Living with intention

I had to print out a list of March birthdays for my coworker the other day and I looked at her with genuine confusion.

“How did that happen? I just did February’s last…?”

She politely explained how March follows February but I was still stuck on how fast time is flying and how easily thrown I am by such passage. Is that an age thing?

What’s bothering me most about this obnoxious habit the days have of blurring and fading is the fact that I’m passively letting it happen to me. I made a monumental life decision last year and I worry that was the last conscious action I took on my own behalf. Since then I landed in a job I detest because it was offered to me, I’ve taken steps that have been presented to me by professionals because I doubt my own ability to know what’s best as a parent, and I live in a place that’s nice enough but screams temporary from the carefully stowed unpacked boxes to the rent I can’t afford.

If all that weren’t enough, I’m still grappling with the monumental decision of WHAT DO I WANT TO DO WITH MY LIFE? I’m mature enough to know that moving to Arizona for the love of a man is not the answer to that question. That aspect is just supposed to enrich the direction in which that question would take me.

Playing the game with intention… and style.

The answer I did figure out, however, was that the last seven months (let’s be honest, it’s been much longer than that) has been virtually void of intention. I’ve bounced off of circumstances, necessity, and denial like some sort of whacked out pinball ball.

“Ooh, I’d like to resume a freelance career on the side but I just got nailed by that kid drama!”

“I really need to lose weight and get more rest but *ding ding* I have too much stress to take better care of myself just yet.”

It’s always something, out of my control and loud and flashy and annoying, that I seem powerless to overcome and just. Get. It. Done.

Bull shit.

I want to live my “new” life with intention, not at the whim of the levers and bumpers. I start a new job this week and I welcome my daughter home from spring break with fresh resolve to make our lives less drama-driven. Arizona is a beautiful place that feels more like home every day.

Rather than flinching at the bells and buzzers, I’m going to start enjoying the game and shooting for high score.

#museclues · Art and Culture · writing

Creative Crackdown — #museclues

I swear the glass isn’t the size of my head. Although I’d be okay with that.

I’d love to blame my current problems and frustrations on writer’s block or an MIA muse, but as most creatives will tell you, if you don’t work the muscle it simply atrophies. Staring at my blank canvas or page, waiting for inspiration to smack me in the face, usually results in the decision to pour a glass of wine and see what everyone’s talking about on twitter. Flash forward two hours and there is still a blank canvas/page, rolling its inanimate eyes in we’ve-been-down-this-road-before amusement.

In other words, there may not be a mystical muse to blame for my current state of overwhelming frustration and general dissatisfaction. Just me.

Well, crap.

So when I turned 52 yesterday [GULP, I really need to start lying about my age] and had just received $52 from mom to spend at will, I went to the local bookstore seeking inspiration. I didn’t buy any books but I did find some cool ideas for free. Then I went to the local arts and crafts store that doesn’t open on Sundays and doesn’t want to pay for their employees’ birth control which is fine but then don’t bitch about abortion and I eventually digressed down several aisles before spending $53 on art supplies in the full-scale hunt for my mystical, hooky-playing muse.

So here’s my plan: Create something every single damn day until I’ve retrieved the passion and confidence that has taken an extended hike in the past few years. I know I suck at NaNoWriMo and I know my schedule and resources would make a Painting-A-Day difficult to keep up with, so I’m committing to SOMETHING CREATIVE every day and I’ll be accountable by posting it online at my creative blog AndSuzSays.com. Every day.

[[[ I’ll just keep repeating that until I stop hyperventilating at the mere thought ]]]

I’m sure 52 will be as much of a hot mess as this first painting attempt is. I’m okay with that too.

Day 1: Last night I took a selfie of me and my first glass of wine as I “celebrated” the passage of time. Today I celebrated my daily #museclues with a painting of that photo. It’s not really finished because I got so zealous with the oils it was impossible to add details, but you get the idea… It’s a start.

I’ll be posting a blog, essay, story, drawing, painting or SOMETHING CREATIVE each day and tweeting it if anyone is interested, but mainly it’s simply a cheap ploy to lure my muse out of hiding and help me figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up. Which I think happens at 53 so I better hurry…


Is it HOT enough for ya?!

This isn't me because this wouldn't be water in that bottle. Just sayin'...
This isn’t me and if it was there wouldn’t be water in that bottle. Just sayin’…

There aren’t enough cliches for the heat in Arizona in the summer time. I know — I heard them all when I moved here at the end of July. But I guess I can stand it because I’m not getting out of the kitchen any time soon.

Unfortunately, the heat doesn’t just apply to the temperature. I’m not gonna lie, It’s been hell.

Since I arrived, I’ve learned that parenting a challenging child is the toughest job I’ll ever do, blending families isn’t easy, finding fulfilling employment with zero local contacts is impossible, renting out your house from 800 miles away is stupid, making new friends at my age is awkward, money doesn’t grow on cactus any more than it does on trees, the sun is hot, water is wet and several other profound truths I can’t recall at the moment.

Fortunately, there have been some signs of improvement with the mad middle-schooler, a job was eventually secured, I’m not homeless, November started off in the mid-80s with no foreseeable forecast of snow, and the main reason I moved here is still my main squeeze in spite of it all. Crazy man.

So maybe I can stand the heat after all, stay in the kitchen a little longer, while resisting temptation to stick my head in the oven. (Because it’s electric and I need to ration the power for the air conditioning.) Obviously.

Art and Culture · Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · writing

Post-hibernation homework

Published with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

After a few heartbreaking false starts, it appears that spring may finally be ready to stick around. Well, at least until it snows tomorrow. I can handle precipitation as long as it’s not frozen and accompanied by frigid winds. I’m more than a little whiny these days.

With the warm-up, I can tell it’s not just my attitude that needs adjusting, but my creativity as well. After a while of everything being brown or white, I’m simply not as inspired – be it words, art, music or other forms of expression – I’m just not feeling it.

Don’t be late for this very important date… with your creative self.

If you’re the same way, crawling out of your figurative cave this spring, I have some post-hibernation homework for you: make a date with yourself.

Years ago I read an amazing book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and I’ve carried some of the most inspiring points with me since then, one of them being an artist date. Cameron is primarily a writer but the spirit of the book and the artist date is really for all types of creative people – and in my humble opinion, we’re all creative no matter what shape that may take.

Unfortunately we’re all too often waylaid by work, family, obligation – or in my case, winter blues – to get those juices flowing and we need to assign ourselves the task of stimulating those senses again. It won’t take a lot of time and it may even be something you’ve already scheduled. The key is opening your eyes and looking at the world a little differently.

Start with an hour a week and designate that time as your creativity date. One of my favorite places to start is the local thrift or antique store. Look past the junk that no one else wants or the dated dishes and clothes that make you cringe.

Look for the treasure. Think about the history behind an unusual knick-knack. Imagine the story behind the old book with the personal inscription. Appreciate the intricate pattern on a single dish that survived from a whole set of old china.

When the weather is finally cooperative, take a walk – just you and your imagination. Along with your stiff legs, you’ll feel your creativity stretch and yawn while you look at the dark bare branches lacing against the sky, their buds not quite visible to those in a hurry. Really admire the mosaic of decades-old flagstone that graces so many of the streets in Berthoud. (No really, look at them and make sure you don’t trip on an uneven edge while looking at the trees.)

Sometimes the date can be less abstract and you can take the time to fully enjoy the arts as created by others. When the kids are in school, spend an afternoon in the theater with a small independent film that has the critics buzzing. Speaking of kids, the Annual Thompson School District art show “Look. Think. Make. Connect!” is at the Loveland Museum/Gallery through April 14. You will be awestruck and inspired by the talent of our regional youth.

So many stories... one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)
So many stories… one of them could be yours. (What is that weird black thing on the table?)

The Longmont Library is holding a festival this month that includes a talk and slide show with renowned Colorado author and photographer John Fielder on April 17. Any library is actually a gold mine for creative dates. I’ve been known to walk the stacks without purpose, just looking at all the books and seeing what subject sparked my curiosity.

You get the idea. You don’t need to be a writer or painter or musician, but may just need a seasonal jumpstart to your creativity. So here’s your assignment, if you choose to accept it: take an hour this week just for you and your winter-worn imagination. Work that intangible muscle and see what tangible impact it has on the rest of your life. It’s an easy A.

Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · weddings

Matrimony: The Musical?

For someone who has never been married I seemingly have a lot to say about the Big Day, thanks in part to the Surveyor‘s annual bridal section. If you like this musing on music, you may enjoy my thoughts on ugly bridesmaid dresses.

…but not necessarily the feelings I would want on my special day.

No wedding reception is complete without romantic music and cheesy ballads to accompany the newly wedded couple and their guests as they sway in time — or possibly in direct proportion to their alcohol consumption. Song lists for the festivities can be just as important as finding the ugliest bridesmaid dresses on the market for your “besties.”
Depending on your budget or your love of Adam Sandler movies, you can choose from an mp3 player containing your playlist and blasted from a speaker system, to a professional DJ, to a tuxedoed crooner who may offer his own interesting renditions of the classics. Whichever way, if there’s a party following the nuptials you’ve gotta have tunes.
The most important song is probably the first dance for the newlyweds. It should be special to both parties, romantic, and not too long. You don’t want to have to gaze into each other’s eyes eternally while the guests are raiding the open bar.
Some timeless favorites are “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” by Elvis, “Just the Way You Are,” by Billy Joel, or if you’re a late bloomer, “At Last,” by Etta James. “Nothing Compares 2 You,” by Sinead O’Connor topped one list of popular wedding songs, but if you’ve actually listened to the lyrics it’s more of an eat-a-gallon-of-ice-cream-he-left-me song than let’s-spend-the-rest-of-our-days-together.
An informal poll of couples of all ages revealed that people have very personal connections to certain songs, not to mention a marvelous sense of humor. Choices included Boney M’s “Rasputin,” “So Rot” by Subway to Sally, the medal ceremony music from “Star Wars,” and one song from Slayer that gave me nightmares. One woman I know *cough*my sister*cough* included Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” at her second wedding, which turned out to be a little too prophetic … six months later. Ah, crazy kids in love. (Google these songs at your own risk.)
In recent years there’s a trend of contemporary songs recorded specifically targeting marrieds-to-be, in case you don’t have the imagination to pull off “#1 Crush” by Garbage. These heart-melters include “Marry You,” by Bruno Mars, “Marry Me,” by Train or “Just Say Yes,” by Snow Patrol, all with explicit instructions imbedded in the lyrics and titles. How long do you want to be with your betrothed? “1.000 Years,” according to Christina Perri.
If you need a little more direction, Amazon and iTunes conveniently provide themed collections and song lists as long as the bride’s train.

Drink enough champagne and you don't even need the groom. Do the bridesmaid boogie...
Drink enough champagne and you don’t even need the groom. Do the bridesmaid boogie…

Sure, instrumentals or classics like “Here Comes the Bride” are great for the processional music to set the hushed tone of awe for the ceremony, but what a couple dances to — and chooses for their guests to dance to — is what makes memories. Have fun choosing the music for the daughter-father dance, the dance that is guaranteed to spark something between bridesmaid #3 and the best man, or the final song before calling it a night. And maybe for inspiration, kick things off with Pink’s anthem, “Get the Party Started.”

Berthoud Weekly Surveyor · opinion

Concerning cup holders

Reprinted with permission of the Berthoud Surveyor

My 14-year-old car is perfect in many ways. I’ve had to do minimal maintenance on it beyond the usual and it’s only stranded me once. It’s not very pretty anymore but I do my best thinking in the dinged up Honda sedan and I dread the day I have to retire Snowbell. (Yes, Snowbell.)
The one notable problem with my car is that the interior has been bathed in so many beverages – mainly coffee and soda – that I’m sure I’ll never get it perfectly clean. The poor excuse for cup holders molded into the console is the glaring flaw in the car.
to go cupI hate them. They’re two different sizes and neither is the right size for any can of soda or average thermal coffee mug, which means the first corner I take results in tipped containers and flying liquid. If I’m lucky, it spills into the passenger side, but usually it’s on my leg. I’ve trained myself over the years to turn with one hand and hold the precarious coffee with the other, a technique that would surely be frowned upon by the state patrol.
I’m not sure when my next vehicle purchase will become necessary but I’ve vowed for years that the decision will center on the all-important cup holders. Of course mileage, reliability and horsepower will be taken into consideration, but no more caramel-macchiato-soaked pants for me. And I don’t think I’m alone in this automotive quest.
“It can make or break the deal,” agreed Lewie Puckett, the new car manager at Valley Nissan in Longmont. He explained that some car shoppers will research the car thoroughly online but decide against the vehicle once they see the cup holder situation in person. He added that the manufacturers definitely talk about the importance of the beverage storage.
Chris Gebhardt of Subaru of Loveland said it’s usually quantity over quality, with his buyers making sure there are enough in the back seat to accommodate passengers. As for the evolution of the cup holder, Gebhardt said, “They’ve definitely improved.”
Remember the flimsy plastic ones we used to hang on the door that never fit right or stayed put? Only slightly worse than mine.
The quantity and quality have not only improved, but exceeded my imagination. Many vehicles now offer beverage containers that keep your coffee warm, your water cool, and your drinks illuminated for easy night-time access. And if you have a big, thirsty brood, you may want to check out the Toyota Land Cruiser which has a full dozen holders.
We’re a mobile species, and many people in Northern Colorado commute substantial distances to their jobs or even use their vehicles as offices-on-the-go. The importance of the cup holder cannot be exaggerated. In fact, I suggest you bring your favorite souvenir insulated coffee cup to your next test drive.salesman
And while the law against texting-while-driving is a no-brainer, I urge legislators to look at the size and shape of vehicle cup holders for the next line of defense against careless driving. Or I could stop taking my coffee with me in the mornings, but that’s just crazy talk.

Christmas · opinion · writing

I’m dreaming of a Skype Christmas

Reprinted with permission by the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor

Home for the holidays is a popular wish for many, though not always possible due to circumstances such as distance, work, weather and even war. Years ago the only way to bridge those distances was letter writing or expensive long-distance phone calls. Sentimental carols like “White Christmas” or my personal favorite, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” made the longing that much more poignant.

I always knew the holidays had arrived when I saw the commercial where the college boy arrives home to make coffee and surprise his family. Tears were guaranteed.

Let’s pretend I cry this pretty.

Now I’m assured an emotional meltdown by the recent commercial of ongoing conversations between a college girl and her widower father, via computer. What can I say — I’m an easy consumer target as soon as the first hall is decked.

Times they are a-changing.

The last two decades have seen a growth in technology that has changed the world and made the simple desire to be “home for the holidays” possible in spite of the miles. Cell phones, Internet service and social media have connected us on a global level. In 2003, three Estonian software developers released Skype, an application allowing proprietary voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP). Not only does the software allow instant messaging and voice calls, but with Web camera hardware on the computer or phone, callers can see their loved one on the other end in beautiful — sometimes blurry and possibly behind a second or two — living color.

Skype eventually garnered more than 600 million users and was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for 8.5 billion dollars. Several competitive applications have been developed since then, including Apple’s version, FaceTime. The customer need only download the free software and create an account, then add contacts to their list. If both parties use the video chat, they can talk face-to-face on computers or even smart phones. The bigger and better the screen, the closer the other person feels.

Besides enhancing long distance relationships everywhere, Skype has become an invaluable business and educational tool. Employers have used it to interview prospective hires without the expense of flying them in from elsewhere and, with multiple connections allowed, audio conferencing with far-flung participants is possible. It’s even been used to assist in language exchange for students around the world.

For those of us who dream of going to the cyber office in pajamas and bunny slippers, Skype meetings make that possible. Just put on a nice shirt, wipe the oatmeal from your chin and no one’s the wiser.

They’re not hanging on every word of your presentation…
they’re wondering if you have pants on.

Professional tip: don’t stand up unless you’re positively disconnected.

Being far from those we love at the holidays can definitely be made easier with video calling. Imagine the joy of seeing your niece open her gift while you watch her reaction, or sharing a New Year’s kiss with your boyfriend while on separate coasts. Enjoy a little sibling competition by comparing the golden hues of your Thanksgiving turkey with your sister in Buffalo.

Personal tip: if you’re Skyping with grandma while wearing the hideous snowman sweater she sent that you have no intention of keeping, be sure to hide the price tag and horrified expression.

Yes, technology is a wonderful thing at the holidays, but it’s still not perfect.