient makes. I really didn’t have to tell anyone except my husband and my boss, but a breast cancer survivor I met online confided in me that she had told everyone about her cancer and was glad she did because she received support from some surprising places. I’m a very private person, so that was a huge leap of faith for me to do the same!

So… if someone has told you they have breast cancer (or any serious illness), that is not something to take lightly. This is a conscious choice that they made, to include you on their journey. You should feel honored that they have trusted you with this part of their life.

I actually didn’t mind when people asked me about what I was going through. It made me feel like they were interested, and I preferred specific questions (Do you like your doctors? How often do you have to have chemo? Have you lost any hair yet?) to the main one that most people asked me which was: How are you feeling? And this was mainly because most of the time I felt like a washed-out version of my former self, and I really didn’t like saying that over and over again.

Also, I really liked it when people saw past the cancer and asked me questions about my normal life (ie: what I was reading or how Jeff’s kids were doing or what kind of art project I was working on). These kinds of questions reminded me that I wasn’t just a cancer patient, that cancer didn’t completely define me. These kinds of questions made me feel seen on a real soul level.

Q. I want to pass my copy of Bright Side of the Road along to someone else, but I'm not sure when would be the best time. My sister knows a lady who was just diagnosed with breast cancer, but we thought that a book about chemo, surgery, and hair-loss right now might be too much for her. On the other hand, I have a former student who is a survivor, and I thought of giving it to her, but once it's behind them, maybe people would rather just get on with living and not dwell on the past.

A. When I was first diagnosed, I read every book about breast cancer that I could get my hands on. But there was no book quite like Bright Side of the Road, which is the main reason I wrote it… it’s the book I wish I had had while I was going through my own surgeries and treatments. So, I definitely would have liked it if someone had given me Bright Side of the Road at the beginning of my journey. And once it was behind me, I really didn’t want to read any more books about cancer right away. But it will be different for every woman. If you do give my book to someone at the beginning of her journey, she might read little bits of it here and there, maybe just start at the back, with the resources section. Or she might just use the guided meditation audio recording that comes with the book. In other words, she’ll read it in a way that is most helpful to her.

Thanks, Anne, for recording and sharing moments and insights from your courageous journey with us.

Anne Marie Bennett is a writer, self-taught collage artist, and website goddess. She has worked as a bookseller, sheet presser, library assistant, computer consultant, and in theatre management. She lives in eastern Massachusetts with her middle-aged husband (also a cancer survivor), two elderly cats and one very playful dog. She is happiest when she is reading, writing, breathing salt air, dancing, and hugging her beautiful grandchildren.
For more information about Anne Marie’s book, Bright Side of the Road: purchase the book:
Bright Side of the Road is also available on

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Desk Chair for the Young at Heart

This is an idea that I came up with, all on my own, thought I was totally brilliant, and then discovered by reading online that people have been doing it (with good results) for years. I have terrible posture, and I work and play a lot at my computer. No matter how hard I try to keep good posture, I always end up melting down till I'm sitting on my lower spine, legs stretched out in front of me on a little foot stool......not good. I also have the beginnings of arthritis in my upper back, and if you have joint or back pain, you know that all you want to do is find a comfortable position and vegetate there, but I'm trying to push myself to keep the spine as limber as possible. "Growing old ain't for sissies".

Well, I got this idea from reading about the balance ball chairs that sell for between $75-$150 (which is actually a bargain when you're looking at ergonomic chairs), and I had already added one that got great reviews to my shopping cart on, but then I decided to try just the ball by itself to see whether I might even like that way of sitting. After perching on it for part of a day, I took the chair out of my shopping cart because I can't imagine that the stationary one could compare with just the ball by itself because it's just that, stationary. On this one, I bounce, jab with my fists, roll around, dance when I'm listening to music, twist, balance with my legs up, stretch forward, backwards and to both sides. It's just fun, and all the info I can find online says it strengthens the core muscles with continued use, which means better overall balance and tighter abs........and now tell me, who among us couldn't use tighter abs? As for my posture, of course there's no back to lean against, so the constant moving around reminds me to sit up straight. When that gets tiresome, it's time to take a break anyway.

To try it out for yourself, choose a ball size that allows your upper legs to be parallel with the floor when your feet are planted firmly in front of you as your arms are also parallel with the floor when your hand is on the mouse, stylus, or keyboard; I got the 75cm one and then experimented with the amount of air till it felt right. Oh, and don't get rid of your office chair just yet; it's also recommended that you work your way up to using it full-time, beginning with just a few minutes at a stretch, so to speak. In the photo it looks really tall, but of course it squishes when I sit down on it; if I fall off of it, I won't post photos of the bruises..............

Some folks who use the exercise ball at their company office desk say they have to put up with a lot of kidding from co-workers, but all I have to contend with is Jim, and he's never too surprised at my ideas anymore. I wouldn't recommend the exercise ball to anyone who's really, really overweight, or to someone who has back or joint issues more serious than mine or are very unsteady. People have gotten hurt on these things, but then people have gotten hurt walking across the living room floor. I figure there's also more of a calorie burn than just sitting with my fanny glued to my stiff office chair, another win/win proposition..........and it cost $18. Where else are you gonna find a desk chair that lets you feel like a kid for any price?