I thought I might share something I have been working on fairly regularly throughout the year- my Project Life album.

(Click on the image above – arrows should appear on the right and left to navigate through the photos…)

Since there were thirty pages in this album, I made them into a little slideshow so you don’t have a massive post full of photos to scan through.

I started this particular album (my 11th) in April. It’s close to being full- I think I might try and get another month in it, just for the sake of shelf space!

Some thoughts on the process, in no particular order:

- I’m still using the 8×8″ albums by American Crafts. I do sometimes get a hankering for a larger base page (12×12″ is the traditional scrapbook size) to work on, but in general, I feel REALLY comfortable with the 8×8 page. I know exactly what size photos work on it (mostly 3×4, 4×4, and 4×6) and how many photos I can fit on one page.

And as much as I LOVE “white space” (or unused space) in other people’s layouts, I just can’t seem to let myself leave a lot of empty space on a page. I always wind up filling it up, and then sort of hating all the junk that ends up on my pages. So by staying 8×8″, I don’t leave myself a lot of empty space to be indecisive about. Also, it’s so much easier to work on (takes much less space on my desk when the album is open and I’m working on a page outside of it!)

- I started out this year switching over to the Project Life pocket-style scrapbooking (and buying a lot of page protectors and Project Life-style cards for that format!), but as the year went on, I found myself gravitating back towards using full-size pages. I did a few “full-size” pages after doing a bunch of “pocket” pages and they were SO much more fun to put together. I just found that composing six separate pockets was a lot more time consuming and fussy than composing one whole page. However, I do jump back to pockets when I have a few distinct and vertically-oriented photos to share.

- I dropped my kit club subscription – I was with Cocoa Dasiy (and I can’t recommend them enough!) but a few months ago I decided that I wanted to just buy what I really liked and spend my scrapbooking budget on a box full of stuff that I loved every piece of. So if a line comes out that I like, I’ll pick the pieces I like and buy that. I buy a lot of 12×12″ paper pads (mostly American Crafts, Studio Calico, and Pink Paislee) because I use a lot of that size paper and I like having an assortment to pick from. I have stopped buying 6×6″ pads, for the most part.

- I also buy a lot of wood veneers (use them all the time, every page), enamel dots (ditto), letter stickers (mostly Thickers- again, I use on every page), and recently started buying little assortments of sequins (finding my way with them…) and flair badges. All of these things are fairly inexpensive, but I use them ALL THE TIME.

- I have more or less given up on the goal of making my Project Life/scrapbook “artsy”. As much as I like the idea of combining different interests in one place, I just never felt comfortable throwing in an “artsy” page in the middle of a bunch of pages of Gracie riding her bike, the cats sleeping in the sun, photos of the garden, and movie posters. I’ve also sort of given up trying to force myself to write my emotions/feelings on the pages. As much as I want those things recorded, I find it’s SO much easier to just make the album a scrapbook and not a journal. (More on art journaling in another entry, I think…)

- My process: I take photos all the time with my iPhone, print them out every few days, and keep the stack in a little box on my desk. I keep all ephemera that comes through here- dated receipts, little images, stamps from the mail, movie tickets, etc. I just spend most of the month gathering stuff. And then at the end of the month, I take a few days and spend them putting the pages together. I just find that I get into this “flow” with Project Life and it’s easier to dedicate a few days to doing the pages and leaving the supplies on my desk and then be done for the month, and put it all away and start collecting photos and stories and ephemera for the next month. I don’t know if this will be my system going forward forever, but for right now, it really works for me NOT to work on Project Life on a day-by-day or even week-by-week basis.

But I definitely don’t limit how many pages I make at the end of the month, either. Some months are only two pages, and other months are A LOT more. Whatever. I just want to get the basic story of the month down, have our life documented, and have a good time doing it. Gracie does flip through the albums, and I’m always REALLY surprised and happy when *I* flip through them because I have recorded stuff I completely forgot about, and I’m so happy those little memories are there.

So this Project Life book, which I guess is more like a traditional scrapbook, sort of covers my desire to document our day-to-day life, and lets me use paper products (patterned paper, washi tape, letter stickers, etc.) that I really love.

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photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto

photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto

“Most people think that once they’ve found their purpose, they’ll finally be at peace. Actually, though, it’s only by starting in a place of peace that we find our purpose. Peace is the first step and the final lesson we all need to learn.” – Martha Beck

I really want to talk about Robin Williams passing. I’ve been hesitant to do so because it might seem negative or “dwell-y” and I am worried people will sort of click away because it’s not a happy topic and maybe everyone is exhausted of all the coverage. But that’s really ironic considering that I am really hoping that RW’s death might make us more tolerant of less-than-happy topics of conversation, and encourage more people to feel comfortable sharing their struggles, no matter how serious or silly they seem to be.

The truth is, Robin Williams death really hit me hard. There have been quite a few famous people whose death was difficult and sad, but nothing like this. I had to go into the bathroom and weep a bit, and pull myself together. I just kept seeing his face on the news, and seeing something about his eyes, and I would lose it all over again.

I think the big issue for me is that Robin Williams seemed like someone who was COMPLETELY full of life- excessively so (and I ABSOLUTELY do not mean that in a negative way)- so the idea of that huge of a life being snuffed out was very hard for me to wrap my brain around. That’s my big issue with death- how can there be life one second and then no life the next second?

I’m not a religious person, but I do consider myself very spiritual. Regardless, I have a lot of questions and doubts about a lot of things, and I spend a fair amount of time puzzling them through. Death is something I struggle with a lot. The whole “there one second, gone the next” is almost too much for me to process, especially when someone or something I care for passes.

The second thing that gets to me about Robin William’s death is this: this was a man who had tremendous success, had contributed an enormous amount of JOY and laughter to the world, and had access to great medical care, the latest medicines and treatment, etc. Yet still he succumbed to depression.

For some reason that really got to me. First, it made me realize that however far we think we’ve evolved as a society in regards of acceptance of mental illness (and GOD, can we please find another term for it, because the phrase “mental illness” has such a stigma around it and it’s unlikely the negative connotation- it reminds me of the word “cripple” and those of us who have physical disabilities really don’t LOVE that word, you know?!) we’re not CLOSE to where we need to be. And I don’t think the treatments being offered for depression are close to where they need to be. Maybe what’s on the table for depression (talk therapy and/or meds) just isn’t enough.

People should be able to say that they’ve had a difficult day (or week, or month, or year, or whatever) and not worry that they might alienate someone in the process of being honest. People should be able to seek help without it being a big deal, without worrying that they aren’t strong enough to “get their shit together”, etc. Depression isn’t a choice… I mean, who the heck would choose to be depressed? Who would believe that anyone would choose to feel like crap? It’s a medical condition, just like Spina Bifida, which I was born with. I didn’t choose Spina Bifida, it just happened. It’s part of me. And I learned- and still am learning- how to live with it. It’s a challenge, but I’ve received a lot of support over the years, and I have a ton of people in my corner, a ton of people who really want to see me thrive. The medical community supports me, as does my family and friends. And I believe people with depression or anxiety deserve the same support and encouragement.

The second thing is this- success. Robin Williams had it. Not only career success but also the legacy of having touched MILLIONS of people’s lives personally and in the most positive way possible- he brought joy. Pure joy. That’s a BIG deal. That’s the big shiny dream of most of us- to do something we love and have it make a positive difference in people’s lives, and to succeed at it.

Yet that success wasn’t enough to sustain him.

I wonder if he didn’t give too much, put too much of that amazing energy and creativity into putting himself out into the world. Maybe he didn’t leave enough for himself at the end of the day. I don’t know.

What I *do* know now, as a result of learning about Robin William’s suicide, is that happiness is clearly NOT solely dependent upon success, or money, or popularity, or access to resources, or stress reduction, or even a person’s positive impact on the world. Robin Williams had all that in spades and it wasn’t the answer.

I don’t know what the answer is. What creates happiness? What creates contentment?

Personally, I’ve placed a lot of value in success. For years I thought the reason I wasn’t deeply content was because I don’t have a formal, contract-on-paper, 9-to-5 career. I was “supposed” to be a curator. That didn’t happen and because of that I can’t be 100% happy.

So I decided that if I was going to be an artist, which I LOVE, I love being an artist, but for years I sort of worked forward with the goal being that in order to be a genuine success, my work would have to be accepted and embraced by a wide audience and that a piece of mine would be included in a collection of art in a museum or gallery. The last few years I have been thinking a lot about “brand”, too. Lots of buzzword-y stuff.

A few months ago I realized that none of that mattered. At all. I could get that stuff and the next morning I’d wake up with the same anxiety. That was sort of a blow to me, because that was the direction I was focused on as far as my art went. That was what I came to my desk every day with, and that was the destination. That was the answer to every question. It was like steering a boat towards a lighthouse, and then having the light suddenly distinguished and being in the dark.

What now?

Again, I don’t know. But I gotta tell you, I feel really *interested* in seeing where this goes. I feel different about this “project” than I have everything else, because I know with absoulte certainty that I want to be happy and at peace. I want to be less stressed. I want to figure out how to access a sense of general contentment. I want to learn how to make myself happy and I want to have a concrete set of resources that I can rely on to bring me peace and joy.

I also know it’s available to me. I have had shining, beautiful, amazingly joyful moments, and I RECOGNIZE the astonishing beauty available in life. There are moments when I am literally bowled over by the world I live in, when the littlest thing will send me reeling in awe. Colors, sounds, a sunset, the water, love… it’s magical. I just want more of it.

Happiness is not going to come from having a super-successful Etsy shop, or a popular blog, or even from having my art hanging in a museum (although that last one would be DEEPLY satisfying). At least not for me, personally- I mean, some people thrive on that stuff, and that’s awesome. But after focusing on that for a while and getting some of it, I have come to realize that’s not what’s gonna do it for me. It might be part of it, but it’s not the answer.

Contentment has gotta come from somewhere else. And THAT’s the thing I have to steer my ship towards, even if it seems incredibly abstract and unspecific at the moment. It’s just like this teeny, tiny, barest shimmer of light on the horizon, and I have NO idea what the light is, and where following it will take me. But I do know I have to follow that little light, and trust that it will all be okay.


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“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute.
We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.
And the human race is filled with passion.

And medicine, law, business, engineering,
these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life.

But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?”


That you are here – that life exists, and identity;
that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
That the powerful play *goes on*
and you may contribute a verse.

What will your verse be?” (narrated by Robin Williams)

Godspeed, Robin Williams.

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rice paper and ink “peace flag” that Gracie made

Around here:

Outside my window…
it’s sort of a gray day. Because it’s hurricane season, we get these miniature hurricanes almost daily- big storms with torrential rain, black skies, and thunder and lightning that last a long time. But now that it’s August, I can kinda see the light at the end of the tunnel- even though we’re right in the thick of hurricane season, in just a few more weeks the weather will start to shift, and fall is the BEST season here in Southwest Florida. So I keep reminding myself of that!

I am thinking…
that I am SUPER grumpy that my swim was cut short by a storm today. So I gotta make up about 30 minutes tomorrow. I’m pretty regimented about my swimming (five miles a day, no excuses) but I sort of think the “no flexibility” philosophy on it is part of the reason I have stuck with it for the last 22 years.

I’m also hoping Tom gets home from karate soon so we can have lunch!

I am thankful for…
this giant, cool mug of iced tea I am sipping- I feel really thirsty today. I loved iced tea in the summer.

From the art studio…
Right now the art studio is sort of like “Camp Gracie and Chel”- while Gracie is on summer break, we’ve been doing a bunch of little creative projects and trying new stuff out. Last night we were stamping with Distress Inks, and then we tried taking sheets of rice paper, folding them up, and tie-dying them with the Distress Ink. They look like prayer flags, so Gracie and I have been talking about making a whole series of them and stringing them up on some twine. We call them “peace flags”. The best part is unfolding them to see the patterns the ink makes.

As soon as Gracie is back to school (in nine days), I think I’m going to focus on finishing out some online art classes, and maybe starting a series of watercolor paintings. I’m obsessed with watercolors right now. A wonderful friend got me a gift certificate to Jerry’s Artarama for my birthday, and I used it to buy two sets of St. Petersberg full-pan watercolors. Oh my gosh, I LOVE them. They are semi-moist, so the brush picks up color instantly, and I love the way it feels to paint with them. I am adding a few colors to the sets (mostly bright, warm greens and some subtle colors) and I am really enjoying building a little set of watercolors. I am also enjoying taking my other watercolors (Dr. PH Martin liquids, Peerless, and a set of W&N Cotmans) and making color swatches with them, so I can compare and contrast how all the sets work.

I’ll probably write an entire post about creativity soon- in the last few months I’ve had a fairly large shift in my opinions about creative business and art in general, and it’d be good to drill that down through writing so I get a sense of where I’m heading as an artist.

From the garden…
well, the weather contributes to the garden in some not-so-good ways in the summer- the heat and rain really do a job on plants not specifically bred to thrive in this climate. I have a big collection of geraniums and they are really brown now, and all the leaves are falling off. I’m hoping I can baby them until the weather cools down and dries up, because if they can just *survive*, they will explode back to life the minute the seasons shift.

In the last few years I have really come to appreciate tropicals, so my garden has become more of a year-round activity now. I have four plumerias that are doing well, as well as seven hibiscus, and tons of containers with petunias. My succulent collection is also doing well in shade, oddly enough- they get a blast of sun in the afternoon and that seems to be plenty.

I am reading…
I am re-reading Wally Lamb’s book about Columbine. I loaded two new books on my Kindle (“One Plus One” and “The Roie Project”) but neither held my interest so I wound up digging around in my archived books and found the Wally Lamb book and started reading. It was several chapters before I realized I already read it, but by then I was hooked on the story and so I’m just re-reading it. I just finished Twyla Tharp’s “Creative Habit” and it was really good. I’ll talk about it more in another entry. Maybe.

Sidenote: I do think “Rosie Project” would make be good as an audio book, so maybe Tom and I will listen to it in the car..

I am hearing…
Gracie watching something on TV (Adventure Time? Gumball? Who knows?) Outside of ambient noise, I’m listening to David Gray’s new CD “Mutineers” on repeat- it’s REALLY good.

I am watching…
Tom and I are binge-watching “Sons of Anarchy” right now. We started early this summer and we watch an episode or so a day (WITHOUT Gracie, of course!) Holy great TV show! We’re now at the beginning of season 6. I had read about it for years but sort of passed on it because it didn’t sound appealing. But when we ran out of things to watch earlier this summer, we put an episode on “just to see” and now we are completely hooked. It’s *really* good. Brutal, but worth watching.

I am hoping…
the weather is decent tomorrow so I can get in a full swim plus the time I need to make up. That my brain fog clears up after lunch (I feel super-sleepy today…). That I find a good idea for a watercolor project that really interests and engages me. That I have enough yarn to finish the crochet project I am working on.

I am wearing…
pajamas, dude. Seriously- I finished swimming, took my shower, and I’m not going out this evening, so of course I’m wearing my pajamas!

I am going…
hopefully we’ll be going to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” this week. For some reason our favorite movie theater is no longer getting super-popular movies so we now need to find another theater in Naples where we can go and see mainstream stuff. I dislike the theater on the island where we live (it’s a restaurant that shows movies- you have to sit at either a round table or a counter in weird swivel chairs) and the giant movie theater in Naples is sort of a playground for teenagers who text and talk on their phones, so we need to see what other theaters are out there. I’m SUPER bummed about this situation- we have our movie going down to a science, and I hate that one of our favorite relaxing outings is askew. But maybe we can find something as convenient as our regular theater (we can reserve seats when we buy tickets online, so we don’t have to show up until the movie starts…) in Naples and get to see some of the mainstream films we missed this summer. We did get to see a lot of super-cool limited release films, though. THAT was cool.

One of my favorite things…
right now it’s being engrossed in a good book. I’ve been reading a tremendous amount these past few months and I’m so glad I’m back in the habit.

Hope you guys are having a GREAT weekend!

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in the garden…

07 Aug 2014

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sunrise, as seen from our back lanai

“Every day when I open my eyes now
It feels like a Saturday
Taking down from the shelf
All the parts of myself
That I packed away

Like the lift of a curse
Got a whole different person
Inside my head
No more trudging around
Stony eyed through the town
Like the living dead

If it’s Love put the joy in my heart?
Is it God by another name?
Who’s to say how it goes
All I know is
I’m back in the world again
Back in the world again”
- David Gray

I was not intending to take such a long absence from this website. I really thought it was only about six weeks or so, and was shocked to discover it was more like five months!

To be honest, I didn’t have a huge hankering to update until recently, so I just didn’t. And that was okay- in the seventeen years (!) I have been keeping this journal online, there have been periods of ebb and flow. But I always tend to come back.

Sometime in June, I started feeling okay again. I didn’t quite know that I *wasn’t* okay before then, but in the past few weeks it’s like a little tiny spark in me has come back to life, a little bit every day.

As I go over it in my head (and do a bit of research on it), I’m starting to realize I’m coming out of a year of grief/mourning that is pretty typical after a loss.

I’ll be honest- I’m still not over Delilah’s passing. I never will be. But for a long time after she passed, I felt really uncomfortable with day-to-day life because it was just so different. I knew that Delilah was getting older, and wouldn’t live forever, and I also knew that she wasn’t 100% well, so her passing could really come anytime. I steeled myself for that constantly in the months before she passed away.

But what I didn’t prepare myself for was how different life would be without her. That was a complete shock. I’ve lost pets and family before, and it’s always horrible how big a hole it leaves in your heart. But I was NOT prepared for the CHASM I felt after she passed away. Wow. It was HUGE.

And for the greater part of the year since losing her, I really struggled with it. She was one of the greatest sources of peace and comfort I had for seventeen years and to not have that was wrenching. I just couldn’t find my footing, in a way.

I did fine, I managed from day to day and was able to function and be a great mom and live life and have lots of great days, but I felt really weird for a long time. I felt like I was fighting something every single day and it was taking a tremendous toll on my energy and my heart.

Also, the chatter in my head (which is always spinning and coming up with ideas and things like that) stopped after Delilah passed, which was very strange. It got replaced by these really deep feelings I couldn’t make sense of. I’m a VERY sensitive person, so I’m super-feelings-oriented as it is, but in the period from late spring 2013 to a few months ago, it was completely different. It was almost like there was deep, cosmic crevice that was open inside me and all this stuff was going in and out of it on a regular basis. Almost like there was some shift in gravity- I wish I could explain it better, but that’s the best I can do.

I started getting really into astronomy and deep-space photography as a result of those weird feelings- for some reason those images really resonated with what was sort of swirling around inside me. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all, but if you noticed the sudden increase of space-related images on my Facebook timeline (well, space and Iceland photos), that’s where that all started from.

I also think the “feeling” things was why I was so drawn to painting- I’d crank up the music, squeeze out the paint, and lose myself in it for a few hours every day. I pretty much painted over the same canvas 400 times since November (the last time I finished a painting), but I guess I needed to do that because everything came out. It was so healing for me. I’m so glad I did the Flora Bowley class, and so glad I have continued applying the things I learned in that class (not only about art, but LIFE) to my every day. I’m still evolving, but it was a big deal for me.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I started noticing that the little chatter in my head started coming back, and the weird whirling feelings in my chest started to ease up. I started thinking about little projects and wanting to plan out things rather than just wanting to PAINT PAINT PAINT and work on Project Life. I started getting interested in watercolors again, and signed up for some new classes, and started pulling out some old supplies and making little to-do lists. I started wanting to feel busy again (just not overwhelmed- I’m pretty much OVER feeling that way.)

Then I heard the David Gray song that I quoted from at the top of this entry, and realized that I was more or less “coming back to life”. I’m still in that process- every day it’s a little bit more. But it’s a bit of a relief, to be honest. I know life will never be the same again, but I was a little scared I lost an essential part of myself when Delilah passed that I’d never get back. I’m glad to know the spark is still there, even though it’s different.

For now, I just want to treat myself tenderly and continue sort of exploring everything and following what interests me. Just being sort of quiet and gentle and observant and looking at everything with fresh eyes. One moment at a time, one idea at a time, one feeling at a time.

Anyway, if you’re still out there, reading this: thank you for waiting for me to come back. Thank you for holding this space for me. I appreciate it more than I can say.

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05 Aug 2014

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23 Jul 2014

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#sunset right now

14 Jul 2014

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blue skies out back

17 Jun 2014

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I'm Chel (pronounced "shell", short for "Michele").

I'm a painter, writer, gardener, art historian, long-distance swimmer, crochet addict, movie watcher, animal lover, and avid reader.

Random facts: I grew up in New York (Long Island, to be specific), went to college and grad school in Atlanta, and now I live in Southwest Florida. I'm incredibly shy but I can be very chatty. I've been a vegetarian for 25 years. I swim five miles every day. I have an eight year old daughter and a 40-something year old husband. I'd rather eat kalamata olives than most anything, and I'm an AVID tea drinker. I exist with the steady background noise of meows (three cats), chirps and whistles (three parrots), and silence (an elderly gecko).

If you'd like to know more, click here

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- Sprout Dispatch
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