Reflection

Spring & Summer Hiatus by Leslie Fandrich

I've got big plans for this summer and almost all of it is offline work. I am in serious need of uninterrupted studio time to experiment and play with my writing and my art. I need to slow down, simplify and contemplate. I don't want any deadlines or expectations for myself and so I decided that the best thing I can do is put my blog on a hiatus until September so I can FOCUS. Remember that was my word of the year? It's time to get back to that.

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Finding Strength by Leslie Fandrich

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There is nothing more soothing for me than taking out my camera and looking for things to photograph. This week all the trees are blooming and my favorite are the magnolias. I found one today with a very deep shade of pink, it was so pretty.

Nearby were also some horses, so I went to say hello, because, why not? I stood by the fence calling at them while they ate grass and they happily ignored me until all of a sudden they both rushed up to the fence and sniffed at me. I put out my hand and the black one let me touch him, even though I think he was disappointed that I didn't have a  carrot. Horses are awesome.

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Nothing can make you feel better than an animal blissfully unaware and unconcerned with our human condition. You can look deep into an animal's eyes and what is reflected back at you is so simple. So easy. Eat, drink, run. The same with flowers. It's just pure, uncomplicated. They bloom, they die. Done.

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I was afraid I had missed this, while I was in Canada with my Mom. it would have been fine if I had, I took pictures last year and I will take pictures next year, but I was really glad that I didn't miss it, that after the departure of my mother, I am still able to experience the arrival of spring. Together, it is somehow more bearable for me. All is not lost. There is still spring.

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I'm doing fine, by the way. Happy to be home and sorting through my Mom's things that I got to keep. I've got her sewing kit, some of her jewelry and a bunch of personal papers, plus all the notes and message that she's given me over the years. I pulled off five voicemails from my phone (three cheers for an iPhone that saves every message for as long as you have the phone!) and I was so comforted by the fact that each one started exactly the same, "Hi sweetheart, it's Mum." Every single one. So consistent, so dependable. 

Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened. ― Dr. Seuss

The books I am reading tell me that I am looking for her. It's a normal part of the process. Actually, almost everything is a normal part of the process. We all grieve so differently. Cry, don't cry. Talk, don't talk. Pretty much whatever you need to do, it's ok to do it. I've been reading two books by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross that I really like. On Death and Dying was written in 1969 and is still one of the best books out there on the topic. Her book On Grief and Grieving was written while she herself was dying in 2004. Her co-author experienced her death before completing the book in 2007.

For something that each of us will experience multiple time in our lives, to those that we love and to our own selves, death is not something people like to talk about. Our brains are so good at tricking us into thinking that death is not possible, that it will not happen to us. We deny this truth our entire lives and it leaves us woefully unprepared to deal with loss and to face our own demise. Think about it, plan for it, accept that someday, it will happen.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do. ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Facing death allows us to live our lives more fully. Accepting death as a part of life makes our time here sweeter and more precious. I'm not saying this is easy. It's not. I will miss my Mom every single day for the rest of my life, but this isn't going to break me. Life must go on. And it must go on even better than before. It must go on with even more love and more living. She would want that, as I think all of those leaving us do.

Someday you're gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You'll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing... ― Elizabeth Gilbert

My greatest assets during this time has been my independence and my willingness to accept change. If you can draw on those things when you are facing something like this, it will be easier. If you realize that despite all our loving relationships, we are really the only constant in our lives. Also, when things like this happen, it's not about mourning and then moving on, it's about integrating the experience into our lives, letting it change us and growing stronger and more capable.

Some people, they can't just move on, you know, mourn and cry and be done with it. Or at least seem to be. But for me... I don't know. I didn't want to fix it, to forget. It wasn't something that was broken. It's just...something that happened. And like that hole, I'm just finding ways, every day, of working around it. Respecting and remembering and getting on at the same time. ― Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever

Have you experienced loss in your life? Have you faced death yourself? I'd love to hear about how you have coped with it and what you have learned.

xo

My Mom's Celebration of Life by Leslie Fandrich

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Yesterday, our family and friends gathered to celebrate and remember my Mom's life. Yes, it was a funeral, but it was so much more than that. This wasn't a sombre religious affair. Sure, there were tears, but the focus was on my Mom. Who she was, what she brought to all of our lives, and what her life meant to all of us. It was a wonderful day.

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Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

I made the memorial video, with the help of my sister and aunt and uncle. We searched though dozens of old family photo albums and picked from hundreds of digital images. When I asked my Mom what her favorite song was, she said "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi, so I put it in. The lyrics were perfect. We were lucky enough to be able to show her the video before she died. She cried the whole way through, in a good way, and commented that she thought she blossomed when she became a mother. My Dad said it gave him some perspective. I love all the pictures from the Eighties.

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My husband also wrote a song after he visited with my Mom last month. He got home, without me, and it just came pouring out of his heart all at once. It's called Paper Airplane.

If you are just tuning in, here are all the earlier posts about what's been going on:

Finally, if you wished you could have been there, I have a video of the complete service. It's a full hour (I cut out the 15 minutes of the Memorial Video up above), but if you have the time and interest, you may like to listen to my Eulogy and the tributes from family and friends. Everyone who spoke brought something different to the picture of who my Mom was and I really appreciated hearing about my Mom from another perspective.

It was a great day. After the service, we all gathered at the reception center for a few hours and then a large group of family and friends went over to my sister's place. It was so nice, huddling with my family, sharing stories and being close with so many who loved my Mom. It was comforting, fun, and special. Returning home will be hard, but it will bring about a new phase of this process for me. Alone with my thoughts, I expect to be reliving these last two months and feeling it more deeply than ever. Now, the grieving really begins.

In Memoriam // Bonny Fandrich // 1950 - 2013 by Leslie Fandrich

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Mrs. Bonny Fandrich (nee Bouchard), beloved wife of Bryan Fandrich, passed away peacefully at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat on Thursday, April 11, 2013, at the age of 62 years from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Bonny leaves to cherish her memory; two daughters, Leslie Fandrich (Chris Janata) of Warwick, New York and Jill (Mark) Braithwaite of Calgary, Alberta; one step daughter, Tracy (Allen) Woloshyniuk of Coalhurst, Alberta; and four grandchildren, Milo and Quinn Janata and William and Nicole Woloshyniuk. Bonny is also survived by three dear sisters, Shirley, Alita and Vicki, three sisters-in-law, six brothers-in-law and 31 nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents Roland and Mary Bouchard of Red Deer, and her parents-in-law Edward and Iris Fandrich of Medicine Hat.

Bonny was born June 10, 1950 in Red Deer, Alberta. She moved to Medicine Hat with her family when she was 16, excelled at Track and Field in school and loved playing the accordion. Her love affair with Bryan began in 1968. After she built a house with him, they got married in 1972 and their two daughters were born soon after. In 1981, when “the girls” were six and four they moved up to a grand old house on “the Hill” with a view of the cliffs, where they raised their family and lived until just last year. Bonny worked hard in every aspect of her life. Her home and garden were her pride and joy, there was a home cooked meal on the table almost every night and she assisted Bryan in the refrigeration business as well as helping maintain and manage several rental properties. She was devoted to her family and her relationship with her two daughters was always very close. She loved riding horses as a young girl, aerobics and bike riding were her passions in the 80’s and 90’s and she always took pride in looking her best. She was still wearing sexy heels at age 60. The family grew up camping in “the van” and travelling all over Southern Alberta and into the United States. Memorable trips included Yellowstone, the Lewis & Clark Caverns and into British Columbia. Bonny laughed easily, loved deeply and enjoyed her life immensely. In her later life she loved travelling to New York to visit her daughter’s family and with Bryan she completed a life long dream when they travelled to Hawaii in 2010 to attend a dear friend’s wedding. That trip happened right before she was diagnosed with cancer and it would sadly be her last. She bravely faced her cancer diagnosis and fought as hard as she could, living with the challenges it brought her with strength and determination.

Bonny’s family would like to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff at Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary and the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and give a special heartfelt thanks to everyone at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat for the tireless and devoted care they provided to all of us during this most vulnerable time. Cremation has taken place and a Memorial Celebration of Bonny’s life will be held in Calgary at McInnis & Holloway Funeral Homes, Fish Creek Chapel 14441 Bannister Road Southeast, Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 2:00pm with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Bonny’s name can be made directly to the Carmel Hospice, St. Joseph’s Home, 156 - 3rd Street NE, Medicine Hat, Alberta, T1A 5M1.

She's Gone by Leslie Fandrich

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The words are hard to find right now. For all the writing I've done about my Mom's journey, right now in this moment knowing she is really gone leaves me speechless. I can't believe it even though I know it's true.

I'll write more about the last week that I spent with her in a few days, but for now all I can say is that when I saw her tonight she was finally calm and at peace and that made me feel better. She was still and perfect and her pain was gone. 

I'm still so sad though. I cried more in an hour and a half tonight than I have all week with her, finally able to let go of the tears and deeply feel this immense loss. And now? Shock. Disbelief. Exhaustion. The process gets dialed back to zero and I start grieving all over again in a new way.

This sucks. But it is life. It is love. And it's all we've really got. I'm so grateful for every moment I had with her. It wasn't enough, but it never is when you really love someone. Cherish every moment.

Big hugs to everyone who has been touched by my Mom's strength, bright light and love. I cannot tell you all how much your love and support has meant to me at this time. This note that she wrote is addressed to me and my sister, but it's for you too. So simple, so sweet and so wise. "Be Happy. Be Loved. Try Something Magical."

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I'm going to miss her so much.

Bonny Fandrich: June 10, 1950 - April 11, 2013

Arrival and Departure by Leslie Fandrich

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The weather was gorgeous today in New York. I didn't wear a jacket, the air smelled like grass and dirt and the sunshine was warm on my skin. When my Mom first entered Hospice it was still cold outside and she told my sister she wanted to see spring blossom one last time. I took these pictures last year and they are for her.

I'm heading back to Canada tomorrow. My Mom has been holding steady for the last 3 weeks, but they increased her pain medication last weekend (she's now getting up to 20mls of Dilaudid an hour) and the confusion, anxiety and hallucinations also increased so they have been giving her an anti-anxiety medication called Versed. It's a sedative that allows her to relax, sleep and feel less stressed out about what's going on. In the last three days, if she wakes up and the Versed has worn off, she is very upset and doesn't know what to do with herself. Unfortunately, she is getting to the point where she needs to be fully sedated and with that will come a catheter, a cessation of eating and reduced mobility. I don't think it will be long after that.

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I'm not going back to take care of her, the team of nurses that she has at the Hospice facility are doing a great job of that, but my presence may bring her some comfort. I am mostly going for myself and for my sister and Dad. They need my support and I need to bear witness to this. I can't stay away. As hard as it will be to see her like this, I know I need to be there. To share in the grief, to be part of the process, to see her out in the same way that she saw me in. With love.

I'm trying to be really zen about this you guys, and it works sometimes, but I've also had this nagging headache for two days and the feeling of dread about what's to come. In a perfect world everything would be serene and peaceful and beautiful, but that's not reality. At least not all the time. I hope there will be beautiful moments, but this is also the hardest, most stressful time in my life and this is a difficult process. She's angry, she's emotional, she doesn't understand what she needs to do. How does a person die?

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I try to remind myself that death is like birth. It's a transition. It's a changing of states. It's traumatic and you have to labor at it. The body does strange things. You need to accept the process and ride the waves. Eventually, at the end of all the work, there is a release and things change forever. Her and I have been through this together before, and we can go through it together again. I can do this for her. I am ready.

It's a strange duality, spring blossoming and my Mom dying. But I am grateful for the warm sun and the new flowers to bring a little beauty to the world while this is happening. It's the way she wanted it.

Finding Beauty in a Cemetery and in Death by Leslie Fandrich

Last year when I was posting my Photo Walk series, I did a photo walk by myself in our local cemetery.

I felt uncomfortable posting the pictures. At the time, I was worried people would find them morbid or disturbing and not see the beauty in them that I did. Now, I don't care as much, but I'm also more preoccupied with death than I was before and I'm finding it difficult to contemplate anything else. It's time to post these pictures for one reason:

Death doesn't have to be faced with fear. It can beautiful and tell us valuable things about life.

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Lighting a Candle by Leslie Fandrich

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I got myself back into the studio yesterday and the first thing I did was light a candle. It sets the mood and scents the room and I love the idea of a candle burning while I am working. It helps me focus and direct my creativity.

I love to use these Fortune Matches that I picked up in Chinatown years ago. It gives the act of lighting the candle just a little more meaning. Today I chose Wisdom. The candle smells delicious and it was a gift from Greenmarket Purveying Co.

Getting back to work amidst uncertainty and stress seems to be good for me. It's distracting and rewarding, but I am doing only what feels good and not putting too much pressure on myself to meet any kind of expectations. Unfortunately, with that comes a little less blogging, but I hope you understand. Now is the time for a little more quiet and reflection. I'm turning inward a little, but I want you to know that I am coping as well as I can, and this is just me taking care of myself. (Wondering what the hell I am talking about? See this: One Thousand Goodbyes)

I'm excited to be working on illustrations for a friend's book proposal and I'm in the middle of a personal art project based on Neil Gaiman's book Fragile Things. It's going to be really cool and I can't wait to show you when it's done.

If there is one thing to look forward to, it's the wisdom, depth and experience that you gain when going through something difficult and traumatic. I know that I will come out on the other side of this with a deeper understanding of life and death, and for that I am truly grateful.

Facing the Void by Leslie Fandrich

Last week I travelled to Canada to see my Mom. Something in my gut told me that things were not right with her. I was noticing songs on the radio that made me think and worry about her and I had a very vivid dream in which she said good bye to me. I called her and she reassured me that everything was fine and not wanting to over-react, I decided to stay put. A week later, when I got a call from my Mom's youngest sister and she told me that she felt compelled to call me and ask me to visit my Mom, I knew I finally had to go. (Lesson learned, when I don't trust my gut, the universe intervenes to wake me up.)

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My Mom was diagnosed in 2011 with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. For the last year and a half she has been treating it with hormone therapy. She gets a shot of Octreotide (Sandostatin) once a month and smaller dose single shots every few days. She's also been using fentanyl patches and taking oxycodone as needed since she first ended up in the hospital.

The tumor was inoperable and we just learned it has been stage four since it was diagnosed. Still, she found a routine with the hormone therapy and the tumor seemed to be holding steady and even possibly shrinking a little. In November she seemed to be doing really well, but in December, fluid that had been accumulating in her abdomen since the summer was diagnosed as Ascites, and everything got a lot more serious. To relieve the pressure she has been having it drained every week or so for the last two months. This depletes my Mom of precious proteins and is a very difficult condition to live with. Pressure from the fluid makes it difficult to breath and it's hard to put too much food into her system.

An MRI she had in December showed that the tumor was progressing. There was a small spot on her liver and the disease was also in the lining of her abdomen. Those metastases were the cause of the Ascites. In January she started an oral chemotherapy, Everolimus, to try to control the ascites and to slow down the progression of the tumor. The chemo is not a curative treatment, but it could extended her life for an average of six months. Of course, it's causing other problems, like fatigue and nausea, so the balance between the benefit and cost is a delicate one. The radiation that had been suggested when she was first diagnosed is not currently an option, since she has lost so much weight because of the ascites and is having difficulty eating because of the chemotherapy.

She's always been a strong and determined fighter, so despite the doctor telling us that she has months to live, we are all hoping that she will beat the odds and be with us as long as possible. If the chemotherapy is able to control the fluid build up and she is able to gain some weight, the radiation treatment in Edmonton may become an option again. Studies have shown that over half the patients had an overall survival of 36 months after PRRT treatment.

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Mom? If you are reading this, go rest. I'm going to get real here and I don't want you to worry about me. I want you to know though, that I'm totally going to get you through this and together we will make sure that you are comfortable, well taken care of and at peace with all of it. I promise. I will be there for you and I will be fine, most of the time, but this also really sucks and I need to vent a little.

So, to the rest of you I ask: How do I say goodbye to my Mom? Because that's all I can think about. Where is the manual on how to be there for someone who is dying? How do I get out of of bed every day knowing that the clock is ticking? 

When I really think about it, I know the answer. It's that you just do. You show up, you say what you need to say and you do it with a smile and reassurances. You have no fucking choice. I have no fucking choice. We just have to accept that this is what we have been given and understand that for all the loss and pain in life, there is always love and beauty. 

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I'm not religious, and death can be a scary thing when you are not sure what happens after you or someone you love dies, but I read this incredible essay that made me feel a bit better about it. Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God. Go read it now, I'll wait.

This is my favorite part:

... inherent in change is loss. The passing of time has loss and death woven into it: each new moment kills the moment before it, and its own death is implied in the moment that comes after. There is no way to exist in the world of change without accepting loss...

Greta Christina writes so elegantly about our place in this world, our moment in time, that we can't help but know and understand that every single one us matters and has a impact on everything else that is around us. We don't disappear, we will forever have our place.

What matters is that we get to be alive. We get to be conscious. We get to be connected with each other, and with the world, and we get to be aware of that connection and to spend a few years mucking about in its possibilities. We get to have a slice of time and space that's ours.

So I'm trying really hard to not think about the things that I won't have because my Mom is dying, but instead to think about all the things that I have because she was alive. There are so many good things. This place of gratitude, as always, is the single best place to be when facing any challenge. And most of the time I find myself there, solid as rock, and smiling a little.

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Of course, a sad country song comes on the radio to ruin it all when you are alone in a bathroom at the airport and all of a sudden you are ugly crying in the mirror and angry as hell that this is happening. That's totally normal. Or you are in the shower just letting the hot water run over you while the tears just pour from your eyes. I don't intentionally try to hold back the emotions, but it does seem to hit me more when I am tired and vulnerable. I know that it's going to be important for me to nurture myself right now too, and make sure I am getting enough of the things that I need.

My favorite place to be since I have gotten home is my bed, reading Steve Jobs's biography, where I am unconsciously trying to divine how to deal with this since Jobs died last year of the same type of cancer as my Mom. Comparing them, he lived with the cancer longer but he was also 10 years younger than my Mom when he died. Comparisons are pointless, I know, but I read it anyway, distracted at the very least.

Chris asked me to make pancakes over the weekend and I just stared out the window, unable to get up and do this simple thing for my family. We needed groceries and the thought of going to the grocery store was just overwhelming. I just want to wrap myself up in my bed and lay there in a stupor, sleeping, reading and playing solitaire. The mindless tasks are appealing, so I don't have to think. We all grieve differently and we all need to give ourselves permission to feel the feelings and to take care of ourselves however is the best for us.

I'll be fine. (Mom, I know you are still reading this, and really, truly, I will be fine.) I will get up out of bed. I will write and I will make art. I have so many stories to tell and I am working on a new art project about fragile things. It's going to be beautiful. The kids always need something, they always make me feel better. I will just do it, I will keep living, I will keep loving. There is nothing else to do.

I know nothing will be the same, there will forever be a real piece missing from my life, but I also know that my Mom will inhabit my life in a different way. In some ways she will be further away and in some ways I know she will be so much closer. I have a feeling this process will bring me wisdom and understanding and while I know that it won't always be easy, I know that I will grow from it.

Have you lost a parent? How did you cope? What did you do?

In Memoriam: Sandy Hook Elementary Students by Leslie Fandrich

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The names are still with me. My son is six and attends a school with a layout probably exactly like the Sandy Hook School. His grade one classroom is one of the first down the hall. If this had happened at his school...

So today I can't quite get back to work yet. I needed to sit with these names this morning and draw them. Honor them. My heart goes out to all the families who lost a child, I cannot imagine the pain that you are feeling, but I want you to know that I am crying with you.

My heart also goes out to the families of the teachers who so bravely stood up:  Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Anne Marie Murphy, Dawn Hochsprung and Rachel Davino.

Some Things Take Time by Leslie Fandrich

My friend Jill called me yesterday to see if she could take me out to lunch. I don't know what I've done to deserve a friend like this in my life, but I hope that you have a friend like this too. She knew I was not feeling great this week, and after we ate, talked about what we were working on and roamed the antique store next door, she gave me this:

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It was exactly what I needed to hear.

One of the hardest things about being inspired and having a long list of awesome things you want to do and make, is that it takes sooo long for these things to happen. Proper things grow slowly and deliberately and need time to become what they are supposed to become. There are so many steps, but as Sandra reminded me too, you can only take one step at a time.

Then, I read the back of the card, and I cried. Because she said some really nice things about me that I know, but are so damn nice to hear from someone that isn't married to me or shares my DNA. (The nice things from my family count too, but in a very different way.)

It felt really good, to be seen like that and to be reminded to just take a deep breath and let things happen as they should. Because they will and you know what else? They already are. 

It's so easy to get overwhelmed with all the things on a to do list, all the decisions that need to made, research that needs to be done and work that needs to happen and forget about all the things that have been crossed off already.

So today, I am here to remind you what Jill and Sandra reminded me. Some Things take Time and even if you are moving forward at what feels like a snails pace, you are moving forward. And that is enough. Also - if you know someone who is working hard, tell them, they might really need to hear it.

Girl Crush Philly: Part Two by Leslie

On Tuesday I wrote Part One about Shauna's beautiful space and my girl crush on Danielle. Today I dive deeper into the exercises we did, specifically the jealousy map.

Girl Crush is more than girls crushing on each other. Before I went, I didn't really realise how in depth we were going to get about our goals and dreams. Yes, we had tea and cupcakes, but Danielle led us in three exercises adapted from The Artist's Way that were designed to get us comfortable sharing in the group, battle our inner critic, and recognise our greatest goals by identifying who we were jealous of.

Looking at who we are jealous of is an unconventional technique because we are taught that it is wrong to be jealous. We shouldn't envy our friends, or want to be something other than what we are, but the truth is that our brains do it ALL THE TIME. Instead of battling that feeling and letting our inner critic tell us we suck for being jealous, why not embrace that feeling, look at it honestly and figure out the WHY. Figuring out WHY we are jealous of someone can lead us to understand what we really should be focusing on in our lives.

Self-reflection is not easy and revealing who we are jealous of makes us feel vulnerable because we fear being judged. In the safety of the workshop it was still hard, but we all did it and supported each other with perspective, understanding and advice. First, we wrote down who we were jealous of, either a specific person, a type of person or a character trait. Then, we went back and tried to figure out WHY we were jealous of them. This is the part where the group discussion was very helpful because sometimes, the reasons we are jealous of someone are not obvious right away. Talking it out helped us to dig a little, find the truth and get to the heart of WHY. Once we figured out WHY, we thought of actionable steps that would help us fulfill that need or want or achieve our goal. Sounds easy right? It's kinda not.

I'm going to take deep breath and share who I am jealous of, to show you how this exercise worked for me. Don't judge, okay?

The one that I shared with the group was: I am jealous of in-crowds. Now, you might think it's because I want to be popular or to be seen, but you would be wrong. In-crowd might be the wrong term, but you know what I mean, right? It's a group of people who are already friends or have worked together before. I am jealous of them because of the support and opportunities that seem to come from being part of a group of people who are working together. It's hard to work alone, and to me, the in-crowd is this wonderful place to be, where you get hugs and jobs all day long. It's easy to look around and see cliques of people and want to be a part of one of those groups, but you can't apply to be a part of an in-crowd, they either include you, or they don't, and you have no control whatsoever about what other people do. So, here is what I have decided to do, I'm going to participate in and build my own community. I'm going to gather with those people around me who are doing what I do and I am going to hug them and support them and work with them. We all have our own communities if we just look around ourselves, like a local Mom's group, the local library or blogging friends who are attending the same events. Teaming up with the people who are already close to me is an excellent way to get support and opportunities.

After all three exercises I was totally exhausted and felt like I need to curl up and take a nap to process all the wonderful things that I heard, but we had one more task, art making! There were book covers, magazine clippings, stamps, pressed flowers, feathers and fantastic art supplies. We all got busy making art and tried to bring some of the insights we had during the day into our pieces. Sitting around the kitchen table, we had more discussions, and I wished that in the future I could conjure up this fantastic, creative table of women every time I needed them.

Thank you to everyone that attended Girl Crush Philly, especially Danielle and Shauna! You both did an amazing job inspiring us. Hope I can see you both again soon.

Check out Flickr to see the rest of my pictures from the day.

Paradox: Inequality is the Result of Abundance by Leslie

I love this animated illustration that my friend Agnieszka helped create for Norton Sociology. It is narrated by sociologist Dalton Conley who is the author of You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist. This video explains the concept of social stratification.

Interesting stuff! I have always loved sociology and especially how these concepts help us understand the communities that we live in. One of my favorite things about Star Trek was how it was able to explore different societal structures and see how different models might play out and what problems might present themselves. There is no perfect society. There are always problems. But I find it very interesting to consider different ways of doing things and how that might affect the world that surrounds us. 

TED Talk: The 3 A's of Awesome by Leslie

Canadian Neil Pasricha's blog 1000 Awesome Things, helped him find gratitude for the small things in life. His practice of noticing things that made him happy not only rescued him from a dark time in his life but catapulted him to win two Webby Awards and create a bestselling book.

Life is never perfect, and sometimes it sucks, but Neil has a thoughful strategy for maintaining a happy life by observing the three A's of Awesome: Attitude, Awareness and Authenticity.

Watch this great TED Talk:

Apple Cider Donuts and Something Like Balance by Leslie

With these two pictures, last week became Fall for me. It seems to hit me at different times every year, but this year we were on the beach until the day before school started for my oldest and my youngest's school started just last week, so it wasn't until last week that it really felt like Fall to me. All of a sudden I was eating apple cider donuts and noticing the beautiful yellow colors appearing all around me. I even had a beer over the weekend, a PUMPKIN beer. It didn't really taste like pumpkins, but it had that warm, cozy feeling that I was craving. Good bye ocean and white wine, hello fireside beers. 

I love seasonal changes. I love changes, period, and seasonal cycles are rejuvenating for me. Most of all though, Fall is simply my favorite time of year. It always has been, with my birthday and school starting, Fall always feels like a time of new beginnings for me. I've been cleaning and organizing my house like a mad women the last two weeks, sorting through YEARS of artwork and school work for the boys, figuring out a system for incoming papers and for storing keepsakes. Also, clothes. Sorting, donating, organizing. Such a sea of clothes, for me and the boys. It's done now and what a relief to have all those things organized.

So, fully into the season, routines established and shelves sorted, I can now get to work. I'm creating a new mood board for the year with a new word of the year, to be revealed soon. I'm redesigning my website and my business cards with the intention of dropping my site title "Lights and Letters" and just representing myself with my own name. Meagan Francis just wrote about this too. I need something flexible and simple to be able to branch off into different areas when I need to. I need something that will last. I have no idea when it will be done, but I am hoping no later than the end of the year. 

In the midst of all that, I will be taking a writing course with Alice Bradley, visiting Shauna Alterio in Philly for Girl Crush and attending Camp Mighty again. I'm really looking forward to diving more into my writing, being inspired in an art workshop and dusting off my Life List. Also, next month I've got an article coming out in Uppercase Magazine that I'm very excited about and I just learned that a teacher is using my Collaboration illustration in her Student Success college seminar at Santa Monica College. It's very cool stuff. Things are really beginning to happen, slowly but surely.

I've accepted that I'm on a different schedule than many other working women or even other working mothers. Things seem to take longer for me, some days it really feels like a snail's pace. I have so many ideas and so little time to act on them. It's ok though, because there is this:

Cuddling on the couch and building Lego with my boys. It doesn't get much better than that and I am so lucky and grateful that I can choose to drop everything and be with them. Amy at Frugal Mama just wrote a very long post about the business of blogging, what it takes, what you can gain financially and what she feels she has lost in the process. It's an open and honest piece about her own experience. It's a struggle many working mothers face and it sounds to me that rather than decrying blogging as a business, she is re-evaluating her own priorities and re-arranging things to feel better for her.

People always talk about balance. I always talk about balance. It's elusive sometimes. I've realized that there is never a moment of perfect balance, it's really just a process of tipping back and forth and hoping that at the end of the week, or month, or year, you've spent equal amounts of time on each thing that is important to you. Yourself. Your kids. Your husband. Your work. Your passion. Your home. Your friends. Your community. Diving into each bucket and soaking yourself in it and then diving into another one. You can't usually be in two buckets at once, it's much better to fully immerse yourself into each one, enjoy it, get your fill, and then switch to another one.

Some people have just a few buckets. Those people will seemingly get more done than I will. I have a lot of buckets and maybe each one isn't as developed as I would like, but I've got them all, and I love them all, and I need them all. We each need to figure out this grand game of life for ourselves. What works. What we need. There is no one answer, or one way. Try not to look around too much, just know yourself and you will make a good life for yourself.

Enjoy the Fall weather my friends! Enjoy the moment. Live for today.

Flying to Cape Cod by Leslie

After two days in Calgary helping my Aunt sort through some of my Grandma's belongings, I am flying to Cape Cod to join my husband and kids on a family vacation with his family.

Awesome thing of note: I am on the internet at 30,000 feet.

I took this picture the last time we were in Cape Cod. Chris's family rents a house there for the week and we got the same place we were at last time. It's a beautiful view and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

I've been immersed in family this past week, and it's been incredible, but also exhausting. My cousin wrote about it on his blog and after a little beach time with the kids tomorrow I've got to edit some pictures that I took and update the Tumbler page for Iris that I made.

I've got lots to think about and process, so I hope the relaxing beach atmosphere will allow me to focus on my thoughts. Although I'm sure the boys will sweep me up in all the fun they are having too.

I'm looking forward to that, I missed them.

I'm in a weird place though. Facing the death of such a strong presence in my family life is almost overwhelming. When I left my Grandma's house I hugged her empty clothes and said good bye. She is not there anymore, but I have to remind myself that it's ok too. Sometimes the empty space that is left when someone departs is filled with things you never even knew existed.

I'm looking forward to disocvering what those things might be.

A Grand Lady: Margaret "Iris" Fandrich by Leslie

I knew July 29th would be the last time I would see her.

When I visited in May she was having difficulty breathing, still happy as usual, but when I was close to her I found myself taking extra deep breaths, trying to breath for her. When I said good bye I told her that I would see her in July with Chris and the kids. She told me she might not be here. I was shocked, "Grandma! You HAVE to be here, I want the kids to see you!" She heard me, and she waited. We all came back at the end of July and spent one more day at her house in Calgary, a lot of the family there with us. My cousin Luke made this video, which totally makes me cry.

July 29th was one last idyllic day that our family was all together with her. I'm so glad that my cousin made a video of that day. It's a wonderful memory and a bittersweet contrast between my kids running around joyfully and my Grandma near the end of her life.

Three weeks later she is gone. She died last night probably from complications with chronic lung disease (COPD) and pneumonia.

When I saw her in July I had this overwhelming desire to take care of her, to wrap her up in my arms and hold her. Of course there are family members and home care workers who have taken very good care of her over the last few years and to them I am so grateful. 

She had a good life, filled with family who enjoyed seeing each other. She told my sister recently, in one of those frank conversations you have when people are getting sicker and not healthier, that she hoped she would be remembered as a good mother and a good grandmother. She was one of the best.

She always remembered birthdays. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of our extended family, and always knew whether someone was a first, second or third cousin and exactly how many times removed. She loved her family and loved to have her family around. I'm sure if she could have had us all living around the corner from her she would, although no matter how often you saw her, it was never enough. She always wanted a little more time to tell you some fascinating fact about prairie kangaroo rats or show you pictures of a fantastic sunset that she saw or share a magazine article about barns in Maine with you. There were endless things to share.

She knew all the American States and their capitals and when we visited, my American husband would go head to head with the Canadian Grandma to see who could name all 50 states and their capitals first. I think she always beat him.

She loved magazines and newspapers, cross words and puzzles, the natural world and animals. Birds especially and maybe owls the most. Although I think she told me once she was getting tired of getting gifts that had owls on them so one Christmas I got her things with roosters on them. I don't know how well that went. I always knew though that I could always give her something with an Iris on it. I don't think she ever got tired of her namesake.

She was never shy about telling you what she really thought and had comments and opinions about everything. She could actually be a little sharp with her children and those closest to her. But for me, as a grandchild who lived far away, I only ever saw her happy and having a good time. She loved to laugh and anytime I made her laugh so hard that she started gasping or coughing, I simultaneously felt proud and terrible.

I have so many fond memories of being at her house as a kid. Asking for money to visit the candy store across the street and coming home with a little brown bag filled to the top. Chocolate eggs in a bowl in the guest room. The ticking clock in the living room. The box of toys. Grandma's bare feet under the kitchen table. Homemade chicken noodle soup for lunch. Pickles in mason jars in the basement. Fresh raspberries in the backyard. Quilts in various stages and stacks of flannel she used to make pajamas for the kids. Her old sewing machine that was attached to a table. I still have the blanket that she made for me when I was born.

My greatest attachment to her though was our shared birthday. I always felt like it was a special connection to share a birthday with her, that I was her gift. She tried to make it to her 89th birthday, it is coming up in a few weeks, and I'm sure it would have been an epic birthday. It's a good long time on this earth and I think she had a happy life and enjoyed her time here very much.

I'll miss her so much.

Ninth Anniversary by Leslie

Nine years ago I married the most caring, charming man I had ever met. Today, he still charms me and takes good care of our family every single day. I am one lucky lady. We've had two children together and many adventures. It's always been fun (except for those nasty fights about the dishes.)

Last year I wrote about our engagement and wedding story and shared a bunch of the pro shots from the small ceremony during the day. In the comments my friend Rachel reminded me of these awesome pictures that she took of us in the evening when we were hanging out in the city. That's her husband Rosecrans in the picture of me hailing a cab.

Do you think we could be any happier? I don't think so.

Are we still jumping on the bed though? Not exactly. Mostly, if there is a bed nearby, we are sleeping in it. With our kids.

Marriage is complex. It is a challenge for two people to grow and change and stay on the same page with each other. It is easy to let minor details add up into a massive lump of discontent. But it CAN last forever. It CAN be blissful and lovely and supportive, if each person listens to each other and tries their best to give each other what they really need.

I'm no marriage expert but I have learned that for MY marriage to work, there are a few things that really help us stay happy with each other.

Generosity: How much you give to your spouse naturally changes over time, especially when the kids are soaking up so much of everything. It's important to be generous with each other, which to me means, giving more than you think that person needs. Whatever it is. Patience during a fight. Pats on the bum when you are walking by. Fixing something that is wrong. A nice long hug.

Clear Expectations: In any relationship, you must clearly communicate what you expect from the other person. Defining what our roles are in marriage and parenting is so important. Unmet expectations can be disasterous and the only way to know is to tell your partner what you want and need. As situations change, so do expectations, so make sure you continue checking in with each other. It's also really important to have realistic expectations and to understand what each person is able to bring to the relationship at any given time.

Quiet Time Together: This one mostly applies to people with kids, but it's also important if you have demanding jobs and always have the tv or computer in front of you. We just started doing this, but each night after the kids go to bed, rather than running to the tv or computer like we used to do, we spend 30 minutes just talking to each other. All devices are off and quiet. We sit on the couch, go outside, cuddle in bed. Wherever, but the ONLY expectation is that we are with each other. We don't even have to talk, although we always do. After the time is up, we go off to do our own things, but sometimes we don't, if you know what I mean. (Wink wink.)

Understanding & Compassion: This one can be really hard, especially if we are angry, hurt or fed up, but it is ESSENTIAL. If I take that thing that bugs me, that thing that hurts and I try to understand why it happens and I try to feel compassion for where my husband might be coming from, I am far more likely to be generous and willing to work it out. Often, if we get to the root of an issue, and we address it or understand the fear that might be driving a behavior, it makes it much easier to find a solution. Understanding and compassion encourages each of to be involved and help each other out.

Today I am grateful for all the wonderful things in my life, but especially for my husband and my marriage. Next year will be our tenth anniversary and I hope we can do something really special, just the two of us.

It's Summer. I'm Lazy. by Leslie

Hi. I've got summer fever. All I want to do is read about Tom and Katie and then take a nap. 

We were invited to two awesome birthdays in the last week for some very sweet four year olds. That's Milo up above, covered in body paint at one of them.

Today the boys are playing so nicely and quietly.

I'm trying to remember why I blog. What is the reason? Who is my audience? I'm kind of burning out on the blog-as-a-job thing. (It doesn't pay very well and it takes so much time!) Or at least the blog-that-needs-new-content-every-other-day thing. I want to focus on a few longer term projects that need to happen behind the scenes, like writing a book or making art, and sometimes it feels like blogging takes time away from those things since it is always a top priority, it needs to be maintained and new posts need to go up two or three times a week. It's this constant distraction from my bigger, more long term goals.

If I had more alone time, like 8 solid hours 5 times a week, I know I could do most of what I want, but I don't have that kind of time with two little kiddos running around. I want to spend time with them and be lazy and enjoy summer too. 

I don't know what the answer is and this is a stream of consciousness post so I'm sure tomorrow I will be feeling better and making a list of possible post topics, but for now I have the greatest urge to shut down the blog and focus instead on just enjoying life. Or perhaps redesign the blog to better reflect my goals.

At any rate, it's summer, and I'm going to go relax. Hope you are enjoying it too.

A Shift in Everything by Leslie

This is my final painting for Get Your Paint On. It is most certainly a culmination of everything that I learned in the class. I feel like, for one of the first times, I envisioned a painting and was able to make it real. It felt good. I used what I learned about color, composition and layering to create this painting one step at a time and I totally enjoyed every moment of painting it. Mati's final words for me were simply that she had wished she had painted it. That's saying a lot. I've posted my paintings from week one and weeks two, three and four as well.

With summer looming, I am trying to piece together a schedule for the kids so I can maintain the work time I have come to count on. I've got a little local summer camp planned for them, a few overnights with relatives and a daytime babysitter lined up to come to the house here and there. I am also embracing the summer. We have some vacation time planned and I'll be taking the kids to the local beach and parks, so things may be slower and more erratic around here over the next couple of months.

I'm looking forward to this time, to think about what I'm trying to do, and to figure out what I really want to focus on. I feel like I have been saturated with inspiration over the last year and I need to let things soak a little. Do you know that feeling? I have been seeking out every opportunity to be inspired, to learn and to connect with people and I feel like I need some down time to absorb it all. I didn't write about Mom 2.0 or about BlogStar Supper, not because they weren't amazing (because they totally were) but because I just needed a break from trying to formulate quantifiable learning points about every experience I have been having. 

Each experience influenced my life in one way or another, as all great experiences do. There were little moments and big moments and the ripples will probably be seen in everything I do. Sometimes it's hard to talk about these moments when the experience feels deeper than just what is on the surface. I feel a shift happened over the last month. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's almost like seeds that I have been planting are just barely starting to grow. These little things are fragile and I feel like I need to cup my hands around them and protect them until I know they are strong and will keep growing.

The creative process is so mysterious! Sometimes you have to push outward, force yourself forward and soak it all up, and other times you have to pull inward, sit still and let things absorb into your brain. Here are a few great posts I read last week that have hints of some of the ideas I have been thinking about. (Also - one of the ripples from Mom 2.0 is that I have been commenting more, thanks to a great 7 minute talk by Liz Gumbinner of Mom 101. I left a comment on each of these posts and have committed to leaving a comment every time I read a post that resonates with me. You should too!)

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Bloggers: Are We All Neurotic Extraverted Introverts? by Melanie at Inward Facing Girl

Lemons. Lemonade. by Kelly at MochaMomma

Rebirth: What We Don't Say by The Sage Mama (thanks for the link S.M.)

Purge by Tracey at Sweetney

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Speaking of purging, that is exactly what I did this weekend in the family room/kid's playroom and in my studio space. We have a separate guest house that is semi-attached to the house that I use as my studio, but over the winter it became a major storage room. I am just finally digging myself out of it. I cleared enough space for me to do my work for the painting class last month, but I discovered a few problems with the layout of the room and I need to rearrange things and finish sorting through a ton of my own clothes, paperwork from years ago and a bunch of baby items. More shifting.

The goal is to have both the family room and my studio space pared down to just the things that we love and use. I find it so much easier to use a space when it's not cluttered and when I have easy access to everything I need. My work space has also been very fragmented lately and I think I would benefit from bringing everything together into one place. My computer has been in the family room in the main house, so I have had easy access to it, but with the kids home from school over the summer I think it would be good to move it out to the studio where I can have my own quiet space to work, even if they are home. 

How does your physical space influence your mental space? Does your creative process also have moments of pushing out and then pulling in? Summer is a good time for thoughtful reflection, don't you think? As always, I'd love to hear from you. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.