What the world needs now…

…is love, sweet love and let’s throw in some kindness, dammit!

Simple-minded, idealistic, naïve? Probably, but I don’t care. The last half of 2012 was knotted with acts of horrific violence, political stupidity and other depressing events. Throw in a suffocating sinus infection, a seriously ill relative, various personal woes and some raging hormones, and my usual optimism was sorely tested.Image

But something very special happened after the unthinkable tragedy in Connecticut. One of my favorite news personalities, Ann Curry, innocently sparked a movement of simple, healing kindness on Twitter. The hashtag featured by most participants was #26acts in honor of the 26 people that lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

To help mend our hearts, Curry encouraged people to go out and commit 26 random acts of kindness and report back. The response was awe-inspiring with people everywhere sharing actions as simple as lending an ear to a friend in need, to feeding someone’s parking meter, to financially generous gifts such as paying off Christmas layaway accounts and more. Here are just a few samples I’ve culled from the #26acts search…

“Gave some cupcakes to a couple of garbage men #26acts #feelingood

“Helped an older gentleman who was having difficulty reading food labels while grocery shopping #26Acts #DigRespect

#26Acts for Jan – #8 Helped a lady find her car in the Walmart parking lot. She was very lost!”

“my friend and i had no cash on hand and it was freezing. cab driver gave us a ride for free. promised we’d pay it forward #26acts

While I love the notion, I admit I’m uncomfortable with tooting one’s own horn. I feel it takes away from the beautiful anonymity of a simple, thoughtful act to tell everyone what you did, but Ann recognized that sentiment and urged people to share in order to inspire others.

Either way, the story reminded me of several acts throughout the years that were bestowed upon me and reinforced how good people really are. There was a few Christmases ago when I still owned a struggling art gallery and one of my artists walked in dressed as Santa. She handed me a card and wished us a Merry Christmas. After she left I opened it and found $250 in cash. My daughter asked why I was crying. This holiday season, we had snow and I went out to shovel my sidewalk only to discover it had already been cleared. I saw footsteps leading to my neighbor’s house and thanked her for the kindness, but she said it wasn’t her – that her walk was shoveled too. We looked and saw that someone had thoroughly shoveled the entire block.

Thanks to Curry’s idea I committed a few of my own random acts recently and she was right – each one helped warm my heart where the latest bleak headline had chilled it. It’s not a new notion to implore everyone to carry their holiday spirit throughout the year, but this is a movement that should know no season. The above samples all occurred in recent days and I think they’ll continue on.

As our country continues to square off over gun rights, taxes, or who should go to the Super Bowl (Denver, of course), I think we can all agree that being kind to one another is a human necessity.

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One of my daughter’s random acts last year. It contained everything but the kitchen sink.

Please share any random acts of kindness you were on the receiving end of that brightened your day or changed your life, be it yesterday or a decade ago. It’s amazing how someone’s thoughtfulness can stay with us forever. Then go and pay that blessing forward.

Happy New Year, my friends.

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Crawling out of my cave

Don’t you just hate when someone has brilliant ponderings about …well, everything, and they share it with the world in the form of a blog only to drop off the face of the earth?

Yeah, me too.

Not that I ever pretended to be fanatically regular about my thoughts, nevertheless I’m embarrassed about the gap between now and my last post. I actually have a whole list of subjects I needed/wanted to tackle such as the status of my 50 before 50 list (yes, my birthday was almost 6 months ago) or the top ten stories of my life in 2011.

So what happened? Life, of course.

I’m still writing for my day job but my creative writing – which includes this bloggy corner of my world – took a little hiatus. So much going on in the past several months but not enough time, energy, mojo or inspiration, I guess. (Just pick your excuse – I have extras.)

In this blog downtime: I’ve received an extra gig at work that involved a bit of a raise and a lot of mind-numbing meetings, continued mothering a very interesting, yet challenging child who has joined a local 4-H club (why did no one tell me what a HUGE commitment 4-H is? Hmm?), returned to the land of cable TV (and why did no one tell me about all of the midnight episodes of Househunters International?), fellinlove, unearthed the floor of my house, rediscovered my love for movies NOT made by Disney or Pixar, in a theater that SERVES WINE, and renewed my hatred of local wildlife with annual roof repairs resulting from four-legged attic squatters.

So frickin' cute UNLESS they are creating a timeshare in your attic with multiple entrances.

Among other things.

Some of the life lessons I’ve learned during this blog break? Let me share a few…

• The local school district spends an incredible amount of time discussing how much time they should spend discussing stuff. None of that stuff involved orange folders.

• 4-H is a wonderful organization for kids who love horses and other animals, but instilling its values in my kid involves a lot of time (in which I’ve discovered I’m not really a farm person. I KNOW, RIGHT!?) I wonder if we can incorporate the raccoons and squirrels tearing apart my house into a 4-H project?

• Now that the novelty of cable has worn off, I still watch the same handful of shows that I did before cable. Go figure.

• God surely intended grownup movies (not to be confused with adult movies) to be enjoyed in theaters that serve wine and I’m now annoyed by all other theaters.

• My daughter is a handful — no, wait. I already knew that. Fortunately, I adore that kid.

Twitter – creating love connections in 140 characters or less.

• Love is still as grand as it used to be — and yes, even better.

• Lastly, I’ve learned that except for the irritating AARP letters, life does indeed begin at 50.

And what have you been up to these many months??

 

The ugly truth about bridesmaid dresses

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

If you could see the entire dress (wedding #2) you'd understand why I was drinking. Photo courtesy of the Susan Richards Historical Society.

The history of the bridal party is a colorful one, with origins in the Anglo-Saxon era when a groom would abduct his bride from a nearby village. He’d enlist help, and this little army of kidnappers evolved into today’s groomsmen. The bride would have her own cadre of friends as well, but if the marriage was completed, they obviously weren’t of much help.

As punishment for the girlfriends’ ineffectiveness, the bride would insist they wear garments so hideous the groomsmen would have to look away, thus ensuring none of them were ever chosen for marriage.

All right, I might have embellished this historical fact just a little, but as a five-time also-ran, er… I mean bridesmaid, I consider myself a bit of an expert on the subject. There are all kinds of anecdotes on the origin of wedding gowns, rings, cake and more, but little has been written about the beleaguered women who assist the bride on her journey to the altar. Maids and matrons of honor and bridesmaids up the wazoo have stoically planned showers, soothed nerves and sup-ported brides throughout the years, only to be rewarded with frocks so bad there are websites dedicated to the phenomenon.

This is why it’s always a good idea for a bride-to-be to choose her closest friends and family to stand attendance at her wedding. Mere acquaintances will have a much harder time keeping a straight face when told that she can wear the dress again, it’s so pretty and practical. When my oldest friend (wedding #5) told me that my tea-length Jessica McClintock dress would definitely be worn again, I smiled and dreamed about all of the garden parties in Birmingham I’d no doubt be invited to.

The corner into which brides back themselves is often the number of bridesmaids chosen. Six or eight women are bound to possess six or eight body types and the most successful fashion designer in the world would be hard-pressed to find the perfect gown for each one. Such was the case with wedding #2 back in the early 1980s. The dress was so bad I didn’t even hide my reaction, but my friend waved me off and explained it was the only one that fit everyone, including her plus-size sisters.

I actually did wear that dress again. And again. The pink dotted-Swiss monstrosity with puffy sleeves and a crinoline-enhanced skirt made an excellent costume as Little Bo Peep, as well as a saloon girl when I volunteered at a mining camp festival for several summers. The first Halloween party was actually hosted by the newly wed couple so the look on her face was worth the cost of the dress.
According to my informal survey, mine wasn’t the only gown ripped out of a scene in “Gone with the Wind.”

“I wore one that was red satin — spectacular in every sense of the word. It had a deep cut back with a big bow at the butt and a princess neckline. I wore it the following Halloween as Scarlett O’Hara,” said a similarly punished bridesmaid.

The cocktail dress with separate floor-length skirt I wore in wedding #1 was the only one of all that I actually did wear again to social events. Sadly, the dress stayed in style longer than that particular marriage.

When considering the legend of the ugly bridesmaid dress, I have to question the bride’s motives. Is it so important to ensure being the center of attention that you’ll cover your best friends with fabric more suited for upholstery or colors not found in nature? One honest soul in my in-formal poll admitted she didn’t make the dress choice too bad, but definitely made sure they didn’t outshine hers.

Maybe it’s time for the soon-to-be-wed women of America to take another look at history. For many years, the attendants’ dresses were much like the bride’s own gown. This tradition was in-tended to confuse evil spirits or jealous suitors that might attempt to harm the newlyweds. Reviving this practice from days of yore would keep the happy couple safe and the bridesmaids happy. Win-win.

As long as I’m taking on tradition, I may as well pick a bone with the wedding industry itself. Is there a plausible reason – besides profit – why the guys can rent their tuxes and the women-in-waiting are required to drop a lot of cash on a dress, shoes and accessories to keep forever? The memories of the inevitable drama that arise when you throw several women and garish floral pat-terns together is enough. Must we also open our closet every day and be reminded of the fittings, the alterations, the expletives? I’m quite positive that we women can take better care of a rental dress than a half dozen overgrown frat boys can. Give us a try and you’ll see a happy, well-dressed bridal party.

This is what happens when hookers get hold of a cotton candy machine. Photo from uglydresses.com

In the interest of full disclosure, I am, as of today, always a bridesmaid – never a bride. However, I swear on a stack of Modern Bride magazines never to ask my dearest friend – just one, not six – to wear something I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I also promise not to utter the words “And you can wear it again!” unless I’m hosting a follow-up masquerade reception. Really, I do

Moving Write Along in ’11

Welcome to my New Year’s post for 2011! The next blog entry will be an in-depth look at procrastination and the havoc it wreaks on our society. In the meantime, simply pretend it’s not almost February and I’m not still mulling over edits to my 2009 New Year’s resolutions.

A bittersweet memory of the amazing space I once created. The hot chick on the right looks vaguely familiar. I think she used to drink all my wine.

In (belated) reflection, 2010 was a very transitional year for me – some good, some bad, all necessary. I closed my business in ‘09 and thought I had mourned its loss as briefly as possible, when in fact I had knit a cocoon the size of a doublewide trailer and
didn’t emerge for months. I had really tried to keep the momentum going and looked around for a new space, hosted an art show, made promises I couldn’t keep. I ignored how drained and demoralized I was until a few people and circumstances kicked my ass while I was already down. The cocoon was reinforced and a lovely therapist was enlisted to put up with my emo ass.
I was incredibly fortunate to already have a good part-time job while running my business, and my duties and hours at the newspaper expanded as I burrowed. My beautiful, smart, funny daughter also provided good reason to get up in the mornings. Then a funny thing happened early last year. My crazy community of Twitards migrated to Twitter and I gradually had new friends — friends who didn’t care what failures I was still bleeding over — friends who shared a glass of wine with me from six states away — friends who helped me give birth to my first novel. Priceless friends.
It’s too hard explaining fan fiction to someone who’s never heard of it, not to mention someone who thinks the craze over Twilight is incomprehensible (it is, actually, but after two-plus years, I’ve stopped worrying) so I’ll just direct you to their site if you’re not in the know. Long story short, I wrote a Twilight based story with an original premise called The Family Business. I finished it last November and I’m not going to spew false modesty: I’m really damn proud of it.
Writing that story was one of the best experiences of my creative life. It was a learning tool, a loving community project, an exercise in discipline and obligation, and most importantly, it was a catalyst for a new journey.
This new tease wooing my muse is the written word. The writer within me has flirted shamelessly throughout the years but I’ve studiously avoided considering it a serious suitor. Let’s face it, everyone thinks they can write and the statistics for being published are probably right up there with maintaining a profitable art gallery in the middle of a killer recession. *cough*
Besides The Family Business, I wrote a few other Twilight stories and came up with a half dozen interesting outlines for straight fiction. I returned to the novel I abandoned three years ago and am now approaching it differently, based on my experience. I’m writing more articles for the paper and I recently got a cool – albeit unpaid – blogging gig back in my former world of regional arts and culture.
I’ve since unraveled most of the cocoon and decided I’m still not strong or passionate enough to open another art gallery in the near future. That door isn’t locked but I’ve discovered that being responsible to my daughter and myself — emotionally, financially, and otherwise — is the best I can do right now.

Not the slippers I had in mind, but inexplicably inspiring. (Source: etsy)

Maybe a smart person would have licked their wounds, then went in search of a good secure position with 40 hours and benefits. Yeah, so I’m probably not smart, but I am creative. I write, I draw, I imagine, I tweet, I read YA fantasy, I revel in my kid and I most definitely do not color within the lines. I’ve unceremoniously tossed most of my resolutions in the dumpster and am focused on one: to someday soon work successfully and happily in my slippers. Cute slippers, without a hole in the toe like my current fugly ones.

Write on, 2011.

“Beautiful Darkness” illuminates

Reprinted with permission from the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

First, a few words… Being well past my teen years and having a daughter who isn’t there yet, *shudder* I really had no interest in the YA – or young adult – literature market. Then I drank that Twilight kool-aid and the rest is history. As a result of my – er – hobby, I’ve been exposed to several other popular books in this genre and recently had the opportunity to read the first half of the “Beautiful” series for my job. Poor me – reading for a living;)

A few years ago the term “YA” would have been lost on me, but I now know it’s the fast growing genre of books geared toward teenagers – or young adults as they prefer to be called. Now this market is populated with titles such as “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” which have blurred the lines of popularity, being read and loved by all ages.
Joining the supernatural YA party last year was the novel “Beautiful Creatures.” It was followed up a few weeks ago by the highly anticipated “Beautiful Darkness.” I read both to see what all the fuss was about and was beautifully enchanted.

The magical universe found in “Creatures” and “Darkness” was conjured by two good friends, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. In the imaginary town of Gatlin, South Carolina, the biggest excitement revolves around Civil War reenactments and pie-baking contests. Sixteen-year-old Ethan Wate was biding his time at Jackson High until he could escape after graduation. The new arrival at the beginning of his sophomore year changes everything, including his perspective of the backward little southern town his family had called home for generations.

Lena Duchannes is like nothing Gatlin has ever seen. She’s beautiful and quirky, deeper and more complex than the belles who rule the school. She’s also been haunting Ethan’s dreams before they even meet. Once they do — and inevitably fall in love — he finds out Lena is a Caster, ensconced in a family of other Casters and mythical creatures. The word caster refers to spells, a good euphemism because no one wants to introduce their new girlfriend as a witch.

“Beautiful Creatures” guides the reader on Ethan and Lena’s journey into love, magic and danger as Lena approaches her penultimate sixteenth birthday. It is then that her fate as a Caster is decided – she could go Dark or Light and I don’t mean her hair color. Her fate is inexorably tied to those around her and “Creatures” leaves us with tragedy and more questions as Gatlin’s secrets are slowly revealed.

The sequel opens with Ethan fervently hoping the changes in Lena’s mystical world won’t affect their strong, yet complicated bond, but of course there wouldn’t be a very long book without conflict and more danger.

Ethan’s hometown turns out to be even more cloaked in secrets than he could have imagined. People he’s known all his life have dimensions he must accept no matter how contrary they are to his long held perceptions. Even without the element of magic, this is something that teenagers struggle with every day. It’s always a shock to find out there is a person behind the name Mom or Dad – a person with loves, losses, secrets – a person with history.

The mother lost to Ethan before the series takes place is that person for him, and revelations about her and others in his family rock Ethan’s world as he fights to save Lena from herself.

The “Beautiful” series wins my praise for several reasons, one of the biggest being that it never talks down to its audience. Ethan is smart and so are many of the characters in his world, but there is nothing geeky or awkward about his intelligence. He accepts that there are bigger, better things waiting outside of Gatlin for him without a sense of arrogance.

Also, I was surprised to discover the stories – written by two women – were almost exclusively from Ethan’s perspective. They infused his voice with telltale male references without falling to stereotypes, thus making him believable and immensely likable.

One of the most interesting characters is Gatlin, the town itself. Although both authors now reside in California, there is a love of the south woven through the words of both books. Sometimes it mocks and teases, but with an underlying affection that makes me want to try fried green tomatoes.

“Beautiful Darkness” ties up some loose ends while unraveling many more. Fortunately there are two more books in the series which will publish over the next two years. There are some dark themes and violence in the books that may be too strong for sensitive, younger readers, but none of it is graphic or gratuitous. I recommend it for that coveted YA demographic as well as adults who like a good southern romance without the bodice ripping.

Besides creating a magical place with fascinating people, these books are extremely well written — never talking over or under the reader’s head. Start with “Beautiful Creatures” and you’ll soon want to add some magic to your shelf with “Beautiful Darkness.”

“Eclipse” brings the goods

And by ‘goods’ I mean much more Edward than we saw in “New Moon”

by SuzsPetals
(Reprinted in part from The Berthoud Weekly Surveyor)

Robert Pattions stars in "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" as Edward Cullen. Oh. And there are some other people in the movie too, as well as bad wigs. (Photo courtesy of RottenTomatoes.com)

It was the day before the midnight premiere of “The Twilight Sage: Eclipse” and like a good little fan, I had my tickets purchased and picked up. But when I went online and saw that the theater was up to six sold-out screens, I had to stop and wonder, “Am I too old for this shit?!”

Fortunately, my inner 16-year-old spoke up and assured me all was well with the continuing saga of my mid-life crisis. I more or less came out of the Twi-closet with my review of “New Moon,” the second installment of the wildly popular series of movies adapted from the wildly popular series of books by Stephenie Meyer.
June 29 was a similar scene to the last time my friends and I braved the midnight showing, but the crowd was even more diverse — all ages and both sexes were well represented. We also got similarly crappy seats because we preferred to have drinks across the street, rather than stand in line for an hour. See – being old has advantages over my inner teenager.

It’s a given that you don’t get to really enjoy the whole movie with an enthusiastic, opening night crowd. I shared the theater with a surprising majority of Team Jacob fans. Teenage girls around me were channeling horny construction workers, cat-calling and hooting each time Taylor Lautner appeared onscreen sans shirt. A second — probably third — viewing would be required to thoughtfully review this film.

Before even opening to the masses, “Eclipse” had been touted as the best of the series by critics and those who had been lucky enough to pre-screen. By using a different director for each film, Summit Entertainment has ensured they all have a different look, so I’m going to go on the record and plead apples and oranges. I adore Chris Weitz, I loved “New Moon” and I refuse to denigrate either.

That said, I give huge props to “Eclipse” director David Slade, and possibly chow down on a little crow. Slade helmed another vampire flick, “30 Days of Night,” and I was terrified after viewing it. Not of the movie itself, although it was dark, suspenseful and very gory, but that raised my fears of what kind of vision he would bring to the sparkly ones.

Yes, in case you weren’t aware, Twilight vampires sparkle in the sun. They also don’t have fangs or sleep in coffins. The main character — as well as his family — also doesn’t drink human blood, making him much easier for heroine Bella Swan to fall head over heels in love with. Her relationship with Edward, the gorgeous teenage vampire, has matured by “Eclipse” as they affectionately bicker about his reluctance to turn her into an immortal. Arguing his case for her prolonged humanity is Bella’s best friend — and werewolf — Jacob.

If a love triangle among mythical creatures wasn’t enough for a girl to deal with, an army of evil vampires is being created for the sole purpose of eliminating her from the population. Oh, and she’s about to graduate high school and we all remember how stressful that can be. (Or maybe that was just me and my inability to pass Advanced Yarn & Needle Arts.)

All of this potential conflict is probably the reason it’s the book in the series favored by most fans, and the movie promotes lots of action “for the guys” in hopes of broadening its audience. It definitely delivered in that arena. The battle scenes were exciting led by a much more animated Jackson Rathbone as Jasper.

I, however, preferred the more personal conflict in the story. The three main actors — Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner — have been together since the beginning of the saga, and their chemistry is probably the driving force behind its success. They play off each other so well that the relationships are as comfortable as the stories are to loyal Twilight fans.

I probably confessed this before, but I’m a hopeless romantic. Edward’s unwavering devotion to Bella — even when she inexplicably considers a life with her best friend, the mutt — never fails to elicit wistful sighs throughout the movie. Did I mention I’m Team Edward?

As much as I loved “Eclipse” there were, of course, a few things with which I took issue. First of all, these movies now boast huge budgets. Why are the wigs so hideous? Why are there wigs at all? Aren’t these actors paid enough to endure a little time in the chair for dye jobs or extensions? Just a thought, Summit.

Luckily for the fans, the cast has stayed almost completely intact since the first movie, so there was quite the uproar when the character of Victoria (Bella-hating, vengeful vamp) was recast for “Eclipse” with Bryce Dallas Howard. I like Howard fine, but I have to band with the die-hard Rachelle LeFevre fans and agree that the role should have stayed hers. She brought a feral intensity to “New Moon” that would have the made the final showdown with Edward all the better.

I had a whole paragraph planned here about how Robert Pattinson has fully realized the character of Edward and his scenes were nuanced with emotion and depth, whether sharing a tender moment with Stewart or angry confrontation with Lautner. Let’s just say there are a slew of other people milling about for two hours and then there’s Rob. (Insert inner 16-year-old fangirl sigh here.)

Now for the bad news for Saga fans — and let’s face it, the movies are made for the fans — the final installment “Breaking Dawn” won’t start filming until this fall and won’t release until November, 2011. Part one, that is, since the decision’s also been made to split the book into two films, ala “Harry Potter.” I disagree with this, but producers failed to ask my opinion.

What does this mean for this zealous, middle-aged fan? It means I have another two years, minimum, to blithely ignore the mocking and ribbing from friends, family and co-workers. And to watch the DVDs a lot.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” is rated PG-13 for some violence, mild language and lots of smooches.

Becoming a mother is like…

Becoming a mother is like painting a picture with my eyes closed.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to subtle influences from the ego when I decided to become a mother almost ten years ago. I’m sure many parents share that secret and cliché dream of molding an unborn child into an interesting little reflection of ourselves. Yes, I would take my future daughter to art museums, read to her each night, thereby nurturing her love of books, and impart every silly and wise thing I’d learned in forty-plus years.

Then came the day I received my beautiful little canvas. Already ten-months-old, she had a vivid base coat with daubs of color and character. Hey, I could work with that — I had brushes, paints — tools passed to me by books, other mothers, my mother.

In reverence for this chubby, beautiful gift, I closed my eyes and lifted my brush. And as a mother I discovered what I already knew as an artist: The most spectacular works of art paint themselves.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the get born moms out there. For amazing insights on becoming a mother and really cool give-aways, visit www.getbornmag.com this week.

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