Thursday, December 24, 2009

Middle-Aged Movie Maven

As we close in on the holidays, it’s likely many of you will be hitting the cineplex for entertainment. Luckily, the prospects are pretty good. Here are my two cents on the movies that have opened so far this season…

Up in the Air. This is THE movie to see this year. Not only does it have George Clooney, charming despite playing a morally repugnant character who fires people for a living, but it resonates with the country’s current financial straits and the isolation we can feel in our lives. It is pitch perfect from start to finish. The characters have chemistry and the dialogue is funny, surprising and touching. It's the best movie I’ve seen since last summer’s 500Days of Summer!

The Blind Side. A feel-good movie in the best tradition—and it’s based on a true story of a white family that took in a homeless, 6-foot plus black teenager with a sweet nature. It’s touching and engrossing. Sandra Bullock pulls off the role of a blonde Southern belle with nerves of steel. Country singer Tim McGraw does a fine job as her husband and the boy who plays their son steals the show with his antics. A definite yes (and suitable for the whole family).

Everybody’s Fine. I didn’t hate this movie as much as some reviewers; in fact, I might even venture to say I enjoyed it! It's a small, quiet film, but I thought it made some salient points about the relationship between fathers and their children and it was well-acted by Robert DeNiro, Drew Barrymore and others.

Avatar. You’ve gotta shell out the extra bucks to see this movie in 3-D because it transports you to a different world! The effects are amazing, the story is engrossing enough, and it even has a message (about community and about preserving the environment). Personally, I think it is about an hour too long (and you’ve seen the battle in the last third many times before if you’re a sci fi fan), but enjoyable for young and old.

Did You Hear About the Morgans? The reviews were horrible for this film--and well-deserved. Being the good sport and movie nut that I am, I went to see it anyway. Sarah Jessica Parker is miscast, too serious, and looks homely (WHO convinced her to go with bangs?). Hugh Grant gamely tries to carry the movie with his usual wit and charm, but isn’t given enough to do. The end result: the movie is predictable and unfunny.

On my Christmas list:
It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. This one has been called “middle-aged lady porn” for its story of a tossed-aside spouse whose cheating ex-husband comes back to woo her.
Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, and Rachel McAdams. Love ‘em all and this film looks like fun.
Young Victoria with Emily Blunt as the English queen of yore.
A Single Man with Colin Firth, in what sounds like a breakthrough role as a gay man who loses his partner and his will to live.
Crazy Heart with Jeff Bridges, as a torn-up, run-down country singer.
Nine with Daniel Day-Lewis and a host of women. I saw the show and it wasn’t much to write home about, but I’ll see this anyway for the musical interludes. The Penelope Cruise number was a showstopper when Jane Krakowski (of 30 Rock fame) did it on Broadway.
The Lovely Bones and The Road…both sad stories. I'm on the fence about these two because of their content. I hate how the movie industry releases these "serious movies" in the dead of winter, as if we're not depressed enough already!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Feeling Like a Fraud

I just read Andre Agassi’s book “Open.” I’m a big tennis fan—I was at the US Open the day he retired and had the honor of giving him a 5-minute standing ovation as he said goodbye—and I found the book fascinating. Not so much for the tennis dirt, but more for his honesty. He says that he was forced to play tennis from a young age, subject to a well-meaning but abusive father who de-valued education and elevated tennis as the only way for him to succeed. Agassi never graduated from high school and was stuck in a career he hated because he thought it was all he could do. He had amazing talent but he says over and over again that he hated tennis. It was a lonely, scary, physically painful life.

As a result, he had a very up and down career. What was most interesting to me, though, was that his youthful rebellions—long hair, crazy loud clothes, and bad-boy style—were interpreted by the media as his personality. He says he didn’t know who he was. He certainly wasn’t this rebel everyone thought he was. Actually, he was towing the line he was told to by his father and coaches. He was wearing a hairpiece because he thought he’d be ostracized if fans and his sponsors knew he was prematurely bald. He even married actress Brooke Shields, not because he really wanted to, but because he thought it was what he was supposed to do. He was numb to his own life.

I was struck by how miserable and self-destructive he was when he seemingly had so much. Around age 30, he really screwed up by using drugs. That's when he got a second chance at tennis and out of his marriage to Shields. That’s when he committed to his career, he committed to building a school for disadvantaged kids in Las Vegas, and he committed to a real relationship with a woman he was suited to (tennis star Steffi Graf).

At first, I wondered why Agassi would admit to using crystal meth or not having a good marriage to Brooke Shields. But having read the book, I see he was on a mission to be real and authentic by telling all. The book is a cautionary tale about being too afraid to go for what you want, and about the damage that living life as a fraud can do to you.

Wow. How brave. I respect him even more.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Martha and Me's simple handmade gifts

I've been following a blog called "Martha and Me," a writer's paean to all things Martha Stewart. She's tried the techniques, she's tested the recipes, and she reports it all on her blog.

I like Martha Stewart well enough (although I'm SURE I was saying "it's a good thing" before she was, not to mention "yadda, yadda, yadda" before Seinfeld), but I find her stuff, well, INTIMIDATING to attempt. And I'm a crafter from way back when. That's why I love Martha and Me's post on simple handmade gift ideas a la Martha S that even, as writer Brette Sember says, "the most craft-impaired person can make."

Check it out at

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pushing Past Limiting Fears

I spent this weekend with my quilting friends in Vermont pushing back at "my gremlins," as master quilter Susan Damone Balch put it! As luck would have it, waiting in my in-box for posting on Craft to Heal was the wonderful essay below from fiber artist Brecia Kralovic-Logan. It seems that no matter what the creative endeavor, we all struggle with our fears, our limiting beliefs, our self-sabotaging thoughts.

Creative Knitting Pushing Past Limiting Fears
Nine knitters gathered at Anacapa Fine Yarns in Ventura to take my Creative Knitting workshop. As they introduced themselves they shared their excitement at being in a class that supported “out of the box” thinking. Some felt a little nervous, anticipating leaving their comfort zone, but hopeful that they too would be able to knit an original garment with the organic look of the sample that had enticed them.

The whole morning was spent doing exercises to explore their passions, to awaken their intuitive wisdom and to connect them with their natural authentic knowing. By lunch they were ready to think about knitting in a way that they had never done before.

Those knitters did in fact spend the rest of the day exploring and discovering ways to create original knits. But I’d like to tell you about another knitter, who did not take the workshop. She slowly slipped into the classroom at midday and shyly shared that she had absolutely fallen in love with the sweater that I had on display in the store as a sample for the class.

“I didn’t take the class because it seemed too scary,” she said. “I would like to know how to knit like that but I didn’t think I could do it.”

As she moved about the room, the class participants each assured her that she would be able to work in this new way. They shared their own fears with her and told her how liberated they felt by tapping into their inner creative spirit. They suggested that she come to the next workshop and as she left her body language seemed to convey that she had let go of her conviction that this was impossible. Hopefully, she realized that she was not alone in feeling afraid of stretching past her comfort zone.

Having the opportunity to share their thoughts with the visitor, the class seemed to exude new confidence. In their comments at the end of the day they shared that the class loosened them up, liberated them, gave them confidence, and expanded their horizons. Each one of them had taken a risk and entered into unknown territory. Although they already had the knitting skills they needed, feeling supported to work in a way that helped them to develop a creative frame of mind was a powerful experience.

Yes, being creative does involve risk. Taking a class to learn something new can be intimidating. However, pushing past the thoughts and beliefs that keep us in our comfort zone can be exhilarating. Taking the skills we have and using them in new ways is one way to express our unique individual spirit.
I just love this quote from Tom Robbins:

“Our individuality is all, all that we have. There are those who would barter
it for security, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures and rides it, in grace and love and wit.”

Brecia Kralovic-Logan is a fiber artist in Santa Barbara, CA where she teaches workshops, writes and offers Creativity Coaching. Visit her web site at

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Troop Time

It’s early to be thinking about the holidays, but not if you want to send gifts to the troops. (I'm anti-war, but I’m not anti-troops. How can we not admire their courage and commitment?)

Given that many people have limited budgets this year and may not be able to send the usual toiletries, snacks and care packages, I found a group that is accepting crafty things: fabric pillows, neck coolers, knitted and crocheted hats. You can either donate the materials and they’ll have volunteers do the rest, or you can make the items yourself following the directions on their website.

I’m busy making 12” pillow casings from my fabric stash for soldiers to carry in their packs! It's just a little thing, but then again: it's the little things that often count for the most.

Here’s their contact information…

Address to send packages: US Troop Care Package, 4302 N. Swallow Street, Pasco, WA 99301
Address to send letters: US Troop Care Package, PO Box 3445, Pasco, WA 99302

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Power of Belonging

As we approach the holidays, we think about gathering together with our families. That’s not always a good thought—have you ever seen the movie “Home for the Holidays” with Holly Hunter? Her parents pick her up at the airport and they get stuck in traffic on the way home. Her mother is jabbering on in the front seat and her father is talking to himself, and she looks out to the next car over to where a grown man is sitting in the back seat listening to his parents do the same, and he all but mouths “Help me!” to her.

I think most of us can appreciate that.

But we also need to appreciate the power of belonging to a group, whether it’s a partnership, a family, a group of friends or an organization. The desire to belong isn’t just wishful thinking—it’s actually a fundamental human need that is as old as men and women themselves.

“In primitive times,” says Duke University's Mark R. Leary, PhD, who’s looked at the many psychological studies on this subject, “a single human being was unlikely to survive, while those who banded together thrived and even reproduced. Psychological studies indicate that the same need is present in modern times and drives much of human behavior and emotion.”

People who lack “belongingness” suffer higher levels of mental and physical illness than do those with strong social connections, says Dr. Leary. What’s more, feelings of loneliness and depression may actually be your brain’s way of telling you that you’re being deprived of social contact. These emotions should mobilize you to consider the types of connections you’re lacking—gabbing with one true friend perhaps, sharing stories and solutions with others, or even cuddling with a partner. Once you’ve homed in on your needs, you can strategically pursue situations that will put you in contact with other people who share your interests. That might mean joining a quilt guild, hanging out at the local bead shop and working on your latest project, joining a book club at the local library, meeting other dog lovers at the park, or posting a sign at the local tennis court looking for a partner. (The “” website has groups everywhere to do everything, so check it out.)

While some people may need to bond with only one other person to feel socially connected, others need more: A spouse, several close friends, and membership in a group. “Everyone is different,” says Dr. Leary, “but the key is to form at least one positive, on-going relationship.” Those are the kinds of bonds that keep you happy and healthy--not to mention sane over the holidays!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Quilts, fly fishing, and Susan Damone Balch

This week I'm getting back to quilting, crafts, and healing. My friend and teacher, master quilter Susan Damone Balch, has written a guest post about her work and her latest quilt. That's a photo of it above. It's called Apache Trout (and it's for sale, by the way. Her contact information is below if you're interested.) The quilt is as intricately and expertly designed, executed, and filled with intent as all of Susan's quilts. But I'll let her speak for herself!

Hope, Recovery, Fishing, and Quilting
Susan Damone Balch
Quilt Artist & Fly Fishing Instructor

I am passionate about both quilting and fly fishing. However, there was a period of about 10 years where I neglected my quilting for another healing art….fly fishing. It started when I became involved with Casting for Recovery, a national non-profit organization providing support to women in all stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery through fly fishing retreats. Their motto is “To Fish is to Hope.”

Between 2000 and 2007, I immersed myself in a full time job as Program Director of Casting for Recovery (CFR). Throughout those years I traveled around the country and had some incredible experiences, met some amazing women, helped to introduce thousands of women to the art and healing power of fly fishing, and had the opportunity to fish in some beautiful places. Mostly, I gained a new outlook on life. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that life is just too short!

As precious as those years are to me, I was not doing my art on a regular basis any more and really feeling the void. In the spring of 2007, I made the difficult decision to resign my full time position and re-commit to my art work. I am still involved with CFR and teaching fly fishing, but I am spending most of my time now in my beautiful home studio and, as Joseph Campbell says, I am following my bliss.

“Apache Trout” was one of the first quilts I completed when I returned to my art work. It was inspired by a trip to the White Mountains of Arizona where I was leading a Casting for Recovery retreat and had the opportunity to catch one of these little feisty creatures.

Native to Arizona, Apache Trout live in small stream habitat above 5,900 feet and are found nowhere else in the world. Once near extinction (listed as an endangered species in 1969), they have been restored to much of their historic range through decades of cooperative protection and recovery efforts. (The White Mountain Apache Tribe has been instrumental in their recovery along with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, AZ Fish and Game, and Trout Unlimited.) The hope is they will someday be the first species of fish to be removed from the endangered species list.

But back to the quilt...I could not have done the design surrounding the trout without the help of [master quilter] John Flynn and the mathematical formulas he provided in his “Feathered Sun” book. The animal totem images in the corners are representative of the healing powers they are thought to possess. The snake represents fertility and life force; the frog, emotional healing and cleansing; the scorpion, defense and self-protection; and the lizard, caution and regeneration.

Quilt photo by John Polak

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Newseum Rocks!

I was in Washington, DC, this weekend for a meeting and, dutiful writer that I am, I went to visit the Newseum. That's a museum on Pennsylvania Avenue that chronicles the history of journalism ( My friend Hildy had told me she’d heard it was highly worth seeing—and it was. In fact, it was fantastic! I had a great couple of hours there.

First off, it's a beautiful glass-windowed building with an incredible view--it gazes down the block to the U.S. Capitol.

Second, the exhibits are fascinating, varied, and often interactive. My favorite was the collection of Pulitzer-prize winning photos spanning some 40 years. Most were outrageously sad and somber: a naked young Vietnamese girl running from napalm ...a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets of Somalia...a Thai man being hanged.

Others were incredibly joyful: Bill Clinton laughing amidst a parade...a young boy looking up at a kindly policeman.

Still others gave me chills: a rain-soaked Barack Obama making a last campaign stop despite a downpour...soldiers raising the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.

There were so many other great exhibits, too: Pieces of the Berlin Wall, a 9/11 exhibit (complete with tear-inducing video interviews with journalists on the scene at the World Trade Center), photos from Woodstock, pictures of presidents and their dogs, a crime wing containing Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s actual cabin in the Montana woods, and covers of the current day’s front pages of newspapers from all over the country (with nary a throughline story among them!). And finally, George Stephanopoulos’ tiny (and I mean tiny) studio, where he shoots his Sunday news show. Basically, it consists of a small round table sitting in front of a row of windows looking down to the Capitol. Amazing how spacious TV can make a set look!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Middle-Aged Movie Maven

I go to the movies. A lot. It’s one of the forms of creativity (and therapy!) I most enjoy.

And I’m convinced no one sets out to make a bad movie. They just happen.

They’re there at the multiplex, and I’ve sat through more than my fair share of them. So you might as well benefit from my inability to resist the cinema.

Here, hits and (mostly) misses on the fall schedule:
1. Capitalism: A Love Story. Not Michael Moore’s best. I’m a liberal and I found this movie tiresome. As always, he makes some good points, but we’ve been so inundated with the financial mess that it’s old news. He’s uncovered some great footage of FDR speaking to the nation and some shocking standard practices—like major companies that take out life insurance policies on their employees and cash in when people die. But for the first time, I questioned some of Moore’s facts and his stunts. It was a little dull, to tell you the truth.

2. Couples Resort. HORRIBLE. I thought this was a comedy, but it’s just NOT FUNNY. Never see a Vince Vaughn movie again. He has as bad taste in movies as Jennifer Aniston. Yes, he was funny in Wedding Crashers and Swingers, but he seems to have lost his mojo. This movie isn’t a comedy; it’s more like a Lifetime movie with a couple of laughs. (And yet it’s number 1 at the box office. Go figure.)

3. The Invention of Lying. Sorry, I just don’t find Ricky Gervais’s deadpan humor funny. This movie is interesting and Jennifer Garner is adorable. I even like Gervais’s character. I just didn’t like the movie.

4. The Informant. Matt Damon is awesome as a chunky corporate spy, but the movie slogs along at a snail’s pace. Another wasted opportunity. It looks like a comedy from the previews, and yet…

5. All About Steve. The cast almost makes this movie: Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, and Thomas Haden-Church are good actors and play well together. The plot is just too preposterous, though, and the characters too broadly drawn (Bullock plays an intellectual misfit with a penchant for loud outfits). And what starts out as a wacky comedy turns serious halfway through. But see The Proposal with Bullock and Ryan Reynolds instead (a real romantic comedy, just out on DVD) and The Hangover with Bradley Cooper (very raunchy but TRULY hilarious, especially the picture show at the end!).

6. Extract. Ugh, why are they giving Jason Bateman such terrible parts? He can be so adorable, so funny. But not here. He just whines a lot (he plays a similar role in Couples Resort). This one-note comedy even wastes Saturday Night Live’s Kristin Wig as Bateman’s wife.

But all is not lost. I actually have liked a few movies lately…
1. 500 Days of Summer. Quirky, clever and unexpectedly charming.
2. Julie and Julia. As you may have heard, the Julie portions of the movie are throwaways we could have done without, but Meryl Streep’s Julia is priceless. Not to be missed, along with Stanley Tucci as her husband and Jane Lynch as her gangly sister.
3. District 9. A sci-fi movie (about aliens living on earth) with a message.

As always, too, I’m hopeful the holidays will bring some better movies! I'll keep you posted.
Photo copyright of Melinda Nagy/

Monday, October 12, 2009

Frugal Kiwi!

I discovered a new website recently: Frugal Kiwi ( This woman from New Zealand is BRILLIANT at finding inexpensive ways to do everything from cooking to cleaning and gardening.

This week, she gets crafty and makes felted soap (soap covered with wool felt). It's pretty, and it allows you to use the soap down to the last sliver. Then she says you can use the felt for a broach or pouch.

Great Christmas gift, great activity to do with kids and others--and nontoxic (no messy chemicals or safety goggles required!).

Check it out!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Burst the bubble!

Another week, another book. I know my posts haven't been about creativity and healing lately, but rather social and psychological topics. It's kind of hard to ignore those subjects in today's world. And we'll need all the creativity we can muster to get out of this mess, so bear with me!

Anyway, this week's post:

Any of you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed, a book that spotlights the working poor, people who work long, hard days as maids or waitresses or for Walmart, and yet can’t make a decent living? She took on poverty-wage jobs to see how these people live. It is a real eye opener, leaving you with a sense of compassion and indignation that’s hard to shake.

Her latest book, Bright-sided, explores the positive-thinking movement in America that she claims ruined the economy and set the stage for last year’s financial and real estate collapses. For a while there, it seemed you couldn’t get anywhere in America unless you were a positive thinker. But when you’re only looking on the bright side, she says, you don’t see the danger ahead. You live in a type of denial. (And people who tried to point out problems in the system were typically shunned as whiners and complainers, and even fired. That guy who tried to warn the SEC about Bernie Madoff’s tricks comes to mind.).

What’s more, she says, positive thinking has created a “winner takes all” mentality in America. If we refuse to see social inequality, we don’t have empathy for other people who aren’t doing as well as we are. We think that if they just tried harder, they too could grab the brass ring. But that’s too simplistic…some people just can’t get a break, and most of us do, at one time or another, lead Thoreau’s lives of “quiet desperation.”

Life is suffering. All the religions say it. It’s the human condition.

(As an aside: Buddhists say that we suffer because we want what we don’t have, and we don’t want what we do have. So the key to happiness is accepting right where you are and what you have right now.)

I’m all for Ehrenreich’s call for a return to realism and a sharing of the wealth--and the health insurance. Our finances are already demanding it, and socially, we need to move toward a more encompassing society, one that doesn’t segregate the few who are well-to-do from the many more who are poor and struggling. We’re all in this together.

Check out Ehrenreich’s website at and her blog at, where she talks about working in America.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Gloomy Economy--and the Lessons We've Learned

“Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify.”
--Henry David Thoreau

The past two years have been tough psychologically and financially for a lot of people, especially those who’ve lost their jobs, their homes or their retirement savings. As the recession begins to fade, it’s important for us not to forget the lessons we’ve learned from the gloomy economy. Yes, the stress of worrying about our finances has been nothing to sneer at, but if we’re truthful, we realize that cutting back on our spending has probably helped us get rid of some habits that were taking a toll on our bodies and our psyches. In fact, the financial downturn may have offered the opportunity to refocus on good health habits, such as eating right, exercising more, sleeping better and enjoying friends and family. By shopping less, we’ve been given the chance to revel in experiences, the true key to happiness.

“Most Americans already have pretty much what they need, so they don’t need to buy more,” says Judith Levine, author of Not Buying It (Free Press), an account of a year-long experiment in which she and her partner Paul bought only necessary items such as groceries. The couple found that most discretionary purchases are impulsive—and that typically, if they waited a few minutes or hours, the impulse passed. They also came to realize that we buy largely for social reasons—to stay in step with our peers and neighbors and gain status. But now that the Jones’ don’t have what they used to, the rest of us don’t have to work as hard to keep up with them!

More to Life Than Shopping
It’s hard to deny that shopping can be a pleasurable pastime, but before the downturn most Americans had spent the last few years numbing themselves into a false sense of security by buying and filling their homes with stuff. We had a gadget for everything, a toy for everyone, a fast car, a big house, the latest smartphone and the coolest video system—and pressure to have more and more. Since it’s unlikely we’ll return in the near future to our loose and fast ways with money and materialism, here are some fresh ideas on how to save money in your everyday life so you can focus on what really matters: Your family and friends.

If you:
…can’t afford to go out to eat, cook at home and make meal preparation a family affair, which will bring you closer. When you do go to restaurants, share appetizers and entrees—a good move for your wallet and your waistline.
…can’t afford expensive gifts, make a deal with family and friends to give less-expensive gifts or even regift for a while. Hold a jewelry or clothing exchange, where you and your friends trade gently used items. Alternatively, you might swap time and services—offer to babysit, for instance, or to spend time together playing board games.
…can’t afford to buy the trendiest clothes or bags, make them yourself (I'm all about the crafty!). Hobbies and crafts have many psychological benefits, from distracting you from everyday worries to helping you relax, boosting your mood and giving you a sense of achievement. Being creative may even confer anti-aging benefits, according to research conducted at George Washington University.
…can’t afford gas, walk, bike or take public transportation. You’ll save money and get more daily exercise.
…can’t afford the gym, go for a walk or bike ride instead. Or invite friends over to do yoga or Pilates—using a tape or TV show to guide you—instead of taking a class.
…can’t afford movies, shows or your cable bill, borrow movies, CDs and books from the library instead of buying or renting them, usher at shows and look for low-cost entertainment at museums, bookstores, churches and other venues. Also spend your TV-less time going back to basics: reading, listening to music, exercising, volunteering, pursuing hobbies or just talking with family and friends.

Any other suggestions, folks?!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lose Your Illusions

I recently read the Geography of Bliss by NPR journalist Eric Weiner, a fascinating travelogue highlighting some of the happiest and unhappiest cultures around the world ( , and A Brief History of Anxiety [Yours and Mine] by Patricia Pearson, a look at the rise of anxiety in the US and elsewhere ( Here are two key things I learned about being happy and healthy:

Embrace experimentation. According to Weiner, the people of Iceland are among the happiest in the world. The key reasons: It’s a homogenous society, so there’s little racial or ethnic conflict, and it’s a socialist country, so their basic needs are met (universal health care anyone?). Most tellingly, in Iceland, people are allowed to try things and actually fail at them. They don’t have to be huge successes to feel good about themselves. (Icelanders also drink a lot, Weiner says, and that helps to better accept failures and keep them warm during the cold, dark winters!)

Lose your illusion of being in control. Many people living in poor cultures are happier and less anxious than Americans because they don’t expect success. They actually expect life to be hard. Pearson writes…“The other day my Mexican-born psychiatrist offered me his opinion that what drives anxiety in the Western world is the coveted illusion that we can be in control. Latin Americans, he argued, are bracingly accustomed to injustice and to toil and have no ‘fantasy’ that fate is in their hands.” They just accept hurricanes and other misfortunes as an inevitable part of life, and work to have the pleasure and freedom of spending time with their friends and family. To a great extent, we here in American believe we can mold our lives down to the very last detail and when that doesn't happen, we get stressed-out and anxious.
Pearson argues that we should stop looking for reasons for why things happen to us and just accept the “cruel randomness of fate.”

Harsh words or sound advice? I fall in the latter camp (divorce will teach you that). How about you?

Next on my reading list: Snoop: What Your Stuff Says About You by psychologist Sam Gosling, PhD.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I was just reading about misunderstood personality types in the September/October issue of Psychology Today Magazine ( and had an "aha" moment. On personality tests I typically score as an extrovert, but I could SWEAR I’m really more introverted. In fact, I usually refer to myself as an “extroverted introvert.” When I mention this to friends, they laugh out loud. I know, I know…I SEEM outgoing when I’m with people, but I’m really kind of a loner. How else could I have survived 20 years as a freelance writer holed up in my home office????
Anyway, I just read that there are “bubbly introverts” out there, people who love socializing but actually crave alone time just as much. "Having good social skills isn’t the same thing as wanting to be around people all the time,” writes Jay Dixit in the piece (a sidebar on page 71 if you're looking!). Don’t get me wrong—I love my friends, I love parties, I love socializing. But in limited doses. Then it's back to my books and movies! I feel so validated!
Other misunderstood types:
“Shy extroverts,” people who love being around others but are shy and may come across as cold, aloof, or stuck up.
"Accidental flirts,” people who are so naturally flirtatious that others may think they’re coming on to them when they really just mean to be friendly. (I love to flirt!)
"Effeminate heterosexuals,” those metrosexuals who come off a little feminine but are very straight.
Any other misunderstood types out there?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

It's just life

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how much I love Jonathan Tropper's books. Here's a snippet that shows why from How to Talk to A Widower:
“It’s life, that’s all. There are no happy endings, just happy days, happy moments. The only real ending is death, and trust me, no one dies happy. And the price of not dying is that things change all the time, and the only thing you can count on is that there’s not a thing you can do about it.”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Keeping your creative spirit alive

Creativity coach Gail McMeekin has designed an e-book of SPECTACULARLY BEAUTIFUL photography/quote cards to inspire your creative courage over a one-month period.

Gail says about the evolution of the cards:
“I see too many people who abandon wonderful creative projects or initiatives due to fear. Fear keeps you from exploring your goals in depth and implementing successful actions steps to achieve them. Courage, on the other hand, gives you the strength to enjoy the experimentation process of creative exploration and accept the curves in the road as normal, and as a challenge you can overcome. These Creativity Courage Cards are meant to guide you along in your creative quest. When you begin to feel clutched by self-doubt, take some time to read my quotes for a month and enjoy the beautiful photographs by my husband [Russ Street]. You will get your energy back and be able to continue.”

You can buy the e-book of cards for $24.95 on Gail’s website at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Art As You Like It

I had a visit with Ann, Susan, and Judy (left to right in the photo), some of my Vermont quilting friends, this weekend and it got me all fired up!

We talked about breaking free of our inhibitions and in-grained ideas about quilting and art to simply do what we love. Judy, who went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC and designed coats for a living at one time, says she’s been going to a group get-together where everyone does their own thing, including one lady who quilts with huge stitches and embroidery floss. It took a while, but Judy screwed up her courage to try it—even though she KNOWS traditional quilters everywhere are shuddering and fuming at her temerity—and finds it not only liberating, but really enjoyable. “I love doing the Libbet stitch,” she says (Libbet being the woman she’s emulating). “I don’t like hand quilting and I don’t like machine quilting, but I do like this.” She finds it liberating.

And isn’t that a key reason we create? Not only to express ourselves, but because it is pleasurable.

Too often I find myself angst-ing and struggling (my natural state of being apparently) instead of reveling in the pure joy of creating. And I’m shyest about what means the most to me—my quilting, my book, and even this blog.

When I think of how often I’ve inhibited myself over some feared lack of talent or knowledge or skill, it just makes me mad. What a waste of time and joy. To steal a phrase from Mary Tyler Moore (and Susan, who said it yesterday over drinks at The Sagamore on Lake George)—:It’s none of my business what other people think!

Do what you LOVE.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How to Think Like a Creative Genius

Leonardo Da Vinci was an artist, sculptor, philosopher, inventor, engineer, scientist. He was arguably the greatest creative genius who ever lived and the “archetype of human potential,” according to Michael J. Gelb, author of a book I just read, How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.

His inventions and interests knew no boundaries--and surely we can learn from that!

To wit, here are 7 Da Vincian principles to start with, courtesy of Gelb's book...
1. Curiosita: Adopt an insatiably curious approach to life and begin an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.
2. Dimostrazione: Make a commitment to test your knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
3. Sensazione: Continually refine your senses, especially that of sight, as the means to enliven your experiences.
4. Sfumato (literally “Going Up in Smoke”): Be willing to embrace ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty.
5. Arte/Scienza: Strike a balance between science and art, logic and imagination. In other words, try to think with both the right (creative) and left (rational) sides of your brain.
6. Corporalita: Cultivate grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
7. Connessione: Recognize and appreciate the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena (better known as "systems" thinking).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Jonathan Tropper's GREAT new novel!

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday morning is to read a good novel. And this Sunday I found a GREAT novel--the latest by Jonathan Tropper, This Is Where I Leave You ( It's the story of a 30-something guy, Judd, whose life is falling apart--and then his father dies and he must sit shiva with his family for seven days. Hijinks ensue, but the book is more than just clever and engaging. It's heartbreaking and truly funny. And I love that he brings an authentic (I presume!) male perspective to what feels like great chick lit (and that's a compliment since I love Jennifer Weiner, Elinor Lipman, et al). I feel like he brings me just the tinest bit closer to understanding men.

This Is Where I Leave You is my favorite book of JT's, right up there with Everything Changes, which is one of my favorite books of the past decade (along with Wally Lamb's I Know This Much Is True, Nick Hornby's About a Boy, Jillian Medoff's Hunger Point, and Richard Russo's Straight Man. Good company, huh?!).

I am both envious of his talent and success, and grateful I get to read the fruits of his labors. I hear his books are being made into movies soon...I can just see Jason Bateman or Tobey Maguire as Judd.

And imagine this: His books are shelved next to Mark Twain's in the bookstore. What a kick in the pants that must be!

I have recently started a gratitude journal after a tough month emotionally, and Jonathan Tropper's new book is one of the things I am grateful for. It's hard not to be in awe of such creativity--and he makes it look so easy.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Meeting Mary Engelbreit!

I just got back from the Craft and Hobby show—where I met my idol, Mary Engelbreit ( I KNOW you’ve seen her stuff. She draws cute, whimsical pictures depicting life as we wish it could be, or remember it TO BE from our childhoods. People Magazine calls her the Norman Rockwell for our times.

ME is my favorite contemporary artist and an icon in the crafting world. Ironically, she said that she doesn’t consider herself a crafter, but rather an illustrator. But she is a master marketer and has licensed her drawings on all sorts of things—calendars, cards, mugs, boxes, keychains, and even fabric, while retaining quality control. Because of that, she's known far and wide in the crafting world. But she herself says that she is often intimidated by the process of crafting--though it doesn't stop her from buying the supplies!

I like the fact that she is as dedicated to the craft of art as she is to the art of business. She noted that she's always liked to sell things as much as she liked to make them! (The ideal world to me is one where you get to make a living from creating things you've really put your heart into.)
She ended her presentation by noting that creativity is one of the most basic traits we possess as humans. It is problem-solving at its best. "Don't let anyone tell you that art is frivolous," she said. "Make creativity the center of your life, and you'll see how much more fun everything becomes."

Because ME has brought so much joy and inspiration to my life, I wanted to tell her that and give her a little something back—my Craft to Heal book (that's me 'splaining myself to her above!). It was a thrill to share a moment with her, after spending so many years enjoying her stuff, and she personalized a lovely recent illustration of herself bent over the drawing board, titled “Arts and Crafts Keep Us Sane,” for me. How perfect!

PS: My Craft to Heal speech went well, too. Woo hoo!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Craft to Heal speech

In my quest to get the word out about the therapeutic benefits of crafts, I’ve been pursuing speaking engagements. On July 29th, the Craft and Hobby Association ( has asked me to speak at their annual industry meeting in Orlando ( I’m so excited!
To hone my speaking skills, I’ve been going to Toastmasters with a fellow writer--and it’s really fun. To tell the truth, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do.

Toastmasters ( is a nonprofit group dedicated to helping people become better public speakers. Many people get a BAD case of the nerves before an audience and Toastmasters lets you practice speaking in a safe environment. I don’t have a big problem speaking in front of people (though I’m more comfortable in front of a camera, thanks to my TV acting training, than a live audience), but it never hurts to practice.

Everyone is supportive (there’s a lot of clapping!), kind, and constructive with their criticism and effusive with their praise. My favorite part is when we get the “ah” count—someone at each meeting is assigned to keep track of all the ahs, ums, likes, you knows, and other placeholder words speakers use when they should actually pause or be silent. It’s a great thing to be made aware of—although oddly enough, once you notice you’re saying “um” a lot you tend to do it more (at least at first).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Free ebook on creative success

Creativity coach and author Gail McMeekin is offering a new free e-book called The Path to Creative Success.

Gail has the uncanny ability to say just the right thing, and all of her work has a wonderful validating tone to it. Her previous book The 12 Secrets of Highly Creative Women is one of my favorites--I read it over and over again for inspiration!

You can access the free book on her site at

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Enough Tools in Your Toolbox

Nina-Marie wrote in response to my recent "not all techniques are for everyone" post--and I suck at painting!--that "at some point you must have enough tools in your toolbox." She says she doesn't take technique classes anymore, but rather signs up for guided studio classes. She prefers that to "spending a week trudging through another artist's technique."

I think many of us like to stay up to date with the newest trends, styles, gadgets, whatever, but Nina-Marie's point is really well taken--at some point we have enough skill and knowledge to just figure out how we want to do things ourselves.

I've been compiling a cornocopia of techniques and strategies over the past few years--learning far more techniques than I use in my quilts and mixed media pieces. Some I embrace, some I discard. Now it's time for me to start applying the ones I like (and can master) in earnest.

Thanks Nina-Marie. Your comment was a real shot in the arm for me!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Creativity and the Job Search

The workplace is all about creativity these days. It’s the innovators who are getting the jobs (as we lurch toward a 10% unemployment rate)—whether it’s their first position or their fifth. The same old, same old strategies aren't working anymore, even in corporate America, so employers are increasingly looking for people with new ideas and new ways of thinking.

Two stories in USA Today this week highlight this fact: One, “Retrain Your Brain from ‘Left to Right’ to Fit Into the New Economy” (, highlights the story of a Washington, DC man who transitioned from being an attorney to being an interior designer after his billable hours shrank. He spent his down time making an audition tape for an HGTV reality show and posted it on his Facebook page. It didn’t get him on the show, but it did get him some clients. Another story, “No Right Brain Left Behind” (, highlights the need to prepare young people to be more right-brained (creative) to succeed in today’s marketplace.

I asked career coach extraordinare CONNIE THANASOULIS-CERRACHIO of for her advice about how to emphasize your creative skills while searching for a new job…

I’ve run staffing groups at Fortune 500 firms for almost 25 years and now I’m a career coach. I train individuals on how to optimize their job search. Oftentimes, I help them map out their major strengths and areas they are looking to develop, because these are top questions that are asked in an interview.

The pre-work is very important to the interview. I suggest individuals list their top 10 strengths, and in the column next to each strength, list an example of how they excel at this, and in another column quantify the example in some way, shape or form.

Creative problem-solving is a characteristic that is greatly valued by any company. Let’s face it: business is all about solving problems, and the more creative you can be, the more successful you will be. This applies to any discipline: marketing, finance, human resources, the law, operations, etc.

Here are some examples of creative problem-solving:
1. You are tasked with creating a technology-tracking system for new accounts. Your boss gives you a 2-month time frame and tells you that you are the lead project manager.
o A creative move could be to find someone else in the company who's worked with the technology group and ask them to be an “advisor” to save time and money that they perhaps wasted because they didn’t know any better.
o Another creative move would be this – if you had a friend who worked at another company who had a similar program, perhaps they could share it with you … as long as it didn’t violate any confidentiality or privilege rules.

2. You are tasked with creating a new campus recruiting brochure at your company. You have to decide what “hot” colors are in.
o You could go to the closest Gap store and check out their color arrangements. Gap pours tons and tons of marketing dollars into the latest colors and this could appeal to your exact demographic.

3. Your manager asks you to significantly decrease the error rates on the opening of new accounts:
o A creative move could be to do some research on how errors are decreased, both on the web, and perhaps at Barnes & Nobles. There’s a book about everything!
o You could also do a survey of the new account-opening reps and ask for the last 100 issues with new accounts, and create a short but succinct error analysis.

During an interview, it’s important to highlight your creative moves and the results. For example, the new brochure gave you strong accolades from your new recruits, so note that. Your approach on new accounts decreased errors by 25%. And your new technology program came in under-budget and on time, and the users are raving about how easy it is to use and how helpful the info is.

Remember during your interview to identify these success stories and use them to “ease the pain” of the employers who are interviewing you. It’s always about what you can do for them, so be confident about your background and clear in your explanations…and quantify EVERYTHING!

Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio is the co-founder of SixFigureStart (, a career coaching firm that partners with individuals through every stage of their job search. Connie ( and her partner built this business upon their 40 years of experience at companies such as Goldman, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Pfizer and Time Inc. Since they have literally hired thousands of individuals over the years, they know exactly what employers want and this experience and knowledge is shared with their clients so they can find their dream job. Connie also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, as an adjunct professor of Career Development.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Not all techniques are for everybody...


I’ve come to realize I have no facility for painting. I took a class with Esterita Austin at the Vermont Quilt Festival. I loved her and her work, but I just didn’t “get it.” She even got me started me painted shadows and highlights on my fabric, but as soon as I got back to my table I was flummoxed as to how to proceed. I ended up making a mishmash of it all.

Esterita did say that she’d had art training and that you couldn’t learn to paint on fabric in 2 hours.

That didn’t really make me feel better. I left her class feeling disillusioned with myself. I remember feeling this way after I took a painting class at Quilting By the Lake with Elizabeth Busch, as well as after trying to dye.

Some techniques are just not for us. And that’s okay.

If we’re crafting for fun or for therapy, if we’re not enjoying it than why do it?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Craft to Heal giveaway

The website Craft For Health posted my "divorce quilt" story today, along with my offer to give away a copy of my book. All you need to enter the contest is to go to the site (, post a comment, and your name will be thrown in a hat to receive a copy of the book. You have to enter by July 9 8am EST.

Please post (here and there!) and good luck!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Being creative every day feels good!

I went to the Vermont Quilt Festival (VQF) last weekend, where I entered my “Quilt On!” mixed media scrapbook quilt in the show, only the second time I’ve had the nerve to do that. The quilt didn’t have to meet any judges’ requirements to get in (they allowed the first 200 that applied to be shown)—but it was judged by a panel of three. I got an 84, 81, and 79 out of 100 points. Not too bad. The judges said my piece was fun (yes!) but it needed more quilting. I don’t disagree—I just didn’t feel like doing it. My goal was to make something simple and get my confidence and desire to quilt back. I felt good that none of them said it was a disaster construction-wise. I'm always worried about that because I have a hard time with piecing accurately.

Over the past couple of years, I think I’ve been stymied by my desire to expand my wings. I design quilts that I have NO IDEA how to construct, so I get stuck. I am so overwhelmed by what to do next and all the projects I want to do that I do nothing (sounds like the men I date).

Anyway, at VQF I came to the conclusion that I will never be a master quilter. Don’t laugh. That was once my goal. But I know I’ll never have the patience, skill or vision of a Barb Olson, Margaret Miller, Ricky Tims or Susan Balch. And I’m learning to be okay with that. In fact, I think it’s inspired me anew.

I took another class with Barb Olson at VQF and it was simpler than the previous class I’d taken in April (bigger pieces to glue and appliqué!) and I was familiar with the technique this time. It’s also a dramatic flower (which I’ll show you somewhere down the line when it’s more finished), which I loved. She calls it “Wild Child.” As soon as I got home, I started working on it:
1) Because I was psyched to design it. It was FUN!
2) I left my sewing table folded out and my fabric everywhere. I just spread it all out throughout my dining room and let my housekeeping go to hell.
3) I can take 10 minutes here and there to work on the piece. Once I start to get frustrated or my sewing machine gums up, I stop.

Over the past week, I've finished all five petals and I’ve felt really good mentally—and I know it’s because I’m quilting.

It’s amazing how good it feels to be creative everyday--don't you think?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What to say...

My sister and I just heard that an old family friend had died. We bought a condolence card, and were faced with the dilemma of what to write. How to express our sympathy and offer encouragement in the saddest of times? Just by chance, I came across a short article I'd written on the topic. It helped me, so thought I'd share it...

Composing Tough-to-write Sympathy Notes...
When a friend experiences a significant loss--a loved one dies, she miscarries, she gets divorced, she gets sick, she loses her job--what do you say to her? How do you let your friend know you care without being patronizing, unintentionally insensitive (by saying too little) or offering cliches? According to Rosalie Maggio, author of Great Letters for Every Occasion, you walk a fine line, but the biggest mistake is ignoring the loss. In situations where someone has died or been the victim of a big misfortune (a fire, flood, burglary, violent crime, job loss, a miscarriage), not sending a letter is worse than sending a misguided one, she says.

Here, some tips on WHAT TO DO:
Acknowledge the loss and mention the deceased person by name (or specify the misfortune). Recipients are already in pain and they don’t want that to be ignored, says Maggio.

Express your feelings of grief, dismay and loss in an honest and clear manner. Don’t use euphemisms such as “left this life,” “the dear departed” or “gone to a better life.” Instead, write “died” or “miscarried.”
Be brief. “A lengthy letter can be overwhelming in a time of grief,” she says.
Mention what you particularly liked about the deceased.

End with a general expression of concern or affection, such as “you are in my thoughts.”

Don't go overboard in expressing how you feel about the loss—saying “I was devastated. I start crying every time I think of him.”
Don’t use overly dramatic language (“the worst tragedy I ever heard of”).

Don’t use well-meaning but hurtful clichés, false cheerfulness and optimistic platitudes.

Don’t discuss your religious views or philosophy of death or loss unless you know the recipient shares your views.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Creative bravery

Creativity bravery is the essence of good art--don't you think?

The risk, of course, is that you expose your deepest feelings, thoughts, and values to the ridicule, judgment, and misinterpretation of others. But that's why you do your work for yourself and yourself alone. It’s only when you can push away your shame, fear, and insecurities and say with confidence, “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’m going to do this my way,” that you can let fly what lies within and create something that is truly unique, truly expressive of you, and ultimately truly healing.

Still, it’s not easy to put yourself out there and keep at it.

There’s a great little book on developing creative bravery: It’s called “Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I read it frequently, underlining new passages each time. It has so many inspiring pearls of wisdom in it!

When I’m feeling bad that one of my projects isn’t panning out the way I planned, for instance, I think of their counsel that “vision is always ahead of execution.” Or that “In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”

As Mary Tyler Moore has been quoted as saying…”It’s none of my business what anyone else thinks of me.” Your creativity is FOR YOU.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Finding your creative strengths

The "newish" field of positive psychology says that instead of focusing on our neuroses and weaknesses, we should focuses on our strengths—what we’re good at.

An aside: If you want to measure you character strengths, go to and take the VIA Survey of Character, developed by esteemed positive psychology experts. It takes close to half an hour to finish the test--but besides getting immediate, free feedback on your five most notable personality strengths, you'll be contributing to research on the topic. (You can also opt for a briefer test called the VIA Survey of Strengths, which has only 24 questions.)

But back to creativity: If you’re feeling frustrated about your creative work, focusing on your strengths may help turn your attitude around.

My creative strength is color. My sister says that I often take the loudest and even most clashing colors and designs and make them work together in a quilt. I do this mostly by intuition or “feel.” All I know is what I am attracted to…

I also do best with simple recently I boosted my confidence by making a back-to-basics quilt composed of squares and circles, buttons and embellishments.

What’s your creative strength? Find it and build on it!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Volunteer for my stress study and earn $25!


Do you want to participate in a crafts and wellness study—and earn $25 AT HOME!?

It requires a 1-hour commitment per day for 1 week. You must be 18 or older to participate.

Please contact Nancy Monson, study leader, via email at or by calling 203-556-8698 for more information and to apply.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Creativity and the perimenopausal brain

I don’t know how Hillary Clinton does it—how she keeps her energy up to travel the world and her intellect sharp enough to shape international policy.

Half the time I can’t even remember what I’m supposed to be doing.

My brain is awash (or not, as the case may be) in perimenopausal hormones. I hear new moms have a similar dilemma—their brains turn to mush!

I have trouble concentrating. I get irritable and jittery out of the blue. I feel sad. It’s a hormone party for one.

The only positive is that I’m told by experts that midlife is a creative high point for many people, so I’m hoping the brain fog leads to a clearer picture as I move through menopause. One can only hope!

Any of you out there experiencing this?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Creative Intelligence

I was talking to quilter Barb Olson ( about my book Craft to Heal and she mentioned that she believes in the concept of creative intelligence. You know, just like we have intrinsic or booksmart intelligence (IQ) and emotional intelligence, we also have creative intelligence (CI). Likewise, you can refine and hone your creative intelligence with practice and perseverance just like you can your other intelligence quotients.

Some of us are born with more CI than others, just like we have higher IQs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be more creative. Part of it is attitude, I think—you have to be open to it, let yourself relax so your mind can surf to new possibilities.

As fabric artist Diane Ericson ( told me, ““Creativity isn’t what you do once or twice a week—it’s the way you approach your life. Everyone is creative, but some people have been nurtured and some haven’t. You have to own your creativity, develop it, grow it, like a garden.”

Here are some ways to hone that creative intelligence:
--Consider yourself a creative person in every day and every way.
--Write down, draw, or audiotape stray thoughts and dreams. These are the seeds of great ideas—and they are often lost just before or after sleep, after the shower, or in the rush of the day.
--Keep a journal of your inspirations, advises creativity coach Gail McMeekin ( Carry the journal with you to write down ideas as they come to you…while you’re out shopping, at a museum or talking with a friend. Or carry a small sketchbook to draw things you see or to carry swatches of fabric you like or are using in a current project.
--Make an excitement list, says Gail, so you can follow your fascinations. What are you attracted to and what turns your creative fire on? That is where you begin. Creativity is about experimentation, and you have to be willing to try things and then reroute them until you get the right formula.
--Relax yourself, encourages Sue Bender, author of the book Stretching Lessons: The Daring That Starts from Within. “At the beginning of any new challenge we encounter obstacles, confusion and doubts,” she writes. “That’s natural. But when we allow the rigidity within us to begin to melt, we allow our soul to grow…we’re inviting our soul to grow wings.”
--Make “artist dates” with yourself, advises creativity guru Julia Cameron, author of the must-have book in this area The Artist’s Way ( She suggests setting aside time on a weekly basis—something like 2 hours a week—to nurture your inner artist. The date, which is only with yourself and should be solitary in nature—might consist of going to a museum or gallery, to the beach at sunrise or sunset or out to listen to music at a local club.
--Have faith in your abilities. Persevere in your craft because you love it, and whether you ever become a master crafter or not, it will bring joy back to you ten-fold.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Craft For Health, a new website

I’ve just started blogging for a new website called CraftForHealth ( It’s a joint venture between a designer and crafter, Kathy Peterson, and a nurse, Barb Dehn. Together, they’ll be showcasing inspiring stories, health tips, videos, etc., about the therapeutic benefits of crafting. Their vision is to "spread the good word about craft therapy in these uncertain times," as Kathy told me.

I’m excited to participate in this venture not only because it complements my Craft to Heal approach, but because I believe so much that crafts and hobbies can benefit us all—if we approach them with the right frame of mind (namely by not demanding too much of ourselves and being too perfectionistic).

Truthfully, this is something I struggle with every day as I'm making my quilts and collages and jewelry, etc. I’m rarely completely happy with my creative efforts, but I keep trying, and I keep getting rewarded.

Whatever the outcome, though, I find the process of creating an end unto itself. It's the best de-stressor I know!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who's Got the Face?

Doug Snelson, the author of the poem I posted last time “I agained a friend,” has also written a wonderful children’s book about a dog called Face. You know, as in “Who’s got the face? Who likes to chase?”

A dog story—who can resist? (Okay, maybe me less than certain other people [ahem, my sister Linda]?)

Anyway “Who’s Got the Face?” is adorable. The copy really captures the joy of having a dog to come home to and the drawings are fabulous.

The book is a real testament to passing creativity down through the family: Doug wrote it, his daughter illustrated it (wow!), his son designed it, his daughter-in-law helped to edit it, and his wife helped to publish and market it. Doug’s been going to schools and other sites to read the book to kids and gets a great response every time (I can just imagine him doing it, in his inimitable enthusiastic way). And he even lists all the dogs (and they’ve had many) who have had “the face” (and yes, they’ve got a Zoey among them!).

You can get a copy at or the usual outlets like and

Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Agained a Friend

Remember the work reunion I wrote about a few posts ago? My old boss, Doug, recited a wonderful poem he’d written way back when that really touched me—in fact, I loved it so much I asked him if I could post it on my blog. He said yes, so here it is…


I agained a friend,
which is nice.

We talked until two and each one of us knew
a friend is only once, never twice.

I agained a friend,
which is bad.

We both spoke of our hell and to him I could tell
the heaven of life can be sad.

I agained a friend,
which is rare.

We rehashed those old times of some wild oats crimes
and how easy it is not to care.

I agained a friend,
which is grand.

We thanked friend in the sky that we’re friends til we die
and we thanked one sweet word, understand.

I agained a friend,
which is nice.

We talked until two and each one of us knew
a friend is only once, never twice.
--Doug Snelson

PS: I “agained a friend” too—and very happily so! Thanks, Doug.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Prismatic flowers and Barb Olson

I spent the past couple of days at a quilting workshop with members of The Rhododendron Needlers Quilt Guild in Massachusetts. Our task: making a small appliquéd flower composition.

The teacher was Barbara Olson (, an incredible quilt artist whose “In the Beginning” quilt—a huge spiral on a black-and-white-box background with an Escher-like feeling of depth and dimension to it—was included as one of the 100 American Best Quilts of the Century in 2000. Talk about exciting! She’s also the author of an inspiring book that I’ve owned for a few years (I’ve actually DONE some of the exercises in this book) called Journey of an Art Quilter.

I had a major “a-ha moment” during the workshop: Barb says she’s what’s called “a naïve artist.” She didn’t have any formal art training. The lesson: Talent helps, but it’s really practice and perseverance that make the artist! Barb grew up sewing, but is a self-taught quilter who designs by trial and error. She said that she wasn’t a natural machine quilter, yet her quilts are intricately adorned with thread embellishments. She made herself do it, she says, because it was expected of a quilter. But she didn’t get really good at it until she relaxed into the process, remembered to breathe and loosen up, and started to enjoy herself. She says the trick is to set your hands on the quilt like it’s a musical instrument and get into a rhythm (the key to crafting to heal!).

I also loved Barb’s teaching method: Her appliqué techniques are simple, yet difficult to master, and they can be frustrating. She had a lovely, gentle way about her that gave us a safe environment for creating. She also had a knack for revealing the perfect snippet of information at the right time to clarify a particular quilting dilemma!

It was also wonderful to be with other quilters, talking and working all at the same time. It was the very essence of crafting to heal—sharing, growing our skills, spending time with like-minded people! Plus, I sold three books quite by accident when I mentioned the Craft to Heal concept (thank you, ladies—you made my day!).

Sunday, April 12, 2009


A few days ago, I went to a reunion of PW Communications, a medical communications company I worked for in the 1980s—a very unique and close-knit group of people.

I was just 23 and trying to be an actress in New York City, so I needed a paying job I could work at night. I perused The New York Times’ “Help Wanted” ads (does that work anymore?), and found a position for a freelance word processor. I fibbed about my ability to use a computer—one of the only fibs I’ve ever told when seeking a job, but it was one that paid off because they offered me training. It was on the Wang System—great name, huh?—an obsolete computer program that was kind of fun to use. Anyway, I took a typing test and got the job. (It always bugged me how girls had to know how to type. My first job out of college I failed a typing test and was forced to teach myself how to type. I covered the keys on a typewriter keyboard and every night I’d type away. Soon, I was typing in my sleep, typing the dialogue in my head of the words in movies I was watching, typing, typing, typing. It paid off, because I finally got a job, but I never knew a man who was asked if he could type. Hopefully, today, THAT'S changed since everyone now types on computers.)

Twenty-five years later, seeing some of the same faces I remember from so long ago, I realized this company had a huge influence on my personal and creative life:
1. I met several very close friends through PW, people who continue to be my friends today. I also met my career mentor, a man who taught me to value myself and the skills I bring to the table.
2. I discovered the concept of being a freelance writer, something that I didn’t even know about when I graduated from college. I’ve been a freelancer ever since, to the point now where I can’t imagine having a regular job anymore and sitting through meetings or showing up at a specified time each day! And thanks to the scores of people who left this company and went on to build their own companies, I’ve rarely had to pursue work…it’s typically come to me instead, so I don’t think I’ve even had a typical freelance career. Yes, I’ve gone out and made many opportunities for myself—pursuing consumer magazines and book contracts and speaking engagements and all sorts of things like that—but I’ve always had a great deal of stability and a fairly stable income. And I’ve never been laid off, something I am so thankful for today.

So when I get to thinking about how I "hate" my job, I try to remember how lucky I am to work from a home office with my faithful dog Zoey by my side, making my own schedule and picking and choosing among jobs offered to me.

And I think about my 10 years at PW. Funny, all those “older” people who seemed so intimidating back then turn out to be, well, just people too.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Art of Taking Classes

The summer workshop season is approaching, and taking classes and workshops is de rigueur for most quilters and other crafters in the never-ending quest to advance our skills, improve our technique and expand our horizons.

So you’re perusing the course catalogs. You might be looking for something to do with computer-based quilting, mixed-media collage, wearable art—or marketing your quilts and designs. Whatever the subject, you can find a course for it. But as a veteran of continuing education classes, I know how easily and widely these classes can miss the mark. Here, some sage advice, based on hard-won experience, on how to get the most from a class:
1. Be choosy. You don't have to say yes to the first class you find. All sorts of places are offering extended-learning classes today—from universities to professional training schools to craft centers and your local community school system. Before you hand over your credit card, figure out why you’re taking the class, what you hope to achieve from it (more knowledge, a chance to socialize, better technique, the opportunity to relax, a certificate or degree), how much time you can spend on homework and what kind of amenities you’re looking for. For some people, a bare-bones classroom is okay, while others are looking for more refined environs. I recently took a $2,000 class at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan (the school where Bravo TV’s Project Runway is filmed) and I was horrified at the sorry state of the classrooms—most notably the stools with no backs, which we were meant to sit on for three hours at a time! And always, always try and find pictures of the projects you’ll be making and the teacher’s work (on the Internet or in books and magazines): I’ve taken several classes where I’ve made things I’ve hated, simply because I signed up based solely on the catalog description.
2. Google the teacher. I’ve had more than one class go amiss due to an incompetent instructor who excels at doing but is terrible at teaching. (That old maxim, “those who can do, those who can’t teach” is misleading—when those who can also teach, they are often lousy at it or distracted by their day jobs.) At the Boston Museum School, I had an art teacher who was a wonderful artist herself, but lazy about teaching. And at Parsons I had an instructor who, though well intentioned, taught by being overly harsh and even humiliating in her critiques, which served to be demotivating rather than inspiring. As a result I’ve learned to do some research on potential teachers and ask other students what they think of instructors before I commit. You want to find a class and teacher that mentors you, not squashes your natural inclinations—a teacher who allows you to express yourself, rather than dictates you do things his or her way.
3. Glean what you can. Even though I’ve taken classes where I’ve hated the projects, I still try and lean some new techniques and be open to new ideas. For instance, in one class, I found myself making the ugliest dolls I’ve ever seen. I just knew I’d never use them (nor would I be caught dead giving them away!), but I tried to absorb some of the painting techniques the teacher was sharing, discarding what didn’t apply to my goals or feel right to me.
4. Drop out if you have to. It’s your free time and it’s precious, so don’t waste it if you’re not getting what you want from a class—and don’t let someone else waste it. A friend of mine took a Japanese-technique watercolor painting class, but dropped it due to the excruciatingly slow pace of the lessons. I myself finally dropped the Boston Museum School art class when the teacher, rather than bringing one in to show us, suggested that we go to the library to find a color wheel.
5. Take advantage of class connections. One of the great bonuses of taking continuing education classes is meeting people who share your passion for creating. Another is networking about potential organizations, events, other classes and even jobs. I’ve made some long-term friends during classes I’ve taken, people to laugh, problem-solve and shop with, friends who share my enthusiasm for fabric and quilting. And what could be better than that?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Craft to Heal in the news

Not to toot my own horn, but I'm quoted in Women's World Magazine this week (March 23rd issue with Oprah on the cover, page 13) about how to bust stress by doing crafty things. It's very satisfying to see the Craft to Heal message getting out after five years of working on the topic!

Another item in the news of interest to us creative types is in USA Today today. Victor Domine, the spokesperson for the Craft and Hobby Association, lists "10 great places for a hands-on craft experience." The craft experiences range from quilting to scrapbooking, jewelry-making, and indie crafts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Birthday musings

I was busy celebrating my "big" birthday this past weekend. Among other things, my friends Connie and Barbara and I went to the Boathouse Restaurant in NYC for brunch (it was oh so "Sex and the City" right down to Hugh Jackman being just a few tables down).
Thankfully, no midlife crisis here (maybe because I've been having them regularly since my 20s!), but I have noticed that I feel strangely, well, young. Physically, I feel only a little slower than in my 30s and I'm lucky to have few aches and pains. Psychologically, I seem to have settled somewhere around my early 30s, though I occasionally drift down to 16 (mostly in relation to men--I still love a good crush and a good flirt!). Grown-up? I don't THINK so.
But then when does anyone feel like a "real adult?" Are some people just born more adult than others, while others stay forever young at heart? I really have trouble imagining a time when I'll feel like a "mature woman," much less a senior citizen...
Still, I do believe that midlife can be a springboard to your “real life.” You know, the one after you’ve gone through all the stages society says you’re supposed to, like going to college, getting married, having kids, pursuing a certain career track. The one where you get to start doing what you want and being who you want without worrying so much about what other people think.
Now if only the stock market would play nice and let us all get on with these second lives!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Embrace love

One of the great things about creative activities is how they let you remember the past and keep it close in your heart.
No one in my past is more important to me than my grandmother Alice (my beloved dog Butter is a close second--but I imagine them both waiting for me in heaven. Yes, me the agnostic!).
Grandma was truly as close to a saint as you can get. She was kind and funny and loving and warm and practical and hardworking and reasonable. She seemed so comfortable with herself and never had a bad word to say about anyone. Everyone still raves about how special she was, what a rare flower. She and my grandfather Walter had a relationship to be envied--they truly enjoyed one another, even 50 years on. I remember laughing with them over dinner so many nights in their Manhattan apartment. He called her and her three sisters "The Rosebuds."
Alice passed away over a decade ago, but I think of her almost every day and feel so lucky to have had her in my life. (I was actually alone with her the night before she died. The last thing she said was "I hope I can sleep now...")
Anyway, I wanted to honor her and emulate her, so I made the collage you see here. I loved working with old photos of her and my grandfather (who was quite a character himself).
I hung the collage in my office, where everyday it reminds me to "embrace love." Because there's nothing more important than that...

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Crafter's Journey

I just joined, thanks to my friend Amy Feldman, who’s taken several classes there. But what struck me this month was the article by Quilt U’s dean, Carol Miller, who wrote about her feelings in relationship to quilting and how they've changed over the years. The article really resonated with me—I, too, have bounded from all-out enthusiasm, to bafflement, awe, and feelings of inadequacy, and finally to acceptance of where I am on my own creative journey.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy it, too, and Carol graciously gave me her permission to reprint it, so here it is…

Quilt University March 2009 Newsletter
by Carol Miller, Dean

Marking 30 years as a quilter is a lot like celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary. You are still in the same relationship and yet, it is not the same at all.

Looking back, I think there are five stages to my relationship with quilting. The first stage was Discovery. Quilts had always been there but I hadn't really noticed them. There was no magic between us. One day, we just clicked and suddenly, I was seeing quilts everywhere: flea markets, magazines, the backgrounds on TV shows and movies. Each new sighting raised my interest level.

That led to stage two, Exploration. Now it wasn't enough to run into quilts by accident, I began to seek them out on purpose. I searched the library, often being forced to wade through general craft books to find one article on quilts. (I know it's hard to believe, but there was no Internet way back then and no personal computers at home, either.) I haunted the local drugstore with the best newsstand, waiting for new issues of the three available quilting magazines, even though the pictures were in black and white!

Soon, just looking was not enough. I had to touch and own the object of my desire. Stage three was Obsession and Acquisition. Magazines began to pile up. There were only a few books in the late 70's and 80's and not all the bookstores carried them. I had to range further afield on my hunt. I heard rumors about a needlework shop that carried quilting fabrics in a town 50 miles away. Off I went. I stopped in their bookstore as well. The hunt was half the fun.One of those early books had 501 block patterns and I pored over those avidly, marking dozens of blocks I wanted to try. I began accumulating patterns, too. There was always a line of quilts waiting to be made, shouting "me next!." Quilting had become all-consuming. I joined a guild and found others who were as obsessed as I was.

When I had been quilting 10 years, the Mancuso brothers started the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival. The first year, I was so overwhelmed by all the riches before me, I came away with a marking pencil, a stencil and a book. Those were the days when I only bought fabric for the quilt I was making. (insert maniacal laughter here) I was permanently cured of that mindset two years later when I took my first class at Mid-Atlantic. It was a two day seminar with Doreen Speckmann.We were supposed to design a quilt using many different fabrics. I took one look at the suitcases the other students had brought with them and went down to the merchant mall. You guessed it. I went a little wild that weekend and bought 200 different fabrics. In my defense, they were nearly all fat quarters or half yards and fabric was a lot less expensive then. Thrilled with my wonderful new choices, I cut a swatch from each one and made a notebook so I would know what I had. The idea was to carry that with me in the future so I wouldn't buy the same fabric again.In practice, it was a silly idea. Can you imagine leafing through a big notebook, looking to see if the fabric in front of you is already in the book? And doing this while hundreds of people are pushing around you trying to get to the fabric? Just the thought of carrying anything extra with me to quilt shows was enough to make me abandon my catalog idea. Eventually, I realized that if I bought the same fabric again, that must mean I really liked it, so it was okay to have another piece.(Sadly, Doreen isn't with us anymore, but I am glad to say that I got a chance to see her many more times and to tell her that she had changed the way I looked at quilting.)

Still in stage three, I continued to gobble up books and classes, sewing like a demon when I got home from work and sometimes telling my family I was on vacation for a whole weekend, so I could hide in the sewing room. I was getting better at piecing. A class with Marsha McCloskey introduced me to the concept of squaring up and now my quilt blocks went together smoothly. I devoured the color books by Jinny Beyer, Joen Wolfrom and Mary Coyne Penders. Friends and family heaped compliments on my quilts. Regional quilt shows still fired me up and sent me steaming back to my sewing machine.

And then a funny thing happened. I went to International Quilt Festival. It was mind-bending. The level of excellence was staggering and I entered stage four: Awe and Unworthiness. I looked at work by people like Caryl Bryer Fallert and knew that I would never make anything that came even remotely close. Should I stop quilting and find something else to do?I thought about it on the way home. Instead of being inspired and eager to get back in my sewing room, I was feeling overwhelmed by inadequacy. And then I realized I was being an idiot. Who said I was in competition with anyone? When I ate a great meal in a restaurant, did it make me give up cooking? Of course not.

I had arrived at stage five: Contentment. For me, quilting is a process. I love all the parts: dreaming about the design, choosing the fabrics, watching the pieces come together as I work, seeing the final top take shape on the wall, putting that last stitch in the binding and feeling a deep sense of achievement when the quilt is ready to use. Continuing to try new things keeps it fresh and exciting for me.

Wherever you are on this continuum, I hope you are finding joy and satisfaction in your quilting.