Friday, August 31, 2012

# 335 - Country Cottage Non-Negotiables

Scaling back my life to affordable and manageable on my own terms is a challenge. Lately, I've been reconsidering how much square footage I will need for my own country cottage, but I do need to have a guest room always available and other guest space for those wanting to crash in the country with me for a nice visit.

I figured there are parts to the country cabin that are non-negotiable:

1. Kitchen
2. Dining Area
3. Living Area
4. Bathroom
5. Closet Space
6. Laundry Zone
7. My Master Bedroom
8. Guest/Multi-Purpose Room

These areas I need to be able to have built, which means I will eventually be required to finish these rooms completely with sheetrock, trim, moulding, doors, paint, window treatments, flooring and so on. The immediate area that would need to be finished as fast as possible is the Grand Area that will contain the kitchen, eating area and living room...for a while, I could survive in that space so it will need to be completed as quickly as possible, along with a bathroom. Then, I will have space to eat, sleep and live for the immediate future.

Over time, I can finish the master bedroom and guest bedroom.

Since I have a puttering personality that has adapted to my body's unique abilities, I will simply putter around and do the most I can do everyday, in the span of time I have strength. Some days are great, other days are not so hot. I'll take what I get. I'll do the best I can with what I have to offer.

In addition to the country cottage, I will definitely need to have a storage building constructed for my extra furnishings and packing boxes to be held until I can get them into the finished house. Plus, I'll need room for my riding lawnmower and other tools since those are a necessity on acreage. I'm hoping to find a regular handyman in my area that I can call upon for hourly help, such as when a ceiling fan needs to be installed or the lawn tractor needs a tune-up or a fence needs to be put up...a well-rounded jack-of-all-trades handyman who needs a little extra cash and who is aching to be handy. I know I will be able to work things out. God works things out for me in uncanny ways, I'll thoroughly enjoy being able to write about my miracles of all sizes during this process.

Additionally, there is a lot that I know how to do on my own. I am a people-watcher and pretty good with my hands and with figuring things out. Once upon a time, in my frustration during construction at our house following Hurricane Ike, I showed a hurried, incompetent worker how to pop a chalk line, in front of his buddies, because he kept floating a corner with wavy lines. I cannot tell you how funny it was when his circle of friends' eyes got big and started making sounds to make fun of him. It was a glorious moment as a woman. Any more excuses?

I guess some men might fear a woman such as myself, one that refuses to put up with the bull and who will not accept being treated with disregard and disrespect without making it CLEARLY known how I feel. I guess like any man, us women can also have a bad temper. Go figure! And if I get angry dammit, then there is a very good reason for it. Since I didn't even raise my voice at my children while raising them, it might be safe to consider that my raised voice is a definite indicator of being at the end of my graciousness. It is a challenge for me, physically, to raise my voice, but once it is up is significant and means much more than shallow frustration. Sometimes, I've found that the raised voice I never dug to release for so many years is my way of empowering myself to say, "NO MORE!"

Maybe the content of the anger should be listened to closely; I don't leave much open for mystery. If someone does me wrong, repeatedly, like most people, I am going to get fed up and no longer be available as stomping grounds. Sorry. My apology is that I am no longer the same person and I am tired of the lifelong whining and ungrateful attitude that I suddenly cannot tolerate. This is the time when I have discovered my tank to be on empty.

Collapsing n defeat is not my style, if I am treated in a disgusting manner, I might get knocked around, but I will come back up fighting. I might shed a few tears, but each fallen tear morphs into a sizzling potion that hits my skin, strengthening me to do what is necessary to protect myself.

These days, I admire even more than ever, a strong man who is good, confidant and respectable in his day to day activities. Good men are out there...they not only want to help support their family, the work to bring goodness and tolerance and tenderness into the home instead of leaving all that to the woman. Regardless, I'm ready to call out bad behavior as readily as I am to admit when I am wrong. Besides, any man who voluntarily forsakes his woman might be wise to have some healthy fear of her wrath. Doesn't the Bible mention this warning? Didn't the Lord who created women understand this scripture and put it there for a reason?

My family put it like this, "If you don't take care of your woman and hold her close, then your empty arms will be free to catch hell."

In my situation, I've lived a life of being forced to deal with horrendously bad behavior more often than I desire to recall. Now, I have toughened up and am giving back a tiny fraction of what I've endured. As I thought all along, I've been stronger and able to deal with all that had been dished out to me while knowing that if it had been in reverse, there would have been a crumbling effect and inability to see straight because of the discord. I always said, "Dish it out ONLY if you can be force fed the same crap yourself." Folks, that is pure Texas elegance.

Being in my shoes has taught me more about life, marriage and broken vows than I can express. Well, my shoes were pretty covered in crap for far too long, on far too many occasions, sometimes during the worst times of my life, yet it didn't matter, the crap still was heaped on me. However, I stuck to my end of the bargain through it all. I figured, at least I'd be able to lay my head down in peace, knowing I've been faithful the entire time, but I had a sneaking suspicion that my tolerance would come back to bite me because my efforts would never be enough. And yep, that's where we have arrived...I overlooked way too much and I can see it was a mistake.

The beauty in the storm is, lately, I've been presented with moments of clarity that have done nothing but fortify me for upcoming changes. I feel stronger, healthier, more clear-minded and peaceful about my future than I've felt in years. There comes a point in our lives that moves us beyond moves us to the planning that is required to make major changes and to do it with a joyful heart full of anticipation, as if we're planning the ultimate vacation. The permanence of it is unbelievably exciting. The unknown is no longer scary, it is welcomed and approached, as if it is an awesome adventure.

Regardless, my own strength and ability to speak up for myself has become fine-tuned. My anger at being severely disappointed is slowly morphing into knowing this means I will need to be able to make it on my own, the man I choose to be by my side is not strong enough anymore, he really wasn't ever strong enough and showed it through multiple major issues, for years. However, I just now receved the message for what it is. I've understod that me standing by him through his years of follies meant nothing to him; I should not have expected anything but more of the same. I am accountable for fooling myself and for holding out false hopes and for thinking this time in our lives would have been the best. Yes, I've learned that my future is changing, for the better. And my strength combined with my newfound determination, will definitely be useful on a construction site. And as a Texas resident, it will also be useful to speak a little spanish.

Part of my plan with getting my country cottage constructed is to engage the services of a long-time business associate who is a state licensed home-inspector. Any work I have done to build my cottage will be given a final inspection by my buddy to check for any problems and to make sure there is a second pair of eyes on hand and those sharp, experienced eyes know how it's supposed to be done. In fact, this old friend started a construction company a couple of years ago and I might just give him a call to see if he'd have any interest in helping me get my country cottage constructed.

He'd be glad to not have to pull a million permits since we will be building out of Harris County and in a rural area, but he'd also understand my concern that the construction techniques be held to a high standard. I want a 100 mile per hour wind certified construction plan and my roofing shingles will be architectural and my mechanicals will be in perfect order. Since I'll have electric heating, I might have a tankless water heater installed, it's still up for debate.

Anyway, I am hoping to get a cabin shell built as soon as possible. I guess God will keep directing me and will give me the cue when the time is right. Since the Lord knows I have been forsaken one time too many, I do believe his full blessings will pour out on me. I have tremendous faith in this area and can't wait to show what that faith can do for us. Since I will be on a much tighter long-term budget than my spouse, I will have to be very careful during construction so that my cabin will be well insulated, well built, and easier to maintain for the long-haul.

Yes, I believe it's time for me to call in the expertise of a few friends.

As for negotiables with the cabin, I'd like to have an expanded laundry area that could double as added pantry space and room to store all cleaning supplies and cleaning tools. I'd like the area to have room for my dogs to lay their head at night.

I'd like an additional bathroom with just a shower, sink and toilet to take the burden off the restroom attached to the Me-Master bedroom. If you're looking for double sinks, don't come to my house because I always thought they were a wasted expense, I'd rather have bathroom counter space..

My wrap around porch will be a delight, but I might only be able to start with the front porch and have the rest of the wrap around porch built at a later date and time. I'll do what I can with what I am given.

I'll also have to spend money to stabilize my parking area and depending on whether I choose one side of the land or the other, either way, I'm still going to be stuck with a major expense of installing another septic tank or digging a well. Not looking forward to that expense. I'll give the pros and cons of each side of the acreage later on. Since this is a starter home, a country cottage, I feel good about it not being the end of the world if things are not perfect. However, deep down, I want country cabin/cottage PERFECTION! Wouldn't that be nice? But, I know it's not realistic, so I will stick to doing my best to have a safe, stable structure built for my home.

To be honest, this country cottage is becoming one of the most important tasks I've ever faced in my life. In many ways, it is testing me and pushing me to become all that I can be on my own. I might not have the most beautiful place in the neighborhood, but I can guarantee that my home will feel like home. My place will be welcoming and full of rich family history; my home will be a place where a person can find tranquility. My home will reflect the residence of a woman who has been knocked around by life, but who is fighting back and refuses to give up. My home will be stable and potentially the start of some of the most beautiful years of my life. I will make it everything I dreamed about and beyond...

Yes, I think that once I do have grandchildren, they will be delighted to have a quirky grandma who happily lives in the forest by herself, surrounded by my furry four-legged buddies, a few chickens, a manageable vegetable garden, beautiful flowers and tropical plants and climbing vines, a game of horse-shoes ready nearby, a dart board hanging on a tree and a few hammocks ready to create lifelong will be memorable and enjoyable.

I am not giving up. I am moving forward. Even if it is painfully slow and tedious, I am full of eagerness to step inside my cabin shell and get started Once I make up my mind about the location and have enough funds to get started with construction, I will be probably camping out on the land while construction takes place. I'll be there and doing my part. I'll document the progress and it will be the biggest adventure of my life.

How can I not look forward to such excitement and beauty?

How can the hard work bring me anything but deep rewards?

How can I turn back now?

I can't.

My oldest daughter has a mind of steel when she gets her focus tuned-in on something she wants to accomplish, she got that from me. My youngest daughter has a quiet way of going after what she is determined to grasp, she did get that from her mother. And I got this determination from my own mother and grandmother and great-grandmother. Such determination, even if against all the odds, is a trait passed down from strong women in my family, for generations. Once our mind is made up, we're on our way and we do not look back. That's where I am in this point of my life. I'm not looking back; I'm looking forward and I actually like what I see.

I like it with such passion that I have to keep myself from running toward it. The double for my trouble is about to begin.

My old buddy, the home inspector and construction company owner, I will be having a serious conversation with him this weekend. Knowing his personality, I will be getting the best help I can imagine toward building my country cottage and toward building my own life. The rest...I will let God help me confront, day by day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

# 334 - Country Solitude

To have close friends is to know a bit about how Heaven operates. The woman furthest from the camera in the shot below has been a best-friend of mine for about twenty years, since Stefie was a toddler. Julia and I have been through a lot together as friends, good and bad.

Julia is the kind of friend who you can be raw with and not worry about saying the right things or wrong thing...we just accept each other for who we are in this world.

In 2000, Julia lost her 16 year old daughter to a tragic car accident right around the corner from home. Her daughter had been a big part of my life as well, like one of my own kids. If she was running late to school, she knew to call me and I would go get her. For years, we lived next door to each other. Jeannie even lived with us for about three months when her house next door caught fire. Julia and I had a true open door policy to each other and to our children; we shared homes and the mothering. Everyone should have such a beautiful best-friend and next door neighbor!

In fact, for years, while our husbands were always off and away doing their own thing on a regular basis, every weekend and weekday they could fit it for their fun, Julia and I hung out and handled the raising of our children, as a team. So many weekends we would drive one child here, another there, this one to that place, and pick up the next...and we always had a blast together.

This past week, at my house...Julia, Scott, Heather, Kelly and my Sissy!
Julia is from Spain; she has the most adorable accent. However, when Jeannie died in the car accident, Julia tried to return to a "normal" life without her daughter, but it was not possible. After several months of trying and still feeling as if her world were disintegrating, she felt compelled to return to her home in Spain, actually, the Canary Islands. The hardest part of all of this is that the Lord had given her a baby girl who was only five months old when Jeannie, the big sister, died from the car accident. On top of mourning a horrendous loss, she was still trying to be a mom to this new baby, and I can tell you that severe grief can interfere with your most basic functions. Together, for months after Jeannie's death, we both raised Marisa, her new baby daughter until Julia could take no more of being in her same surroundings and she left for the Canary Islands with Marisa for the next several months.
A change in scenery did help in some ways. In the Canary Islands, she was able to let her child be loved by other family members in her moments of numb grief and Marisa learned very young to experience life on the island as Julia had while growing up. Marisa, her second daughter, loved being on the beach. At just under one year old, Marisa found herself exploring sand and surf on the wide open beach instead of searching for it from a fenced-in backyard of suburbia. I believe that time-frame of living several months in the Canary Islands made a nature lover out of that girl...she's now on the cusp of being a teenager with a love for her horses and all things outdoors. Even though Julia prefers the city life, the beach gave Marisa a chance to be in nature.
But, there is no doubt that Julia is a city girl at heart. She loves being in Downtown Houston. She loves shopping at Houston's multi-level Galleria. She goes into the inner city for her groceries. The best restaurants, in her opinion, are downtown and require you to parallel park. We are like water and oil, but that's the beauty of our relationship. We are so different, but then, we are so very alike.
Regardless, Julia tries to do the nature thing for Marisa, but Julia is still a city girl to her core.
This is why she cannot understand my need to live in the country. Julia knows I have spent much of my life in the country, one way or another. I grew up with much of my summers spent with my grandmother at one of her two country homes. I took the trash out and burned it. I would help re-level the gravel driveway. I rode the motorscooter down the dusty streets at neck-break speeds while screaming with delight. I would fall asleep on a blanket beneath the trees and hear screams to get my butt inside the house as night fell.

I loved being in the country, for as far back as my memories will take me, I have memories of being in the country and of being at "home" in the middle of the Piney Woods and the Big Thicket of Texas.
Julia's family moved about four years ago to a big house on a couple acres of land in a ritzy part of town outside of Houston. This is what I would call a "Designer Ranches" neighborhood. It is beautiful, but it is not what I am wanting for my own country experience. I want rustic, peaceful, no competing with the Jones' lifestyle, but I am thoughtful toward having a master-planned residence that caters to multiple desires that cannot be met in a city space; I want privacy, and I want plenty of room for the gatherings that will continue to take place in my life and to have space for my current friends and for new friends to come stay for a spell.
Here I am with Stefie and Julia.
After talking about our country connections, Julia admitted that she hates being on the ranch, even though it is very small, she feels isolated. She is ready to move back into a more congested neighborhood and eager to say goodbye to the barn that is waiting to be assembled in the pasture. She thinks I'm crazy for wanting to live in the country, but we laugh about it because she knows, deep down, that it's best for me.

The truth is...Julia and I would be happy as two peas in a pod if we were to live next door to each other again, but that's not going to happen. So, I can keep moving forward.
For Julia, in the Canary Islands, she grew up as an only child and her home was a high-rise apartment building overlooking the ocean. The beach was her frontyard. So, she had a good mix of nature with city-life. The town was below her and everyone would meet, every day, to sit and talk over coffee. Her upbringing had been extremely social and interactive with town's people, neighbors, family and friends on a daily level. Even here in America, Julia's door is always open to company passing by...I love this about her. However, I believe this is the reason she cannot live happily away from social congestion and that is understandable, it's not the best environment for her personality. She is at her best when in the middle of socializing and residing in close living quarters because she is a people person to her core. However, even Julia has her moments of needing solitude, but her need is not as demanding in that area as is mine. She demands a tiny piece of it with verocity, but I demand longer periods of it with calmness and will take the stretches when they come available for me.
Julia and I having a riot at a female impersonator show in Louisiana.
I believe this was Liza Minnelli performing.
Therefore, it is difficult for Julia to understand that I can indeed be happy during prolonged stretches of solitude in the woods. I tried to explain that I have so many friends and family that it will be a rare weekend to find myself alone, and that I will become entrenched into town life in Livingston because I do feel as if it will truly be my HOME. I will feel comfortable firmly planting roots in that area. I will open myself to new friends, but the time in between, when I am alone, those are times I will always cherish because I'm never really alone...I feel God's presence in the gentle bending of the trees as the wind blows.
When alone, I draw, I write, I read, I enjoy the scenery and my sharing the space with God; I am truly at peace and have no fear of being alone. It is sometimes difficult for others to understand how I feel about being comfortable with solitude.
I learned that I am never alone when I was 33 years of age and my body coded while being monitored in the hospital...I had an experience that permeated every cell of my being and stuck with me afterward like a beautiful virus that you never want to go away. I am infected with the powerful presence of God, so I am never afraid to be alone. I nearly went on my final journey out of this world, going from 0 to 60 in a blink of an eye to find that my paralyzing fear of being by myself during the Code Blue was suddenly blanketed by a comforting presence that made no promises other than the thick message of, "No matter what happens, everything will be okay."

And, the presence was so powerful and absolute that I did not need any further prodding or convincing, I accepted the opportunity to receive His comfort to my core; I relaxed, and all fear of being alone immediately evaporated from the room, far from me.
That is a gift. At a young age, I was given an incredible gift during a moment of battling for my life. And ever since that moment, I've desperately tried to move myself to an environment that offers more of that feeling that I had in the hospital room on that night when I went from being terrified and alone to being comforted and realizing my space is always being shared with The One who is greater than all of us.
Soon after that Code Blue night, I was led to this acreage. I originally found it on the Internet. It was not listed by regular means for public consumption, it is as if it had been waiting for me, sitting on the market for over two years. Still so sick and fragile, I could barely take a few steps to get a peek at its glory. But, I knew it was the place on this earth that had been waiting for me and me for it.
Oh, if only everyone could have this connection to a physical address on this level. It is the reason I am willing to live in a shack to be on that land. Life is experienced on a different level when I am on my acreage and it is near-impossible to try to communicate the spiritual link I have with this little speck on the earth.
Regardless, there is a tender balance of being able to fully enjoy moments with company and then to be able to fully savor moments of solitude in a treasured spot that nurtures the soul. For me, the Piney Woods and Big Thicket help me fulfill the rich, goodness of my highest dreams. As long as my peaceful moments are mostly on a front porch or walking in the woods with my dogs while knowing that my next visit with my children, family and friends is just around the corner, then I am living a dream come true.
I know it is difficult for peoplewho are too city-connected to understand my perspective. All I can hope is that once Julia sees my life in the country, full-time, she will know what I am talking about, at least from my own perspective. I tried to explain to her that if I were in the city and surrounded by congestion all the time with unlimited steel and concrete at every glance...I'd feel overwhelmed, kind of like the feeling others get during an attack of claustrophobia, it is not for me.
Julia and I in Louisiana, in the late 1990's.
Geez, that sounds ancient!
The great thing that has strengthened my resolve is to look back over my grandmother's life. My grandmother and I have always been extremely close. Most of her life, she has been on her own and that meant she needed to develop of way of life that she could afford and maintain. When I was about nine years old, she purchased about an acre of land in the country, off a back-road made of gravel and she went to work to make that place her kingdom. The land came with one trailer house that was rather run down, but she had a newer trailer house delivered on site with the Hollywood bathroom that I had never even seen in a normal house. She worked like a dog to make her home a beautiful place.
She put a skirt up around the double-wide trailer and planted ferns to mask any man-made parts and her gardens soon became a tropical oasis and it made her place look like something out of a magazine. Trailing vines and blooming flowers with stepping stones leading from her front door to her garden shed...all of it came together and created a place for me to enjoy visiting until my thirties. An outdoors woman herself, this land nurtured her spirit and helped her recover from multiple strokes that would start at 52 years of age. Each time, doctors would not think she would survive, she had brain stem strokes...after a bit of rehabilitation, she would insist on going back home to the country and she'd just want to be left alone for healing. And it worked. She had good friends and family checking on her and bringing her things, but she remained independent. It was a long road, she couldn't go home until her body relearned how to climb steps, but she did it. She did it.
Even though she was far from town, in an isolated area and off the beaten path, she was happier than most any person I knew. It did not take much to make her happy, but I am realizing that she too needed nature around her. I guess I did not get my burning passion to be in the woods from thin air. But, looking back, I realized that my grandmother led a beautiful life on her own terms and she's now in her mid 80's and still misses her place that she ended up selling in her 70's.  
Hopefully, like my grandmother, I will have a good 30+ years in front of me to enjoy in the forest. I feel fortified in my desire to get moved to the acreage. Not having to share walls of an apartment will suit me just fine. Not having to worry about backing up my vehicle and having to watch for jam-packed cars parked along the curb behind me will be even nicer. Getting to smell fresh country air every day will be a hoot. Being able to stand beneath towering trees will be incredible; to lay in a hammock and snooze with the breeze blowing all around me will be unspeakably relaxing. Throwing the dogs a game of ball while sitting on my front porch will bring lots of laughs.
What part of living in the country will be so awful as to make me shun the entire experience? The potential black bear that might be migrating my direction? No, I won't let those scare me away and my dogs will help in that area. The country criminal element? Nope, I will always be prepared, besides, I live in Harris County right now and am surrounded by the worst criminal element HERE. Snakes? No, those are not my fear...if I can tackle snakes in my house by myself, I can handle them sharing the forest with me. Acreage upkeep? That is not a problem because I will only worry about the zone immediately around the house and the floor of pine needles will keep my maintenance duties to a minimum; I like nature's carpeting. Other areas of lawn can be taken care of with a meditating ride on the lawnmower.

For other more pressing matters, if I live out there full-time, I can almost guarantee that my brother will be out there more often. He loves that land as much as I do. But, he'll probably be in the far back recesses of the land, covered in camo-paint and getting in touch with his inner Marine and practicing his survivalist skills. Fine with me.
Here I am, driving and taking photographs again.
For other areas...I will just have to keep back enough funds to call out an electrician or a plumber that is well known by others around town. Since I take good care of things, my need for help should remain minimal; besides, there is a lot I can do on my own. A lot. If I don't know how to do something, I can be pretty insistent with learning and doing it myself.
I guess Julia will be one of my first visitors and she will just have to see how I am surviving while being surrounded by incredible beauty. Since she loves Livingston, it is one of her family's most favorite places to visit, I guess she will no longer have to stay at the State Park or in a hotel...she'll have a close friend with room to spare. I'm very thankful that this area is truly one of their favored travel spots and that I'll have room on my land for Marisa's horse with a horse trail right down the road from me that goes through the Big Thicket Preserve. It can't get better than that!

When Julia is sick of the congestion in her life, she can come walk with me through the woods, breathe some fresh air, regain her perspective and we will enjoy sharing every moment from the past, as we savor the present and we will continue to look forward to more good times together down the road. What are friends for but to share the ups and downs of life?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

# 333 - Reality Writing & Sun Therapy

Blogging has become such a joyful experience in my life. For those who truly enjoyed journaling or scrapbooking, blogging offers another creative outlet that is a sign of changing times. No longer must we be relegated to reading that book by a famous author, we can go visit a blog buddy in another country and read about their latest antics. Even people living in an isolated area with an Internet connection must no longer be without companionship and friends...through blogging, you can develop meaningful relationships that might enter into other realms of your life to the point of a blog buddy or two evolving into a regular friend.

As a prolific reader, I must say that getting to read posts by my blog buddies is better than any soap opera. It is better than a book in some regards, reading a blog allows you to pace the story-line according to the author of the blog. For me, blogging reminds me that each of us are unique, we all have a story to tell, yet we're linked to more than is much the same for most of us. We have our ups and downs, good days and bad, sweet moments and sour; we strive to make the best with what we have to work with.

I have come up with creative terms that I began using a while back to describe blogging --- I see it as "Reality Writing" and "Reality Reading."

Instead of spending time watching Reality Television, even though my family was a brief part of a reality show and it was a fun experience, I do not watch hardly any reality television shows. First of all, I am old-school television trained, and that means I cannot even remember the channels and times for any shows these days, so I hardly ever watch anything as it airs on tv. I have never seen an episode of "Friends," or "Frasier" or "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons" that ran for so long. I don't even know what the current names of shows are, besides, "The Big Bang Theory" since I just began watching that one...I'm trying. The truth is, I never have and never will keep up with current television.

However, I do enjoy Netflix and love watching any series of worthiness, as long as there are a lot of episodes to quench my need for a good storyline. Lately, I have been watching the "Dead Zone," on Netflix, which was a series that came out many years ago, based on Stephen King's work; each episode is usually pretty good and each one builds on the next.

So, this evening, I visited a few blog buddy sites and came across one of my favorites written by John Gray who lives in a village called Trelawnyd located in North Wales of the United Kingdom. His blog site is titled, "Going Gently." I must say, every time I go for a cyber visit to North Wales to see what John has written for the day, I am always entertained.

Now, John lives an "alternative" lifestyle as we Southerners like to say...he has a partner of many, many years, so if you have hang-ups about a person's choice to be gay, then be forewarned, but I sure hope it will not make a difference to you because his blog is such a treat..My attitude is...I look at the heart of a person and do not try to find reasons to shun someone because they don't match my own ideals about life and love. So many of us have areas in our life that may not coincide with others, but we should be very, very careful about judging. I am confronting this today because I heard, earlier today, someone say they could no longer be friends with a certain person because they were gay. I thought it was a shame and wanted to say, "Well, your gay friend didn't turn her back on you after you committed adultery against your husband," but I kept my mouth shut. People who judge others harshly will find themselves old, wrinkled and without a sparkle in their eye. No thank you. So, with that made clear, I hope you will add him to your favorites because he is an amazing man.

John lives on some land with his chickens, dogs and other animals. He is a beautiful neighbor, and he shares his authentic, quaint European village life in the most unique manner. On a deeper level, John is a critical care nurse and this professional choice adds to the gravity of his writing. Living with the heaviness that comes with such a job adds multiple dimensions to this man's character and life. He demonstrates a respect for humanity that most people do not learn about until they cross paths with their own tragedies which sometimes serve to open our eyes a bit wider to things we never before allowed into our line of vision.

John just wrote a blog post about the lack of sunlight over this past summer. It made me remember my years in Europe and how the overcast days would weigh down upon you with a heaviness that fogged the mind as much as it fogged the air.

As a child, my time in Scotland introduced me to a vastly different climate than the sunny, bright weather this Native Texan had grown up enjoying. Every morning in Scotland, I found myself shocked to wake up to grey skies and the air full of something I had never experienced, heavy mist that did not dissipate with the morning, the mist lingered throughout the day. Searching for the sun never helped, it remained hidden. There were never silver-lined clouds to admire.

The cold, damp air made playing at the park an entirely new experience from being at a Texas Scotland, everything was always covered in beads of condensation from the mist and the seats of our pants would always be wet from swings and such. Scotland brought me such happiness, I loved living there and probably could have stayed there my entire life. However, the weather was indeed dreary when compared to consistently bright Texas weather. Still, as a child, I very often played outside with all of my neighborhood friends and the forest across the street from my Scottish house was my stomping ground, of regular readers know how at home I feel in forest.

Years later, as a young Bride, I moved to Germany to join my childhood sweetheart after he had been stationed overseas for his first long assignment.

Little did I know that I'd be thrust back into an environment where the sun hardly ever made an appearance.

One of the fun days outside in the overcast weather with snow!

For the first time, I became sunlight deprived and the lack of sunshine impacted my emotions and I felt somewhat depressed.

Fortunately, other Southerners being stationed at our base took the initiative to discuss this valid form of depression. I need to say, I was not officially "depressed," but I did suffer from moments of feeling very sad and gloomy, as if my mood matched the weather.

For those of us who come from such sunny climates with long days of daylight hours, it is a definite shock to suddenly start a new life in a place that is not accustomed to the sun, except on rare days and for a brief summer season. Most often, throughout the year in Germany, the sun would make a brief peep appearance. It was not enough.

Those who came before me, from Southern states, told me that I needed to get some florescent lighting and to turn on that light for at least two hours per day.

Our living room in Germany.

The hopes was that this artificial lighting would at least simulate the brightness I missed. Lo and behold, it did help, somewhat. All winter, I would use that light and sometimes angle it to direct light to the ceiling so it would feel as if the light engulfed me. Finally, during summertime in Germany, we would finally get some sunny days and the best part about being in Germany is that the sun would often not set until after ten o'clock at night. Oh how I loved those days!

I would sit on our back patio and stare at the setting sun, knowing it was an hour past bed-time, but I could not let the sun go down without me giving audience to its performance. After my first year in Germany, our little audience had daughter Heather and I would watch the sun go down. There was no way she would miss out on getting to see the sun for such a short period of time each year. Sometimes I would sit on the patio and hold her until she fell asleep in my arms, it would be her bed-time, but she had fallen asleep at 10pm while the sun still sizzled in the sky. It was strange.

These days, I am blessed to live in Texas and to get as many sunny days as I would like. Truthfully, I feel it would be nice to have a few more overcast days to better balance the hot weather and high utility bills that come with all that solar heat! But, I love living in Texas, especially since our area has more tropical weather than other parts of Texas. This state has a lot going for it, the warm, welcoming sun and good weather for most days of the year is a big part of it. I sure am happy to be able to walk out my front door nearly every morning and to see bright rays of light shining down and to use soft lighting in my house because the florescent kind is not really necessary, except for utilitarian purposes, such as in the kitchen.

The sun and our is amazing how the weather impacts our emotions. So, I hope this next week, especially for those of you in Louisiana who are dealing with Hurricane Isaac, that your life is not impacted or minimally impacted by this weather disturbance. Regardless, hopefully the sun will come out again and start to heal some of the storm damage with its sunbeams.

John Gray wrote about his connection to the sun, or the lack of it...go for a read over there when you get a chance

The sun plays a huge part in the "therapy" of my spirit. Being in nature provides the most significant emotional and spiritual boost for me, as if nature is a safe cradle that openly holds me in her embrace and nurtures me and encourages me to feel right in the world. And there is no wonder that one of my favorite songs sung to me by my grandmother and that I would also sing to my own children had been, "You are my Sunshine."

# 332 - Puppy Love!

My youngest daughter and her boyfriend just got a new puppy! A Mini-Aussie that is only about two months old and has been named "THOR!"

This little puppy is absolutely precious. On Sunday morning, I pulled puppy duty and watched the little fluff-ball for a few hours and we had a ball. Thor immediately took to being comfortable around the chickens, which is great because he needs to be trained to not attack them from an early age.

I stood in the yard with Thor and my jaw dropped in amazement as the little puppy went into automatic herding-watching mode per his innate abilities.

He sat and kept a close eye on the chickens.

Even though Thor had the entire yard to his tiny self, he choose to stick to a position where he could keep watch over the chickens.

And the funny part was...the chickens knew he was there and they appeared to be influenced by Thor's presence.

Today, Stefie took him for another visit to the veterinarian who said the dog is on the small side and probably will not reach 20 pounds, but he has a hefty amount of spunk for such a little thing. He played vigorously with Howdy; they ran and ran in circles around the house, jumping over Liyla laying on the floor, as if she were a hurdle.

Howdy loved having the little guy for company and to match his high energy. However, they also shared a few moments of chilling out.

Thor's fur is so soft and fuzzy, just like Howdy's has been in his first year of life. Then, the fur begins to change to a coarse double-coat that is weather-hardy. But, I think an Aussie's coat of hair is beautiful, all the twists and turns and curls...beautiful and shiny. However, the cuddly puppy coat of fur adds to the mini-dog's adorableness!

It's a wonderful thing to have puppies! Thor is a welcomed addition to the family. Since Belle the Yorkie has moved away with Stefie and Brice, she now has a friend to keep her company. Belle had been in the dumps at times because she apparently missed being with Howdy and Liyla every day. Dogs do enjoy having a companion, just as people do.

Even though that puppy is pretty darn cute, my Howdy is fairly precious in his own right.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

# 331 - Sketching Again...

My youngest daughter's 22nd birthday this past Friday presented me with a dilemma, mainly stemming from the lack of funds in my pocketbook. If I have a few dollars to my name, it often goes toward the cost of seeing a doctor ---- my 2nd life is spent in a doctor's office ---- and paying for gas, food, and maybe a small splurge here and there. This past week, a treat I splurged upon was to buy a few new art supplies.

Many artist-types have a preferred medium they like to use...some prefer oils, some acrylics, others opt for watercolors, but I first fell in LOVE pastel chalks that require intense blending and attention to color.

Working with this medium often requires that you be prepared to be covered in a mess. As I work with chalk pastels, I am holding colored sticks that are not protected by paper, and I use all parts of my hands and fingers for blending. For blending large sections, I use the lower side of the palm. My hands, arms, and front side get covered in bits of powdered chalk. Using cuts of newspaper, I lay the paper down to help me get sharp lines or a specific curve that needs to be held firm while blending takes process.

I have worked on large projects with chalk pastels to the extent of my fingers having their skin rubbed off. Nothing puts a project on hold faster than swollen fingertips and busted skin from intense, vigorous blending while in the zone.

After everything is finished, I make sure the excess chalk powder is blown away and I spray the project with a Fixative. This helps keep the chalk from coming off and sets it better than if left on its own. It's very difficult to frame a project with this medium because it will so easily smudge the glass.

Good luck.

However, since I like working with chalks, it would follow that charcoal would be right in line with my preferred art medium. Yes, it is. A mixture of graphite pencils with soft and hard charcoals is right up my artistic alley. As long as the medium lets me use my FINGERS and hands for some blending, along with other tools such as the stump, as needed, I am one happy woman.

Similar to what my hands and under parts of my forearm look like
after a session with drawing. I usually wear an old T-Shirt or a
fuctional apron while at work. This stuff does not wash out easily either.
(Photo take from public internet image.)

For Stefie's birthday, I took a photograph to use as my still art subject and I sketched it over the span of a couple hours. Sometimes I like hard lines and other times I like everything willowy and soft. For this sketch, I put hard and soft together; I love that combination. I love KNOWING it is a sketch; I don't want it to look just like the photograph. If I could get my subject to pose in the same place, during the same time of day, with the same lighting...I'd go by them personally standing in as the still subject and I've done this in my university studies for still life drawings. It can be torture to sit in front of the same object, especially if they are large, inanimate and immobile.

Of course, if I am outside among nature, I'd never get tired of the "still" life in front of me. But, don't ask me to do the bowl of fruit; I despise painting or drawing fruit, but I've done it as required while studying art at the University of Houston in Clear Lake for a few years. Good thing is, I soon forget about the dang apple or other challenge I'm working on, but having a subject that fills my heart with love is a joy to recreate. Eventually, when I am working on a project, all I see is light and shadow.

My working situation for sketching is to sit down at night, in bed, surrounded by my tools and with a sheet pulled up over the bedding to protect it. I keep a lined trash can on the floor next to me so that I can brush off residual charcoal, graphite or eraser bits that come off during blending.

I turn on the music --- to Stefie's project, I listened to Rod Stewart classics. Usually, by the end of the album, I am finished with my project. If not, I start on the next album, perhaps Billy Joel or the Police. Something to get my blood pumping and help get me into the "zone" of creating art.

It works for me.

Of course, I can easily work fast, furious and intensely on a project while listening to Tchaikovsky. Wow, that always does it for me!

My daughter sat opening all of her gifts at her birthday party and she finally opened the bag holding the sketch I'd drawn. I felt nervous and nearly held my breath. What would she think? Would she be embarrassed? Would she feel it even looked like her? The truth is, you never know how a person will respond to how your artist's eye sees that person, even if using a still photograph as the "model." It's the main reason I've been hesitant to sketch people I know and love.

My main effort had been to capture my daughter's eyes in the sketch...if you can capture the person's eyes, you've got the hardest part figured out. I know I could've worked longer on this sketch to make it better, but I've been babysitting a five year old for several weeks and this leaves me truly worn out at the end of every day. So, I don't have much umph to put into extra things besides watching the next movie on my list.

Still, I try to pull it together and to produce a new sketch on a regular basis...even if it ends up shredded, never to be seen by another person.

At her birthday party, Stefie pulled the framed sketch out of the gift bag, stared at it for a tense moment, then she lifted the frame and put it against her face so that everyone could see her big smile next to the sketch for comparison. I must say, the real deal is such a beauty...I could never capture all that Stefie radiates.

I love sketching. Photography is wonderful, but it is a direct medium. It can be altered here and there, a little burning there, a little dodging here, but it's the camera's eye directed by the photographer's eye that gets the image. I want my hand to replicate the finished image instead of an actual photograph. Yes, I use either live "still" art or a photograph for my drawing, but I believe, instead of photographs, from now on, my family will get some kind of sketch from me as a gift. Well, either a sketch or a warped poem about some embarrassing event in their life.

Also, for my blog buddies potential question, I sign my family's works with my middle name...the name they call me, "Rayshel." For obvious reasons, I don't use that name on a daily basis with blogging or with new friends because hardly anyone can even say "Rayshel" correctly, let alone spell it. Yes, I had Hippie parents. The "y" is not pronounced in a hard sense. My middle name sounds like Rushell. However, many of my art pieces, even those that were on gallery exhibit with the university were signed with my first name, "Lana."

My identity crisis continues.

But, my art is moving forward, into the hands of others. They might choose to use it as kindling, but at least I am focusing on doing something different that I love and that keeps the mind and hands busy doing something productive.

I hope to keep sharing some of my work with you. I think this next week will be dedicated to sketching chickens and dogs. Besides, if my feathered or furry friends don't like the results, they can't exactly be offended! What chicken is going to complain that her beak is too big? Such criticism might get her into the chicken-n-dumplings pot. The nonspeaking subject, that's the best kind to sketch.

Yes, my daughter loves her sketch...she has a special token of my love to mark this amazing time in her life. I look forward to presenting many more gifts that come from myself instead of a department feels right. Life is good.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

# 330 - Whirlwind Whacky Weekend

Having two special girls in the family with birthdays only two days apart, well that is a unique treat.

My sister and I have daughters whose birth years are far apart; however, their birthDAYS are only two days apart.

The result with these close birthdays is exhaustion from my Sissy and I having to plan our daughters birthday parties, then having to run from one place to the other, as if it is no big deal. In truth, we have a great time, but we are dragging. August is always a rough month in's hot, it's back to school for both school-age and college-age kiddos with all the stress that it brings; it's always a time of change...birthdays add to the chaos of this month. But, it's the POSITIVE kind of chaos that fills each moment with joyful anticipation!

Stefie's 22nd birthday was this past Friday. I can't believe my baby is TWENTY-TWO years old! First of all, she doesn't look 22, she looks 14. When she puts on make-up, it helps her to look older.

I must say, I think it's awesome that I have two kids who are now in their twenties. This is an exciting time for me as a mother who worked so hard to try to raise my children the right way. Being a mom was the best thing I've ever done; I took it seriously. My children were my true priority and it seems that the hands-on parenting, for us, worked out just fine.

Getting to see these gals begin putting their own lives on a good path is thrilling for can be nerve-wracking, but they are so level-headed that their good choices only heap more blessings on top of my head. Of course, they are made of sugar AND spice, so they're good, but not bland!

As for Stefie, it's still very difficult to see her little bitty self and to remember she's all grow'd up now. It's great when she comes home because I get to see Brice AND Belle the Yorkie! PLUS, her and Brice got a new addition to the family this week, a sweet little mini-aussie they named THOR. There he is in the picture below, only two months old and such a ball of adorable puppy kisses.

We had a wonderful gathering, lots of people came out to celebrate with us. In fact, we had about twenty people here at the house having a great time. It's great to have close family and good friends.

I guess staying up until 3:00am with my daughters...talking, listening to music, laughing and just enjoying the moments of sharing space with each other meant a lot. Three in the morning came too fast.

Stefie holding her boyfriend's nephew so he can blow
out the candles. Then, everyone yells, "I'll take the
spit-less side, please!" So hysterical! Two is made
from towering layers of COOKIES! Yum!

I especially loved sitting next to Heather, my oldest daughter, and we listened to song after song to be played at her wedding in October. The funny thing is...Heather and I have almost identical taste in music. She can play a song, one of her "favorite" songs and I promise that it's probably already one of my own "favorite" songs or is about to become one. From vocals to instrumentals, we share similar taste in music. Her and I have a musical bond that is timeless; we love our music.

Stefie loves music as well, but she's a more classical girl...Sound of Music, Phantom of the Opera and such. So, I guess that Stefie and I love our musical shows! You should hear the two of us singing Phantom of the Opera numbers...we are unbeatable! For sure!

Saturday morning, since I stayed up until 3:00am, I found it shocking that I didn't even stir until around noon...not a usual habit for me. I usually wake early, and if it's too early, I read my book. But, I guess I was sleeping like a log and needed the sleep because I was SHOCKED to see I'd "over-slept." In a groggy panic, I woke up rushing around to get ready to attend my niece's birthday party at the local gymnasium that trains gymnasts of all ages.

Apparently, my oldest can stay up until 3:00am and wake up at 6:00am without any problem. Oh yea, she's TWENTY-FOUR years old! I remember thinking I didn't need sleep during fun times at that age either. Somehow, it becomes critical the older you get. Still, I wouldn't take back my 3am visit for NOTHIN!

So, we partied from Friday evening until Saturday morning for Stefanie's birthday, then Shaye's birthday party began at 1:30pm on Saturday.

Shaye is explaining the next move to her buddy.

A party at, that's not early, not unless you stayed up until 3am that very morning.

Still, seeing all those little 5 and 6 year old children running around the gym, doing flips, rolling down slopes, climbing was enough to make you bubble up inside and remember what it felt like to have such abundant energy.

At one time, I also thought it was incredibly fun to run around and to jump and to fall on the ground and flop around like a fish; however, my body these days has too many "extras" that want to go in different directions during such movements. I have that Body-Echo-Syndrome...the jiggle that keeps rippling outward for more jiggles to take over, so it's not such fun trying to keep the jiggles calm and motionless at my age and body type. I'd rather walk a straight line and keep everything headed in the same direction than you very much.

During the rowdy part of the party, the adults got to sit on the cushy gym floor that should be for sale at the local Home Depot as floor runners to go all over the house...that flooring would put a little bounce in our step and it feels so awesome to the feet and legs!

Heather, Stefie, my dad and Brice watching the kiddos!

A couple of us were having discussions of how some kids go to gymnastics and become a gold medalist one day! After watching the Olympics, it makes you better appreciate the pure power those gymnasts have during their floor routines as they launch into the air for multiple aeronautics. That floor has some bounce, but unless you have near-super-human powers, it won't help you do much other than do a little bouncy move at a minimal level. Brice, Stefie's boyfriend, was so disappointed because he thought the floor would be like a trampoline...he bounced up and down a few times and as reality set in, he lost a bit of cheer. Dang, those gymnasts really do have to be strong enough to propel themselves midair while doing flips without freaking out.

All in all, the 24 hour span from Friday to Saturday was nonstop and just the way I like it. I end the day hurting so bad that I can't hardly take a breath without my rib cage feeling as if it has been pummeled and my joints feel inflamed, oh yeah, my big toe wants to whine as well. Things are harder to get moving these days, but once it gets moving it's harder to unwind and deal with the aftermath! But, it's worth it.

I think I looked as tired as I felt. Well, I finally can see my
laugh-lines, my crow's feet in the corner of my eyes.
For me, that's a good thing! I've wanted those since I was a
little girl --- I'm weird --- I finally am getting them and am celebrating!

After Shaye's party today, I came home and got to have more excitement...I cleaned house by myself. Believe me, after having nearly two dozen people eating and drinking in your home for hours, it HAS to be cleaned. After all the planning and cleaning it took to put the party together, I rather enjoyed taking my time to clean up the evidence of our celebrating, and I did it in style. I cranked up some 70's music as I washed dishes, swept floors and polished furniture...feeling ALIVE and peaceful and joyful.

I'm thankful that I can re-program myself to focus on what really matters in life. No matter what anyone else is doing or regardless of a tough situation in another area, I am able to regroup myself to focus on the moment at hand...that feels good. There are killjoy people out there and I don't let them kill my joy for things that COUNT. As a good time heads my direction, I stop thinking about painful things of the past and forget about any worries for the future...I stop and make myself feel, see, hear and experience the PRESENT without nagging interruptions from my own mind spinning. Suddenly, everything slows down and all I can see are the smiles around me, the joy that is shared and the people who mean the most to me.

Learning to be present right NOW is such a beautiful lesson. I looked around the room at the people present and could see that each one of us has had our own battles in life...some more than others, but we're there together at THAT moment for a fun celebration and we smile, we laugh and we soak in the goodness that pervades the space...more goodness than anything.

We all keep going --- keep supporting each other --- keep accepting each other --- keep loving each other --- keep being real with one another --- keep being THERE and PRESENT whenever possible. That's what counts. The people in your life.

And I am here right now, looking at the pictures, remembering the sweet moments of visiting with others at the party...people who mean a lot to me and I am thankful to have more memories of good times with those I love the most.

Next post, I will share with you the present I gave to own creation. That's for next time! For now, I'm going to ZZZZ land!