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Have you ever been frustrated? Hands high up in the air, higher, so I can see them…OK. That’s a lot of hands. So when were you last frustrated? Last week, yesterday, five minutes ago, just now when you couldn’t get the kitty riding the vacuum clip to load and clicked on this instead? I get it, but hear me out, just for a minute. I’ve got a remedy and it’s a sure-fire way to make frustration disappear. Want to know how I discovered it? I got frustrated…

I flew to the US this month to purchase a home I found online. It was pretty near to perfect; nestled in a lovely cul-de-sac with nearby schools and parks and easy access to shopping, yet close to nature. I was certain it was “the one” I should buy for our upcoming move to State College. My realtor previewed the place and let me know it was in great condition so I booked my ticket, boarded a flight the next morning and flew from Stockholm to Newark. I then rented a car, drove four hours, got a few hours of rest and woke up the next morning early to go see the place.

Sure enough it was exactly what I wanted. It had character, good flow, a studio art space, a well-lit kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Hours later I was pre-qualified for a loan and had made my offer. The house had only been on the market three days. I knew everything was going to work out according to plan.

But as I sat down to lunch with my realtor, eating Mongolian BBQ, her phone rang. It was the owner’s realtor, someone else had made an offer just before me and they were friends of the owners. The owners were going to take the other offer.

What?? Friends?

I offered more money but still no deal. I was stunned. The jet lag and lack of sleep were settling in fast and my head felt numb. I couldn’t believe it. How could this possibly happen when I knew this was “The Place?” I’d flown all the way from Sweden to get this house and it was sold.

My realtor sympathized with me, for a split second, but as soon as our shrimp was finished she got me back out on the road to resume the hunt. There were other homes to see and she was hopeful I’d find just the right one—she’s awesome. But inside I was feeling off track and out of sync. MY house had sold, and not only that, another house I’d kept in mind as a second option, had sold too! That made for two homes I wanted sold in less than a week. State College isn’t LA. Homes don’t fly off the market like hotcakes. What was happening? Talk about frustration!

Earlier in the month I’d sat down to dinner with my “life planning” friends, the friends I’ve mentioned in a previous post where we discuss our life goals at the beginning of each month (they’re awesome too). This month, the word I’d chosen to guide me through any impending disaster was “EXPLORE.” Explore encompassed a virtue that I knew I’d need if I was to make choices and figure out my future. And it was in this moment that the word came flashing to my mind…explore, explore, explore.

My frustration turned into exploration.

I thought about what I wasn’t thinking about…OPTIONS. I did have options. But what were they? I got quiet with myself and really thought about what I wanted. Where did I want to live? Where did I want to wake up each morning? Asking questions was the start of my exploration.

In art class we have a philosophy, when we’re stuck or blocked we experiment. Experimentation/exploration is huge. It’s the key on which the art world turns. Without it art wouldn’t happen. Van Gogh wouldn’t be a thing. ‘Starry Night,’ would have nary a star. We must experiment to evolve. Every artist gets stuck and they all know to get unstuck they have to be willing to make a shift, even if it’s incorrect, because changing the lines can get you to where you need to go. When one small part of a drawing changes, everything around it looks different. Until you make a change you can’t tell if the drawing is working or not working. You must draw then erase, redraw, or change an angle. But first, you have to be willing to put down that line, even if it’s the wrong line because until you try you won’t know.

With this principle in mind, I decided to keep looking and expand my search. Start shifting lines. I needed to see all possible angles of my dilemma. In the process, I realized I’d never thought to consult my parents about my decision to move. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last fall, I’d made the decision to move to State College when Cooper went to Iraq. But a lot had changed within the year. Her tumor counts had miraculously gone from almost 5,000 to 16 and frankly she had more energy than I did (granted I was jet lagged), but still! When I sat down and asked my parents how they felt about me moving to a warmer climate, somewhere that I could still visit them and they could visit me in the winter, they didn’t hesitate to say, “Do it!”

Though I was led to Pennsylvania because of the house, it turns out what I really got was clarity about my future. Frustration gave me the opportunity to explore other options.

With every frustration in life, if we keep the mindset of “What else can I do?” we will find there’s a lot more available to us than we think. What we assume to be the “right path,” might only be a stepping-stone to the right direction.

Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

No one needs to stare at closed doors, staying frustrated.

If your plan didn’t go as planned then it wasn’t the best plan.

Look around. Make a shift. See what else is in front of you or behind you. Is there anything you’ve overlooked? Is there a conversation you need to have?

My best advice to guide you on your path is this, “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you’re alive.” –Author Unknown.

Don’t get frustrated because you worked hard or spent time or your hard-earned money doing the “wrong” thing. Be grateful for whatever experience you gain. See each stepping-stone as a place of grace to take you to your ultimate journey—and hey, it’s all a journey. Experiment. Ask yourself: What feels good way down deep in my soul? Change frustration to exploration and there’s no doubt you’ll find your answers.

Featured Artwork by Lana Wimmer, “Born to Explore.”

P.S. I will be moving to sunny St. George in the desert of Utah by Zion’s canyon. Hello sunshine, hello happiness.

Of Mice and Life

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A couple of weeks ago I helped teach a Sunday school lesson to six-year olds–some of the wisest people around. On the table we had pictures for them to chose from; they were to pick something they were grateful for and share it with the class. One beautiful little Swedish girl with blonde curly hair and big blue eyes held up a picture of a frown. She said that she was grateful for sadness because when you cry it lets out all the tears and you feel good again.

Oh, to be that self-aware at the tender age of 6! To know that pain, disappointment, frustration, and sadness, are not only necessary parts of life, but parts we can be grateful for and appreciate.

Is there anything awful that has happened to you that you can now appreciate?

About three weeks ago, on the heels of our week long get-a-way to Dubai, we came home to mouse poop in my art room. On the floor of the room, in the corner, was a box I was getting ready to send to my son on his mission. It was filled with his favorite Marabou chocolates. I picked it up and saw the cardboard had been nibbled away and inside the truffles had been eaten—at least the mice had good taste.

I did more digging and found mouse poop behind my bookshelf, on top of art sketchbooks and even in my vertical file folders where I keep inspirational photos and other notes. Oh the grossness of it all!! Ewwww! I cleaned and cleaned, tossing previously cherished notebooks and art supplies into garbage bags until I had three bags filled. I vacuumed and wiped everything down with bleach water then stepped back and took notice of what suddenly looked so much better. My studio space was finally cleaned. My easel looked more inviting and the light coming in the room felt crisper. I no longer had sketchbooks crammed into the shelf and unused scrapbook paper stuffed between spaces. My things had breathing room…and so did I.

But my cleaning adventure wasn’t over. The mice kept up the invasion. During the following week I discovered mice had been in two storage rooms downstairs, an upstairs closet and our pantry. It was war. We set up traps everywhere. I went into full psycho cleaning mode. We caught four of them plus two tails. Ewwww! We’re not sure where the tailless ones went, but we filled any holes we could find in the walls or baseboards with silicon. Even a hole the size of a pen is small enough for a mouse to fit through.

I ignored whatever else I’d had on the calendar to do (which was a lot) that week and focused on the battle. If you’ve ever seen the movie Mousetrap, you know what I’m talking about. Week two of my Catch-the-Mice campaign they went into a full retreat, but not before I had to vacuum one up with my Miele after it jumped out of the pantry I was cleaning. Eeeek!

All totaled, I threw away 15 garbage bags of stuff and took 15 more to Goodwill and the beggar lady that lives by the grocery store where I shop, including a sack filled with hotel soaps, shampoos, lotions and toothbrushes, enough for years supply—what was I saving it for?

And here’s the thing…I’m STILL cleaning. When this happened, a friend of mine shared a book with me, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” by Marie Kondo. I read it and it transformed my life. What I actually mean to say is, I DID what the book said and it transformed my life. Because of those awful mice, I found the motivation I needed to let go and get rid of things I’d been holding onto for way too long.

Believe me, when mouse poop gets on your stuff, you get real clear about priorities. What you think is so important takes on a whole new perspective. You realize almost anything can be tossed.

And why was I living with so much stuff? You know how much energy it takes to move stuff? Even an excess of hangers or tea mugs or socks, whatever it is, takes your energy. And it takes your space. Not just your physical space, but also your mental space. You have to see it and the brain has to process the information of what’s in your visual line of sight. If you have a lot of stuff your brain is constantly in commotion. Clean your space and your thoughts clear too. It’s magic, it really is true.

If you’re having trouble getting rid of things, Kondo has a method and it works. Start with clothing, shoes, books, then gradually work up to personal items, letters, papers, and finally mementos and photographs. I grew up thinking photographs were sacred. Back then we had little canisters in our cameras. We’d take photos then remove the canister and drive to the local camera store and put the case in an envelope for drop off. We’d wait an entire week for our photos to be developed and it wasn’t until we picked them back up and opened the envelope that we knew if they turned out or not. Not all of them turned out, of course, but we usually kept them anyway because they were expensive and we paid to see them. Most of us have photos like that stuck in a box. What good are they doing there? It’s time to get in those boxes. Don’t wait until old age seeps in and your eyes are as blurry as the photos. Get them out now and toss the ones where everyone has their eyes shut and keep the others. Not every photo is necessary to tell the story of your memory. It’s the memory you want to cherish, not the photographs.

As for papers and paperwork, Kondo advocates eliminating almost all it—the stuff jammed into file folders that you NEVER look at or need. Warranties, instructions for how to use your DVR, letters from way back in grade school. You don’t need all that stuff and unless you live to be 200, you’re probably not going to have time to pour through all those old letters. I’ve got plans for when I’m old and it doesn’t include sitting in rocker staring at Christmas cards from 1992.

The measure of anything, when you’re asking yourself, “should I keep this or toss it?” is this…DOES IT SPARK JOY?

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” –Kondo, page 42

I’m not good at math, but this is an equation I can understand. If you love it=keep it. If you don’t=give it away, get rid of it. Don’t turn it into another process. Just do it. That shirt or book or stack of unused stationary will be happier with someone who uses it and enjoys it. FYI, you don’t need 20 packs of Post-it notes. SHARE.

The other point Kondo makes that I LOVE and has helped transform my living space more than any other, is folding and storing everything vertically. Rather than placing clothes in a drawer one on top of the other like a display at the mall, place everything side by side vertically so it lines up horizontally across your drawer. Then when you open the drawer you can view everything at once. It saves space and your clothes look better when folded into a rectangle. It’s amazing!

When everything has a space in your home, you feel like you belong too. When you’re surrounded ONLY by what you love, it’s as if the universe is speaking to you, reflecting back what you value and your life comes into true focus. It’s a great feeling. Walking into a room, seeing what you love organized; it does something for your brain. I’m pretty sure it’s the same effect as eating a box full of expensive chocolates. It feels delicious. Your stuff—the things you love—look better too. And you’re able to focus on what’s actually important, not stuff, but people and relationships, your goals and pursuits. You can go for that walk or get on your treadmill (when the clothes are taken off). The more stuff you have, the more time you spend managing it.

Yes, it’s hard to let things go, but what you get in exchange is a richer fuller existence. In 90 days we’ll be packing up and leaving Sweden. I’ll be going back to the US a lot lighter—my household goods will be lean and mean. And with less to pack there will be less to unpack. I’ll have more time to enjoy the people I meet and my new neighborhood.

So thank you mice and thank you frustration and thank you back-breaking pain after hours and hours of cleaning, because you helped me reevaluate my stuff, my life and gave me greater focus for the coming year. Tidying really is magic!

 

(Featured artwork from Waffle Love in Provo, Utah.)

Dare To Finish Last

Distant Shore, oil painting, Lana Wimmer

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― André Gide

Recently I had dinner with two talented and very dynamic friends, expats that live in Stockholm. We met at my friend’s house with the intention of discussing our life goals—BIG big stuff people. We dubbed it our “Life Planning Party,” and chuckled to ourselves because it was also just plain FUN.

With a notebook and pen in hand, and an honesty that’s rare among women, we each shared our current biggest “conundrum.” We opened up about what was challenging us the most and what was causing us to struggle and stall in reaching our desired destinations. Between forkfuls of quiche Lorraine, we shared our frustrations and when the quiche was gone and our conundrums out on the table; my discussion leader and friend posed this important question, “What is it that you most want to feel?”

Sigh and deep breathe. Hmmmm….

Okay, notice she didn’t ask…what can you DO about it, or what do you THINK should happen…she went right to the source of our souls answers—our feelings. Our gut is an oft-overlooked source of information and truth, but it will never steer us wrong.

So what did I want to feel? Besides happy, everybody wants to be happy. We tossed around ideas until we each honed in on one simple word that captured exactly how we wanted to feel. And let me tell you, when my word surfaced, it was like finding my fairy godmother’s wand–magic.

FULFILLED

This was my word, “fulfilled.” It’s exactly how I wanted to feel. No matter the situation, if I was writing, painting, mothering, cooking, spending time with friends, I wanted it to be fulfilling.

With the word fulfillment in hand, wouldn’t you know, my conundrum unraveled itself. Moments before I’d been confused and anxious, but now all that melted away under the illuminating rays of truth–my truth. I wanted fulfillment.

So the question became…what is fulfilling to me? And what isn’t. And how do I structure my day to get what I want?

Armed with my core intention, I set three goals and objectives to accomplish in the coming month. We each did, then took turns sharing. Stating out loud what I was going to do made me accountable, but more importantly, with friends to listen, I wasn’t setting impossible goals—goals that would make me crash and burn in despair when I wasn’t able to accomplish the equivalent of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in a day.

Bare in mind, these are friends, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big loser if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do. Because the point of this exercise was to set an intention in life and to leave space for life to happen–leave room for the unexpected. Which face it, as moms, as friends, as busy women, we encounter the unexpected every day of our lives. We need to be flexible enough to recognize when another direction is better or when we need to press pause.

As my friend would say, “There are many versions of you.” It’s about finding the one that fits with your life and circumstances. In five months I won’t be living in Sweden anymore, I’ll be back in the US and my life will have changed (yet) again. With each move we’ve made, from Greece to Austria to The Netherlands and Sweden and back and forth from the US, I have lived one of those versions of myself, adapting and figuring out who I am in each place and time. It’s helped me realize a person can be happy almost anywhere doing all different sorts of things. It’s about discovering what you really want to feel and shaping your life to fit your core intention. (Go ahead and read that sentence again and let it sink in.)

My “runner” friend has participated in some incredible competitions. She’s raced 100K in terrain I wouldn’t even hike through. But nonetheless, she’s finding her Swedish Running Club a bit of a challenge. She shared their mantra:

“Dare to finish last.”

I love this because it means you’re trying and that’s what counts. The pressure is off but the goal is on. It’s about doing something and being happy in the process, no matter the outcome. If the idea of not finishing or finishing last has prevented you from starting on something you want to do, then DARE to finish last. Give up the fear in exchange for what you really want. For me it’s being fulfilled.

“Strength doesn’t come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” (Unknown)

Have a conundrum?

What do you want to feel?

Remedy: Dare to finish last.

(Above painting by Lana Wimmer, title: Distant Shore.)

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I hope you’ll take a moment to read and listen to the amazing voice and words of my friend and Finnish singer Jonna. She has an incredible story and message to share. That is why I’m posting her blog here today, for you to get inspired, listen to her music and if you want to, pre-order her album. We all need a SOUND MIND. Thanks Jonna!

Have you ever thought how powerful music can be? How it can bring a smile on your face or give you something to think about?

I am a fairly young woman still (32 years old) but I have had my fair share of challenges and struggles in life…an alcoholic mother with bipolar, parents divorce, my own divorce, my mother’s death and a challenge to keep my depression-prone mind healthy.

We don’t often talk about our mental challenges with other people, but I know that having a sound mind is something that many people struggle with. I wanted to write music that could bring mental health awareness by openly talking about those negative feelings and thoughts that can cloud our happiness.

My first single release “Still Breathing” from the album “Sound Mind” is about depression. How one can feel so helpless with those negative thoughts and emotions. I personally think that being aware of those thoughts is the first step to recovery.

Once I had realized that those negative thoughts were not the same as me, I could either choose to listen to them or throw them out of my mind. I decided to do the latter and wrote the song “Out of My Head” about it.

I noticed that I felt happier when I tried to find things to be grateful for in my everyday life. While sitting in my car in traffic I would stop and try to hear the beautiful silence underneath the traffic hour. Or while walking to the bus, I would keep my eyes open for the beauty around me, such as sun beams shining like diamonds in the snow. Those moments put a smile on my face and I wanted to share them with others in my song “Smile”.

Even if one doesn’t have depression or some other mental illness, having a sound mind is not something we can take for granted. Just like having a healthy body, in order to have a healthy mind, we need to nourish it and exercise our “muscles.” Learning to forgive easily is one of those muscles that help us have a sound mind. Or if we feel like we’re entitled to judge others, we clearly have something to work on in ourselves. Also not being too hard on ourselves is something that can help us acheive greater happiness.

Three songs “Art of Forgiveness”, “In My Shoes” and “Proud of me” all help me think healthy thoughts and have a sound mind.

This album has been my journey through my struggles and I truly believe that it can touch other peoples lives as well. If you want to help me in this cause, you can get your own copy of the album today. You can pre-order it through my crowdfunding campaign.

I started an indiegogo campaign so that I could cover the final costs of the album and release it this spring. The campaign will end on the 21st of February 2015.

Here’s a link to my campaign page:  http://igg.me/at/jonna/x/8814822

And you can watch my 2 min video about the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfMUepy3E4k

 

Thank you so much for reading. Hope these thoughts were helpful and wish you a very happy new year 2015! Remember, luck is an attitude!! Keep thinking healthy thoughts! :)

Love, Jonna

 

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If you haven’t thrown out your Christmas Tree yet, then you still have time to enact one of Sweden’s oldest and most well-known Christmas traditions, Plundering the Tree, Julgransplundring. Think of it as a Viking raid on your Christmas Tree, only with candy. Yeah okay, I’ll explain. Just so you know, it’s about the most fun you can have in a night, aside from Christmas, (which is tough to beat).

Here’s what you do…gather up some fun folks. Families, neighbors, anyone Swedish you happen to know. Invite them to dinner; ask everyone to bring a handful of individually wrapped candy. Easy right? Here’s some of the crew that got together at my friend’s house.IMG_4244To make it easy, serve hotdogs Swedish style with shrimp and mayo on top. Not a fan? Have it your way, beans and cheese or ketchup and relish. The point is to eat pig products. I’m not sure why, but Christmas time is when you eat ham or “korv,” as they call hotdogs and this is more about serving something simple.

When everyone has eaten, throw away the paper plates, (if you’re Swedish you’ll recycle). Then get to the good stuff. Everyone lays their candy on a table so each person can select a handful of their favorites and stuff an empty toilet paper roll. Stay with me here…you’re going to make a candy ornament, a smällkaramell. You do this by wrapping the roll in tissue paper and adding colorful stickers and ribbons. Here’s what the tissue paper looks like before you add the roll.IMG_4216Even the teenagers were happy to get in on this craft project.IMG_4214

Here’s a finished one around Maggie’s neck. IMG_4233 Now undecorate your tree. Everyone can help. This is handy. Christmas will get put away in a jiffy. Be ready with a basket to collect your decorations, lights too, then pull the tree away from the walls or windows and center it in the middle of the room so you have space to dance around the tree. Here’s our helpful bunch. IMG_4221IMG_4217Everyone puts their candy ornaments on the tree, then forms a circle holding hands. Someone starts the music (that will probably be you), and you all begin dancing! A simple Google search will turn up the traditional songs. Here are two links you can clink on for the most popular ones.

Små grodorna-little frogs (A song about a small green frog and how funny he looks.)

Mormors lilla kråka-Grandmas old crow (A song about a crow that can’t drive.)

Keep in mind the songs are silly kid tales, (the same ones sung at Mid-summer). You won’t achieve enlightenment, but you will have fun. Just sing and dance around and enjoy the occasion. This part of the evening can last for a while…in olden times Swedes not only danced around the tree, they danced through every room of the house and into the neighbor’s house, but unless you’ve forewarned your neighbors, I’d stick to your own rooms, if you know what I mean. Don’t think this is just for kids either, adults have fun too.IMG_4228

After about 20-30 minutes, most everyone is ready to collapse or eat candy. So stop the music and do THE ROCKET! Oh my goodness this is loud. This is fun. This is crazy!! This is even crazier if you drink Schnapps (good thing we didn’t, we were all Mormon in this group so it’s apple cider for us). Now stomp your feet and clap your hands, fast, faster, even FASTER, and FASTER, then shout like you’ve just been shot off on a rocket to the moon or you’re on the scariest thrill ride of your life. “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” If the walls aren’t shaking it’s not loud enough. LOUDER!!!

Whew! Okay, it’s over. Time to raid the tree! No more rules, (unless you made some up). Get the candy and join the brouhaha or step aside. Dig in and enjoy!

With the tree empty, it’s ready to toss, so ask some helpers to finish the job. Unless of course, it’s fake, then don’t. For the grand finale, throw down a blanket on the floor and put your gingerbread house on top (every Swede has one). It’s time to smash the house. Someone with a heavy fist can take a whack. When bits go flying, grab a piece.

The wonderful thing about Julgransplundring is that each part of the evening is significant, each activity or decoration has meaning. In olden times, the Swedish people were poor. They didn’t have money to decorate a tree so they used the most beautiful things they had, shiny red apples. The children waited all Christmas long to toss out the tree and get their “treat.”

They made ornaments out of straw as a way to celebrate and give thanks to the harvest. Using the straw to make something beautiful, like a star, paid homage to the great worth of the crop. The other common decorations Swedes make out of straw are goats. Before Santa Claus, it was a goat who brought the presents.

In olden times, during the long and restless winters, kids and adults played jokes on one other. For fun, they would attach an insulting note to a rock and throw it in through the neighbor’s open door. Literally, “hurling” an insult.

Tomtar are another iconic symbol of a Swedish Christmas. They are short little elfin creatures that bring good or bad fortune to a family. It used to be, if a family’s pig died, or some other misfortune happened around Christmastime, that people would say the family didn’t take care of their tomtar and make him good warm porridge. It was important to feed your tomtar porridge and even today, Swedes eat this rice pudding dish for breakfast on Christmas and all through the season.  You can see some of our Swedish (and German nutcrackers) on display. Our tomtar is sitting on the left and he ate plenty of candy and cookies for Christmas, in fact I’m blaming him for most of what was eaten.IMG_4296

What I love most about these yearly rituals is that they bring people together, both culturally and socially. Traditions are fun, but more importantly, they provide a link for our children to the past and the future. It doesn’t matter what tradition you establish, silly or serious, chose something to create lasting memories with your family and friends. Our traditions often change, depending on which country we live in, but my hope is that one day my kids will look back on Christmas and New Year’s as a time that brought us closer together and gave us a better appreciation for the culture of Christmas all over the world.

A Plan for 2015

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Not so long ago, 2015 was the date of the dun, dun, dun…FUTURE. As kids we imagined this future while reading copies of Boy’s Life, sketching our hovercraft (that would be built with mom’s Electrolux). Our village of Sea Monkeys would be grown by now with families of their own…the best laid plans. Then again, I don’t think the world was ready for our flying vacuum, or communities of Sea Monkeys.

What is the world ready for? What are you ready for? Are you making plans?

The thing about making plans is that they rarely go as planned. It’s fantastic to set goals and work hard, but it’s important to leave room for what you can’t plan…life. Take your schedule with a healthy dose of trust, knowing that life will always give you twists and turns. Map the journey but don’t get discouraged when you take a wrong bend; it’s leading you to the scenic route you didn’t even know existed.

Back in college a professor assigned us to write a list of 100 things we’d do in our lifetime. He told us to “dream big.” I was young enough to take the assignment seriously. Eighteen and immortal, my list was longer than 100 things…ha! I was going to change the world and on top of that make a million bucks before I turned thirty, get a Ph.D. in marriage family therapy and open a clinic, and yes read ALL of the classics. Good intentioned stuff. Afterwards the professor told us if we accomplished even a quarter of what we’d written on our lists, we’d be some of the most successful people around. But as I’ve come to experience life, I realize now his advice, however well-intentioned, was wrong.

Because “success” doesn’t come from ticking off a to-do list and it’s not about how much money you make or the degrees you acquire or the stuff you can cram into your days. Success has nothing to do with reading the classics, although it can, if it’s what you truly love and want to do.

Success has to come from within. It’s got to be your own vision of what you want for your life, not what someone else has defined or what society has defined. And here’s what my professor never told me about success (but I’m telling you): You can’t have it all. Not all at once and maybe never.

Alain de Botton in his lecture, A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy Of Success, shares this philosophy:

“You can’t be successful at everything. We hear a lot of talk about work balance. Nonsense. You can’t have it all. You can’t. So any vision of success has to admit what it’s losing out on.”

There is wisdom in accepting that you can’t do everything and anything. Knowing this will prevent guilt and discouragement. Thinking you can somehow balance a career and motherhood and eat vegan and keep up with Pinterest and still make time for yoga and whatever else is just not reality. It’s not fair. It’s like trying to enjoy the ocean view while you’re drowning.

Had I stuck to the list I wrote in college, I’d be in a very different place now. I wouldn’t have moved outside the US–I’d have been too busy getting degrees and forging my career–I might not have even had four children, I would have never met the people I’ve become friends with around the globe or gained an education gleaned by experience. I would have missed out on the best BEST parts of my life!

We use the term “Dream Big,” but what does that mean? How big? Why does it have to be so BIG? What would happen if we dreamed small…focused on one small but meaningful goal/project/endeavor and gave our energies to that?

Vincent Van Gogh said, “I am still far from being what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.”

In Van Gogh’s lifetime he never felt successful but he stayed passionately in pursuit of his one goal, his personal vision and gave the world not only his art, but perhaps more importantly, a model for what success means.

It’s important to strive. We should always be learning, always stretching ourselves. But stay open to the possibilities. Van Gogh also said, “I’m not an adventurer by choice but by fate.” In life we’re all fated to be adventurers. We all sojourn. Not one of us has the map from beginning to end. We forge ahead and when we reach unfamiliar terrain we have to slow down and take it one step at a time. But wherever you are in your journey, be thankful you’re on it. Be grateful you’ve got today and the next to be where you are, even if you’re not where you want to be yet.

The Roman philosopher Horace admonished,

“Whatever hour God has blessed you with, take it with grateful hand, nor postpone your joys from year to year, so that in whatever place you have been, you may say that you have lived happily.”

I’ve got my goals for 2015. I’m sure they won’t all go as planned, but I’m equally certain that whatever happens it will be exactly what needs to happen for me to grow and learn. What matters most, is that I’m with the people I love, doing the things I love. “I tell you, the more I think, the more I feel that there is nothing more artistic than to love people.” Van Gogh
“Be the author of your own ambition,” Alain de Botton says, “Make sure [y]our ideas of success are truly [y]our own.” If you do that then 2015 is going to be a great year; you can plan on it!

 

 

Five Hours

IMG_3627

FIVE. That’s how many hours, according to reports, we had of sunlight during the ENTIRE month of November. And it’s not looking much brighter for December. It’s dark. And it’s dreary. And I’m taking Vitamin D, holding out for “ski week” in February when you can betcha bottom dollar I won’t be skiing, but going someplace warm with sunshine. Hallelujah.

But I still love Sweden and the coziness of winter, (most days). Where else can you live where people light candles at the gym, outside the grocery store and even at the middle school cafeteria!?!? IMG_3746

I finished my semester at SARA (art school) last night. We each got a parting critique. Our latest drawing project was, of course, harder than the last. I’m still working on the lithograph of “the torso,” but that’s ok. I’m taking my time. The thing with art is, the moment you get comfortable you stretch again and challenge your self to do more, take your work further. It’s never easy. And Hans didn’t go easy on us in his critique. “Anything you do to the very best of your ability will NEVER be easy,” he said, urging us to be patient with our learning selves. Urging us to take our time. “Really see.” The hardest part is SEEING what’s actually there. Our memory plays tricks on us. We think an eye is supposed to look one way when in reality it’s another. In art you have to forget everything you think you know and focus on what’s in front of you. It’s practice for life.

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” Stephen Covey.

I don’t think Covey was an artist, but he knew something about the art of living. Assumptions are tricky. We don’t even know we have them. Is life the way we see it or are we shading things in, making it the way we want it to look? It’s something I’ve thought about with regards to art and whenever I encounter new people and different cultures. There’s only one assumption that’s safe to make: Everyone has a story. And more often than not, when someone shows great strength and compassion, it comes from a place that has been hard to travel.

My friend Kristina Korlof is a person of great strength and compassion. I spoke to her at church on Sunday and she told me her brother just published his book that was 15-years in the making, “Surviving Hitler,” a biography about her Hungarian Jewish mother who was taken captive and sent to Auschwitz prison camp and her Norwegian father, who as a young boy was forced to guard a Nazi prison camp and to escape, volunteered as a Waffen SS to fight at the front. They married shortly after the war, converted to Mormonism and eventually moved to Sweden. She offered me the words of advice her mother had taught her, advice learned during those darkest days: Evening always comes. No matter what happens during the day, evening always comes and a new day dawns. Simple wisdom, made more powerful because it came from someone who had to face truly horrific circumstances. It was a reminder to me that life is always a choice.

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” Carlos Castenada

Christmas, and the close of year, is the perfect time to reflect on life…past, present and future. It’s a nostalgic time. We watch shows we’ve watched a hundred times, with themes of loss (Frosty melts), regret (Scrooge), hope (Santa Claus comes to town) and gratitude (It’s a Wonderful Life). And we make goals for the New Year, or don’t, which is kind of like making a goal anyway.

For most of this year, I’ve been carrying around a quote on my phone by Denzel Washington.

“At the end of the day it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished…it’s about who you’ve lifted, up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

Put another way you could say, it’s about the energy you put into the world. Are we making the world a brighter place for someone else? What are we giving? My art teacher Hans says, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

We have to grow. We have to give. I can simplify matters here, just start by making a homemade gift. Easy right? It’s winter time, indoor time, why not put some energy into making something for someone? “Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul,” Alice Walker said, so bake some cookies, glue some ornaments, cut paper snowflakes and hang them in your window (or someone else’s window), crochet, make something from your Pinterest board—it’s making your soul better. Here’s some soul saving stuff I’ve been doing…

Bulky crochet scarf with coconut shell buttons…IMG_3906

Santa helper dress for my best little elf…

IMG_3874Marshmallow snowmen for hot chocolate…

IMG_3651Button tree ornaments…

IMG_3514 If crafting isn’t your thing, cook something, write something, research something. Grow, grow, grow. What do you love? Do it to the best of your ability. The first secret of life is believing that you can, (someone said that). “A life without love is like a year without summer,” Swedish wisdom. I KNOW what that feels like right about now. Find your summer and spread some of that sunshine to someone else!

Art Is A Battle

The 30-hour ankle is done. Actually, it’s never done. To get it perfect, I could have spent another several hours making tiny, minute changes that would still not have produced an exact match to the original Charles Bargue copy. But in the end, that wasn’t the point–to make a perfect match. The point was to get it as close to the original as possible while achieving something in the learning process. The point was to train the eye.

What I learned: Slow Down. Drawing requires the mind and the body to work together. The visual sense must first register what it sees so the hand can listen and the pencil can respond. It’s all very step 1, step 2, step 3. You can’t rush it or you’ll miss things. Patiently layering the HB graphite, I could achieve the necessary depth to transform the lead into the smooth soft stone of the cast.

The lesson of slowing down is essential and one I hope to remember. The other take-away: Art, as in life, will never be complete. When Sammy Davis Jr. was asked which of his songs was his favorite, he responded, “the next one.” There’s always more. It’s what we call self-mastery and it’s what makes life worth striving for: We don’t live to create, we create to live.

Creativity is an ongoing evolutionary process. It is a birthright. All children are born with the innate gift to create. They’ll do ANYTHING. Paint macaroni and string it on necklaces, run their hands through finger paint, glue glitter to paper hearts. We don’t need special permission to pick up a pen and write, or a pencil to draw. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to contribute.

If you think time is the enemy, your wrong, resistance is. Slow down. What do you want to create? The process of making anything, if done slowly, can be art. Art transcends time itself.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within yourself say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

As I move onto my next project, the words of Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, come to mind…

“I say let me never be complete, I say may I never be content, I say deliver me from Swedish furniture, I say deliver me from clever arts, I say deliver me from clear skin and perfect teeth, I say you have to give up! I say evolve, and let the chips fall where they may!”

Because at the end of the day, it’s all a fight and a struggle…but the battle is worth waging. IMG_3297

Respect Your Mistakes

The process of learning means you do something before you actually know how to do it. In other words, it’s just fine to make a mess. And messes I’ve been making. In my drawing course, I’ve been drawing an ankle for over 15 hours. Not all in one go, but during intense intervals of concentration. An ANKLE people! Which at one point looked like a cankle, but okay…and it seemed so simple at first. But now that I’ve spent ALL this time seeking total perfection, on an ankle, my view of drawing has changed everything; I mean everything. I’ve learned something, and it’s not just about drawing an ankle. I’ve learned I’ve got to respect my mistakes.

Mistakes are the starting point. They’re necessary–not figuratively, but in reality. When drawing, the artist has to make some initial marks on the paper in order to find the point of measurement to affix the plump line. The plumb line is the line that runs through the middle of the drawing and never, ever, EVER, changes. All the other points and marks originally made…they change. Those original marks are erased and adjusted hundreds of times. By definition they’re mistakes, but they’re not because you needed them. You get what I’m saying? In order to begin, you had to begin. The artist doesn’t just start the sketch at the perfect point, not usually, no way, it’s guess work and after years of training the eye, it goes faster, but it still starts with guess work.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” –Scott Adams

The drawing technique I’m referring to is the genius of Charles Bargue, a French artist who introduced his Cours de dessin (drawing course) in the late 1800’s. Since that time, his method for learning how to draw has been the standard used by countless artists, including Van Gogh.

The process is a very slow one. You can’t rush things. Seeing takes time. The artist’s eye must notice every curve, contour, slope, angle, turn and trajectory, while keeping in mind that anything can be changed. Every mark is a chess piece. Make a move and it sets off another. Draw and redraw. Match after match.

During the final stages of my sketch, I realized something about my ankle wasn’t right. The angle of the bone protruding from the tendon was a millimeter too narrow. How had I missed it? In a fit of frustration, I erased a long portion of my line just before my instructor came to critic my work. The first thing he asked when he sat at my easel was, “What happened to your line?”

I explained. It was “off” so I’d erased it. His response was a moment of clarity for me: “Always redraw the new line before you erase the old. Use the former as a guide. You must have respect for the lines you put down. That is what you chose to create, so respect it.”

Without the form of the bone, it was difficult to judge what else was going on in the picture. I needed the line as a reference point for the other distances and relationships. As I began to fix it, I considered my rush toward perfection, my frustration, and the word “respect.” Had I ever thought to respect the lines, the ones I’d been erasing? Had I seen the process for what it was—the objective—helping me become the artist I want to be?

That question led me to other questions. What else in my life had I drawn and what parts had I erased? Did I have respect for my choices, the ones I made using the skill set I had and the judgment I was capable of at the time?

And what about the lines I was drawing now with my actions–the path I was creating. Where was my plumb line?

The answers have come slowly over the past few days. What I’ve concluded is that living in an imperfect world doesn’t diminish my faith, it strengthens it. I can believe in a God who trusts in the process, a God who allows imperfections to exist so we can master the art of living. God never changes so we can. His love is constant. We aren’t. God doesn’t hold the measuring stick; He is the measuring stick…we chose where to plot the points.

My guess is that too often we view our mistakes as weaknesses, as something that is wrong. We think if we were better, more talented, gifted, intellectual then mistakes wouldn’t happen to us. Instead of respect, we regret the decisions which have shaped our learning process. But in the big picture of who we are, the mistakes are part of the final product—they’re beautiful.

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it,” said Salvador Dalí.

Perfection takes time, if it’s even possible. I don’t know. Maybe it is achievable in some aspects of life, but if it is to be achieved, then it can only be reached by making mistakes. One of my favorite artists Monet, once remarked, “My life has been nothing but a failure.” If that is true, then your greatest triumphs might just be your biggest mistakes. Respect where you’ve been. Use it as a guide for where you want to go. Erase and adjust. And so on…

 

 

 

 

The Things You Fear

“What are you willing to give up? How teachable are you?” Hans, my instructor asked, before we even put pencil to paper. Last week I began my art course at SARA, The Stockholm Academy of Realistic Art, a preliminary course intended for artists who want to apply to their three-year intensive program. I’d determined I was ready to take my art to the next level, but I’d been afraid too. Making this step took not only courage, but a lot of juggling with our family’s schedule. I was making a sacrifice and so were they. I’d made an investment in myself. I was here to learn, but I was also feeling the fear.

“The most difficult obstacle,” Hans continued, “is your own mind. Your mind will tell you it can’t be done, voices will urge you to give up…you’re too old, you’re too inexperienced, you’re not a quick learner, this is too impossible, the standards are too high.” I could feel my head nodding. I’d heard similar voices.

Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” calls this “resistance.” Resistance kicks in whenever we try to do something better, different, innovative, or “or evolve to a high[er] station morally, ethically, or spiritually.” If you’ve ever met with negative voices in your head, you know what I’m talking about. Pressfield’s rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the [more] Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” –Proverb

Success depends on getting out of your own way. Sometimes you just have to keep your head out of it. Put the ego in the back seat and let your soul drive. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, we were told to say our name and why we were in the course. Most said they were there to improve their “hobby.” One young blond Swede with hunched shoulders said he was going to “give it a try,” see how he liked it. The instructor said: “I don’t like the word try. You’re going to do it.” Gulp.

Another guy said he was scared to death to be there, but that he wanted to be an artist. His voice shook a little. I could feel his fear because it mirrored some of my own self-doubts. I admired his courage.

But fear isn’t all bad. Fear is the starting to point to great things. It’s what we feel when we risk change. If we stop at the point of fear, resistance wins. But if we know what we’re up against, know what fear is—the gateway—then we can perceive fear as a message. Fear is pointing the way to exactly where we need to go.

If you feel a lot of fear, then take it in degrees. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Dream BIG, but start small. In my drawing course we don’t begin with rendering the full human figure, we begin by copying a two-dimensional illustration of a hand. We spend enormous amounts of time training our eyes, breaking down the complex into the abstract. We look at the shapes of things, notice where they are in relationship to each other. It’s the way the Old Masters studied their craft, a technique that has been passed down through the ages. The standards are extremely high, but no one is expected to attain the skills overnight.

And what is the benefit of doing what we’re afraid of? The benefit is that you live. You LIVE and live more fully!

“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.”  –Abraham H Maslow

Remaining stuck in fear will cause all kinds of problems. They’ll take on different names, different forms, you’ll assign different reasons for the chaos in your life, blame others, anything that will make you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Resistance will tell whatever lie you will believe… until you stop listening.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” –Anais Nin

NOW, is a fantastic word. It’s the word we need to combat resistance. Because NOW, is now. Not yesterday or tomorrow and you can start now, to do whatever it is that you want to do. You don’t have to wait for anything. You don’t have to wait for problems to end, or children to grow up, or for the sun to come out, or for the holidays to be over… to begin. You just start now. Start small. Dream big. Take a risk. What is fear telling you not to do? Go do it.

Yeah, okay…I’m going to go draw now.

 

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