Thursday, August 9, 2018

Adventures in Exploring Creativity

One of the perks of getting older is having the time and the willingness to explore new things.  This past week I decided to sign up for one of those silly Paint & Sip parties. You know the ones, you get to drink wine and try to paint something with the help of an artist.  Mostly it is just a fun excuse to get out of the house with your friends. 

I saw an event posted on Facebook for a local bar near me, so I asked a friend if she wanted to go.  

Showing up I will admit I was intimidated by that big blank canvass at my spot. The usual fears, what If I’m not any good, what if my picture looks terrible and I look silly in front of these other women. That’s when I realized that everyone had that fear, and the worst possible thing that could happen was that my picture would be awful and I would be out the $30 fee for the night. That’s not too awful, so I began to relax and have fun.

Our artist was fantastic – she had obviously done this many times before and she knew we would all be nervous and overly critical of our own work. 

 The first step, after ordering our alcohol of course, was to simply paint the entire canvass black. Now that seemed simple enough. 

 Feeling good that I had accomplished step one, she asked us to rinse the brush thoroughly and add some water to a portion of our white paint, so we could spatter some white onto our black background. Although this was a bit messy, I really enjoyed flicking the white dots all over my canvass and once I was finished I felt like I was looking at a night sky.  

Now came the harder parts, first she demonstrated tilting the canvass and making our big U shape for the bowl of the glass.  Somehow I tilted my canvass and still managed a glass that was straight upright in the center of the painting. I wasn’t sure how I managed that feat, but my glass looked fine so I kept it as it was.  

As we took a short break to let our paint dry, we got the chance to wander around and look at each other’s paintings. It was actually comical how different everyone’s paintings were. It was at that moment that I began to fully relax and enjoy the process. Sure I wasn’t the best painter, but having fun was really all that mattered. We mixed our colors, added some wine into the glass, and then finished by outlining the glass shape in white and adding details. 

I stared at my finished work, and decided that in honor of my wonderful book club, which ALWAYS includes copious amounts of wine, I wanted to add a book to my painting too, and the lovely instructor indulged me by helping to draw a book on a napkin and giving me a head start.

Reflecting on the whole experience, it was so easy to dismiss my talent and creativity, trying to compare my work to others. When I let go of that expectation, my whole evening changed and I was able to relax and make a pretty fun painting. Sure it probably won’t hang in the Louve, but its mine and I had fun making it – and that’s what really matters after all. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Watching History Repeat itself

School is starting once again and school children all across the country will be headed back to classrooms to learn. One of their many subjects will no doubt be history. 

I love learning about history, I find it fascinating, but more importantly I know how important it is to learn from the mistakes of the past. 

As students enter their social studies classes, some of them may see a graphic like this, learning about the fall of the once great Roman Empire. 

Will these students make the connections from the fall of Rome to the events happening in our country today? Will they learn about greedy, inept leaders, unfair taxation on the poor, government corruption, and a widening gap between the social classes?  Will they see the parallels. 

This makes me wonder, what did Roman citizens think at the time? Were they able to see the dangers they faced? Did they have anything they could have done to change the course of history?

When I look at the headlines today I can’t help but make a correlation to the late Roman Empire. Will we sit idly by and just watch as our own empire crumbles under the weight of greed, corruption and apathy?

I do hope those students learn well, so they can become the leaders of this country and make positive changes, if our empire lasts long enough for them that is. 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Being a Grandma is the Best!

Getting a chance to Facetime with my amazing grandson makes my whole day so much better.  I just love being a Grandma – It is everything I hoped it would be. 

So many of my friends who are also Grandparents feel the same way so I wanted to share some fun Grandparent memes. 
This is so true, my daughter picks on me for spoiling my beautiful Grandson, but I consider it my official job as grandma to buy him too many clothes and toys.
 My Grandson lives far away, but I am hoping he and his Mom & Dad will move here soon.  
I took William shopping on my last visit and we had so much fun. He kept grabbing toys off the shelf and I have to admit most of them did find their way into my cart. 

 My hubby and I have teased about giving grandkids tons of sugary treats and then sending them home, but for now I do make sure my sweet boy gets plenty of good healthy food – but I’m not saying I won’t indulge him once in awhile.
I have always been accused of being a mama bear and you can bet that will not change with my grandson, in fact its probably even worse. That little boy is the light of my life.
Being a Grandma really is my happily ever after. I never thought I could love anyone as much as my daughters, but my grandson showed me that I could.  He is perfect and I am so grateful he is in my life. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

States I still need to visit

Have you completed one of those maps on social media, the ones that show how many states or how many countries you have been to? 

Here is a link if you want to visit one right now

One of my goals is to visit each of the 50 states here in the United States and so far I have managed to visit 40 states so far – which leaves only 10 states left on my list to visit. 

As you can see from the map, most of the states I still need to visit are in the upper Midwest of the country.  I was thinking of a big road trip to see all those states so I spent some time looking at the things to do and the places to see in each of the ten states on my list. My love of history and geography is clear from the places that are on my list.

South Carolina
I would love to see the City of Charlestown with its antebellum homes and rich history. I also would love a visit to Myrtle Beach. I have heard so much about it. 

The most obvious thing to see in Wyoming is Yellowstone National Park and I have heard that Cheyenne is one of the most beautiful cities in the country.

A trip to Big Sky Country would have to include a visit to Glacier National Park, and I better hurry because the glaciers are receding quickly and they may not be there much longer. 

North Dakota
A trip to the Badlands National Park of North Dakota would be wonderful, and I would love to visit the national Buffalo Museum and also stop by the town of Rugby ND, to see the Geographic Center of North America.  

South Dakota
Of course I would have to see Mount Rushmore, but there is also a new landmark that I would love to visit, the beautiful Dignity Statue on I-90 at the Chamberlain Rest area. I have seen pictures on social media and she looks amazing. 

I know there isn’t a lot to see in Iowa besides corn, but my first stop would be Dyersville, the home of the actual ‘Field of Dreams’. I also read about a kwirky destination, the Matchstick Marvels Museum in Gladbrook.

I hate to admit it, but I have never actually been to Chicago, so a trip to the Windy City is a must.  

In addition to the corn and wheat fields, a trip to Nebraska would include a visit to the Homestead Monument and the Scottsbluff National Monument. 

Hawaii is a tourist dream, with beaches, waterfalls, and volcanoes I am sure I won’t have any problem finding things to see and do, and of course I will include a visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial.  

Which states do you still need to visit? It is fun to do some research and find out the exciting places to see and things to do in all 50 states. 

Share your list in the comments below. 

Monday, June 25, 2018


Did you know there is a gene for empathy? I was surprised to learn that, but when I received a genetic report about my own DNA I learned about the Empathy gene, “rs53576 is a silent G to A change in the oxytocin receptor (OXTR) gene. Studies have demonstrated that individuals with the G allele are more empathetic, feel less lonely, and employ more sensitive parenting techniques”.

Lately I have been wondering what happened to empathy in our country. Any visit to social media will show numerous examples of mean-spirited or heartless comments designed to inflict pain on others.  I am always surprised when people can be so mean, cruel and heartless.  I guess I have always been a bit naïve, but I try to believe in the good side of people, so I am surprised and disappointed when I find someone who has the capacity for intentionally hurting others. 

This past week has been especially hard for me. It has been awful watching the news and seeing all the images of children in anguish as they are taken away from their parents. I must have a bunch of that empathy gene because I have found myself crying on more than one occasion as I read about or watched videos of these immigrant families and how they have been treated. 

The definition for empathy sounds pretty straightforward, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We are all human; we should be able to understand and share the feelings of another, so why does it seem so hard lately? 

I am so saddened to see that people I know and care about have displayed an astounding lack of empathy at the events unfolding in our country.  I know that politics can create hard feelings but there are some things that simply transcend politics.  

Human kindness and decency should never be a partisan issue and we should all strive for more empathy. Maybe someday soon scientists will develop a way to increase our rs53576 gene because lately it feels like we could all use more of that empathy gene.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Social Media Hall Monitor

Like most of us, I hate trolls on the Internet.  I really don’t understand someone who simply wants to provoke arguments and bad feelings with others on social media. Lately I have been fighting back in my own way, I have become a social media hall monitor.

Do you remember way back when schools had actual hall monitors, or the times when your teacher left the room but she would put one of the goody-two-shoes kids “in charge” of the classroom while she was gone because she knew those kids would tattle on anyone who misbehaved?  Well I have decided that the only way to help get rid of trolls and get back to some semblance of decency and civility on social media is to tattle on people.
Yes, I am tattling on anyone who posts nasty, awful, or untrue things and it is actually helping, at least a little bit.  Every social media platform has specific written guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, and they all have a relatively simple reporting mechanism, so I have begun to take the time to report when I see a post or comment that violates the guidelines.

On Twitter, you can report directly from an individual Tweet or profile for certain violations, including: spam, abusive or harmful content, inappropriate ads, self-harm and impersonation.  According to Twitter, here are the steps for reporting:
How to report a Tweet in a Moment for violations:
1.    Navigate to the Tweet within the Moment that you’d like to report. 
2.    Click or tap the  icon 
3.    Click or tap Report Tweet.
4.    Choose the type of issue you’d like to report to us.
5.    Once you’ve submitted your report, we’ll provide recommendations for actions you can take to improve your Twitter experience

Facebook also has a fairly simply mechanism for reporting abusive content. According to Facebook, The best way to report abusive content or spam on Facebook is by using the Report link that appears near the content itself. For example here are the directions to report a comment:

To report a comment:
         Go to the comment you want to report.
         Click Hide thisReport.
         Follow the on-screen instructions.

Taking the time to report these comments can be a hassle, but it can work.  

Recently I have been using the neighborhood group discussion. It is a fun and simple way to chat with your local neighbors, to ask for recommendations about home services or report a lost pet or any number of things you may want to share with your neighbors. 
Of course, with any social media, this group had a member who wanted to use the group as his own personal soapbox. He would write comments arguing with neighbors or promoting his own political agenda, which is clearly not the intent of this group and this behavior goes against the community guidelines.  I posted some community news and he proceeded to argue with me, so I took the time to report him. At first he was temporarily banned from the group, but upon return he continued to argue with me and other neighbors, so I once again took the time to report his comments and he has since been removed from the group permanently.  It is a small victory, but it is one step closer to regaining the civility and decency that I hope we can all return to.  

It won’t solve every problem on social media and it won’t eliminate trolls completely, but if we all take the time to report these trolls, social media just might become a nicer place. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Are you a Trusted Traveler?

Wanderlust has taken hold of me. Last year I travelled with a friend to Iceland and we had the most amazing time. This year I found an incredible deal on a trip to Bangkok, Thailand and we are heading there in the fall. I have always been inspired to travel. Way back in college I spent my life savings on a 21-day trip around Europe, and I have been finding ways to continue travelling ever since.  

After returning from Iceland, my friend encouraged me to get a Global Entry Card.  Basically a Global Entry is a special pass when you travel that lets you skip long lines upon re-entry to the United States.  Since travel is definitely in my future plans I decided to check it out, and after a pretty straightforward process that lasted about a month, I received my card so look out world, here I come.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program like I was, 
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that, according to their website, “ allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States”.
Although I have not used my card yet, according to the website, when people with a Global entry got to the airport they “proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.”  If you have ever had to wait in a long customs line you will understand the importance of this card. Basically it lets you skip much of the customs process.  This card works as a front of the line pass.  
The reason you are allowed to skip the line is that all travelers have to be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. Applicants undergo a background check and in-person interview before they are enrolled in the program.  The card also has a fee of $100 and lasts for 5 years.  Some travel credit cards will reimburse your fee for the program.  

Here are the required steps to apply for a card, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website 

Before you apply, make sure you are eligible for Global Entry.
It’s easy. Just follow these steps:
1.         Create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Regardless of your age, you must have your own TTP account.
2.        Log in to your TTP account and complete the application. A $100 non-refundable fee is required with each completed application.
3.        After accepting your completed application and fee, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, then your TTP account will instruct you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.
4.       You will need to bring your valid passport(s) and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card to the interview. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your machine readable permanent resident card.

Are You Eligible?
U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of the following countries are eligible for Global Entry membership:
·      Citizens of India
·      Citizens of Colombia
·      Citizens of Germany
·      Citizens of Panama
·      Citizens of Singapore
·      Citizens of South Korea 
·      Citizens of Taiwan 
·      Mexican nationals

Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program.
If you are under the age of 18, you must have your parent or legal guardian's consent to participate in the program.

When I applied I received conditional approval within a few days.  There are enrollment centers at most major airports, but interview appointments fill up quickly.  I had to wait about three weeks for my interview, but the interview itself took only about 5 minutes.  The agent verified my personal data on the application, took my fingerprints and picture and then sent me on my way.  

One of the great perks of the card is that it also includes TSA precheck for domestic flights, which is another great program that allows you to skip the lines at airport security.  

While this program isn’t for everyone, if you are planning to do international travel this card can hopefully make your trip a little bit easier, and after a long international flight that sounds wonderful.