Friday, February 27, 2009


"Why should we all use our creative power...? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money."--- Brenda Ueland

I spent the first 40 years of my life believing I didn't have a creative bone in my body, then I spent the next 15 kicking myself for wasting the first 40. What I finally discovered was that "creativity is our true nature, that blocks are an unnatural thwarting of a process at once as normal and as miraculous as the blossoming of a flower at the end of a slender green stem." I also learned that creativity is God's gift to us, and using our creativity is our gift back to God. The idea that the creator encourages creativity is a radical thought. We tend to think that creative dreams are egotistical, something that God wouldn't approve of for us. If our parents expressed doubt or disapproval for our creative dreams, we may project that same attitude onto a parental god. Thankfully, I was taught that this can, and must, be undone.

My teacher believes that "no matter what your age or your life path, whether making art is your career or your hobby or your dream, it is not too late or too egotistical or too selfish or too silly to work on your creativity." This teacher devised tools to assist us with this task - this business of creating pathways in our consciousness through which the creative forces can operate. Regardless of your spiritual background, most of us believe in some kind of Higher Power. Thinking of it as a form of spiritual electricity is a useful jumping-off place. Consider these quotes:

  • I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit accomplishes all through me. -- William Blake
  • The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel. -- Piet Mondrian
  • The music of this opera (Madame Butterfly) was dictated to me by God; I was merely instrumental in putting it on paper and communicating it to the public. -- Giacomo Puccini
  • Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God. -- Johannes Brahms
I have never met my teacher in person. I found her in a book - a book I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in practicing the art of creative living, and the book I am offering to you in this month's Year-of-Reading-Dangerously Give-Away. The author, whom I will name soon, says:

As you work with the tools in this book, as you undertake the weekly tasks, many changes will be set in motion. Chief among these changes will be the triggering of synchronicity: we change and the universe furthers and expands that change. I have an irreverent shorthand for this that I keep taped to my writing desk: "Leap, and the net will appear."

Are you ready to take that leap? Then leave up to one comment per day, between now and Sunday night, or send me an e-mail at becky.lane(at)vownet(dot)net, and I will put your name into the hat for our drawing. It matters not if you have already won before - you are still eligible! I might even sweeten the deal by throwing in some supplies which will help you as you undertake the exercises in the book - maybe a journal for your "morning pages" or a sketchbook to take with you on your "creative excursions." But hurry, time is running out!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Just for fun, here is an example of one string (out of many) of "meaningful coincidences" that occurred, once I set out on the path to good-lifeitude:

  • DH started pestering me to transfer my Hill Country journal ramblings to a blog
  • Surfed the net to see if anyone else was blogging about the HC
  • Stumbled upon a neat blog called Lifescapes
  • Turned out it was written by none other than Susan Wittig Albert, author of my favorite China Bayles mysteries, which are set in the HC
  • Got the nerve up to send Susan an email (expecting no response whatsoever, from one who was juggling 3 book series and a magazine column at once) just to say I was happy to have found her blog, that her books had inspired me for years, and that we hoped to be living in the HC ourselves before too long.
  • She responded, personally, within minutes!
  • Later, after I had actually moved here and was wanting to take a writing class, I remembered that Susan was once a VP at a near-by university. I sent her an email asking if she could recommend any good classes (very presumptuous of me, and completely out of character)
  • Again she responded, personally, and within minutes. Not only did she answer my question, she also invited me to attend the Story Circle Network conference that was to be held in Austin the following month - an organization that had been started by Susan herself some years before, just for women memoirists like me, because she believes every woman has a story to tell, and she is passionate about helping them to find their voices.
  • While there, I attended a workshop on blogging, hosted by Susan herself
  • Also while there, I did something I have never done before - went into the hotel restaurant alone, waltzed up to a table of two other conference attendees, and brazenly invited myself to join them. One of them, as it turned out, also lived in Wimberley. She later invited me to hang out with her and a couple of her other wonderfully creative friends. I now refer to them as The Muses...


Click To Enlarge

Hmmm, I do believe I started this list on 2/14, not 1/14. which is why I drew little red hearts all around the date.....DOH!

P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment, or send an e-mail to becky.laneatvownetdotnet, if you wish to be included in this month's Life-Altering Give-Away! (Hmmm, perhaps I will even throw in a small sketchpad, to go with the book...)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Really bad news from the Texas Locavore...


Someone should have reminded me that this was a short month. I almost let it slip past without announcing the Give-Away! And, I promise you, this is one you won't want to miss - a book of life-altering proportions. So leave up to one comment per day, between now and Sunday night, and I will put your name in the hat once for each comment. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Life is not always what one wants it to be, but to make the best of it as it is, is the only way of being happy. --- Jennie Jerome Churchill

Times are tough. I do not envy my kids, who are fresh out of school and trying to make their way during the worst recession that my generation has ever experienced. It is only natural for us to want to lend them a hand, wrap them in a cocoon, and protect them from the cold, cruel world. But if we do that, are we really helping them, or are we just making ourselves feel better? The more I think about it, the more I believe that we help them most by teaching them to deal with the reality of now.

My parents were once living high on the hog. Dad owned a thriving business, and they were spending the money as fast as he could rake it in. I seem to remember, faintly, that they were both very nice, cheerful people back then. But, life hit a snag, as so often happens. Dad lost his business and had to go to work for a friend. They sold their lovely home and moved into something smaller, and borrowed from friends to pay off debts and avoid bankruptcy. It shocked me, when I started counting back just now, to realize that they were only about 37 when this happened. They still had a good 40 or 50 years ahead of them, and could have rebuilt a wonderful life together, but they were never able to face the reality of now. They spent the rest of their lives pining for what they had lost, trying to keep up appearances, punishing one another, and making themselves and everyone around them absolutely miserable.

So, here is my advice to any of you who are beginning to feel the pinch. Learn to live in the reality of now. Do not spend according to what you hope to earn one day, or what you might have earned before, or what your parents earned, or even what you think you deserve to be earning. Deal with the here and now, for that is the only way to keep from digging a hole that you may never manage to crawl out from.

Most Important Financial Advice You Will Ever Receive: Spend less than you bring in! Why? Because shit always happens. There will always be a leaky roof to deal with, bald tires or a busted water heater to be replaced, health emergencies and vet bills, and any number of other things that can go wrong. Count on it! If you spend every penny you make during the good times, and don't set a bit aside each month, then you will end up having to put the emergencies on credit cards, and each time you do this, your hole will get deeper and deeper.

Now, a lot of you are probably thinking "Well, that's easy for her to say! She leads a charmed life, and doesn't have a clue what it's like not to earn enough to even meet your basic needs!" Well, maybe so, but I promise you, it wasn't always this way. I was pretty much self-supporting from the day I turned 16 and landed my first job. I put myself through college with no help from anyone, by saving every penny I earned each summer and juggling different jobs on campus during the school year. And yes, my husband has always been a good earner, that much is true. But he's not so good, I'm afraid, at holding on to what he earns. I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite - a lousy earner, but a whiz at holding onto it, socking it away, and making it stretch - another reason we make such a good match!

So, back to the reality of now. If you are not currently earning more than you spend each month, you really have only two choices: figure out a way to spend less, or figure out a way to bring in more. Sound impossible? Well yes, I suppose it might, but if you are willing to make a few "lifestyle" adjustments, and are determined to ride this out and end up in a better place down the road, there is quite a bit you can do. Take it from my daughter, Alexis. Lex is an interior designer out in southern California. As you can imagine, design services are not in high demand amongst those who are being foreclosed upon, so times are tough for Miss Alexis and her cohorts. Fortunately, adversity seems to bring out her spunk and determination. The first thing she had to do was re-define "necessity": shelter, basic nutritious food, decent healthcare, library card, paying off debt? All absolutely necessary! Fourbucks coffee, travel, restaurants, movie theatres, alcohol and cigarettes, buying new books, clothing and accessories, fancy phones and cable TV, having a house or apartment to oneself, or even working only 40 hrs. per week, or holding down only one job ? Definitely not! (See disclaimer in comments below) Then she made another discovery - it's amazing what you can get, simply for the asking:
  • got a 20% low-income-family discount on her electricity bill
  • asked for company-paid health insurance in lieu of a raise after the first year with her present company, reducing her payment from $80/mo. to $0
  • called AIS for quotes on car insurance, and reduced her payment by $20/mo.
  • called her cable/internet provider, and asked them to peel her service down to basic cable, no tivo box, downgraded internet (but not down to dial-up) and got a temporary discount, reducing her bill by $40 per month
  • got a customer loyalty package from her cell phone provider, with less minutes and texting, which she rarely used anyway, and reduced her bill by $40/mo.
  • stopped going to movies, and reduced her Netflix down to the minimum number of DVDs at once
  • started cooking at home more, buying more "real" food and less processed, and started taking lunches more often, reducing her food bill by at least $50/mo.
All this was accomplished by simply picking up the phone, politely explaining her situation, and asking what fluff could be stripped away. Some even offered her a temporary discount, because the last thing they want is to lose you completely. Doing all this allowed her to finally start paying more than the minimum payment towards her debt since, as she sadly discovered, when you do only that, it never goes away! Ne-ver, Ne-ver, Ne-ver!

This is just the beginning though, for I'm sure there are a million other ways to cut back, without sacrificing happiness. When we lived in Indonesia we had plenty of money, but nowhere to spend it, so we had to make our own fun. Believe you me, I wouldn't trade those impromptu parties where we played cards or charades and had simple refreshments made from scratch, or movie nights when the whole community got together to watch a video, for all the noisy theme restaurants and mega-movie theatres in the world. When one of my favorite bloggers got married, her mother told her "You are never too poor to entertain friends. One can always afford to make a big bowl of popcorn, fix a pitcher of tea or lemonade, and pull out a deck of cards or a game." I'd say her mom was one smart cookie!

I've heard of people renting out a spare room or garage apartment, or leasing their home out temporarily, and moving into someplace less expensive. Others are planting Victory gardens, to supplement their food budget and reduce their carbon footprint. Some are paring down to only one car, and ridding themselves of the things they no longer need, like those extra sets of china and fancy silver and crystal that haven't been out of the cabinets in years. There's a great shop in Houston, called The Guild. It's one of those church-related resale shops that are operated for charity. Every time I go there for the weekend, I try to clean out one more cabinet and make a Guild run. Not only have their monthly checks helped to support my writing habit, I have also made a huge dent in the amount of clutter I will have to clear out, when it comes time to shut down the townhouse. Know what? I don't miss any of it one iota!

So what about you? Any suggestions for navigating "the reality of now" with aplomb?

Sunday, February 22, 2009


If you recall, this months prize give-away went to new reader Becca. Her prize happened to be the book A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle, and a bar of homemade lavender soap from The Bountiful Sprout. Well, like me, Becca happens to be a fan of several ex-pat blogs - blogs about people who are living in a country other than their native one. So, Becca gets her new book and dives into the whole Provencal experience, then goes to the computer to visit some of her favorite bloggers, and what does she find but this - a nice long post about Peter Mayle and his books! She immediately dashes off a note to me about the lovely "synchronicity" of it all.

Now, if you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you are bound to know that I am extremely fond of this word, used to describe happy little serendipitous coincidences. I seem to use it quite often of late. So often, in fact, that it got me to thinkin'. I'm thinking that perhaps there are always good things just waiting to fall into place for us, but we are not always open to them. When we rush through our days trying to multi-task, or spend our time worrying about what's to come or what happened in the past, I think we often miss the signs that are all around us. Once we learn to slow down and be completely present in the moment though, synchronicity abounds - our gift from the universe.


Hey, remember these guys, my friends Rick and Cheryl, who were just getting started with building their own house from scratch, when I first introduced you to them? I stopped by last week to take a few more pictures for you. It's been slow going, but I think they're finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The upstairs loft area will be their art studio, and there will be a 2 1/2 story porch off the side of the house - the perfect place to get a bird's-eye view out over their domain. I'm especially impressed by the number of recycled materials they have managed to incorporate, including wood flooring from a gymnasium, and cabinetry from a high school art department. Cheryl is now busily stewing over ideas for creative tile-work and cabinet finishes. Can't wait to see what she comes up with!