What Happened to Neighbors?

I recently viewed a TV commercial purporting to bring neighbors together by providing a smores block party—”getting to know you” over gooey concoctions of melted chocolate and marshmallows smashed between graham crackers. Fun, right? The sobering part of the commercial was the statement that only 31% of people actually know their neighbors. Wondering if that number was factual, I asked Google. The answer is, “Yes.” Different studies have come up with slightly different percentages, but all agree—we’re not loving our neighbors. In many cases, we don’t even know their names.

Growing up in 1950’s small town America, I knew the name of everyone in my neighborhood, and everyone knew me. My family wasn’t great friends with every person on our street, but we all got along. In the summertime, adults sat on front porches and chatted with each other while we kids ran across unfenced lawns collecting fireflies in glass bottles, releasing  them at the bedtime call. We roamed free and stayed out of trouble because everyone was watching.

Poor us—we had no cell phones or computers on which to play. TV was new and there weren’t a lot of viewing choices. In fact, TV didn’t appear in many homes until the mid-fifties.  Neighbors, who had one, often shared. A TV magically appeared in my home on my eighth birthday.  Until then, every Saturday night my parents put me in my PJs, and we trekked up the street to a friend’s house to watch Uncle Milty’s Texaco Hour. Big hit!

Today, people claim they are “too busy” to get to know their neighbors. I’m guilty of that. I do know the names of the neighbors on either side of me. We’re not great friends but we wave, “Hi!” in passing. Ron, my neighbor to the right, keeps an eye on my place when I’m away.  I know one neighbor across the street by name, Margaret. She was kind enough to come to my door and greet me when I moved into the neighborhood. Last summer she gave me some seedlings to plant in my garden. I’m going to invite her over soon. I’ve been saving that since I moved here three years ago. Continue reading

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It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

Charles Dickens opened A Tale of Two Cities with these immortal lines. He was right then and it’s still true.

Terrible things are happening in the world today. Wonderful things are happening in the world today. Right now, someone is dying;  someone is being born. Someone is suffering.; someone is celebrating. Someone is making love; someone is sowing hate. This is the nature of reality on the physical plane.

The carnage that took place in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday overwhelmed our senses. We may feel deeply the death of a puppy and go numb at a catastrophe of such magnitude.  It seems too large and too horrific to be real, but it was real. The aftermath for those involved is still very real. In situations like these, I think of Mr. Rogers who always remembered his mother’s advice in times of trouble, “Look for the helpers.” They are always present.

We can demonize all Muslims for the act of a radical few, or we can focus on the fact that Sri Lanka’s Muslims called for a day of fasting and opened their mosques to Christians for prayer. Likewise, when a terrorist attacked a mosque in New Zealand, the neighboring Mormon Church opened a chapel so that displaced Muslims had a place to pray five times a day.

Why do those positive stories tend to get buried in the news? Probably because fear sells papers and keeps folks glued to their favorite news channel—their favorite flavor, the one that allows them to hear exactly what they want to hear.

I believe there is a higher truth, a higher reality—a reality on the spiritual plane where there is no “us’ and “them.” Not everyone believes as do. What a dull world it would be if they did. Some may find my view to be spiritual balderdash, but from a scientific viewpoint there is also no “us” and “them.”  Study the DNA of a Jew and a Palestinian in the laboratory, you cannot determine which is which. Black blood can save a white life, and vice versa. This is a small planet and we, the people, are all human. Imagine what we could accomplish on this small blue planet if laid down our prejudices, set aside labels, and worked together.

We react to everything that happens, but we can choose our reactions. Every situation is a teaching experience. The more something, or someone, pushes my buttons, the greater my opportunity to learn from it. Right now, my greatest teacher is President Trump. He pushes all my buttons, makes me look at all my beliefs. If I really believe “we’re all one,” why can’t I even bear to look at him? Well, I’m a work in progress. In the meantime, I can allow safe passage in my mind  to friends who do support him. I don’t have to agree with them in order to love them.

This year’s theme at the Center for Spiritual Living, Santa Rosa, is Spirituality in Action. “Diversity” is April’s focus. Sunday talks are available on-line. I invite you to listen to the message from Sunday, April 28th by Dr. Edward Viljoen. Then, ask yourself, “Where am I judgmental? What labels do I stick on people that reduces their humanity to a stereotype?

In his book, True Inclusion, Creating Communities of Radical Embrace, Brandon Robertson has this to say:

“This is the only hope for humanity. Unless we are willing to do the hard, painful work of sanctifying and reforming ourselves through extending grace, welcome, and unconditional love to our friends, our neighbors, and even our enemies, we can never be conformed and transformed into the people and the communities that we are called to be. And as long as the Church (community, government, individual…) continues to function in a way that excludes, demonizes and marginalizes any community, we are…perpetuating the ‘dark forces’ that are at the heart of all our world’s problems…”

 

Welcome, Spring!

I’m quite eclectic when it comes to spiritual matters. Saturday night I celebrated Passover with  Jewish friends and family. Yesterday, I put on my Sunday best and celebrated Easter. Remember when Easter required a new outfit complete with hat and gloves? Guess I’m showing my age, but I miss that. Today the sun is shining and I’m all about spring.

For me, there is a spiritual quality to spring. (“spit.it.u.al  – adj. –  relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul.”) Winter storms are now a memory, and the sunny weather is definitely lifting my spirit. Trees are decked in spring green, flowers are blooming, and the earth is calling gardeners to start planting. Maybe this is the time to plant seeds, figuratively as well as physically.

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions, but spring is a time of transition and renewal. It seems like an ideal time to start anew and set some goals.  What dream is asking to be revisited? What have you always wanted to do, but never thought you had the time or talent? I’m looking al all the ways I waste time and wonder, “Do I spend so much time on mindless/mundane things because I’m afraid I won’t be able to accomplish my bigger goals? Whatever the reason, I affirm that, starting now, I will give free rein to my creative side. I will make time to paint and write. I will make producing my book a reality, and not just a dream. I will learn all the skills I need to do it.

I believe every affirmation is a seed planted in Divine Mind. The seeds are planted. Now I need to be a good caretaker. One of the most challenging parts of tending my mental garden is ripping out those seeds of doubt. My inner critic has a lot to say. When she mouths off, my new mantra is, “That’s not the truth about me.”

Today’s sunny spring day made me think of a poem by Mary Oliver. Sadly, she passed away recently, but her poems live on. Here is an excerpt from her poem, Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.

Hello, you who make the morning

and spread it over the fields…

Watch how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

 

 

Portrait Party… A Sketchy Event

Ready, set, draw! Portrait parties are a fun way to hone your figure drawing skills in a relaxed atmosphere surrounded by some really interesting people.

Last week I attended my third portrait party. The first time it was facilitated by artist Susan Cornelis in the home of one of her students. She has since taken the idea to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts where it’s been fully embraced—first in January and again this March. Judging by both the attendance and the enthusiasm, I’m sure there will be more to come.

Here’s how a portrait party works. Circles of folding chairs are set up throughout the room. Every circle seats five or six people. Each person takes turns posing for the others in his or her group, starting with one-minute poses and gradually increasing the time to ten minutes. One person in each group is the designed timer. A minute flies by for both the sketchers and the posers. Ten minutes still seems like a very short time when you’re sketching, but it can seem like an eternity when you are the one being sketched. Every time a buzzer goes off, one hears shouts of, “Oh, no!” and “It can’t be (fill in the blank) minutes!” Posers sometimes emit a sign of relief.  My group actually limited itself to eight-minute poses, rather than ten. I now have a healthy respect for models who hold hour long poses in life drawing classes. I should add, in case I didn’t make myself clear, everyone at a portrait party is fully clothed. In fact, wearing distinctive attire is encouraged.

Some artists at the event were beginners, some were professional artists, but most fell somewhere in between. While people are encouraged share what they draw, it’s not mandatory. One person in my group enjoyed taking photos of her fellow artists’ drawings but was always careful to ask for permission before doing so.

There are no tables or easels at a portrait party, so a drawing board placed over one’s lap is helpful—unless you are working really small. At my last portrait party, I limited myself to pencil sketches. This time I was more ambitious. Most of my drawings were done with a black brush pen.  However, toward the end, I experimented a bit with watercolors.

A description of the art materials I used at the event might be helpful for anyone considering attending a portrait party, joining an urban sketching group, or who—like me—enjoys doing art when they travel. To create my travel kit, I purchased an assortment of Windsor & Newton watercolors in tubes, an empty watercolor tin and an assortment of half pans that fit inside. Filling the empty half pans with my own paint allows me to customize my color selections. However, travel kits can be purchased fully loaded. After adding an Aquash water brush, a travel brush, and a small spay-bottle, I’m set to paint. I also always have a small assortment of waterproof ink drawing pens on hard.  (See photo below.) Continue reading

Painting with Children

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I once read an article that stated (to paraphrase), “every preschool child can dance, sing and paint. It’s only later in life that our inner critic takes over.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve said, “I can’t sing,” I’d be a wealthy woman. Of course, it didn’t help when, years ago, I was placed in the front row at the sorority sing and told, “Move your mouth. Don’t sing.”  Ouch!

My granddaughter, Elise is four (four and a half, thank you!) and she believes she can do it all. She may never come in first on The Voice, but she sings all the time. It’s never occurred to her that there is a rating scale. She believes she’s terrific. She’s also a terrific dancer—just ask her. Never mind that half her dance troop fell down on stage at their last recital. She’s quick to point out that she remained standing. The fallen rose to their feet amid tremendous applause, and every child wore a radiant smile. After all, they got the biggest hand of the afternoon.

Elise is also an accomplished artist—of this she is certain. She once drew a picture of herself as a baby inside her mother’s stomach and asserted, “I’m really good at drawing me inside mommy’s tummy.”  When we are painting together, she frequently announces, “This will be a masterpiece.” Once, when she drew a few pictures at my house, I asked her, “Do you want to take them home or hang them here.” She gave me a steely stare and replied, “Hang them at the gallery.” She was referring to the Cloverdale Art Gallery where I am a resident artist. She visits there with her parents from time to time. I need to know when they’re planning a visit so I can tape those pictures to the wall.

IMG_2247 Continue reading

Being Grumpy—The Story That Can Never Be Published

Recently, I entered a fan fiction writing contest. Being new to the genre, I told a familiar story from a different viewpoint, instead of telling a completely different story using a familiar literary character.  I did not win the contest, but my writers critique group loved the story and advised, “You should submit it somewhere.” There was only one problem. I had written the story of Snow White using Grumpy’s voice. The story of Snow White is public domain, the names Disney created for the seven dwarves are not. I have two choices—risk bringing down the long legal arm of the Disney Company, or rename the dwarves. As a parody, it seemed weaker with unfamiliar names. Hoping to retain the original names, I looked for a possible legal loophole. In doing so, I learned that a pantomime version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, which hit the stage at UK’s Albert Hall in 2008, used different names to avoid copyright infringement. There was one exception— Sneezy was allowed to keep his name  because Disney failed to copyright it. However, the producers weren’t taking any chances. The other dwarves were renamed Goody, Loopy, Lazy, Growler, Noisy and Shabby.

In 2012, the TV series, Once Upon a Time, used Disney’s names for the dwarves, seemingly without legal repercussions.  I wondered, “Was a precedent set?” Unfortunately, for me, the answer is “no.” Once Upon A Time debuted on ABC, a Disney company.

Still hopeful, I researched “Legal Issues with Fan Fiction” on the internet. I found that fan fiction is not an infringement if it constitutes fair use of the underlying copyrighted work, but fair use is a grey area. Works of fiction are more likely to constitute fair use if they are “transformative” with respect to the original work, if they are non-commercial, if they appropriate relatively little of the original work, and/or they do not tend to detract from the potential market for or value of the original work.

In publishing my story on a blog with very limited readership (at this time), my usage is non-commercial. It certainly will not detract from the potential market for or value of the original work. So, am I safe?

Unsure, I located Disney’s legal department on-line, the one that deals with copyright issues. I filled out all the information required (which included the story and its intended usage) and submitted it. I expected a definitive answer—yes or no. Instead, I received a polite letter advising me to see a copyright lawyer. I asked a lawyer friend of mine why Disney’s legal department put me through all the bureaucratic paperwork without giving me a definitive answer. He replied that they didn’t want to risk setting a precedent. Paying hundreds of dollars to determine if I can post the story on my not-for-profit, personal blog isn’t a good use of my money. So, with no intention to defraud and a burning desire to share my story, I am posting it here with new names.

Originally titled “Being Grumpy,” the new title is “Being Grouchy.” Monikers for the other dwarves are now Brainy, Dippy, Burpee, Cheerful and Shy. Sneezy retains his moniker. If you mentally substitute mentally Grumpy, Dopey, Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy and Bashful, who could blame you? 😜

  Being Grouchy

I admit I was not in favor of asking her to stay. My brothers outvoted me. She was always singing, and those damn birds were always flying around the cottage, tweeting along, leaving their droppings everywhere. If she hadn’t been such a good housekeeper, I never would have put up with it. Women!

I never did set much store by women. My mother died when I was six, and we all did fine without her—my brothers, my father and I. Oh, Dippy tears up whenever one of us mentions her. Don’t understand why. He was only a baby when she died. He doesn’t remember her at all, although he’s the one who killed her—him and Brainy. Twins. Complicated birth. She died. They lived.

Some folks wonder why none of us ever married—seven grown men living together in a cottage in the woods. If it seems a little odd, think about it. Our names should give you a clue.

Shy turns an alarming shade of red if he even thinks about a girl.

Sneezy’s allergies get in the way. Imagine him closing in for a first kiss and, “Achooo,” he blows the poor girl across the porch. “

Snoozey can’t stay awake long enough to close the deal. Oh, he’s OK in the mine as long as we keep him upright, swinging a pick or hammer. The rest of the time we can’t take him anywhere. He snores.

The twins aren’t exactly chick magnets either. When they were born, I figure there wasn’t enough of everything to split two ways. Brainy got all the smarts. When he’s not working, he’s got his nose buried in a book. Dippy is all heart but, truth be told, his head seems a bit small for the rest of him. He gets lost a lot. We have to watch him.

That leaves Cheerful and me. I already told you, I got no use for women. As for Cheerful, he’ll go along with anything, including living in a little house with six other guys. Sometimes I just want to wipe that smile off his face. No one should be that happy all the time. But, overall, we’ve always gotten along just fine. Then, she shows up and turns everything tipsy-topsy.

One of us always builds a fire when we get home. There’s never smoke in the daytime. So, when I saw smoke pouring out of the chimney, I thought our place was on fire. Then, “Dang!” when I opened the door, someone had cleaned the whole house. I haven’t seen my best pipe since. Later, when I asked “you-know-who” about it, she acted all innocent, but she was always harping on how smoking is bad for you. I know she hid it. Danged if she didn’t! When I tried to find out where it was, she just smiled and shrugged and started singing about her prince. I seez to myself, “You can sing all you want, but your prince is never going to find you way out here.”

Anyway, after the smoke, and the cleaning, there was that smell—someone left food simmering on the hearth. Who was cooking in my kitchen? I always cook the dinner. Of course, I didn’t know, then, that it was her that lit the fire, and hid my pipe, and did the cooking—not yet. But someone was mucking around in my house and I was determined to get to the bottom of it. Naturally, Cheerful was delighted with all the changes; didn’t even care who did it. Everybody blathered about how nice everything looked, and how great dinner smelled.

I let them have it. “We’ve got an intruder and all you can think about is dinner. Suppose this is bad magic. Suppose the evil queen is behind this. Maybe she wants the gold from our mine.”

That shut everybody up. Poor Dippy’s knees were knocking.

“Let’s go upstairs,” seez I, “and see what mischief is going on up there.”

Tip-toeing up the stairs, we huddled together at the top. Our beds stood in a line, their covers neatly tucked, except for mine. Someone was in it—Snow White! Dang, she was pretty.

It must have been a shock for her, waking up to see seven men, faces blackened from working in the mine, hovering around her bed.  I have to give her credit; she didn’t bat an eyelash.

  “Oh, hello! Why it’s seven little men. I thought, from the size of everything, that children lived here.”

I found her comment to be incredibly insensitive, but there were my brothers, beaming at her. Shy was the color of a fire hydrant.

Of course, we heard the whole heartrending story: evil queen, murderous huntsman, frenzied flight through the dark forest, trees ripping at her clothes—a very dramatic rendition. They should make a movie.

My brothers lapped it up like a bunch of starving kittens. She had them wrapped around her little finger, but not me. “Women is trouble,” I warned. Nobody listened.

“My goodness, I’ve slept so long, it must be dinner time. The table is set, and food is ready, but you really must wash up before you eat. Why look at you; you’re all dirty!”

First, I’m “little,” then I’m “dirty.” She really knew how to hurt a guy. I had a mind to skip dinner and show her. Sitting in a corner, arms crossed, I glared at everyone. I was making a point, although nobody seemed to notice. It was my stomach that finally did me in; it began to growl. Only one way to shut it up. I washed.

Later that night, Snow White slept in my bed again while I ended up sleeping with Cheerful. I knew he was the only one who wouldn’t mind.

I finally made Snow White her own bed. No big deal. I just wanted my own bed back. That’s all. But she had to make a big thing out of it.

“Oh, Grouchy, thank you. It’s beautiful!”

She actually tried to kiss my forehead. Women!

Things settled into a routine. Sneezy kept sneezing. The fact that Snow White kept bringing in all those dang flowers didn’t help. Shy blushed every time Snow White looked in his direction. Brainy read on and on. Snoozy took his usual nap before bedtime. Dippy followed Snow White around the house like a puppy.  Cheerful was his usual annoying self, and I grumbled a bit less than usual. Snow White kept the house spotless, while the smell of cakes and pies filled the air.

We all thought Snow White would be safe with us. We didn’t know about the queen’s magic mirror. Still, it was rumored that the queen practiced witchcraft. Brainy advised Snow White to be cautious.

“My dear, the world is a dark place. Lock the door when we are gone and don’t open it to anyone until we return.”

She promised, but I never placed no store in a woman’s promise. You all know what happened—thanks to that infernal mirror, the Queen found her.

 

“Even the mightiest finally fall,

            Snow White’s still fairest of them all.

            She dwells within a forest glen,

            the guest of seven little men.”

 

            There was a terrible storm on that fateful day.  It intensified as we neared home. I was looking toward our warm cottage, anxious to dry myself before the fire. It was then that I saw it—a shape, dark and tattered like some devilish bird of prey—racing away from our house.

“The queen,” I screamed over the wind. “It must be the queen in disguise. After her—before she gets away!”

We gave chase, picks and shovels in the air as the wind and rain intensified. She lost her way in the storm and found herself cornered on a precipice high above the raging river. Looking more hag-like than queenly, she turned toward us to reveal a face turned green by envy. Then, raising her wand in a final act of vengeance, she called down the wrath of heaven itself. Heaven answered. A lightning bolt hit the wand and it, and she, exploded—gone in an instant.

I was the one who found Snow White. She lay crumpled on the floor, her skin as pale as her name. Just beyond her fingertips was the apple, perfect except for one small bite. It had been enough.

I was the one who laid Snow White upon her bed, the bed I made for her, while my brothers knelt and prayed to no avail. She was gone.

Days passed. Still, she looked as fresh as a rose just plucked from the garden. We could not bear to put her in the ground. She was too beautiful. And, so, we fashioned a coffin out of glass and placed her in the clearing just beyond our home—a home that, despite seven little men, suddenly seemed empty.

News spread throughout the kingdom of the beautiful maiden, changeless in the sleep of death. Many came to pay tribute. After all, she had been a princess.  It was not surprising that, eventually, a prince actually came. Despite my dire prediction, one had found her after all. He was young and handsome, and he gazed at her with terrible longing.

“She is so lovely. I cannot bear to leave her side. Let me carry Snow White to my kingdom. My life is forfeit to her beauty. I shall treasure her as long as I live.”

“Sire, here she lived, and here she died, and here she shall remain with those who loved her in life.” (Brainy always had a way with words.)

“Then grant me one kiss before I leave, one kiss to remember always.”

We all nodded our consent, even me. Emboldened, the Prince opened the coffin and bestowed a kiss on lips, slightly parted, as if they had been waiting for just such a moment. He kissed her tenderly, stood slowly, backed away reluctantly.

I saw it all—the kiss, the faint rise of her chest, the flush of color in her cheeks. I had never been a believer in all that “love’s first kiss” baloney. I was wrong. Snow White lives!

We knew Snow White was never meant to spend her life in a cottage in the woods with seven dwarves. A princess deserves a prince. Still, we were sad to see her go—yes, even me. Before she left, she thanked us all, kissing each upon the head with a promise to visit in the spring. I was last in line. When she came to me, she knelt down and whispered, “In the end, you who found it hard to love, loved the hardest.” She held me a moment before she kissed me.

Dang, I turned pinker than a peony. Women!

 

My Artist Date with Myself

There was a time when my inner critic accosted me daily with taunts of not being good enough, creative enough, etc., etc. Enter Julia Cameron to the rescue with her book, The Artist’s Way. I joined an artist empowerment group and we diligently read her book, completed the exercises and consistently used her basic tools for recovery—morning pages and the artist’s date. Together, they work like this: “It is a two-step, directional process: out and then in. Doing your morning pages, you are sending—notifying yourself and the universe of your dreams, dissatisfactions, hopes. Doing your artist date, you are receiving—opening yourself to insight, inspiration, guidance.”

So, what exactly is an artist date? It’s not dinner and a movie with a fellow artist. It’s a few hours set aside each week to take your inner child/artist on a date to someplace that gets your creative juices flowing. It might be a museum. It might, also, be a trip to the beach or an exploration of local junk shops. It is a solo excursion—only you and your inner artist.

While I have recently reintroduced morning pages into my schedule, I hadn’t consciously recommitted to the artist date. Then, miraculously, I found myself on one today, and it really did get my creative juices flowing. You learn a lot on your artist dates—what you like, what you don’t like. You also find artistic inspiration in likely, and highly unlikely locations.

This morning, I went to the Redwood Writers Academy workshop at the Flamingo Hotel in
Santa Rosa—PR for Authors: It’s Not Just Free Advertising. Now, I’m not sure that part of my day counts as an artist date. I did arrive alone, but there were other people in attendance, and it was interactive at times. However, I left with some great ideas and a renewed desire to get my “stuff” out there. I’m a writer/artist/teacher, so I’ve got a lot of “stuff.”

As I left, I saw someone from the workshop pick up a copy of Valley of the Moon Magazine in the hotel lobby. I followed suit. Wow! How did I not know about this magazine? I sat in my car in the hotel parking lot and read it from front to back. But what really caught my eye was the cover art. The illustration was one of the best dog portraits I’ve ever seen. Inside the magazine was an article on the artist, John Sumner. Check out his website. I did. It reminded me that the most important thing in any portrait—animal or human—is not being photo perfect, but in catching some quintessential inner quality of the subject. That’s a good thing to remember. I thought about that, today, when I received some good news. One of my paintings was accepted for the upcoming Animalia show at the Healdsburg Art Center. I had submitted several. The one I thought was most masterful in terms of execution was not accepted. It was my whimsical orangutan that won their hearts, just as John Sumner’s dog won mine.

My artist date was now in full swing. There was a commercial venue in the hotel’s main ballroom.  I decided to walk through. It was a cornucopia of products: clothing, jewelry, housewares, technology, publishers and more. Nothing really captivated me until I reached the back of the hall. There was the most enchanting array of birdbaths and garden art made out of old plates and cups and sundry other objects from estate sales and thrift shops.  Glass shimmered under the lights, drawing people in. I bought a birdbath. In my excitement, I exited with the prized birdbath, but without my notes from the workshop or my magazine. After driving all the way home, I realized what I had done. Now, you may think I was upset, but the truth is, I’m glad it happened. On my way back to the hotel, I decided that I wanted to feature Billie’s Garden Art on my blog. Her pieces are unique and her prices, ranging from $25 to $40, are more than reasonable. I took a few photos of Billie’s work (with her permission). I’m posting them here because her work delights me. Billie sells through art fairs and from her Santa Rosa studio. See Billie’s Garden Art on Facebook. Give her a call at 707-303-6867 or email Billie at billiemace1@gmail.com. 

Today was a very good day. I retrieved my notes. I now have an artful addition to my yard that will, hopefully, please the birds as much as it pleases me. I was inspired by a painter of dogs and cats. I networked with a fellow writer at the workshop who, like me, is interested in publishing stories about special needs children. I also have a reasonable “to do” list in regard to advertising my work, plus a list of helpful resources. It all inspired me to write this blog.  Remember, when considering an artist date—creativity is contagious.