Amen

Image 10I had to share this beautiful message, from Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, my son’s favorite childhood comic.

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My Garden is a Cliche´

Image 21I almost hate to write this, because it feels like a tired topic. My garden is a metaphor for my life. I know. You’ve heard this before. But, since I’m experiencing it myself, it feels new.

When I moved into this house almost 4 years ago, I longed for a garden. I had been living in a condominium for 5 years and the pots on the balcony didn’t cut it for me. It’s just not the same.

There was an area that had clearly been a garden at one time, but by then it was a pile of rock and weeds. When I tried to scrape off the rock, or use a shovel to dig down, it was like cement. Under the rock was Image 16plastic, under that was clay. It was impossible. I gave up. I settled for pots again that year. I tried to dig again the next year, same thing. Nothing budged. More pots.

Last year, Sir G went out and somehow scraped off the rock, pulled up the plastic, rototilled what was there and brought in new dirt. I swear, it only took him two hours to get through the rock and pull up the plastic. I was convinced it couldn’t be done. I hate that. I thought if it could be done, I should have been able to do it. But, I’m learning in my, how do I say this….I’m maturing. That’s it. I’m learning in my “maturity” and accepting that some people are better suited to some things than I. I can’t do everything, but I can ask for help. I’m okay with it now. He’s stronger. He Imagegot through the rock.

Sir G often manages to do things I think can’t be done. He’s patient, and just does them. This is off topic, but I had a briefcase that I forgot the lock combination to. He sat down with it and proceeded to go through every number combination, starting with 0000. “You are kidding me, right?” And off I went. He got it open in 10 minutes, unbelievable. No way would I have even tried that. I was ready to just break the locks. I’m sure this is a topic for a different post on a different day. Back to my garden….

This year SirG made a frame with chicken wire and sifted all of the dirt in the garden. More, “You’re kidding me, right?” No. No more rocks. He Image 13brought in fresh soil, manure and tilled it again. We were going to have the perfect garden! We planted flowers, herbs, vegetables and fruit. We used a mix of seeds, seedlings from the nursery and seedlings we started ourselves. We had visions of lush growth, abundant fruit…

But, it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t growing as we thought it would. Some things just withered Image 4away. Our lettuce wasn’t growing. The berries sent out tons of shoots, but no berries appeared. Some things never broke through the ground at all. The sweet peas didn’t climb. The Hollyhocks didn’t come up. Darn it!

We put so much care into preparing the soil, it was a disappointment. Why was it limping along? I know that all gardens are trial and error. That’s part of the fun for me. I like to plant some things every year, that I’ve never planted before to see how they grow. So, I’m usually in for a surprise here and there. But still, we expected more from our garden. Why did we get tons of shoots for our strawberries, but no strawberries? Why did we have 30 tomato flowers, but only 2 Image 3tomatoes? The pumpkin stopped growing. The sweet peas didn’t creep….It was so odd.

SirG, being SirG, kept at it. He thought about it, tended it, weeded and watered. He’d sit and stare at that garden figuring out how to help it. He devised a drip system. He moved things. Have I ever mentioned his dad was Amish? I can just picture him at 90, among his beloved garden rows. If he goes missing, I’ll know to look among the rows… Neat rows, of course, neat German rows. Contrast this with my right brained, artist rows, which I prefer in round clumps, the flowers mixed up with the vegetables, thinking of color and shape…. Nobody will find me there if I go down…. Anyway, he figured out that some of our seedlings couldn’t break through the fine netting Imagewe planted them in. He dug them all up, freed the roots and replanted. (no way would I have done that) He moved the pumpkin plant to a different spot. He started cutting the strawberry runners, so the plant could put energy into strawberries. He didn’t throw in the towel, he tried different things.

I thought of myself as someone with perseverance, if not necessarily patience. But really, compared to what I’ve seen SirG do with briefcase locks, gardens and cement-like ground, I’ve got a ways to go. He’s relentless. The garden began to turn around. It began to produce.

The, sunflowers started attracting bees, and our Image 20plants were pollinated. Tomatoes started growing. Strawberries began to appear. My first clump of grapes, ever. The basil with the freed up roots grew like mad…The pumpkin began to spread. My lettuce was so perfect, I didn’t want to cut it. Look at that gorgeous picture!

Then, the mammoth sunflowers kept growing and growing, but just before they were going to bloom, the tops were getting snapped off! Darn it! That was a mystery. I’d go out in the morning, excited to see if  I had a giant bloom, only to see another broken stalk. Baaahhhhh! We finally figured out the squirrels were jumping from the electrical wires onto the plants and Image 17breaking the stalks. Now we know. “Next year, over there!”

This all got me thinking how you can do what you think are all the right things for your garden: prepare the soil, plant your seeds, water and weed. But, you just never know what will happen, until it begins to grow, or not. And, you have a choice to walk away and declare it a failure, or roll up your sleeves and see what you can do different. Maybe it will help. I look at these pictures and you’d never know that it started off so dismally. That first month was not promising at all. I began to lose hope for an abundant garden this year.

It’s the same with our lives, with our kids, with our plans. You can lay all of the groundwork perfectly, you think. But there are unforeseen variables everywhere. You just never know. Some things might look like that impossible pile of rock, unmovable. But they aren’t. It’s worth a shot to try. With a little work, it might turn into something beautiful that will surprise you. And, the fact that it didn’t go perfectly right off the bat, will teach you something worthwhile.

 

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An Ordinary Day

ImageI took this picture about 10 years ago.

Image 1

I took this picture this morning, early, really early for them. They look like sleepy criminals. At first I wished that I had taken a better one, had my son take off his hat, had Max change his shirt, had them move closer together, move Max away from that leaf on his head……but if I started to get nit picky, they would have gone back to bed, or left. This was my chance. I figure it will be a hoot to look at in ten years when they are a little more awake and pulled together. We can only hope….. Today, this was it.

After this picture, I drove my son back to school to start his sophomore year of college. He’s studying electrical engineering, computer science, German, and whatever else goes with all of that, so he can create the life he wants. You Image 15have no idea how momentous just saying that is to me.

Son#2 started his senior year of high school this week. He’s finding his groove painting, skateboarding, looking forward to snowboard season and “chillin’ hard”.  That’s one of the hats he just painted. Time marches on.

Between the first picture and the second was a whole lot of life. There were many many bumps, and lot of stuff I’d rather not think about. This little family has been through it, that’s for sure. But that’s okay. We have it pretty awesome now.

One of my greatest pleasures is simply a day like today; getting up, taking my son back Image 4to college, being around the excitement of other families moving the students back, getting some things done for him, going to lunch, dropping him off, embarrassing him a little by being the mom who brought the bath mat, coming home….normal stuff. Normal is awesome. I do not take normal for granted – ever. I love days like today.

A friend gave me a book last year, “The Gift of an Ordinary Day”, by Katrina Kenison. I cried every time I opened it. “The Gift of an Ordinary Day is an intimate memoir of a family in transition-boys becoming teenagers, careers ending and new ones opening up…” That pretty much described my life.

Image 5The book began with the author describing her boys at 6 and 9 years old, and I began to cry. I miss my babies at that age, their little bodies…So sweet. I cried every time I opened it. My boys would walk in the door, see tears running down my face and ask, “Have you been reading that book again?” I finished it and I felt better. I love good cries. I got the sadness of my boy leaving out of my system and began to get excited about his new life. It’s a transition and it’s normal to feel sad. I imagine it makes the kids feel good knowing their departure is a sad thing for their parent. They are very loved and will be missed.

Looking at pictures like the one at the top makes me sad at times. I thought their childhood would go on forever. It sure felt like it…. That old cliche’ about it going so fast, doesn’t feel so fast when you are in the thick of it. It feels like you have a highway of years stretched out before you, and all you want is a full night’s sleep. All of a sudden, it’s almost over. Then you look back and wish you could have a rewind to savor it, be better, do better, do different…..At least I do. So much was going on, I feel I missed out on too much, wasn’t paying enough attention. But, I only have now. I know now, it’s all fast. I pay attention. I know in ten years, I’ll look back at the picture I took this morning and know I was “there”, I was paying attention, I was doing my best, and they had my best. Ordinary days are gifts, and I’m grateful for every one of them. Mostly. :  )

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My New Space

Image 24I want to share my new workspace/studio. Well, not really my new space. It’s the same space, just revamped. Whatever it is, it feels good. It’s organized. Imagine that. Sir G had a big hand in this. I’m not a naturally super organized person, but he is. He saw how things could be different and helped make that happen. To him, it’s all about having what you need.

Having the shelving, drawers and files I Image 25need has made a huge difference to me. I don’t walk in, then want to walk out because I don’t feel like digging for what I want through the mess. I don’t feel like I have to clean up before I can get to work. It’s so nice! I especially love my new paper file. Truth be told, the new work table has me a bit nervous about destroying it, but it’s there to be used, so I’m not going to stress. I Image 9figure it’s like a car, the first coffee spill is the hardest…

I hesitate to show you these photos. I don’t want it to come off wrong, show-offy. That’s not what I’m after. I’m showing them because I am opening up my space to creative workshops, art nights, etc….(first bring-your-own-project- art-night Sept. 3) and I want people to see what the space looks like. This is only half of it. There is another room with lots of table space I want to show, but I currently have two teenagers sleeping there at 11:00 am in the morning, who stayed up all night playing computer games with my son, who is headed back to college in a few days…….So, no pictures of that area right now. It’s nice though.

Image 8The other thing I love about my studio, is that it is right off my kitchen. Seriously, I can’t think of anything better than floating between my kitchen and studio, which is what I pretty much did all weekend.

I talk a lot about quality of life and how it’s not about how much money you have, but how you live that makes a difference. I totally believe that. It is the little things that make a difference. I totally and sincerely believe you can create nice spaces with what you have and what can be had for free or not much money. However, there is a helluva lot to be said for having the opportunity to upgrade when you can. Whatever works for you, works fine. This is a wonderful thing for Image 10me, to be able to update the space. I don’t take it for granted. And, I’m very excited to be able to share it with others.

Sir G has taught me a few things. While, I’m all about making due with what you have, his philosophy is that you need the right tools for the job you are doing. Though it’s not his profession now, at one point he was a carpenter, and still does carpentry work Image 6quite often. He’s a really good craftsman. He does things right. He also has the right tools to do the job, it’s important to him. He’s shown me what a difference it makes to have the proper tools for what you are trying to do, whether it be cooking, making art, building a house, whatever….. I won’t argue. He’s right.  Good tools make a difference, though I’ll stick to my guns and say, using what you have when that’s all you have, works too. :  )

So, now that I have a wonderful new space that I pretty much plant myself in every day, I should have my new website up and running soon, new classes and offerings posted, etc….In the mean time, contact me if you are interested in anything specific I’m not showing here yet. If you want to come to my first bring-your-own-project art night, let me know.

Are you interested in an in-home cooking class/party? Do you need help with an event? Are you interested in something else? Send me an email and I’ll get back to you. cindyallen09@gmail.com.

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Michael Jackson’s Sabbath

MichaeljacksonI have a new customer with a huge music, book and DVD collection. She loaned me her favorite book, which I read in 3 days. :  )  It was “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier. The first page blew me away with the imagery. I had to reread it two or three times because I loved the picture it created in my head. Amazing writing. My customer also had a DVD of “This Is It”, a compilation of video footage of rehearsals for Michael Jackson’s final tour, which I also borrowed.

Michael-Ochs-Archive-Photos-michael-jackson-31834608-1140-1422I’ve always been a little fascinated with Michael. I watched him grow up. Here’s the cute little Michael I remember. He was just a few years older than me. I was in awe of him when I was in grade school. I lived in the Detroit area. Motown records was huge. As a kid, I only saw the exciting shiny surface that looked like his life. I wished I could be that good at something.

I was always in awe of kids who seemed to have accomplished something huge while I was just trying to get through 4th grade or whatever I was doing at the time. I watched the Olympics with that same feeling of awe. “If only I practiced harder…..” I would think. I would spend hours doing gymnastics or trying to write a song or a story or draw a picture…. I remember really messing up my back in the third grade after the summer olympics watching Nadja. I always fell short of my vision, that’s for sure. I wanted the perfection I saw on the TV. I wished I could do what they could.

Now, of course, I see things differently. I wouldn’t want Michael’s or Nadja’s life. No freedom. No childhoods. I would have hated it. I am me. My path is different. But, those two achieved something truly awe inspiring. I admire anyone who has accomplished world class anything. It’s beautiful to see what humans can do.

“What I wanted more than anything was to be ordinary. The Sabbath was when I could be” Michael Jackson.

I get that. But he also said this…..

“Sundays were sacred for two other reasons as I was growing up. They were both the day that I attended church and the day that I spent rehearsing my hardest. This may seem against the idea of “rest on the Sabbath,” but it was the most sacred way I could spend my time: developing the talents that God gave me. The best way I can imagine to show my thanks is to make the very most of the gift that God gave me.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I love it. I always remembered it. I love the idea of using Sunday to do what I love, to develop the talents God gave me. To be honest, it’s a daily prayer of mine, “Help me develop the gifts and talents You gave me. Give me the focus and direction…..” I try to remember to do the things I love on Sunday. I get sidetracked, of course, but I try to notice and rein myself in.  I also try to make time every day too.

I’m not Michael and I’m not Nadja, but I’m me. And, I know I have been given unique gifts. Everyone has. It’s up to me to do something with them. It’s a celebration of life to me. It’s so easy to leave the things we love and are good at for when we “have time”. But, I really need to make the time. If it’s important to me, it’s important to do.

So, I get up at 4:45 am every day, and I practice what I want to get better at, the things I was born loving. It’s my joy. I’m not world class at any of these things. It doesn’t matter. I love doing them. It’s my celebration of me and my thank you to God. They are my gifts. I love to use them. I want to get better at them. It all deserves my time and attention. The hours from 4:45 until 8:00, fly faster than any others.

The thing is….I like to wake up and spend a little God time too. And, often, I feel bad if I lose my focus and get side-tracked from doing that first thing, like today. I’m sitting here writing this and I haven’t said hello to God yet, haven’t written my thank you note to Him…..I love doing that. It’s my pleasure. “Thank you, God, it’s gorgeous today….” I feel bad when I don’t get to it. Then I remembered Michael. Watching his video and seeing his awesome talent in action reminded me of the quote above. And, I thought to myself that if I don’t sit with God first thing, sitting down to write, or paint, or cook or run is sort of the same thing isn’t it? I’m honoring God by using the gifts he gave me. The thing is, while I’m doing the things I love, I often find myself talking to God anyway. “Thank you, God. Thank you for everything. I love this so much….” 

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A Limited Palette

Image 12One of my customers recently asked about fixing up the outside of their mountain home with plantings and flowers, clean up their garden beds, etc… An old friend was riding his motorcycle across the country to visit them, and they wanted to spruce things up. Did I know anybody who could do it? “Yes. Me!”  She was surprised, “Really? You would do that?” Well, yeah! It’s what I love to do when I’m not working.

My challenge with this project was that it was the last week of July, way past summer planting time. I stopped at my favorite nursery on the way home. As you would guess, the pickings were pretty limited at this point, very few flowers, lots of foliage, everything Image 20outgrowing their little plastic pots. But that was okay. There was a ton of one of my favorites, coleus. It’s a foliage plant with a lot of variation in color. I would make this work. I had to visualize creating something beautiful using what was available.

I went back the next day and had the best morning! The nursery was empty at 8:00 am. It was raining. The sound of the rain on the corrugated roof of the giant greenhouse was wonderful. I grabbed a cart and wandered around. I actually got choked up I was so happy. All I kept thinking was that someone was paying me to do what I love to do. And, it was raining! An added bonus to me.  It felt like a favorite cozy day.

Image 18The limited choices of the late season made it a creative challenge. Fun stuff. What could I do with what was available? As I was writing about this, I thought about my art classes in college. We weren’t just unleashed to create, there were always assignments and perimeters. “Use a 2″ brush, black ink to draw this person’s pose in 10 seconds….. Now do it again…. Again.” (warm-ups for life drawing) I loved that. What can I do with what I have?

Then, of course, when I got on that track of thinking I applied it to everything. It’s a good skill to have in every part of life, come to think of it. It comes in handy when you are divorced, broke and have two kids to Image 13feed. What can I make for dinner for under $10.00. Tofu and rice! It’s my oldest son’s favorite meal to this day.

A limited palette. I like that. It applies to everything really. We all have a limited palette in some ways. We have what we have to work with. Now what can we do with it? Our palettes are limited by our health, our finances, our living situation, Image 9our time, energy, resources, location, etc…..I can’t wait to create the life I want until I have everything perfect. I can work with what I have though.

SirG and I have a vision of the house we want to build. I was talking about the garden I wanted, the kitchen, the studio….how I missed the horse country I used to live in, how I would love to do cooking classes where we walk into the garden to pick what we will cook with, etc….And, he said, “But, you already have that”. Indeed I did. I do. In a different way than what I “see” in my head, but I do already have what I dream of now. I just needed to open my eyes to what was in front of me and work with what I had. I’m sitting in my studio, one of two that are not only attached to the house, but to the open kitchen, perfect for classes. That picture of basil was snapped one minute ago in my garden. It’s not as big as the one I envision, but I love it no less. The horse was my only company on the day I worked all day, planting the flowers, for the customer who asked, “Do you know anybody who could……” Yes, me. I can do that.

Image 14I just got off the phone two seconds ago with a woman who has taken my workshops over the last few years. We were chatting about the post I was writing and she asked, “But, how do you do it. Do you have somebody helping you? How do you find your opportunities. How do you know where you are at.” I pretty much said, pay attention to what’s already there. Be open to what you come across. Pursue what you like. Read. Take one step. One thing leads to another. Some things work out. Some things don’t. Try something else. Eventually you will notice you are on a path. Follow it.

Oh, the garden….she loved it, limited palette and all. She said, “Thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.” Me, “You just paid me to do something I love. I should be thanking you.” 

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Things take the time they take

Image 3This is how my grapevine looks today. Every morning SirG and I go out to check on the garden’s progress. I was excited to see that the grapes are now purple, not green. I’m dying to see the mammoth sunflowers bloom. It should be any day now. My Morning Glories are so beautiful, velvety rich color with what looks like alight shining from within. I plant them around the base of my sunflowers so they climb up the big stalks, like “Jack and the Beanstalk”. I do it every year I can. It’s fun. Parts of the garden are “done”, have been harvested. Parts are almost there. Everything is in it’s own stage of growth.

I went to a wonderful conference in Atlanta a few months ago. It was very much worth the time and Image 4money to go. I came away with a whole binder of useful information that’s sitting right here. Ahem, I haven’t dug back into it much yet because things are nice and busy and, well, it’s summer. When I have a relaxing day, sometimes I like to crack a book and lay in the sun, or ride a bike, or run, or paint. Coming up with new marketing strategies isn’t always on top of my list.

I met a woman at the conference who specializes in helping businesses get focused. We had a great little chat during a break and I had some “aha” moments, which I love. She called a few weeks later and offered her services to me for free, in exchange for endorsement. I liked what we had already talked about, so I said sure. She said she, “Couldn’t wait to get her hands on..” my business.

I want to be clear here, it was a generous offer and I like her. But, I decided to stop working with her after our initial meeting. She gave me assignments and told me what I should do next and when I shared some of what I wanted to do, it didn’t seem to click with her.  Her vision of my vision wasn’t the same as mine. And, I didn’t have time for the assignments, I was busy. I had landed some awesomely fun work and I had to pay attention to it. The pressure I felt doing assignments to grow my business took away from my enjoyment of doing the work itself.

The experience taught me something. Things take the time they take. I can’t rush my sunflowers and corn. And, I don’t want to. I love the process. I love seeing the change everyday. I love doing something, and seeing how it affects the plant. It’s a fun process, not a contest. In life, I find that my best ideas come organically. My business has always grown in the direction it’s naturally taken, without me forcing it. It goes where it should.  I enjoy the process. I’m not in a race. The goal is in the doing, not finishing first. What I’m good at shines and  starts to grow. What I’m not, falls away.

I’m really not interested in treating my business like a race to the finish. It seems that’s the message everyone has out there, “Get big, do it fast, market market market…” Ugh. I was stressing about not having the time to finish the assignments she gave me to help my business grow, because I had good stuff already happening. I am loving what I’m doing. I’m enjoying the process.

At the conference I had signed up, than changed my mind, to participate in a year long business building program with a woman I’ve loved and admired for years. It started making me feel angsty just knowing what pressure I was putting myself under to produce, to pay for this program. I was seeing my boys’ ski passes going out the window and the money going in someone else’s pocket. I opted out.

I believe in growth. I believe in getting information, education, coaching and whatever else you want, to help you get where you want to go. But, I love letting things grow naturally, not forcing them to. And, I love the direction I am going. I love what I do. I love my life. It will go where it will go…..in it’s own time. Like my grapes, and pumpkin, and roses……

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