Mailing Christmas Gifts…a true story

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The line at the post office today, Saturday morning, was moderate – only about 15 people when I got there, at 9 am when it opened, but rapidly growing out the door as we stood waiting for our turns.

Among the various people in line was a woman on oxygen, a pleasant looking elderly gentleman in front of me with rosy cheeks and white hair (who actually looked a lot like Santa Claus), several women carrying lots of boxes to send, a huge tall man carrying one tiny little package and a lady who was already talking to anyone who would respond to her, making remarks about her career in the Marine core which was followed by an account of her many years working for the United States Post Office and then a current third career as a substitute teacher for kindergartners. She had to tell everyone about the kindergartners now days; how precocious they are and how advanced in their knowledge of the world they are. How cute, but how rambunctious and challenging they are.

The elderly gentleman in front of me chimed in and said that her job at the post office must have been quite difficult at Christmas time, and so then she told a few funny stories from back in the day when everything was simpler and easier during the holidays. She went on to say that now everything is computerized, but somehow things are more complicated than ever and they still get screwed up.

“I remember Lindberg’s flight,” the gentleman said, sort of placing his age on the timeline of life.

“Well he was a Nazi, you know,” she said.

The gentleman ignored that remark and said, “And I don’t even own a computer. I refuse. I do not want to learn about computers.”

“Well some day soon a computer will be installed in every home and it will be automatic that you have a computer and that you must learn to use one,” the lady ex-Marine/kindergarten teacher said to him….smiling.

“Oh I doubt very much that I will live that long,” the elderly gentleman answered.

Another person from behind us in the line chimed in, “Oh yes you will! You are lookin” pretty fit!”

That got a faint smile out of the gentleman.

Soon the entire line was in a group conversation; everyone contributing, laughing and talking to each other. It was a lovely thing to be a part of.

When the elderly gentleman got up to the counter for his turn, he put down in front of the postal clerk an assortment of mailed items – mailed by him – that had all been returned back to him by the USPS for some unknown reason. The postal clerk was aghast! How could that happen? He said that everything was in order on the computer, all addresses correct, all postage charges exactly as they should be so the problem was not postage due, and he could not understand why everything had been returned! The elderly gentleman said he was quite concerned because one of the packages was going to his daughter and it was very important – it contained his Will. How could he be sure it would get there the second time?

The clerk re-stamped everything, re-mailed it all again, assured the gentleman that all was perfectly correct, and as the elderly gentleman left everyone in line shook his hand and wished him a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS and MANY MORE.

 

 

 

 

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The After Party Before the Next Party

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Well it’s all over now until it is New Years Eve…the aftermath of a lovely Christmas is to me a sigh of relief that all went well, a clean kitchen (finally) and a few days of delightfully normal food to stabilize, everyone safely home from their holiday travels and a ticket in my hand for Hawaii in February. Here in Denver it is currently 7 degrees with light snow falling, and we are losing ground – soon we will have no degrees left unless they are minus. Tomorrow night we are told to expect 15-20 below zero. I have enclosed a cell phone shot looking out of my upstairs studio window. Please excuse the quality but in this case it almost enhances the image….a sugar plum, sparkling blue and white 4 pm scene, when the snow is dry and powdery as stardust. You would almost think that everything is right with the world on a peaceful day like this.

As I sit in my studio, especially in this type of weather, writing my book and taking intermissions from it to paint, I feel fortunate to have both of those pursuits to choose from. It is a luxury to have the time, the warm and cozy space, the inspiration, dinner on the stove and a lot of friends and family who care enough to check in with me once in a while. I feel wealthy in these conditions with those blessings.

My New Year’s wish for all of you is much the same. As the Christmases pile up into nearly a full lifetime, the urgency of time settles in, and I hope you are as inspired as I am to make every moment count. Even if all you are doing is sitting quietly looking out the window at nothing in particular, if you are thankful and cognizant of your blessings, it counts as quality time in my book. In 2015 I plan to use my days wisely, spending them on worthy pursuits, great friends and family, and thankfulness.

Happy New Year!

Jo

The Wonders of the World

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Photos taken are from the Denver area and Conifer, Colorado

Here we are in late December about to celebrate Christmas and fortunate to be living in the United States of America at a particularly daunting time in history. The world around us churns with random chaos and mayhem, and yet, for the most part, we are able to enjoy our holidays in comfort and joy. This year, as always, my family is all over the world map visiting exotic places where both work and play summon them. Their passports are getting full; one had to be replaced with a new one this year. We are a close family that keeps in almost daily touch with each other, but we are seldom together as a group during the holidays. Christmas is a difficult occasion for me, the older I get, but I am so very thankful that we all live lives rich in unique experiences that includes acquaintances and friends from all over the globe.

Many of our favorite blogs involve travel, and travel in these precarious times is both a luxury and a risk, whether or not you are going out of the country. My family and I  have learned volumes from our travels. My two grown children in particular have been shining examples – respectful and constantly fascinated travelers/ambassadors for the United States of America wherever they go, and they go to some especially unusual places – Yemen, Madagascar, the Arctic Circle, Myanmar and Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Gabon, Irag, Kurdistan, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Viet nam and the list goes on. You would have to know them and hear their stories to realize that they make friends of every person they encounter, and my family does indeed know that for sure, having heard their tales ranging from the hair-raising to the miraculous for many years now. They have gone to places where Americans might not be welcomed, maintaining their dignity and  compassion, knowing that government does not always represent people. They have made lasting friends in all walks of life and with people quite eager to meet Americans and ask questions of them despite the official tone of the location.

My son happened to be in Poland on business when 9/11 occurred, and received the warmest comfort and the most profound sympathy and understanding during his stay there, as his home country was brought to its knees. People are people everywhere.

Christmas always leaves me sentimental and missing my nearest and dearest, but what our family has gained by being away far outweighs my temporary sadness. I am partly responsible for all this distance, instilling in my children a sense of adventure and discovery from the time they could walk. The wonders of their traveling lives are instantly revealed to me via Instagram and text messages until I can see them again, and I find myself wondering how people ever endured such distance without the constant  ability to be in touch. We are so fortunate.

I wish all of you around the world a loving and meaningful holiday season in a safe place with the ones you love the most!

The Creative Epiphany – Creativity is Kept Alive With a Youthful Heart

 Photo courtesy of funstuffblogandreviews.wordpress.com

This time of year is especially appropriate for allowing your inner child to surface – all you have to do is to dig deep and remember the wonder of Christmas Eve. The excitement, the anticipation, the joy of that time in your childhood comes rushing back as if it were yesterday, and if you have children or grandchildren or even little friends who are going to experience that precious time then you are fortunate indeed to see it again through those innocent eyes. Seek that out, cherish it and use it to fuel your creativity.

What separates the older “grumps” from the older but still “young-at-hearts” among us lies in our ability to recollect, imagine and live again as if “for the first time”  the meaningful and memorable windows in time when we were the most engaged, inspired and  impressed. Lucky be you if you have some of those special moments in time to recall; I know there are those out there who do not. And If you do not, your job is to find special moments now…that is your mission…make up for lost time…live milestone moments again the way you want them to be. Get it right and hang on to it while you can. Be young at heart.

I have always believed that as creative people our BFF – best friend forever – is imagination. I have written about imagination before in these blog posts, clarifying her relationship with creativity. Those two beautiful qualities do go hand in hand. And so if your imagination is running on empty, if you have gotten a little rusty in the day-dreaming department, or if you have allowed the stark reality of things to get its icy grip on you, you are probably missing the creativity also. Pessimism is your worst enemy when your creativity is taking a leave of absence. Creativity will not feel welcome when you are bleak with pessimism. Kids are seldom pessimistic. The hopes, the dreams, the fascination with the smallest details, the amazement at each unfolding day is what children manifest for us. How long has it been since you talked to a 5 year old? Spend 10 minutes at that and you are made of stone if you are not smiling and engaged and wanting more of that magical stuff.

When I paint with my adorable, 5 year old, curly-haired niece, we mix colors – red and blue make purple, her favorite, and her eyes widen in surprise. Yellow and blue make green – astonishing! MAGIC! Several weeks later she asks me, “How can we make white? I am all out of white.”

She asks us all, gathered around the table for Thanksgiving, when the pilgrims are going to join us for the feast. Good question. I wonder where they are. They are late. Wonder if they’ll be here in time for the pumpkin pie.

Without this in my life I would shrivel and die a little,  bit by bit. It is one of the reasons I moved back to Denver – I missed the  children in my family, having lived in a 55 and older community for about 3 years. No Halloween. No Easter egg hunts and no Christmas Eve spent tracking Santa and putting the cookies and milk out on the hearth. Some of this needs to rub off on us if we are to remain truly alive and engaged in all the stages of life. For every thing there is a season and a reason.

This quote was recently brought to my attention by a dear friend and fellow artist:
Science fiction author Ursula Le Guin wrote, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Wise artists practice daily with their inner youngster, and the task doesn’t lighten with success. Your child may slip into the shadows when more pressing professional concerns take hold.  Excerpted from the online newsletter of Canadian Artist Robert Genn.  Visit his website at http://www.robertgenn.com

Pablo Picasso had something to say on the subject as well: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”Pablo Picasso (Spanish cubist painter, 1881-1973)

I encourage you to live in the NOW of this joyful season. Don’t be the rain on anyone’s parade! Whether or not the Christmas season coincides with your personal beliefs, choose the “good tidings of great joy” section of the celebrations and ride along on that. Find your innocent and wondrous inner child and use it for the greater good, because you can’t go wrong with that, and your creativity will thank you for it….BELIEVE.

The Creative Epiphany – Santa, Am I Being Punished?

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This is a very stressful and patience-testing time of year. So much to remember to do, so little time and money and endurance with which to do it. Everybody has their way of coping, and those who do not find one single coping mechanism that works are going to be nuts by January 1st. I am on my way to the loony bin.

The season started off with bitter freezing weather here in Colorado and I got a split in the skin on the tip of my thumb that looks like a bloody crevasse. How can something that small hurt so much? I would rather have childbirth with no painkiller than this thumb wound. I have used Vaseline, Neosporin, Chap Stick and Aveeno dry skin ream – tried each one of those remedies overnight with a Band-Aid over it and woke up all mended, but by the middle of the next afternoon it has split open again. It is now December 16th and it is still re-opening nearly every afternoon about 3 pm no matter what I am doing. I could even be motionless and it will flop open… Super Glue? This aggravation does cause crankiness – by the third week of it I was snarling and wishing bad things upon other people – hoping Miley Cyprus would not be able to think of another single attention getting stunt ever again because her creativity would dry up like a crack in the desert soil, and like my thumb. I was also wishing hard that Justin Bieber would lose his driver’s license –  really, is that a mean thought? It might potentially save dozens of lives. He is so young – he’d get over it with no harm done. He needs to have a toy other than a speeding careening car. This is now almost the 4th week of the split thumb and I want to punch something.

I bought a huge sack of white styrofoam peanuts ( we used to call it ghost poop when the kids were growing up) because I had to pack a big fragile thing for shipping. Temporarily I sat it up on the shelf in the walk-in closet, only to find the next morning that it had somehow popped open and had vomited those cheeto-like things all over the place –  even behind stuff that I never even move. It practically filled up the entire closet. How could it do that? The bag that I had safely brought home from the shipping store had emptied itself out! I live by myself! Is it really ghost poop, I had to wonder? Do I have a ghost?

Putting away a large spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner with vinegar, on the high shelf above the washer & dryer, I missed my mark and dropped it, and heard it fall down behind the washer – which might as well be all the way to China, because I can’t move the washer and my arm is not long enough to get down behind it. I decide to wait until my son comes home for Christmas to retrieve it for me. In the meantime, the next morning, I do a load of laundry wondering vaguely, in the recesses of my cob-webby busy mind, why the laundry detergent smells different. After the load is done I pull clothes out of the washer, including a badly mangled spray bottle, in amazement that it landed THERE inside the washer rather than behind the washer, and find that the entire bottle of cleaning solution with vinegar has lost its contents on a load full of blacks. I could have sworn it went down behind, not inside. I am beginning to think I am crazy. The clothes smelled horrible and I had to wash them 3 more times.

I worked myself into a slow simmer when I heard on TV that a young punk kid, barely old enough to drive, who killed 4 people when he was driving a car at 3 times the acceptable limit for alcohol was given probation by a judge who said he was a victim of AFFLUENZA – and therefor not responsible for his actions – because he is from an affluent wealthy wealthy wealthy family who never taught him right from wrong and had him living in a mansion all by himself with no supervision whatsoever. So he was let off the hook. For 4 lives. Have we all gone insane? Where are the parents? Why are they not interviewing those people? Why can’t they be tried if the kid gets off?

I am out doing errands in the car, starting with the gas station. The guy in front of me is having a hard time with his credit card or something and so I decide to change lanes and  back up to go to another pump. I look over my shoulder before I put it in reverse, I check the other side – all clear – I go backwards and instantly feel and hear a crunch as I hit the fender of a car. WHAT? HUH??? I jump out and run over to her and I say, “I am soooo sorry! I looked behind me but I didn’t see any car!!” She answers, very calmly, “Well I was just pulling in – I saw you moving toward me but I pulled in anyway!” HUH??? Who does that? Can you not wait for 3 more seconds when a car is moving toward you to avoid a collision? You can’t? What is the matter with you?

Home from my errands, I file an accidental fender bender report on the computer…instead of waiting to make myself a healthy dinner after I’m done with that, I grab a handful of “you can’t take just one” carmel and nut popcorn. I get a piece caught in my last molar on the left side, I reach in to loosen it with my finger, and a hunk of my tooth comes out with it. When I touch it with my tongue it feels like the Grand Canyon, and I see $$$ signs. Exactly the same amount of $$$ signs that my son’s Christmas gift will cost…am I being tested? Of course he will get his new ski helmet no matter what, I growl to no one in particular.

Have I uttered an expletive throughout all of these mishaps? NO. I have not, Santa.

It was not until the next afternoon when I went to a movie to see the film “12 Years A Slave”, thinking I could chill out a little bit and give myself a treat – but noooooo –  I truly hit the tipping point and lost it. As I got up to the window to buy my ticket they informed me that they were having problems with correct movie listings on FANDANGO, which I had checked for times on my Iphone, and they were no longer offering “12 Years A Slave”. Dozens of people were waiting to see that film. The theater had posted no sign. no apology, no explanation – but instead just decided to inform dozens of waiting people, one by one as they got up to the window, that the film would not show at all anymore. Why don’t people think?

I backed slowly away from the counter, smiling that insane kind of smile that people are afraid to see on a person in a public place. The others cleared a path for me, gave me a wide berth, looked at me with caution and I walked quickly to my car, stepped inside, shut the door and screamed F**K at the top of my lungs about 15 times. It was not just the film – it was an accumulation of rotten stuff.

Am I being punished? Tested? Messed with? All of the above I am sure.

But I can endure – and so can you. Just figure out a way to register your anger with the universe and let it fly in a non-violent expression of some kind. Then get over it and start fresh in time for the 25th. You can do it – I know you can.

The Creative Epiphany – Coping With Absence During the Holidays

20-Time-Generations  Mixed Media Collage by Jo Ann Brown-Scott titled TIMES

Everybody talks about friends and family gatherings during the holiday season, the fun, the food, the reunions, the surprises, and yet you hear very little about the hollow feeling that settles in when you are one of the ones who knows that the key people in your life will be missing. I don’t know what it feels like anymore to not be coping with the absence of my key people. I try not to discuss it much – it’is a downer. And I do not like spreaders of doom and gloom. I refuse to be one of those. Denial is a powerful coping mechanism that seldom does the trick in these circumstances, because you cannot deny an empty chair or an unset table on Christmas Day. Other people attempt to fill in the hole in your life by inviting you to join them and thank goodness for that. And yet…

Absence is a harsh reality to cope with that brings strong feelings along the sensitive lines of abandonment. Absence brings nagging feelings of unworthiness on the part of the one left behind. Rationally you do not want to believe that, but a tiny voice nags at you. You wonder if you are not worth the visit. Are the reasons for the absences valid.

Oh the circumstances of the absences are valid. They really are. The reasons are logical, mostly. Issues of geography, money, demanding jobs – you know the reasons you think are valid and ones that you believe are not. But logic is irrelevant at various times in life when you, me and others like us are counting the number of holiday seasons, summers, winters, birthdays, that might be left to us. My favorite Thanksgiving of all time was the one when my daughter appeared at the front door, during an epic blizzard, having flown home from college at a time when we decided we should not spend the money for her to come home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. The doorbell rang and I opened it to her smiling face, snowflakes as big as cotton balls swirling around. Logic became irrelevant at that point in time, because I was nuts with happiness. Sometimes you just have to do stuff against all reason. Those times are the memorable ones, obviously – quite obviously. So who the hell cares what the reasons are, for your inability to be home, and what has happened to that timeless belief that you make it home for the holidays no matter what? Just like the mailman – you deliver the goods come rain, hail, sleet or snow, and you are happy and honored to be able to do it. In support of this “old-fashioned” theory, witness the thousands of people at the airports, the train stations, the bus stations and on the highways trying to get home. In time. For the big day. No excuse. People want to be with the people they love the most. It is a strong pull – love is a universal magnet.

There are many ways that compensation can be made for absences during the holidays and for birthdays. A special time spent together doing something else is always good. You and those you love learn the best of the tricks, hopefully, getting creative and crafty with what you offer and employ as “substitutes” if such a thing exists, and memories are made at other places and times that might actually work out to being better overall, sort of. Maybe. Christmas does not have to happen on the 25th, because hopefully you can make it happen in your heart on whatever day works. Birthdays are the type of party that can last for days, with celebrations strung out and enjoyed over time. Children, lovers, friends, parents, grandchildren and other favorite people in your life whom you care for deeply are often very good at “making up” for days when they could not be present in your life. Any and all substitutions help, but the actual day of importance remains empty of their happy companionship. And so there you are. You get up in the morning alone and you do the best you can all day long to display a half-assed crazy looking fake smile and you go to bed alone at night, just like any other damn day. You heave a sigh of relief the next morning that the red letter day is over for another year. Really. You can forget about it.

That is no way to live. Wishing away the holidays and the birthdays and the special times that are not so special is no way to live.

My only advice here is to fill your life with the people who are geographically near to you. I grant you, they are not the actual people you would rank as the number one people in your life, and they already know that, but usually they are nice enough and humble enough to offer themselves up as warm bodies with pulses, lending some fun and food and happiness and they do care about you. They want to be used. They are selfless and giving. And they are present. They are with you.

It is a heavy load to carry, being away from your key people on life’s special days. But remember the load is carried at both ends – the ones absent feel it as well. So you gather your strength, you count your blessings, you offer thanks for all that is good, true and beautiful in your life and you carry on. If at some point it is all too much, you pack your little bag and you do the traveling to them, showing up at their door. Happy surprise!

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Creative Epiphany – Thanksgiving is a Week Away

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photo courtesy of dechive.blogspot.com/2010/12/proud-as-a-peacock

th[11] I AM SO HANDSOME I WILL BE PARDONED

photo courtesy of breedsavers.blogspot.com

It is 13 degrees here in Denver tonight and Thanksgiving is a week away. The snow is coming down in  large cotton balls and people are in the holiday mood – planning menus, already buying gifts, decorating homes and usually shopping for turkeys right about now. I will never forget the time we were living in Great Falls, Montana at Thanksgiving time – it was about 42 degrees below zero ( not kidding) and after choosing the turkey at the grocery we put it in the trunk of the car and did some other errands. When we got home, I lifted the turkey out of the car and it was so heavy I lost my grip and dropped it on the garage floor concrete where it immediately shattered into several huge pieces, having gotten so cold that it was like a giant ice cube. We gathered up the fragments and roasted them all like turkey puzzle pieces in the roasting pan.

It isn’t difficult to find humor in turkeys. If you have ever visited a turkey farm, as I have, although for some strange reason I do not remember where that was  or why I was there, (I also saw pigs slaughtered one Saturday morning when I was a kid and immediately realized that my parents had used bad judgment in thinking I was old enough at age 8 to witness that murderous scene) you have probably heard all the jokes and true stories about what stupid fowls turkeys are. I guess  probably you have heard it all without even visiting a turkey farm and that would be the best route to take since my memories of the turkey farm are not the type of info I’d want to share with you. Not as gruesome as the pigs but still unpleasantly memorable, for an entire lifetime. They are humorous birds and yet they endure a lot of human-inflicted misery. Then they arrive at their final destination – a kitchen.

Cleaning a turkey for roasting is rather disgusting if you allow yourself to think clearly for just one minute about what you are really doing to an enormous bird that could no longer get his body off the ground to fly because it got so fat at the hands of its keeper (certainly through no fault of his own) and that he probably was no longer able support his weight even to walk at a brisk pace, and so he gobbled and  hobbled and sort of semi-strutted  around a pen with his feet constantly squishing through filth. No I am not on a crusade here – I am not speaking for PETA or some other turkey related “Save the Turkey” type of organization. I speak only from my own experience, purely as a turkey fixer at Thanksgiving.

Live turkeys are not what I would call a pretty sight either – except for turkey lovers – but I guess I would agree that they are fascinating in a squawky  kind of way.  But raw turkeys are much worse. That neck of theirs, once it is cut off and naked of feathers, is especially awful. To see the drumstick-legs brings to mind the bird feet that were attached to them and what they spent their lives stepping in. The heart, the liver, the gizzard – no thanks. Hopefully you got your bird from a place that cleaned it really well before you took it home, because through the years I have found some sloppy surprise remnants of turkey parts in with the edible stuff, so keep your eyes open and aware.

It is a great thing that Thanksgiving is the one holiday of the year that allows us to simply be thankful for friends, family, food, shelter and all the other blessings of life. It is the perfect day for finding comfort and pleasure in being at home with a home-cooked meal, or a place that feels like home and enfolds you. Usually there is enough going on,  with all the people you love the most arriving, that it takes your mind off what just happened in the kitchen, and most of the guests are happy to see only the finished product turkey as he is paraded out all browned and roasty and smelling of herbs and butter.

I am wishing all of you a truly wonderful Thanksgiving Day – one that warms your heart and reminds you of everything that is good about families and friends, and even total strangers who sometimes show up as “strays” as we call the them – invited by us to share the meal although we barely know them at all. It is a day for sharing the love as well as the meal.

Best Wishes and Thanks to all of you – my readers.

I am thankful that you care enough to follow what I have to say. I am blessed with your time and attention.