Comfort Zone


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


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


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


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


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.

Mother’s Wisdom

Joyce's Flower in the Clark woods

Joyce’s Flower in the Clark woods

Mom’s been gone for over three years now.  Joyce was an inspiration to me, an artist, musician, writer, and more.  Of course, sometimes she drove me nuts. I’ve become the caretaker of her writings and history.  I picked up one of her diaries recently.  One Christmas, I’d given her an empty journal and written a challenge to her to use it as an “empty but potentially overflowing sketchbook as a place to note a thought, a bit of poem, sketch an inspiration, quote a favorite book, make a wish….”

She followed my instructions.  She wrote something in July 2000 that struck a chord with me:

“I need to put some thoughts down on paper so that I can look them over when the format for a poem comes through!!  Out for a daytime walk, I realized that the stars are still shining during sunny times, we just can’t see them without darkness. I know that when we paint a picture, we use dark colors to make the light look brighter. I realize that we often recover from ‘dark’ times in our lives – deaths, divorce, changes, only to come out of grief and loneliness to find the ‘light’ is even sweeter. Does this make any sense? I’m sure these aren’t original thoughts, but I do hope to make the ‘stars’ into some poetry. Has everything already been written about starlight?”

I guess I know where I got my inspiration from.  I don’t think she would mind me sharing her thoughts with you.

Creativity Amplified

Oil painting of a tree in Connemara, Ireland, painted June 2015

Oil painting of a tree in Connemara, Ireland, painted June 2015

I heard the word “amplification” on the radio and started to think about how that applies to what we do.  I think that Art is Creativity Amplified.  We take some bit of inspiration and run with it.

I recently ran across a photo I’d taken in Ireland of a tree, covered in moss and green leaves in shades only Ireland can make.  It was beautiful to me, even if it wasn’t the magnificent cliffs along the Atlantic coast, a river surrounded by hills and flowers, or a castle in the mountains.  Just a tree in a wooded area in Connemara. I had ideas, and I thought about what tools I had in my creative toolbox to make something of those ideas.  A painting, a photoshop collage and a fairytale have arisen – so far.

What I’ve learned from this exercise is that just a bit of observance can provide a wellspring of creativity if one pays attention to it and “amplifies” it.  It can be a word, a face, a seemingly insignificant thing that make a pinprick in the brain.  How we grow something that didn’t exist before is what makes the difference. I’ve even picked up the scent of something that reminds me of someone or somewhere in the past, and it has led to ideas.  Some artists will start a series of paintings on a subject or concept, likely having started from a seemingly passing thought. Writers will hear a sentence, a phrase, sometimes just in their own head, and with work and dedication create a novel.  It’s up to you to pick up on that one little thing and make it into something new.

I painted this from a photo I took while visiting Kylemore Abbey in Ireland.  Beautiful there.

I painted this from a photo I took while visiting Kylemore Abbey in Ireland. Beautiful there.


May 2015 – I’m soon ending my Graphic Design degree program at the local community college. As the mom/retiree/“senior” member of the class, it’s been an interesting experience.  I was once one of them, out of high school, figuring out the world and what I should do in it.  I’m looking at it from a distant end of the spectrum, though my life’s story is far from complete.  I once went to college, earned a degree, went out into the world of employment and responsibility as they now face.  Pursuing the world of art and graphic design, I’m witnessing some very inspiring talent among my younger fellow students. Some of them will take the leap to go on to four-year schools, and some will go out and make it with what they’ve learned in this program.

I have high hopes for them — they will have enough challenges going forward, but perhaps some will bring them good things in life.  I’ve seen how hard people work to be successful, and the rewards can be not only monetary but bring them joy and love.  Many who work very hard also sacrifice a great deal.  Perhaps it has taken 10,000 hours to get good at what they do before they reach success. Sometimes life treats you like it’s trying to get blood from a stone.

Sometimes childhood will feel like it was in another life, but I hope that hard work and fortune will give these young people experiences I never had when I was a kid.  I’ve been fortunate enough now to see some of the world, great works of art and nature, with my own eyes and ears. I want to see more.  As an art student or artist, there’s something more than just being a tourist in places where there is art.  There can be a connection to an artist’s work, recent or thousands of years old.  There can be an acknowledgement that, while I might not like what I’m seeing, I appreciate the skill and creativity of its maker.  I couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling or his epic David if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.  Quilts made by slaves over a century ago, using what they could out of old fabric scraps, may grace an art museum as a thing of beauty, perhaps imparting a bit of their maker’s soul. Some pieces may be hideous, may make one turn away, but leave a lasting impression on us for what is possible.  Donatello’s Mary Magdelene wooden statue in Florence touched me so.

I wish that my fellow students met these last years may have opportunities to see the world and meet people who inspire them.  May they find people and places, see the work of artists whom they’ve only found in art history books, and find their own voice in this world.


Sonnenberg Gardens hosts their annual Orchid Show, March 2015

Sonnenberg Gardens hosts their annual Orchid Show, March 2015

Waiting for Spring to arrive has been a challenge this year.  February in much of the country brought us record cold, snows deepening, roofs dangerously loaded with snow and ice.  I visited Sonnenberg Gardens’ Orchid show recently, and took in the warmth of the sun shining through the old Conservatory windows, relishing the greenery of the cacti and plants within.  I took photos of carefully nurtured orchids — one can never have too many photos of orchids.  Their delicate beauty in the rust-red pots delights me.  I left the greenhouses to go back out, into the snows that pile up nearly to the windows, with a sense of refreshment.  And I realize that I also have a sense of appreciation.  Appreciation that someone took the time and effort to grow and nurture these blossoms to the beauty I was able to see.  Appreciation that people care to nurture the Sonnenberg estate that was so loved by the Thompsons.  Mary Clark Thompson travelled the world and brought the gardeners and trees, the birds and beauty of Sonnenberg together.

Appreciation comes in all sizes, and I sometimes forget that it’s often the littlest things that someone else does that mean so much.  I might not ever see the hand that nurtures the rose bush, nor the hand that nurtures the person in the nursing home who cares for someone’s family member.  Or the person who grows the vegetables I so casually pick up at the grocery store.  I can think of so many more examples. But I must remember to be more conscious of those out there who can so often be unrecognized for their actions, big or small.  Tragedies remind me of those who are first responders at the scene of an accident, or the people at the animal shelter who take care of a lost animal in hopes that the owners or a new forever home can be found.  Who had to sew the clothes I throw on in the morning?  I appreciate Nature’s gift of the sun this morning, melting away the snows of February and promising Spring, and I smile.