Creativity is not one of my strong suits. Oh, I appreciate art and creativity well enough (as I interpret these concepts anyway) and there are times when I’m inspired enough to want to produce something, usually via baking or photography, scrapbooking or writing. The first time I baked ciabatta bread I truly felt I’d created something beautiful (and delicious!) My photographs can sometimes turn out to be quite artfully composed – I’m better with composition, however, than I am with the technical aspects of operating my trusty camera. And occasionally (but never often enough) I am able to find the words I’m seeking to convey ideas or emotions that come to mind at those most quiet of times when my heart sometimes speaks — or whenever a word or a phrase pops into my head and I am compelled to flesh it out and DO something with it.

Beautifully and skillfully created drawings, paintings, sculpture, crafts, photography, writing, music and film: I marvel at human achievement. As the old saying goes, I know what I like. Sometimes I’m blown away by what others have created and incredulous that mere mortals are able to fashion such fantastic works of art. And always I’m jealous, wishing I had even a modicum of the talent used to deliver such breathtaking results.

My sisters chide me for my tendency to get choked up when I’m in the presence of light or goodness or grace or the mastery of the written, sung, painted, spoken, woven, sculpted, danced or otherwise illustrated words of the human soul. Watching the Thunderbirds perform at an airshow several years ago brought tears to my eyes. The power and magnificence and beauty of these awesome machines (and the humans associated with them – both the pilots and those responsible for designing and building them) almost brought me to my knees. I was simply awestruck and that moment became lodged in my psyche as a reminder that exquisiteness can be found in many things, if only we are receptive to what’s offered.

Being immensely creative and masterful of any sort of artistic medium is not, as I’ve noted, a characteristic that I possess. I have tried however! In college I took an Art 101 course to fill out my credit requirements for that semester. Going in with low expectations and a willingness to see what I had to offer, I found the assignments to be fun, challenging and sometimes a little off the wall while they allowed me to dabble in a variety of art forms. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that while I wasn’t exactly artistic I did possess a tinge of creativity and that I wasn’t afraid to employ shock value or quirkiness in the delivery of some of my assignments. One especially memorable creation of mine (which the instructor photographed and used in a slide show for future classes) made use of women’s feminine hygiene products as dinner accoutrements – much to the embarrassment of some of the male students in the class. I’m pleased to report I got an A for that assignment and for the course overall.

When I am excited and passionate about what I’m doing, when I am inspired to succeed, when I am motivated and willing to experiment this is when I’m most likely to feel good about the results. So perhaps I am creative after all. It’s just that I don’t have the artistic ability to go with it, to actually produce many things of real beauty. And I’m OK with that (but oh to be able to paint like Monet or write like Jane Austin).  Lest the reader think I’m merely being coy:  for every artistic ‘success’ I’ve had, there are numerous scrunched up pieces of paper in the trash, or cooking/baking results that went awry or photographs that have failed — miserably.  It’s precisely because these efforts — few and far between — have hit their targets that I cherish them all the more.

Where there is passion and motivation for any endeavor the outcome may be seen as pleasing, comforting, interesting or satisfying. When something you’ve made is wrought by your own hands, under your own power, fueled by your own imagination it can be powerful stuff indeed. Some might even call it art.

Last weekend my husband and I drove into Missouri where my son, who teaches chemistry at a community college south of St. Louis, had a bit part in their production of Grease playing the Frankie Avalon role of Teen Angel. This was his first time on the acting stage (he’s certainly not shy and is accustomed to performing in public as he is the drummer for a local blues band). He did a bang-up job and I was one proud Mama.

Watching him on stage I was reminded of my own experiences in high school and community theatre plays. I auditioned in the tenth grade for Dobie Gillis landing a very small part where another actor and I were to walk across the stage. We played high school students walking down the hall and one of the other ‘student’s on the stage was supposed to say something as my cue. However during my debut performance she forgot her line and not knowing what else to do I continued walking until I was off-stage. Still. I had been under those lights in front of an audience and the entire experience was FUN.

My next role was that of Little Rosie in My Son the Exorcist (yes, my high school years coincided with a similarly named box-office hit and so there you are). I wore a pink polka-dotted dress and my face, arms and legs were painted green. I growled and swayed and threw myself at the ankles of leading man Dave Winters, pretending to bite him as he dragged me across the floor of the stage. Certainly not high drama but again it was fun.

The only other experience I had in high school theatre was when Sue Levad and I, not being at all musically inclined, were given the opportunity to participate nonetheless as student directors for the fall production of South Pacific during my senior year. We had a very talented cast and I thoroughly enjoyed the singing, the dancing and the camaraderie of being involved in a high school musical. I recall with much fondness the incredible feeling backstage, the giddiness and laughter as we all watched Dave Schaefer burst onto the stage in his grass skirt and coconut ‘brassiere’. It was exciting, it was thrilling and it is probably one of my best memories from high school.

After high school I performed in a number of Brickstreet Theater productions in our small home town: The Mousetrap, God’s Favorite, She Was Only a Farmer’s Daughter, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and several others whose names I have since forgotten.  Forest City is a tiny hamlet in north central Iowa (home of Winnebago Industries!) and only occasionally would we have any newcomers showing up for auditions. I rarely played any lead characters and if I’m honest was probably only mediocre at best. But I was one of those few regulars to audition each time and I gave as good as I got.

Aside from learning about staging and costuming and character development the biggest take-away from all of my theatre experiences is what I call the psychology of the audience. No matter how prepared you are or how well everyone on stage memorizes their lines there is no way to predict how the audience will react to what’s happening up there under the lights.

That first night of South Pacific when the audience howled with appreciation to Dave’s grass-skirted gyrations led us to expect the same reaction during the next performance. Except that it never happened. I remember the sense of expectation and waiting for that same euphoria we’d experienced on opening night. But it was flat somehow. How could that be? Why didn’t the audience react the same way?

Later, in other plays put on by Brickstreet Theater, we learned to pause briefly at expected ‘laugh lines’ only to discover during some performances that the laughs never came. On the flip side the audience would laugh uproariously at places we never expected. This was weird. I didn’t understand it but I learned to accept that this is just how it is and as an actor you have to be ready to roll with the punches.

The psychology of the audience isn’t just limited to live theatre. Perhaps you’ve experienced it too? I looked forward to seeing the film Men in Black because I’d heard it was really good. The theatre was packed but hardly anyone – at all – reacted to it. I walked out of there not at all impressed. Actually I hated it. I suspect others had the same reaction. The same thing happened when we went to one of the Spiderman films. Admittedly this wasn’t a movie I would have gone to on my own but we were with other family members and that was their choice. Again the entire theatre just sat there and many of the supposed sight gags and one-liners literally fell on deaf ears. It was a horrible movie-going experience and I could not wait for the film to end.

Of course audience psychology goes the other way too and can help to make the whole experience fun and enjoyable. My husband and I went to The Others a few years ago. This Nicole Kidman film is a dark, tension-filled thriller and at one point the entire full house gasped and jumped in their seats. Then, in a spirit of camaraderie, we all laughed in unison at having been spooked collectively. I thoroughly enjoyed that film.

The ultimate audience participation film, Rocky Horror, is a favorite of mine. And yet I have only ever watched it in the comfort of my own living room. Still I love it for the music, the campiness, the quirkiness and the fun (and of course Tim Curry!). I can only imagine what the psychology of the audience would be like to see it as many claim is the only way to watch it: in the theater with other crazy fans all around you. Perhaps sometime I’ll take in a midnight showing!

Now when I go to a live performance or to see a movie I pay attention to how the audience is responding and I try to evaluate what’s going on ‘up there’ on its own merits and not let my reaction be corralled by the audience’s reaction (or non-reaction). Still though when a production is solid and the actors are good having the other audience members there with you for the ride helps to make for a more memorable experience overall.

I am not an athlete. Never have been, most likely never will be. PE was my least favorite class in both junior high and high school. I dreaded those presidential physical fitness awards we were forced to endure each year. I was never able to throw a softball the required distance (far, far from it). I couldn’t run fast enough. I couldn’t do sit-ups very well. Flat out — I was a pretty poor specimen of physical ability, grace and stamina. I accepted my lot in life and never agonized for very long (if at all) at how much I sucked at anything athletic.

Fast forward to my courtship with Bill. He was a star athlete and is good at almost anything sports-related. Because he loves golf I was determined to try, to really TRY to learn. And a funny thing happened along the way. I discovered that when I gave a good, solid effort and listened to my husband’s instructions on how to hold the club, how to swing the club, how to put, how to chip, how to play — when I really tried — I was occasionally rewarded with a decent shot. Not every time of course (golf is frustratingly like that) but enough to make me want to keep at it.

This was a revelation to me. I’ll never be a gifted athlete but to realize that I can participate in a sport, in some kind of physical activity and get something in return for my effort — well, if not life-changing this was pretty darn close.

I recently joined Lifetime Fitness, primarily to take up swimming – again. I reluctantly add the word ‘again’ since I don’t wish to mislead anyone into thinking that I vigorously applied myself to this activity when I was younger. Not true. I enjoyed swimming and going to the pool when I was a kid but as with anything sports-related I never really applied myself. Being a little older and maybe a little wiser I now find myself wanting to try. I swim the 25-yard length of the pool, stop at the wall, and my heart is pounding in my chest. But, strangely, it feels good. Gliding through the water feels amazing. And I keep going. I’m actually applying myself. I’m on the cusp of doing something ATHLETIC. It’s powerful stuff and when Bill picks me up afterwards I’m actually a little giddy.

I’ll never be an athlete but maybe, just maybe I’ll enjoy the effort it takes to work at being one now. And I think that’s pretty neat.

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Road tripping, either done over the weekend or as a means of travel over the course of several days or even a week or two, brings to mind the old maxim about enjoying the journey and not just the destination. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, when it comes to travel (especially via our nation’s roadways): You never really know what you’re going to get (or where you’re going to end up). Those less brave and optimistic about life’s twists and turns might read this with a negative bent. I, on the other hand, prefer to consider all the wonder, mystery and beauty in this world including the charm, goodness and generosity of those we might encounter along the way.

To my way of thinking there are two necessary components for enjoying a fun and rewarding road trip excursion (aside from a reliable mode of transportation, a full tank of gas and adequate funds to get you to where you want to go):

  • Flexibility: Being joyfully willing to accommodate a change of plans, target destinations and perhaps even travel companions. Individual thresholds to comply may vary (refer to your own personal owner’s manual).
  • Sense of adventure: Welcoming new experiences with grace, enthusiasm and a hefty sense of humor. Employing a gleeful approach to stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a must for cultivating unforgettable memories.

Optional elements for a successful road trip include the following (although some, like myself, would argue these are requirements in their own right):

  • Camera, charger and/or batteries to capture the fun and whimsy along the way.
  • Funky, colorful clothing, solid yet stylish footwear, sunglasses and your favorite jewelry (you want to look good in those photos, don’t you?)
  • Portable laptop (don’t forget the power cord!) to upload said photos and to research landmarks, historical information, find restaurants, hotels, campgrounds and other points of interest.
  • Books, magazines, Kindles to peruse during your downtime or while on the road (preferably while your partner/significant other is doing the driving. ‘Nuff said.)
  • Great travel music which helps immensely over those long stretches when caffeine and the ability to safely rest are just beyond reach. Highly recommended: George Thorogood, Joe Bonamassa, Dire Straits, Queen and Pink Floyd. Not your cup of tea? Pick your own poison.
  • GPS: Our own personal Ginger (when we remember to hook her up) is an invaluable tool for navigating unknown locales, finding the nearest Starbucks or a particular restaurant as well as providing useful stats such as travel time, average speed, maximum speed and rest time. Use with caution however and in tandem with a pre-printed travel route. Ginger has been known to divert us to impractical and/or inefficient paths that she, in her wisdom, deems the preferred method for getting us from Point A to Point B. These alternate routes have at times taken us very much off the beaten track.

So. There you have it. Everything you need to enjoy your time on the open road. Perhaps most important, however, is the desire to just have fun and to make the very most of your road trip adventure. Our world offers a multitude of travel and exploratory opportunities. Now get yourself behind the wheel and go enjoy what’s out there!

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Apparently our home’s original owners had a thing for purple.  The master bedroom is a subtle shade of lavender and the color in our kitchen goes especially well with our purple and sage dishes.  The bedroom is a little too gloomy for my tastes and changes will be made there eventually.   I like the kitchen and we have no plans to alter anything there — for the time being anyway!

But the landscaping leading up to our front door is a cascade of varying shades and intensities of purple from spring through the dog days of summer come August.  I don’t know the names of all the plants (perhaps some readers can clue me in here) but I do recognize the purple coneflower shown above.  We also have Sweet William, chives, irises and purple salvia and a few others that I’m not familiar with.

While there are some things the prior owners did here that don’t necessarily align with my personal tastes or preferences I do love the riotous variety of this lovely color looking out my front door (which by the way is also purple)!

When we were kids my dad planted sweet corn for us girls to sell. This was how we made money to purchase new clothes for school each fall. It was a relatively small plot of corn but enough to keep us busy from the end of July through most of August.

We lived along a fairly busy highway. Well, busy enough considering we were situated in north central Iowa where there isn’t a whole lot of traffic to begin with. Still we did alright.

The actual selling of the corn isn’t terribly difficult aside from the boredom of waiting for customers to pull off the road or into our driveway. I recall a few tense moments such as the time Mom made me run back out to the car because I hadn’t collected enough money from a customer or whenever folks would grumble about the high cost or what they perceived as ‘shoddy merchandise’.

Far and away the worst part was picking the stuff. I remember venturing into the cold, wet field first thing in the morning to fill the laundry baskets we used to harvest the corn. You had to peel back part of the husk to determine whether the corn was ripe enough to pick. You were looking for that creamy yellow color that folks seemed to like best. This might be a good time to mention that I never cared for sweet corn as a kid so this part of the process was something I based on others’ good judgment. (Later as an adult – thanks to some gentle prodding by my mother-in-law – I finally saw the light and now look forward to this ubiquitous Midwest summer fare!) Anyway, some of the ears had this black kind of mold or fungus growing on it. Yeah, pretty gross. There were also spiders to contend with and grasshoppers. I hated the grasshoppers. Going all spastic on you. Jumping who knows where. They kind of spooked me.

Once the baskets were filled we had to break off any extra length of the stalk or husks so that the ears were each of a manageable length so we could fill the brown paper bags for the customers to carry to their cars. Each bag held a dozen ears and we sold them for fifty cents a dozen.

We must have sold a lot of corn because there were six of us girls equally sharing the profits and I recall one summer where I had an entire twenty dollars (twenty dollars!) to myself to buy my clothes for the new school year. We went to Reuben’s Department store and one of my purchases was a brown ‘leather’ skirt and a frilly white blouse. I was not ever what you’d call one of the popular girls and I was absolutely clueless when it came to style or fashion or being trendy. Still I thought that skirt was pretty cool. Too bad I didn’t have the style or grace (or body) to pull it off. I cringe now to remember one of the older boys asking me for a date that Friday night. I couldn’t believe it! Bill Groh was asking me out! I rushed to the restroom afterward and noticed then that my slip was hanging down two or three inches below my skirt. Sigh. Junior high and high school: not the prime of my life.

In any case when I drive down a country road and come across a sweet corn stand or someone’s pickup with the tailgate loaded down with piles of corn and individually filled sacks holding a dozen ears I smile when I see ‘Sweet Corn $X.XX a dozen’. I don’t know what it’s selling for now – it hasn’t come into season just yet this year but it surely isn’t fifty cents a dozen anymore!

OK.  I’ve alluded to this before in another post and it’s only DAY ONE.  However….

This is it.  I’m pumped, I’m motivated, I’m going to do it this time!

I joined Lifetime Fitness today and swam laps for the first time in just ages.  It felt incredible!  When we were kids the six of us girls were regulars almost everyday at our local pool and we loved it.  So swimming this afternoon brought back a flood of good memories of those sun-drenched days!

The facility is just a few months old and it is simply amazing.  There are two laps pools, an open swim area for the little ones and a huge outdoor pool.  I swam that first lap and my heart was racing.  I’m small and petite but apparently quite out of shape!  I’m already formulating fitness goals vis a vis swimming targets to help me firm and tone this old bod of mine.  (Goal # 1:  Complete one lap without having to rest!)

The saunas (both dry heat and steam) are sweet and so is the hot tub — all of which are located in the women’s locker room.  (Assume the men’s locker room is similarly appointed — I didn’t check!)  Hot tubs are also situated poolside both indoors and out.  The outdoor pool is surrounded by dozens and dozens of chaise lounges for sunbathing. The locker rooms boast beautiful wood-grain lockers and there is a steady supply of fresh towels, toiletries and hair dryers. 

I’m excited about taking advantage of my new membership: the lap lanes, the saunas and hot tubs, the wide assortment of exercise equipment and a variety of free classes.  Another bonus will be meeting new, fitness-minded friends.  Maybe I’ll even convince my husband to join as well!

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It’s here!  The longest day of the year and the official opening day of summer – June 21st.  The year thus far has been a head-scratcher in the weather department and many of our trees and shrubs bear witness to the relentless cold, harsh winter that we endured — and endured — and endured.  There are far too many bare spots and dead branches and don’t get me started on our Knock-out Roses!  Not only was Mother Nature challenging to our psyches this winter but to the revival efforts of our prized garden possessions with the advent of spring.

Today however that is all behind us, here in the Midwest anyway, where blue skies and a beautiful sun lures us outdoors to tend to our gardens, stroll a shady path or curl up on the patio with a good book.  Sadly it’s all downhill from here as the days slowly become shorter and shorter but now is no time for negativity.  Celebrate the ample daylight we’re given TODAY for today is all that truly matters.

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People often express surprise and a bit of wonder when I tell them I come from a family of six girls. The most common response is akin to expressions of sympathy for my dad. It’s true. He was certainly outnumbered but trust me when I say he gave as good as he got! He may have had, however, some inkling of what he was getting himself into when he married our mother since she herself comes from a family of eight girls. Not a male child in sight. Mom’s maiden name evokes an Irish heritage and St. Patrick’s Day is always celebrated with an exchange of feisty, funny cards and often a gathering in one of the sister’s homes. Irish décor can be found in every one of their houses and it goes without saying that green is a favorite color.

My maternal grandmother was a little bit of a thing. Short and petite (lucky if she weighed 90 pounds dripping wet) she was blessed with a beautiful head of auburn hair. My dad loved to tease her and its amusing to me that one of his nicknames for her was the Old Battle Ax. (“Oh Richard” she’d say). My Grandma Monnahan did not have an easy life. Grandpa Monnahan struggled to support his family and often fell on hard times (he was a sawyer too and was instrumental in directing Dad toward that occupation – something my father did for fifty years and dearly loved). He died in at the tender age of 52, leaving Grandma to raise five daughters still at home, the three youngest under the age of ten. Sadness would strike a few years later when Grandma died in her mid-fifties as well.

Despite these hardships, this clan of eight — dubbed the Monnahan Mafia by my Uncle Ole (most certainly not Irish!) – was and are a joyful bunch (the eldest, Geri, died a few years ago). Holiday parties, weddings and family reunions are a mix of crazy, zany, silly fun, fun, fun. Laughter — always laughter! These women love to cook and garden and some of them enjoy knitting and quilting. Music was an important part of their lives as well. Rosie plays the accordion, piano and organ. Nancy, the guitar. Linda played the trumpet and Randi, the French horn. A special memory is the eight of them singing Irish Eyes are Shining as they gathered around the piano for Mom and Dad’s 35th wedding anniversary.

In August Mom and three of her sisters will travel to Ireland for the first time. I’m thrilled for them and can only imagine the mischief they’ll get themselves into.   Mom and Rosie are in their seventies and the two youngest ‘girls’ are in their late 50’s / early 60’s. I am so glad they are planning this trip. It’s sad that they couldn’t have all gone earlier. In any case, these ladies are wicked fun and it will be an adventure of the highest order. The Emerald Isle may never be the same again!