Friday, September 18, 2009

Just Because

09.17.09 - Day 29: Paint it Forward

When I was little, I used to make my family little cards to tell them that I loved them ...just because. I remember one time when I took all of the pennies from my piggy bank and glued them to a sheet of paper in the shape of a heart to give to my sister, Rachelle, when she was sad about something.  Much to my dismay, half of it fell off before I could hand deliver it, but I still remember how tightly she hugged me because she could tell it was from my heart. I always had this thing with labeling my cards on the back, as if I was my own Hallmark brand or something.  I had forgotten about that until this past year when my Grandma Liz brought me an envelope full of cards I had left for them over the course of several years. When I "did the flip," it said  "From the Heart Cards" on the back in pencil.  I must have been 7 or 8 years old when I started doing I guess I really was destined to be a marketing person.

Over the years, I have made and exchanged several cards with family and friends, but I had forgotten how much I truly love the simplicity of drawing with a pen.  I've been making whimsical flowers, trees and creatures like these since I was a kid--whether I was drawing them, cutting them out of paper or even making them from a paper napkin at dinner [clearly, I have an attention disorder].  I'm not sure what my fascination with flowers has always been, but in part, I think it is the realization that it's virtually impossible to be sad when someone gives you flowers.  They're like an instant gratification button--poof, you're happy.

The story behind these two cards in particular stems [pun intended] from my frustration with standing in the store for 30 minutes, unable to find a card that says what, or looks the way I want it I made my own.

There are two people I'm sending these to: one is a dear friend that's been on my mind a lot lately, and the other I have yet to meet but has recently touched our family in a very special way.  That's all I'm really going to say about these.  I'm not sure they count as part of the PIF project, but it was something I'm glad I picked up again, for no real reason other than...just because.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day 28

09.16.09 - Day 28: Paint it Forward

I realize that I'm two weeks behind in updating my last two projects but I will catch up this week/weekend... I promise.  There has been exciting news for my family, which has had me working away in my studio trying to get some PIF projects done before tomorrow.   But more to come on that later, including pictures and background stories...

As I've said many times before, my mom always used to tell me that true happiness comes from doing something for someone else & expecting nothing in return.  This notion is where Paint it Forward came from, after all.  For several years I have been looking for a way to give back to the community by putting my creativity to use in some artistic way.  I've been working on a secret project for a month or so and it is finally official.  I was asked to be an art instructor for an at-risk teenage boys group with the freedom to do whatever I want with the entire program.  Our sessions will only be an hour long (due to attention span), every other week, but I am really looking forward to spending time there.  To my fellow artistic friends who are in the immediate area, I may be calling on you to help me tag team a session or two so send me your info if you're interested.

I'm absolutely thrilled about this opportunity to do what I love and to Paint it Forward in a different way.  I stopped by last week to introduce myself to the boys and visit with them about what they want the program to be like.  I was excited about all of the things that interest them--from photography to painting, drawing, music and more.  It's amazing how truly innocent they are, how much they want to learn from what you have experienced in your life, and how much they just want to be with people.  A good Rotarian friend of mine often says something to the effect of, "Taking one hour out of your life each week to do some good isn't really as difficult as we make it."  And he's totally right.  Planning the lessons I want to introduce to the boys has made me happier than I can remember being in a really long time.  I guess it's that feeling of being in the service of your fellow beings.  The funny things is, they think they have so much to learn from me...but I know that in the end, I will be the one learning from them.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Blinking Cursor Syndrome

So this is what happens when you try to write after a full day of work...absolutely NOTHING! You sit down, type your Title info and then it hits've been attacked by the plague of the blinking cursor. So in honor of this grinchly fellow, I've written a short little poem...

To the Cursor Who Makes Me Curse

There he stands,
Thin and upright,
Blinking and blinking away.
He makes no apologies
In stunting your work,
For forever will he stay.
Heckling, laughing
And mocking your existence,
Blinking and blinking away.
Staring you down
Until thoughts are withdrawn,
And nothing you've left to say.
He dances across
Your blank, white page,
Blinking all BL@I*NK!ITY# day.

Due to lack of creative juices, Paint it Forward will return later this week...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Day 7

08.27.09 - Day 7-8: Paint it Forward

1 project down, 51 to go.  In the end, I decided that I liked the painting better with only a few words.  But I like the idea that the whole poem is on the canvas...almost like it's a hidden fortune cookie that only my readers and my sister can find.  The poem was the inspiration though, and I do feel like they should coexist in the same space.  So for that reason, when this is framed [it's on a flat canvas so it has to be framed], I'm going to place the painting on one side with the entire poem in a smaller square of the same matte.  I didn't have a name for this piece in the beginning, but the words that kept jumping out at me throughout the various phases were "settle in the light," ...and thus, it is so named "Settle in the Light...for Rachelle.

The past 3 days were the most difficult for me.  There were times when I would paint a stroke here and there...and then wish that I hadn't.  An hour before I put the final touches on this, I actually started painting on another canvas.  But I stopped myself and decided to keep my word and stick with the original.  I'm an extreme perfectionist so there will always be things that I will find wrong with this piece...but as my good friend recently told me, when you finally feel at peace with it, it's time to move on.  And so I am...

On to the next project... I've been toying with the idea of painting a jazz musician series, starting with Billie Holiday and maybe even Charlie Parker.  But I don't know...I may not be ready to tackle Lady Singin' the Blues.  Not sure I could do it/her justice.  Give me a reason to paint this one and you never know, it might end up on your wall.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Day 5

08.24.09 - Day 5: Paint it Forward, Pay it Backwards

It's the little things. A friend and I started a social experiment last year that I like to call "Thanks a latte!" It started out as Coffee Friday where we would meet every Friday at Starbucks just to end the week on a good note and take turns buying the other coffee. Then, it turned into buying the person behind us a coffee, which I like to think of as "Paying it Backwards." This is still something I do on Friday mornings when I drive thru, hoping that one small act of kindness will jumpstart a caffeinated chain of goodwill...or at the very least, put the person behind me in a better mood.

Today was one of those days where I really needed that extra shot, so I stopped for a Monday cup o' joe. The girl at the window handed me a gift card and said that when I drove thru last Friday, the person behind me couldn't get over how nice it was that I bought her coffee...and since there was no one behind her in the drive thru, she bought me a giftcard to say thanks. Since I'm somewhat a regular, the barista told her it would get to me if she left it with them...and it did. The funny thing is that this has happened before...someone reciprocating my "Paying it backwards" with a "thanks a latte" of their own.  It's amazing what can happen when you tempt human generosity.

Even though I wasn't expecting anything in return from the person behind me, I couldn't help but notice how much "warmer" my coffee was today. It just goes to show that sometimes it's the little things in life that mean the most...even if only for a moment.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 4

08.23.09 - Day 4: Paint it Forward

"Today I am reminded of all that is good in the world." -Kobi Yamada

It's one of those mornings...I can already feel it.  A good, creative day.  And what creative day is complete without...Starbucks?  It's actually my dog's fault today.  He woke me up at 7am, did his business, ate some food and then kept whining at me as if to say, "It's Sunday! Where's my doggy whip [that's what they call whip cream in the drive thru lane at Starbucks], mama?"  So off we went...

Two doggy whips and two dogs who desperately need a bath later, I'm back to staring at the butterfly.  I can't decide if I like the words coming out or if I should paint over them and make them pop out in a different way.  Is this canvas finished and I just don't know it?  That's how the others happened.  I got an idea in my head one night at about 11pm, went down to my studio [otherwise known as the basement] and started painting.  3 hours later, my first was complete: Abstract Flower 1.  I know, such a creative name, right?  But "what's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." It didn't come out of a defined source of inspiration, and neither did my second: Abstract Tree 1.  So that's why they have plain names. I'm not really feeling the flower anymore.  It was my first painting back after a very, very, very...VERY [get the point?] long hiatus.  I feel like I could do it better the second time around...but I promise, I won't paint over it.

In the meantime...Phase IV, to be or not to be?

Abstract Flower 1; Abstract Tree 1

Friday, August 21, 2009

Day 2

08.21.09 - Day 2: Paint it Forward

Phase 3: Bringing the butterfly to life...

I'm getting there slowly but surely. Sometimes I stare at the things I create and think about throwing a fresh can of paint on it so that I can start completely over. I've been this way my whole life and I'm not sure where it comes from. I actually found my art folder from junior high and high school the other day. Teacher comments said things like, "Wonderful work but it would have been just as good the first time around." Or, "Was this what you originally started with?" One of my self portraits actually had the drawing on both sides...version A and version B. At the end, I actually liked version A better and I couldn't help but wonder [ode to Carrie Bradshaw]...

Why is it that we're always so unsatisfied with what we have -- from the itty bitty minute details to the really important things?

I guess it's the "grass is greener" illusion. I just don't know where it comes from with my artwork. My family has always been extremely supportive and full of encouragement. Yesterday, one of my sister's even came over just to see where I was at with this project [and also to give me a guilt trip about not painting HER anything...yet :)]. But she did say something that stuck with me..."I'm really glad you're finally using your talents again. Sometimes we get so far from our gifts that it's hard to see them." And maybe that's it...I always fear that what I do is sort of "use it or loose it"...and since I 'haven't been using it, maybe I've lost it.

In the end, it doesn't really matter because what I'm doing right now, I'm doing for me...and as I've always said...I could care less if others agree with what I'm painting.

So here's phase III, or what I like to call bringing the butterfly to life. As I was doing this phase, it became very apparent why this part of the poem spoke to me. "I live in a cocoon all safe and tucked away, building my wings, looking forward to the day when my wings will be strong and colors so bright, I'll break through the pain and...settle in the light." Even though I'm doing this piece for my sister, it's somewhat therapeutic for me, as well. It's all about finding peace with what I'm doing...and like the painting, I'm getting there slowly but surely.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Day 1

08.20.09 - Day 1: Paint it Forward

My sister, Rachelle, is wickedly talented. She writes poetry, music and plays the piano by ear. After years of struggling to have children, she and her hubby decided to adopt and we couldn't be happier for them. They will be AMAZING parents!! Their baby is due in November. Is doing something for a family member cheating? Who knows! But who better to start with than a loved one? Using her words about self-discovery, I started on project numero uno. This will be a multi-layered process but here are phases 1 and 2. Stay tuned for Phase 3...

[Click here to check out her writing blog:]

If I had to choose a symbol that best represented me,
I'd have to chose a caterpillar in hopes of what I'd be.
For now I live in a cocoon all safe and tucked away...
But I'm building my wings, struggling through
And look forward to the day.

When my wings will be strong, and my colors so bright.
When I break through this pain, and settle in the light.
Then I will spread my beautiful butterfly wings
And humbly realize one important thing:
I was beautiful all along.

And in this knowing will come the wind
And my strength to finally fly.

Phase1: Mapping out canvas; Phase 2: Painting the background

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Paint it Forward

So...I recently finished my Executive MBA and have mountains of debt that seem to be piling up around me. I find myself thinking about it all day long - at work, in my car, at home, while I'm standing in line at Starbucks [that was a joke--kind of]. Perhaps this is because I'm used to being debt free for the most part. But lately, an annoying sound, like a tick-tocking grandfather clock [who seems to have Suze Orman's face] chimes, "Show me the money!" over and over again in my head.

I'm in that stage where I want to pare down my life and get back to the basics, but no matter what I do, it keeps getting bigger. Yes, I know...that's the American way. But I'm getting tired of it. Consumerism sucks. There, you have it on record. Spoken directly from a marketing person. We make it look pretty so you'll pay for it. Don't get me wrong--I'm glad you pay for it because otherwise I wouldn't have a job. It's just that sometimes I look around at all the "stuff" that fills my life and wonder how in the heck I acquired so much meaningless shhhhhiiit [sorry, mom!]. Consumption is no longer equating with personal happiness in my life--it's only making it more stressful.

In an attempt to save my sanity, my checkbook and my agoraphobic third eye, I've decided to take on a new project...a creative nourishment project. Perhaps I arrived at this notion after seeing Julie & Julia and one woman's ode to fine cooking...365 days, 524 recipes. Or perhaps I just need some way of being "right" in the world.

So here's my challenge...

Paint it forward: 365 days, 52 artistic/good will/test in humanity projects. Why 52? Because I work full time and already stretch myself one a week is as good as I can do right now. That's 525,600 minutes to do some good with my life...and hopefully, for a few others. Here goes...something.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where I've Been

Where My Feet Have Taken Me | It's amazing to look at this map and think about all the places in the world that my feet have taken me (shown in red)...and likewise, all the places they have yet to be. I would like to think that domestic and international travel has helped shape me into a well-rounded person, but who's to say what "well-rounded" really means? Experiencing what life is like in other countries is always an opportunity that I welcome with open arms. I've never really thought about it, but maybe I have this outlook because of my mom. When I was younger, it wasn't unusual for my siblings and I to come home to a packed car with a map of the U.S. in the passenger seat. I remember stages of my life through the road trips that we took. Mountain Dew, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, and mixed tapes...all staples to our cross country drives. I had an amazing childhood thanks to loving parents and siblings that I wouldn't trade for anything (though, that wasn't always the case : ). My mom taught me to be adventurous, and to love the idea of the unknown. She taught me to embrace other people, other cultures, and to "know no stranger." My grandma had the same philosophy in life, and if you had the privilege of knowing her, it's not hard to guess why my mom turned out the way she did...and why I, too, am growing into the person I am today.

My Grandpa Jack was the same way -- he loved exploring the world around him...from his backyard to wherever his feet took him. He was a builder who left his legacy standing in the sound structures he built with his own two hands, from the West Coast to the Midwest. My dad's parents traveled all over the states, so he, too, saw the world from the passenger's seat. Sadly, I think this is something that today's generations will not experience. Today, it seems like it's all about "hurry up and wait" and road trips take far too long versus the comfort of a cushy plane ride.

As I have often said, when people ask me about where I've been, I've traveled thousands of miles but hardly touched a speck of the world around me. Hopefully, in another 30 years of life, more and more of this map will turn red...but only time will tell where my feet will take me next.

Top 5 Places I'd Like to Visit:
1. Samoa
2. Scotland
3. Africa
4. India
5. Thailand

If you're wondering where I got this awesome map, Google "World 66," or just click here:

Friday, March 27, 2009

China Top 5

1. Climbing the Great Wall w/my Nemo Lung

Climbing the Great Wall is something I had on my Bucket List of things to do. I hiked to the highest peak that you can see behind my head, but once I got there, we realized that it was a dead end. A DEAD END on the Great Wall - who knew?!

2. Bonding with the group

More so than our Legislative Residency in D.C., our EMBA group really seemed to bond on this trip. Perhaps it was because we found unity in the experience of being the minority, for better or worse, in a different country. Or maybe it was just the relaxing night of Shanghai karaoke. Whatever it may be, this was a trip that will not soon be forgotten.

3. Watching Miller strut in his mini-me tailored suit

So this is what happens when you wait until the last day in Shanghai to have a suit made. It was a skin tight, shiny, polyester-looking, "sausage casing," as John called it. Though, our interpretation of that was much different than his. Nevertheless, he was a good sport and gave the late night crew a few turns 'round the Park Place catwalk. His catwalk was so impressive that I had to make a GQ cover to debut the "handsome suit." Here's to you, Mr. Miller : )

P.S. I love you John!

4. Wasabi Peanuts - thanks, Molly!

No, these aren't mints. These little green whipper snapper snacks were the key to burning the taste of unknown oil off your tongue after a long hard day of eating foreign foods. OK, in all honesty, the food wasn't THAT bad...but these wasabi nuts rock! I give them 5 stars. I loved them so much that I brought a bag of them home.

5. Drippy : ) a.k.a. Hai Bao

After a long day of walking the city, Hai Bao was a familiar face that we could count on...because he/she is everywhere!! This little blue character is the mascot for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, of which the U.S. does not have a presence (but don't get Ken started on that one--or actually, do. It's a conversation worth listening to). Hai Bao, which means "treasure of the sea," was created to accomplish the following functions: 1) embody culture of hosting country, 2) interpret theme "Better City, Better Life," and 3) posess the value of recreation. He's pretty cute, too!

Monday, March 23, 2009

To Squat or Not To Squat...

When traveling abroad and exploring foreign soil, you begin to realize that it's the little things you take for the comfort of your own toilet. Who knew that one of the things I would miss most while spending nearly two weeks in China was the shiny, white, porcelain toilet in my bathroom at home? Not a fancy toilet by any means, but one that is more than 1 inch from the floor, sit-able rather than squattable, and most importantly--a toilet that flushes toilet paper.

Whoever you are and wherever you roam, the saying goes that you should do as Romans do. While I have always considered myself someone who makes every effort to adapt to the local habits of the countries that I visit, I must admit that squatting over this toilet was not a pleasure that I endured. Not because I was disgusted that the toilet wasn't what I was used to back home (I honestly didn't expect it to be the same), but because I couldn't really figure it out. It's been nearly 20 years since I've been camping and thus, I truly believe that I have lost the ability and instinct to squat. It's no longer in my DNA. I mean, do you completely de-pant? Take one leg out? What if I fall in? All valid questions, in my opinion.

While struggling with the "To squat or not to squat" monologue running through my mind when I entered this stall, I began to wonder what the Chinese must think of Western toilets. I wondered if sitting down on a seat that a million other people have sat on seemed as unappealing as squatting over this toilet seemed to me. Arguably, the squattable seat actually is cleaner and more green friendly than American toilets (though, any of my family members will tell you that I'm a germaphobe and carry toilet seat covers in my back pocket).

Still, it lead me to the question of whether different is better or worse. The simple truth is that everyone's toilet is different. Yours is different from mine, ours is different from theirs, and better or worse depends on your preference. To be fair, not all toilets that I encountered were grounded like this one. For me, the lesson here was that the smallest insignificant thing that you wouldn't normally consider to be a luxury actually is. So next time you visit your bathroom, fully equipped with toilet paper, a little white seat that's a foot and a half from the ground, and flushability, be sure to send a little thanks to the toilet Gods of the Western World.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Day 2.5: Karaoke Bar

Last night, Montira arranged a group outing to a local Karaoke Bar. This is like nothing I have ever seen. Huge private rooms with leather couches, a dance floor, really bad music videos, and a Chinese menu of American song titles--most of which are lost in translation. One of my favorite titles on the menu was "Sugar in the Marmalade" a.k.a. "Lady Marmalade." I would speak about the rest of the night, but we all made a pact that what happens in Shanghai, stays in Shanghai. Let's just say that there was dancing, singing, spinning, being dropped on your head, and much, much more. Good times!

I see an EMBA Karaoke Reunion in our future...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Guanxi in Motion

Day 2: Fudan University

Guanxi is a word that we have come to know well in our EMBA Managing China class. According to Wikipedia, "Guānxi" is a central concept in Chinese society. It describes the basic dynamic in the complex nature of personalized networks of influence and social relationships. In other words, it's an informal social network formed with people you encounter, which sometimes makes it easier to do business in China. Angela, Jon S. and myself went on a taxi-cab journey today and put our Guanxi in motion.

Our cabby dropped us off at the gates of Fudan University and pointed down the street, as if we would know where to go. We had an interview set up with the professor of Health Economics and two of his graduate students, and an address on a piece of paper written in English and Chinese. If the buildings were numbered, or if there were street signs pointing one way or the other, we probably could have found the way on our own. But signs were as scarce as other Westerners on campus. Trapped in the middle of what looked like dormatories, we stopped to show our sign to a guard on the street. He also pointed in the same direction, but then made a gesture with his hand, as if to say turn left down there. So we kept walking...and walking...and walking.

Stopping for directions doesn't really help when you can't speak the native language, but we did so anyway. Walking into a convenient store, we played a charade-like game with the cashier to convey our ignorance and excuse our inability to communicate. In other words, "Americans LOST! Please help!"

It's amazing how well you can communicate even without common language. Sometimes, expressions like the deer in the headlights look of being lost seems to be universal. The man in the convenient store was clever enough to point to the phone and ask if we had a number for whomever we were trying to meet. After our hosts graciously came to collect us, we had a very delightful visit with the professor and his students. To say that they were prepared would be an understatement. They flipped through pages upon pages of research for the questions that Angela had sent, spoke with intriguing insight in English that was nearly perfect, and revealed cultural differences that neither party had thought of. It was beyond impressive. We left agreeing to collaborate on future projects, which both sides were excited about. I wouldn't be surprised if I have an email waiting for me when I get home.

Shanghai Afternoon

DAY 1: Shanghai - Renaissance Yuyuan Hotel

As we landed in the Pudong Airport, I was overwhelmed by the number of older Asian women who nearly knocked me over. They looked so cute from afar...until their boney elbows found their way into my rib cage. The last time I felt this violated was when I had the brilliant idea to venture out on a day after Thanksgiving sale at 4am. Elbows flying, bodies being shoved out of the way, people stepping over others just to get closer to the Wii aisle at Wal-Mart. The scene at the United Airlines terminal this afternoon was identical to that horrific day. Of a few things I am sure -- pushing isn't a crime in this city and personal space seems to be nonexistent.

The hotel, however, is everything that a Westerner could ask for - running water, western toilets and a room so clean that you don't feel like you have to walk around in your shoes. The view out my window is a cross between the streets of Chicago or New York and quaint villas that seem extremely out of place given the modern skyscrapers that tower their every side.

After a walk through the hutong (older courtyards and alleys surrounded by adjoined residences) adjacent to our hotel, we found a convenient market with shops, street vendors, food and guess what...Shanghai STARBUCKS!! It was as if I hadn't left home at all...until I realized that I couldn't order my iced grande nonfat no whip white chocolate mocha, and that my barista, Teresa, was replaced with a Chinese girl. But who needs coffee? I just got off of a 13 hour flight and it was only 2pm. My eye will stop twitching later, I'm sure.

Gordon took the 2nd crew to a local eatery just past Starbucks (you can see the corner of it on the left side of the Starbucks picture) which the 1st crew had eaten at the night before. Looking around the restaurant, every table was filled with at least 3 generations of family members: grandparents, parents and kids. It didn't seem like a special occasion that they had all gathered together for, but instead, like a routine Sunday dinner with the entire family. As I guzzled down the cashew chicken I had ordered, I was envious of the family life that seemed so engrained into the local people around me. Kids weren't texting on their cell phones, spouses were actually talking to each other rather than playing the silent game, and it seemed as if even the dishes that rotated in the center of the table were meant to be a bonding experience. It was fascinating and made me wish that life back home could be as simple as Shanghai after noon.