Saturday, August 31, 2013

What is the Lesson?

One of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves in any situation is "what can I learn from this?" This is especially profound - and especially difficult - when we are facing the challenging times in our lives.

When things do not go as planned, it is easy to react negatively. Indeed our social structure is set up to encourage us to do so. When we react we make the situation about us. Whether we get upset or feel under attack (or any other or a range of negative emotions), those reactions color our view of the situation. They make us angry, bitter, or to feel sorry for ourselves. Reactions fuel reactions and suddenly the entire event becomes a drama. During these times some people will encourage us in that behavior.

Recently, I read a quote from Mark Twain that said, "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

I think that this statement is true not only of our ambitions, but of our focus in life. People who encourage you to be upset and unhappy are trying to get you to focus on the negative aspects of the event. Those people may get great enjoyment from the drama because they can gossip and talk about it to others. Those people, however, do not have your best interests at heart.

There is no such thing as a perfect life if you define one as being devoid of any challenge or hardship. It is easy to look at people at the pinnacle of their success and to assume that they have achieved it all overnight. However, another great quote is "nothing fails like success"; meaning that we learn from our mistakes and difficult times. When you succeed, you don't learn nearly as much as you do when things don't work out as planned and you have to figure out why and move on. To succeed, you must experience hardship to learn what it takes to get to the place of your success.

So, if in dealing with hardship we take our mind off the event - and resulting frustration - and instead focus on the lessons we can learn from it, we will get to our place of success quicker.

Sometimes when I have expressed this idea the response I get is "I can't help the way that I feel!" Lets look at that. Feelings are not just emotions that happen to you from outside yourself. Feelings are reactions that you choose to have. Reactions are thoughts - the way you interpret events - and we certainly have control of your thoughts . . . or at least you should. You *will* have negative thoughts. We all do. You can choose to dwell on them or to move on to other thoughts that are beneficial to you.

When we make our experiences about the lesson we take the emphasis off ourselves, and the way we feel about the experience, and move it onto what we learn and how we benefit from the situation. This is true even if it is one that we don't think the event is in our best interest at the time. I know from my own experience that some of the events that seemed like the worst (for example a car accident the sidelined my early career as an artist) actually sent me on a life path (back to school) that improved my life dramatically.

There is great power in the questions we ask ourselves because they direct our thinking. Questions like "why me?" or "why does this always happen to me?" do not generate beneficial responses. They are a negative loop. It is important to ask the right questions to put us on a track that will give us something of value out of a difficult situation. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, as questions like "why does this always happen to me" will help you do, you can focus on the positive side of "what can I learn from this" because no matter how difficult there is always something to learn.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

And "Baby" Makes Four

If you have been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I'm a sincere advocate for animal rights, and am guardian to several rescue dogs.

Until last week, I had three lovely dogs - Talullah (Great Dane) is the youngest, the Jake (Great Dane / Lab /Sharpei mix!), and Bandit (Border Collie / Aus Shepherd mix.) It is quite a full house!

Then, on Facebook, I saw this photo on an Oklahoma Rescue Page (Pet Angel Rescue of Edmond)

I have always wanted a Harlequin Dane. With my current pack, I really needed a boy dog if I was going to bring another dog in, and here was this little boy who had been surrendered by his family. He needed to be in a family without kids, and preferably with some larger dogs.

So, I applied with the Rescue. 

You might think that once you have gotten a dog from a Rescue, you can get dogs from any Rescue, but that isn't true. Each Rescue has it's own requirements, and has to research you and ask questions that satisfy them that you are a good match for that animal. Sadly, many people lie to Rescue organizations, and so they have to follow up on your information and check you out - as they should do!

So, I heard back that I was going to get the dog, and I was SO excited . . . but then the next thing I heard was that the Foster Family had fallen in love with him and didn't want to give him up. 

I can fully understand that. I am not ever going to be a person who can Foster animals. I wish I could be that unselfish and giving, but alas, it is not me. I knew it would be much better for the dog if he didn't have to change to yet another home after having left the family he'd been with since he was a puppy, being in a kennel for a month, and then with this family for a week or so. I told the Rescue that I understood, and would not press the matter.

The truth was, for a dog I wasn't looking for, I was kind of heartbroken not to be getting him. But, I'd prayed about this dog, and asked God not to let the Rescue approve me if I wasn't supposed to get him, and so I just turned it over to God that whatever was best for the puppy was more important than my feelings!

Then, the next afternoon I heard from the Rescue again! It turned out that the Foster Family, after considering their situation, decided it would be best for him to get to a family with fewer dogs and demands (the Foster Family already had a giant breed with special needs, plus several smaller dogs, as well as the horses you see in that photo!)

So, that night I found myself driving to Oklahoma City to pick up my newest family member. His name was Sampson, but he didn't answer to it, so I decided he needed a clean break and changed his name to Cary Grant. (My other Dane is named after Talullah Bankhead - she is Talullah Bighead!)

So, here is our newest "baby" - 3 year old, Cary Grant . . .

The photo above was his second day with us, when he discovered one of the several fenced paddocks that he has access to on our property.

I have yet to get a photo with all four dogs, but here are Cary Grant, Jake, and Bandit.

And here is Talullah with Cary Grant. Talullah is a European Dane, and she is shorter and stockier. Cary Grant is an American Dane, so he is taller - but he is substantially underweight at present. He needs to put on about 35 lbs to be where he needs to be for his size. (Talullah is about 20 lbs overweight! Oops! We are working on that!)

This was his first night in the house . . . I have since got him a raised feeder. Talullah's feeder is 13" and that was not quite tall enough for him!

And here is my big goof! He is very sweet, and once he gains some confidence, he is going to be a prince! I am hoping I can work with him so that he can do Therapy work with Talullah and me at the nursing homes, hospital, and library. But for now, we are just happy to have him here with us, and getting him healthy and confident, again!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Ask for What You Want

Synchronicity is an amazing thing. At a moment that I was really appreciating the power we have over our own lives if we are willing to take risks, ask for what we want, and work hard, I was sent several things that confirmed this for me. Ralph Marston once wrote the following in his wonderful "Daily Motivator" series:

"The world around you is whatever you sincerely ask of it. Your life is precisely what you ask of it, with your thoughts, your actions and your attitude. . . The value you look for, and the value you expect, is the value you will find. What you decide to make of anything will ultimately define for you what it is. What you truly expect to see, you will most certainly see. The way you genuinely expect to live is the way your life will surely proceed. When you know without the slightest doubt that it will happen, it will happen. ."

I am not saying that we have a secret genie in a bottle and that we can merely speak our wish and have it so. I am saying that there is great power in intention. Having the courage to put ourselves out there and say, "this is what I will have" is a powerful thing. When we do this, it creates a new reality for us. That is, one in which having that thing, job, event, person, etc. can and will happen. As a result, our vision and thinking shifts.

Have you ever bought a car and then suddenly you see that car everywhere? Or you learn a new word and everything you read suddenly has that word in it? That is what asking for what we want does for us - it shows us where to find it. It makes us pay attention to things we would have never notice except for our intention. It helps us strike up conversations with the right people, and see signs we would have otherwise ignored.

I know that many of you know that I got my first book deal for a reference book on painting at a time when I'd yet to publish a single design. I had done a lot of writing online, but had published very little else. I didn't know anyone at the publisher. I didn't even know how to go about getting a book deal.

What I started to do was to tell everyone I knew that I wanted to write this book and ask them if they knew anyone at the publisher. I got a book on writing a proposal. I worked as though it was going to happen. On the day I was set to mail off a proposal to my publisher, I got a call. It was an editor from that publishing house and they were looking for someone to write a reference book on painting. They'd heard my name from a couple of the people I had told of my intention. Because I'd been writing the proposal, outline, etc. when she called I was able to give her all the information she needed and substantially build my credibility with the Editor.

For a while, I combined my my "art" and "writing" journals into a single entity. To do this, I started the book from both sides (upside down from one another) and the "back" side includes things like my goals, deadlines, resume, etc. Part of what I write in the back is my "intention" list. I break it down by "career", "personal,", etc. This has lead to some amazing things for me.

For example, at one point (years ago) I had decided to look into adoption. My first step was to go online to the county website about adoption. I made at least 20 phone calls, and spent hours online trying to find information on how to get started in the program. Phone calls weren't returned, I was cut off when I was being transferred to talk to someone else, etc. It was an exercise in frustration.

At the same time, I had gotten to know a couple of local artists in the area. On a whim, I invited them up to my studio to play and make art and it turns out that two of them work for County Child Protective services. They gave me the exact department I needed to talk to and answered most of my questions. I made one call and got the information mailed out to me to go to the first meeting and get started.

That is the power of asking for what you want. You ask, and then you start working towards it. Even when you seem to hit a wall, you keep working because just the power of your belief (and prayer) will make things happen for you. The difference between those living their dreams and those who are not is usually not talent or "who you know" or any of the things such good luck is usually "blamed". It is tenacity in the face of frustration. It is a belief that you can because you can see it, feel it, and almost touch what it would be like to have that thing come true. That is what keeps you going.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fortune Favors The Bold

Sometimes you read or hear a phrase that resonates so clearly within you it is like the blossoming sound of a spoon tapped on a crystal goblet. For me, it was a quote attributed to Virgil "Fortune Favors the Bold".

I have often written in these articles that any success that I have attained is not so much because I am a great talent, nor am I particularly well connected. That is not to say that I am without talent (and any talent I do have should be attributed to God), but rather that the difference between my success and those who may be more talented who achieve less is simply that I took a risk. No one can admire your work if you keep it in the closet.

At some point you have to take responsibility for your personal art. Perhaps what you want is to be a weekend artist and use your art as a release from the pressures of your life. If that is the case, then you must make time to do that for yourself. If you are trying to make a living from your art, you have to take a different tack. Just making time for your art is not enough; you also have to get it out in front of people who need to see it. That is probably the hardest thing we face.

Before I talk about that, I want to discuss the idiotic stereotype of the starving artist. Yes, many artists can't make a living at their craft but the reason is not that there are not buyers for it; it is because they did not understand that by making the decision to make a living as an artist, they must also become a businessperson. Some of us must hire bookkeepers and assistants to keep us on track if numbers and paperwork bog us down. That's fine. That's part of the business. Like any other business, you may have to get a loan to get started.

Your art is not enough - it has to be seen. You have to do whatever it takes to get that done. Take responsibility. Talk to a bank. Talk to the SBA. Talk to women's groups or other organizations that give grants or mentorship. If you want it, you can have it. Many people who are less talented than you are have made it.

Now, on to showing our work, it is a hard line to draw between promotion that gets positive attention and being egotistical - but only in our minds. We are taught as children that talking about our accomplishments and ourselves in a positive light is "bragging". "Bragging" is bad. Oh please! We aren't children anymore!

There is a line between bragging and promotion. Promotion is a professional necessity. We have to put together press kits, press releases, and promotional materials to get our name out in front of Editors, Producers, Gallery Owners, etc. It is not bragging to talk about what you do and how you are unique. If you find it hard to write about yourself, then put money out to get a publicist to write the press releases for you. If you can't afford that, trade with another artist; you write about them and have them write about you.

Fortune Favors the Bold. Everything I have ever achieved in life is because I tried. No one has ever handed me something for free. I had to ask or follow up on leads for every column, article, design, book, and project I have ever done. There is no need to be pushy, but there is a need to be professional and consistent.

Want to write a book? Go to the bookstore and look at similar books. Find the names of four or five publishers and then write to ask them for their submission guidelines. Do the same with magazines. The guidelines will tell you how to submit your work.

Want to be shown in a gallery? Call a gallery and ask how you go about getting your work shown. Chances are you need good photography of your work. This means not sending in the fuzzy snapshot taken in your living room at night with the kid's toys in the background. If you don't have a good camera, barter with someone who does or pay to have your work photographed. Treat it as a business and your work will be repaid.

If you meet someone of influence in your industry, follow up with a handwritten letter to tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. Handwritten letters are a rarity these days and for that reason it will be remembered. At a recent trade show, instead of handing out business cards to everyone, I made twenty or so painted and stamped tags, cut slits in it for my business card and gave these to key people at the show. When they get home, they will remember my card over the dozens that they were given that week. Most people told me they would display the tag in their office - a continuing reminder of my work!

Finally, I would encourage you, as I often do, to write out goals. No matter how lofty or far off they sound, write it out. Two years ago I wrote out a goal about writing a reference book that I felt would be unique in the marketplace. Within months I signed a deal with the publisher that was my first choice in the marketplace.

Putting your goals in writing is like shouting your intention to the universe. It causes you to be aware of opportunities that you might have missed before. It brings synchronicity to everyday events.

When I bought a new car a few years ago, I had never seen a car like the one we bought. Within days it seemed like everyone on the road had the same car! The reason was that now I was in tune with the car, I knew what it looked like so it caught my eye when it hadn't before. Goals are like that. Once you write a goal down you are more likely to bring it up in conversation, and be aware of opportunities when they present themselves to you.

Fortune Favors the Bold. 

Inside you, maybe buried beneath many layers, you remember that voice that was so SURE and so powerful telling you that you ARE special and your work DOES have value. That is the voice of the bold. It is inside you. It is the real you that gets covered by convention and peer pressure. But, I know that you wouldn't be reading this newsletter if you didn't want to bring that voice out into the open. Go on; give it a try. Be Bold and watch for Fortune to favor you.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Courage to Create

All creative processes require courage. It takes bravery to take that first step towards doing anything new. . . but creative processes generate even more fear than other first steps because they are, in a way, a birthing process. All parents want their children to be popular and accepted.

Altered Art Doll
Whenever you create something new -- or even express the desire to do so -- there will be someone in your life that will discourage you. "Don't do that! You'll fail! You'll be embarrassed! No one will like it!" Maybe that someone will be insider your own head. There are many reasons that people will try to discourage you. Sometimes it is out of a genuine fear that you will be hurt. Sometimes it is because they are not fulfilling their own creative destiny and seeing you about to take a step towards your own future makes them uncomfortable to the point that they will try to prevent you from reaching your goals at any cost.

No matter whether the voice of discouragement is in your own head, or comes from someone else, the first step to getting past those fears is to understand that a) every act of creation has VALUE and b) that value is to you -- the creator. If other people are happy or approve of your creation, that is the icing on the cake, but if it is your sole motivation for acting, the first time you don't get that approval you will stall your creative process.

Try to remember the first time you creative something. Maybe it was the old shoes with macaroni glued all over them in Kindergarten. Perhaps it was a paint by numbers picture, or writing a poem in third grade, or arranging the furniture in your first apartment. Do you remember what that felt like? The sense of accomplishment, the relief, maybe the joy?

Creativity comes from within and you must trust yourself and your instinct to create. That is where fear comes in. . .and when the voice of discouragement starts making some real sense.

Getting Past Your Fear:

Many people never get started in their creative process because just thinking abut it is overwhelming. Here are some basic steps to help you get started.

1. Choose Your Weapon

You may have several projects you want to try, but you can only do one at a time. Specifically define ONE. For example:

  • write one haiku
  • paint a pattern
  • create a mosaic pot
  • create a family tree for my father's family

2. Define The Steps

Once you have defined your goal, (and it is BEST to write this down on paper), define the steps necessary to do this one thing. Here is a list I made for writing haiku.

a) pull out my book of poetry rules

b) pull out pen and paper

c) put a classical music CD on the stereo

d) block out an hour in my schedule

Once I have defined the steps, it seems much more manageable than my bigger goal of writing a haiku.

3. Find Your Creativity Zone

Everyone has their own creative quirks. Some people are most creative when they are in complete silence and all alone. Others need loud music and lots of activity. Personally, I am most creative when alone and surrounded by music. When I write, I prefer classical music with no lyrics. (The words tend to distract me from my own writing.) When I paint, I like upbeat, faster music, generally.

Pay attention to your own creative needs. I am someone that needs a lot of visual stimulation. My house and studio have a lot of "knick-knacks" and color. Some artists find this distracting and need to have a place without outside stimulus. I am more of an indoor person - but perhaps you are inspired by nature. It would be very difficult for you to do your best work in a cramped workroom without windows.

Begin to note when you are feeling your most creative? Don't fight against your body clock! I am a night owl -- I paint and do visual media best from 10 PM to 1 AM. . .but, I do my best writing from 3 - 6 PM. Each of us has peak times that we do things best.

4. Inspiration

There is a misconception that all creativity springs from inside the artist as something wholly new and original. The truth is that 99.9% of creative people spend the majority of their time reading, watching, observing and filtering information to be used later. I've been inspired by a color scheme I saw in the titles of a movie, I've heard "the click" at the grocery store, the hair stylist, just about anywhere I've ever been.

There is a fine but DEFINITE line between inspiration and copying. I try not to look for inspiration in the same media I am working in. However, many artists have interpreted the same subject in their own way. Think about how many pictures have been painted of Jesus, for example. Do not ever start with someone else's work as the departure point for your own unless you have written permission to do this.

Because I am very visual, I love magazines. I especially like home decor and family magazines because they have a broad spectrum of articles with an emphasis on visual design. I don't go anywhere without scissors, glue and magazines. I keep a journal and a several scrapbooks. If I am starting a new project, I start a new book for pictures and quotes that have the feel of what I want to accomplish. I rarely keep the books open when I'm actually working because I don't want to be tempted to copy. The scrapbooks are my way of working through my thoughts and ideas. I sketch, I paint, I write and draw in and around the things I put together.

Start to pay attention to things that inspire you. Perhaps there is a kind of music (like Reggae, for example) that rev your engines and put you in the mood to create. If you learn these things about yourself, you make it easier to get working.

5. Go For It!

There is one guarantee about any creative endeavor. If you don't try, you will never succeed. It is okay to do several drafts. Give yourself permission to not get it right on the first try. Learn from your efforts and you have succeed!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

How to Make an iPhone Dock (charger) Using a Vintage Camera

Last year I bought an adorable retro Brownie camera made into an iphone dock for my computer on Etsy for about $50. I wanted to get one that I could use to just charge my phone at the office (I don't connect it to my work computer), and when I went looking, I found that they had gone up to $100 and up.

Since I have a large collection of vintage cameras, I decided to grab one and figure out how to make it myself! It turns out to be quite easy! You just need a camera, a drill and drill bit that is as wide as the USB end of your cord (that is what you will thread through) and some good glue (I used E6000.)

I will admit that it was a little painful to drill into this camera. I chose this one because it is low and wide so I wouldn't have to worry about it toppling, and because my family used to have one just like it when I was a kid. It reminds me of family vacations to Hawaii!

First, open up your camera and make sure there is nothing extra sitting in the film compartment. Decide where you want your doc to sit, and then begin to drill. I found that I had to drill through plastic, thin metal, and more plastic. It wasn't as easy to get through as I expected, because you are drilling through the main housing for the film and lens. 

I drilled three holes and then drilled in between until I had the width I wanted. When I tried to thread the usb cable through, I realized  that the outer hole was the right size, but inside the housing I had to make it wider, so I went back in and drilled some more, being careful not to widen the outer hole.

Once it was through, I threaded it through and then glued the iphone attachment end into place.

Next you need to decide where you want the cord to come out of your camera. I decide the door was the easiest spot, so I drilled a hole in the side of the door so that it would close without crimping the cable. (Sorry I didn't get a photo of this with the door open). I used the side of the drill bit to just drill a little "U" shape in the side of the door panel, and kept trying to close the door until it would close easily. Then I chose to just close and lock the door normally, rather than gluing it shut.

And here is the final version sitting on my desk at work! I love it, and it is both a conversation piece, and something I love to look at when I'm working!

Monday, March 11, 2013

State Pride Pillow

When I'm not giving into my yarn obsession hobby, I do still work as a portrait and landscape photographer. Recently I was asked to have one of my landscapes featured on a local phone directory! That was very exciting!

So, in my vast amounts of spare time (ahem), I took a part-time job working with our local Chamber of Commerce. I did it for a couple of reasons; first, I think using your talents to give back to your community is an important thing. In addition, I work alone so much that I knew this job would be the perfect way to meet people in my little town, and hopefully use my skills to benefit them.

For those of you that don't know, I'm one of those people who have done a million things; I am a licensed lawyer in California (on inactive status as I live in OK), I have published three books, I've been on TV many times demonstrating arts / crafts, I was CEO of a technology company for five years, and I taught New Media Marketing for UCLA and Cal State Long Beach extension programs. As a result, I have a pretty good skill set to help people in business, and since the job was only part-time, it seemed like a perfect fit.

I've been doing the job for a month, and so far I am loving it. Of course, you know that I am redecorating the office . . . slowly, but surely! Someday I'll show the before / after photos, but I wanted to share a quick project.

I purchased these plain red lumbar pillows on

I found a map of Oklahoma online and printed it, and traced it onto card stock  Then I used the card stock to trace the design onto white felt and cut it out. Using black embroidery floss, I stitched the design on unevenly, as I wanted it to have a little bit of a homey-rustic air to it.

Finally, using a heart-shaped pin I found dirt-cheap on eBay, I placed the pin where our town is located in the state. 

Voila! For just a couple dollars, I embellished two pillows for the guest chairs in my office! Perfect for a Chamber of Commerce office, I think.  I love it. What do you think? 

I'm Alive - And Yarn Has Taken Over My Life

Just after Christmas, my very good friend (and partner in crime), Tammy,  decided to take up crocheting again. Like me, she had learned as a child, and so she showed me how to make this simple treble crochet infinity scarf. Then I started getting "fancy" and adding trim on it.

Okay, I know if you are a long-time "hooker", this isn't all that impressive, but for someone who hadn't touched a crochet needle in 30 years, I was impressed with myself . . . 

And then I discovered that YouTube had all these videos on different stitches, so I started experimenting. Here is another infinity scarf with a different stitch:

Below is my first attempt at a hat - which looks pretty good, until you know that I was trying to make an adult hat and it turned out newborn sized! Yeah, that's when I started reading about gauge and needle size and taking things a bit more seriously . . . which, of course, required more yarn . . . and needles, and cases for yarn and needles . . .

Talullah, btw, contributed nothing to this process except a bit of dog hair - which I figure just makes the scarves warmer.

And then I thought . . . I don't have to do infinity scarves . . . I could do a regular scarf with fringe . . . this one is made with a chenille yarn. 

The good news is that I finally mastered hats . . . and then everyone wanted one .  . . so I made about fifteen in a row. No joke. I'm a whiz at the magic circle now!

Yes, here is the fancy scarf / hat combo . . . with trim!

Scarf and hat combo with no trim (who said I can't be flexible?)

Eventually, I made several scarves for Talullah. As you can see, she was very impressed.

Then my friend Tammy said, I really want to learn to knit, and I said "Me, too!" Seriously, Tammy and I should not be allowed to be together . . . we are dangerous . . . however, we are definitely good for the economy.

Tammy jumped right in and made a full length scarf. I decided that knitting is a little too slow for me (or I'm too slow for it), and since I felt like a baby giraffe trying to use it's legs for the first time holding the knitting needles, it took me a while to warm to it. As a result, I made several full length dishcloths!  (Tammy is a show-off, anyway! ha!)  On the plus side, however, I have discovered that knitted dishcloths are GREAT!

Did I mention all that with all the yarn I had to buy, I also had to buy a new shelving unit for my recent Craft purchases (left), and added that jumbo metal crate unit for my yarn. I took this photo before I put all of my yarn in it because at some point I realized that it was getting embarrassing. Let's just say that where you can see space in the crates in the photo . . . not so much now.

Oh, I have also branched out and made a couple of handbags. This one was made with yarn my mom found at Big Lots! 

Here is Talullah in a babushka I made to keep her hears warm. I know you can feel how much she loves it. Or not.

In addition to dozens of scarves, and hats, a couple of handbags, a cell-phone carrier, and a few other goodies . . . what I'm working on now is lap afghans for the residents of the Nursing Home where my mom works, and where I take Talullah to visit every two weeks. Here is a photo of Talullah visiting one of the residents, and the shawl around the resident's shoulders is the first one I made for the home. My mom says she just lights up when they bring it out to her - and that makes me feel great about this new obsession, er, hobby of mine!