Help Yourself to Good Things

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I’m inspired when I witness people willing to help themselves. I was at my local Anytime Fitness recently, doing my usual workout routine. In the gym’s classroom, a group of members toughed it out through a rigorous “burn” class. Some of them have physical issues that  challenge them, but they persevere to make themselves and their quality of life better. Other members were exercising in their chosen manner. Nobody had to be there, and they probably could think of a myriad of other things to do instead of coming to a gym. It reminded me of how easy it is to give up, sit down and not bother. No one else is going to pick up that next dumbbell for me or do another ten minutes of cardio. When I leave the gym, no one else is going to push me to paint a better oil painting or learn how to use a computer program for me. I have to do it or learn it with my own mind and effort. I often have to ask for help, but ultimately I must meet the challenge.

One member, Austin, told me about his life and his struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. He retired from one career but took on another job after a period of sedentary living. He knew he had to make a change.  His one-hundred pound weight loss didn’t happen on its own. He worked for it. He hasn’t been perfect but he gets it that nobody else is going to do it for him. Others have told me their own stories and remind me how hard some people have to work to keep going.

It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to not even make the effort to start. I’m not just talking about exercise, but so many other things in life. Maybe it’s a skill you want to learn, a relationship you want to improve, or something about yourself you know has to change. Nobody else should or can do it for you. You have to start by showing up for it. You want to make your health better? Show up the first day, then the next, and the next. Lift a dumbbell, strap on the gloves and hit the bag, get on the treadmill. You sacrifice, maybe your favorite food, or you cut back on it and eat something more nutritious instead. You push yourself to take the first step, then another one. You pick up the book, go to the lesson, make a phone call. You start. You fight for it. You do it for you. If you are a better you, you are better for others, too. You can always find help along the way in your life endeavor, but you’re the one who has to make it happen.

Maybe tomorrow you can build on what you did today. Put on the gloves. I bet you can do it.

Comfort Zone

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Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone. Get out of our own way. Do what our brain is telling us to do, even if we aren’t sure how to do it. I’m not talking about the negative stuff our brain suggests, but the idea, spark of the imagination, something we want to learn how to do. It doesn’t have to be anything that requires a degree in rocket science (unless that’s what you want to do) but requires commitment, taking a chance on trying an new endeavor or idea out a different way. Maybe you want to learn how to make homemade pastas, learn a language before taking a trip, volunteering to teach literacy, etc. It could be climbing a mountain, literally or figuratively. It could be that you decide to train for a marathon just to be able to finish, or battle an addiction with a goal to beat it.

Putting yourself out there can be scary. Nerve-wracking. I’ve entered artwork and writing in contests, hoping the judges wouldn’t laugh at my entry. I’ve walked into a karate tournament, put on sparring gear and faced off a bigger, more skilled opponent in front of a group of master martial artists-and lost handily. I went back to college for an entirely different field of study from my career and didn’t even know how to turn on the computer.

I recently finished a project I started a while ago. I’d had a thought one winter morning as I walked, and it developed into a children’s book. I wrote it and did ink and watercolor illustrations. Taking it to the next level needed me to push my boundaries and get some education. I’ve studied art, graphic design, writing and self-publishing options in workshops and college. I’ve learned how to do things I didn’t know how to begin to approach. As I pursue these interests, I meet excellent and like-minded people who inspire me. I recently self-published “Bird Shoes” on Amazon’s Createspace. I don’t expect to win any awards or make a fortune, but it has been a labor of love, dedicated to my late mother. I have already started my next project in the same manner, armed with what I’ve practiced. The next book is far more complicated but my confidence level increased from my previous work.

It’s amazing what can happen when you give yourself a nudge, make some effort and make things happen—even if it means stepping over that imaginary line that separates you from your comfortable place in your mind.

Balance and Bounce

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Life can be tough to keep in balance. We set goals for our day, our life, our future, and often we are forced to focus on parts of our life while ignoring other important elements of living. Work, health, family, our own inner demons, stuff that gets thrown in our path unexpectedly – we all know how hard it is to keep a sense of moving forward in a positive way while also enjoying stillness in our body and soul. Our “monkey mind” can throw roadblocks in the way of having a more balanced, peaceful life.

This isn’t to say we don’t need challenges in life – facing fears, trying something new, working out problems, new beginnings and, yes, endings. Sometimes it’s hard not to panic and hard to have hope. Hard to figure out how to meet a goal or end a suffering. How to grow something, whether it’s a positive thought, a relationship, a flower, or a child. We get caught up in the “what if” in a negative way and lose sight of the way to a better path.

I often meet people who share with me the most interesting things about their life and their experiences, good and bad. They may have gone through hell and back but have positive thoughts going forward. Their life stories give me hope.

Sometimes we have to remember to balance on the head of a pin and figure out how to bounce off of it in a positive direction. Sometimes we have to take the leap forward, even if we’re afraid we might fall.

Bloom Where You Are Planted

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In a recent Yoga class, one of my fellow students brought a wildflower from her yard. This prompted a discussion about planted versus wild flowers. The little bloom was as beautiful to me as any prize-winning rose.

Another class’s teacher spoke to the class about “Santosha,” meaning contentment, satisfaction – acceptance and being comfortable with your situation and being able to find inner peace. This definition is a simplification of the practice but I believe captures the concept in a nutshell.

The two conversations brought to mind the old adage “bloom where you are planted.”

As we go through life, sometimes we don’t have control of what happens to us or where we end up. Sometimes it’s pretty sad or horrendous, or sometimes happy and wonderful. We’re faced with hard stuff in life every day. I would hope that we can muster up the strength to make the most of our situation, live in it to the best we can, and maybe even do unbelievably great things. Be brave and positive people, as best you can.

Some of the most positive people I’ve ever met have been through hell and back. Adversity has made them stronger. They have grown from their experience. Some are still in some kind of hell and must be brave enough to get out of their dangerous or toxic situation. I’m moved by their stories. I’m inspired by them to try to be a better person. I may or may not succeed but will strive to remember others who have been through worse.

I strive to seek out the good people and places and take advantage of the positive stuff around me.

Live like that simple wildflower that grew in a lonely spot in a yard or fought its way out of a crack in a sidewalk.

Give Yourself Credit

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Spring has arrived! A rebirth, of sorts, of not only the Earth but ourselves. We’re coming out of the darkness of winter here in the Northeast. Life is starting to pop out again from our trees and gardens. New lives arrive in our nests and on our farms, in our waterways and meadows. We’re starting to shed our layers of sweaters and long-sleeved shirts, getting out into the sunshine.

I visited the Orchid show at Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens recently, walking through the Conservatory and greenhouses. Beautiful little blooms of luscious colors delighted me. I’m always amazed when I go to the estate, delighted by each of the gardens as they change through the seasons. A small army of people tends to the upkeep of the estate. They tend to the plants that fill the greenhouses and the flowerbeds. I appreciate that people have learned to grow the orchids and teach others to do so as well.  They deserve kudos and support for all they do and have learned so that others may reap the benefits of their work there.

Rochester City Ballet held a rehearsal open house last weekend that I was fortunate to attend. They are preparing for their May 2016 performance of “Ballet on the Edge” including choreography to several David Bowie songs. This troupe of dancers has dedicated years to learn this beautiful art. They make it look easy. I know it cannot be. They are young but must endure hours of practice and sacrifice much to perform for us. They have to learn and perfect every movement, every new dance, and live a lifestyle that allows them to keep their bodies and minds in the condition to do so. Their artistic director is up to the task of crafting the choreography they perform, through his years of experience and work. I admire their dedication and willingness to learn.

I’ve spent the last several years taking art lessons from several of our incredibly talented local artists. At the moment, I’m learning  how to use pastels for landscape painting from Pat Tribastone. Pat paints in oil and pastel, teaches and has her own gallery in Canandaigua, NY.  Her still life paintings drip with juicy, beautiful colors and wonderful compositions. Her skill in landscape pastel is fantastic and her portrait work is gorgeous. No doubt she has devoted countless hours to honing her skills. Not only is she a fabulous artist and delightful person, she has also an excellent teacher. I appreciate her sharing what she has learned with her students.

I could name so many others who have worked hard to do what they do and share what they know. I could tell you about many more. Every day I am amazed and inspired.

There are fantastic people and places out there who can teach us much. Remember how much you’ve already learned and give yourself credit for it, even if you’re not perfect at it, whatever it is. Nobody else started out being able to do everything perfectly.  There is a lot to learn from making mistakes and keep trying. Your life is enriched by learning different skills, no matter what level of achievement you reach. My life has been so much richer from knowing and learning from others who can do things I’ll never be able to do as well. Never stop learning.

Tapestry of Joy

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I’m often struck by the thought of all the paths that had to cross, world events and history that happened, for me to be in this place and this moment in time today.  Working on family genealogy can be a maze of information, but as I’ve gone through many different directions, I appreciate so much. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but digging into more ancestry records recently has put it smack in front of me again.

All the challenges that our people faced, no matter when and where they came from, remind me of wars, struggles, migrations, diseases, deaths and lives that made my own path.  Families lost loved ones to war and typhoid; some left everything they knew behind and got on wooden boats for long sea journeys and faced the unknown.  One ancestor was hung in Boston Commons in 1660 because she was a Quaker. In the writings of a Foster ancestor of mine, he recorded:

“Lettice and Edward Foster married at the house of Capt. James Cudworth.  There being at the time no magistrate in Scituate, Capt. Myles Standish journeyed from Plymouth to perform the ceremony.”

Cool to think Capt. Myles Standish married a pair of my ancestors back in the early 1600’s!

Last fall, I traveled back to Ireland, home of my Eagan ancestors.  Though no closer to finding where they lived there, I strongly connect to the country and the people. Standing on a shore, wondering how they must have felt knowing, as they looked to the sea, that they would never see their home again, my heart broke for them. Life in North America couldn’t have been easy for them, but I have not forgotten them.

I experienced what I would call the “weaving of a tapestry of joy” as I traveled to Ireland with the Dady Brothers and a large group for the 25th Anniversary Tour.  There were about 80 of us in two tour buses with driver/guides. We started in Dublin and spent several days traveling through Northern Ireland and to the west/northwest.

We visited wonderful, moving places and enjoyed great food and accommodations.  John and Joe Dady played fantastic Irish music for us many evenings.  Local musicians joined in to the sessions, and John and Joe received the great honor of the Tommy Makem award. Our guides not only drove the buses skillfully, but told us about history, culture, news, nature, sports, and shared their sense of humor with us. I took lots of photos and brought home priceless memories.

It was as if a tapestry was being woven during the time we spent together on this trek.  Threads of friendship were woven among new and old acquaintances. Green threads, the forty shades of Irish green, wove into the mix. Murals were somber reminders of the “Troubles” in Belfast, Northern Ireland touched our hearts, weaving in sorrow along with the joy of seeing news places and trying new experiences.  Laughter, the taste of Irish coffee and fresh scones with butter and jam, the blend of voices and instruments, and the smell of peat burning in Renvyle’s fireplace added more “threads.” A little bit of fear mixed in when our group crossed the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede, and wonder was added when we attempted walking on the Giant’s Causeway’s unique rock formation.

As I think of what I have been able to experience, I can’t help but remember where I came from, and how many “bridges” my ancestors crossed and burned to make my Family Tree.

Van Gogh Inspiration

Painting of a grove of trees in Ireland

Painting of a grove of trees in Ireland

“Painting gives me light on different questions of tone and form and materials, before which I have up to now stood helpless.  There is in painting something infinite – I cannot explain it to you so well, but for expressing one’s impression, it is so delightful. There are in colors hidden effects of harmony or contrast that involuntarily combine to work together, and which would not be possible if used in another way.” p. 153

“I shall have a hard time of it yet before I can make people accept my pictures, but I am not going to let myself be discouraged. I remember that I once read of Delacroix, how seventeen pictures of his were refused. What damned brave fellows they were, those pioneers! But the battle must be carried on even in the present, and for all the little I may be worth I shall carry on my own fight.” p. 287

Excerpts from “Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Vincent van Gogh – edited by Irving Stone.

I recently picked up my copy of Irving Stone’s book of Vincent’s letters to his brother and immediately spotted these two passages that resonated with me.  If he only knew how much his paintings are now loved and admired by the world.  It doesn’t sound like he ever did while he was alive.

I suppose there are some creative types who never question their “genius” — but much of the time, I know I question my abilities and my works.  Sometimes I paint and just wipe the paint off the canvas before it’s had a chance to dry.  Sometimes I can hit the right “notes” and am pleased with myself for what I’ve done.  But there’s always that critical eye that is necessary to use to determine when something is done, when it is worthy of remaining on the canvas – what other adjustments would make it better?

A scene can catch my eye, a simple still life set-up, a person I long to paint, and the itch takes over to attempt the artwork to be painted, the story to be written, or the poem to compose.  Maybe other people won’t like my style, my message, or my work, but that’s why there are so many ways people create.  I love seeing other people’s creations and learn from them as well. I am amazed by other people’s talent and ideas.

I will do the best I can to give all these inspirations my best work.  I hope others enjoy what I do.