Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tags for Living in 2011

My daughter, Holly, mailed me her favorite book. Inside was a colorful gift tag splattered with flowers; and on the reverse side, a handwritten note telling me how much she loved me, and that she hoped I would enjoy reading the book. The tag became my bookmark as I turned page after page, thinking of her.

As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it was the tag that intrigued me. Time and again, I returned to her note and the shiny painted flowers on the back. My mind churned. What was there about this tag that called out to me? Thoughts bubbled to the surface.

Our lives are controlled by tags, or at least influenced by them. Tags are everywhere:

• Tags for luggage, tags for identification, price tags, tags for washing instructions, tags for sizes, tags on foodstuffs, gift tags, sales tags, dog tags, gurney tags, toe tags, healthcare tags, tags for gardening, tags for equipment, fertilizer tags, warning tags and status tags for every substance, action, and product in the world.

Wouldn't it be great, if there were tags for how to live your life?

Tags for newborns might read:

• "Fragile -- handle with care," or "feisty when wet, change often." Or how about "stubborn and willful -- requires coaxing," or "prone to temper tantrums -- distract if possible."

Tags for teenagers might suggest:

• "Prickles when angry -- hug anyway," or "count to ten and listen, really listen," or "sasses back when cornered -- don't argue, just walk away."

Newlywed tags might stave off marital grief:

• "Requires lots of attention -- likes to be pampered" or "sleeps soundly -- wake up gently" or "thinks taking out the garbage is a man's job -- just do it," or "listen closely -- it might be a test."

As I pursued this line of thinking, I realized we already have tags for living, and they cover every facet of human life. Of course, I'm referring to the Bible, but most particularly to the book of Proverbs.

There are mini-instructions for raising children, being a good spouse, a good neighbor, a hard worker, a faithful follower. Here are some familiar ones:

• "A person who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue.

• "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." (Prov. 11:13 NIV)

• "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house; too much of you, and he will hate you." (Prov, 25:17 NIV)

And what about all those frivolous law suits?

• "Do not testify against your neighbor without cause or use your lips to deceive. Do not say, I'll do him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did." (Prov. 24:28 NIV) This tag is a variation on the message Jesus gave to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

There's even a tag to help us avoid financial disaster as we try to "keep up with the Jones's:"

• "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." (Prov. 14:30 NIV)

Last but by no means least, there are instructions about government leaders; those politicians who hold our lives in their hands:

• "A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly." (Prov. 26:24-26 NIV)

We can only hope that the "assembly," the press and the people will do their job and expose the hypocrisy of each and every politician.

Todays blog included excerpts from an article by Carol Allen Anfinsen titled: "Tags for Living." If you would like to read this article in its entirety, go to or

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gifts that Keep on Giving

During a difficult period in my life, my friend Alice gave me a prayer plant. “It will remind you of where your strength comes from,” she said. Sure enough, every evening as the sun went down, the prayer plant extended its leaves upward. I was reminded to turn to God more often, and I also remembered my friend.

One low-budget year, I gave each member of our church newsletter committee a small Christmas cactus. The plants were only $1.50 each; some even had blooms. A couple women accepted their plant reluctantly, complaining that they didn’t have any luck with plants; the rest accepted their gift graciously and seemed to be pleased.

Over the next few years, I was surprised by their reactions. Each time I saw one of these women in a social or church setting, she always gave me an update on the status of her plant. When I visited in their homes, I was shown how well their plants were doing. Some struggled to keep their plants growing just for me. Eventually most if not all of the plants bloomed. As the women cared for their plants, they remembered my gift. The perky green cactus became a symbol of our friendship, and a gift of love that kept on giving.

But you need to plan early! A plant needs several weeks to “start” (or you can buy starts at your favorite nursery). The same year that I gave the cactus plants away, I purchased one for myself. That plant is now three feet in diameter, and bloomed three times this past year. I thought of all the women I had given a cactus to, and I hoped their plants had brought them as much joy as mine had brought me.

A Christmas cactus is an easy plant to start. Break off a leaf, soak it in water until small white roots form, and plant it in potting soil. I have a few plants ready to go for the upcoming Christmas season. Now is the time to begin your gifts of love. Who knows, you could save some money, and you’re sure to be remembered for a lifetime.

Blog courtesy of excerpts taken from one of my articles: "Gifts that Keep on Giving" by Carol Allen Anfinsen at

Over the Christmas holidays, we're also going to see the Manatees. They can't tolerate cold weather and come up river to the energy plant where the water is warm. One of the fascinating creatures in Florida's tropical waters.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Worst Holiday Experience

It was the Fridiay before Christmas. My baking was finished. The kids were out of school, and I was frantically putting the finishing touches on my holiday cleaning. Our evergreen tree smelled delicious; chopped down the weekend before it was piled with ornaments and gifts. That afternoon, I planned to take the children to a movie. We were ready for the Christmas weekend.

As it turned out, our plans were interrupted by an unexpected visitor; a brown recluse spider. He may have crept into our house unawares, perhaps on our fresly cut pine tree. The only thing was, I didn’t remember being bitten, and I had no explanation for the excruciating pain that started in my finger and up my arm during the movie.

That weekend, hospitals were staffed with part-timers and interns. I went to three different hospitals during the next three days, each time being sent home with perplexed looks and instructions to soak my finger and wait it out. I was x-rayed, my wedding ring was cut off, and, according to one staffer, I hyperventilated. From my vantage point I was completely paralyzed. I couldn’t speak or respond. I couldn’t even blink. My own doctor told me later I was likely going into convulsion.

On monday morning I saw my own doctor, who took one look at my finger and the deep red line that went up and under my arm and sent me to a private room in the hospital. Not knowing I’d had an insect bite, he started me on intravenous antibiotics, but not until after I’d had a chest and heart x-ray. By the time the drugs kicked in, my skin was yellow, my gums were purple. I looked like death warmed over.

To make a long story shorter, I got gangrene in my finger. A dermatologist was called in. He recognized the symptoms and affects of a brown recluse spider. Amputation was an option, but they decided to wait and see. I was in the hopsital for 10 days. The doctor told me I should have been dead in 36 hours; I did not receive help for 72 hours. How’s that for an answer to prayer?

I will tell you that during that time, I put my life in God’s hands. I felt his presence and his love. I knew that if I died it was okay, and if I lived it was okay. I had absolutely no fear; only a feeling of complete peace.

Illness is not always bad. It slows us down and makes us reflect on what we’re doing with our time, our resources, our connections with loved ones and family. Our attention becomes focused on what’s important; our frivolous pursuits seem shallow and inconsequential. Suddenly the world seems more beautiful, life more precious, and God more alive and real than he’s ever been before.

In addition, our complaints turn to gratitude, our thoughts to appreciation for the ordinary mundane fabric that holds our lives together. And God is good.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Cheer and Christmas Traditions

No matter where you live in the world there are unique customs and traditions that mark holiday and religious celebrations. In this blog, I’m sharing some of mine with you, and I invite you to share yours. I’ll feature your stories on my blog or you may add them to the comments.

As a Christian, I celebrate the birth of my Savior Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem many generations ago. On Christmas Eve, our family reads the story of his birth from the book of Luke in the New Testament.

When the children were younger, we actually performed the story in our bathrobes with towels tied onto our heads using Dad’s old neckties. Having six children in our family, there was always a baby Jesus for the manger at some point in time.

Before there were packaged gingerbread houses, I made the dough from scratch. When the shapes were cut, baked, and cooled, the children decorated the house. It didn’t look like magazine versions, but the children loved it. After Christmas, they delighted in breaking the house down and eating their favorite parts.

We had our celebration dinner on Christmas Eve Scandinavian style. We followed the Kansas City tradition serving barbequed beef brisket, augratin potatoes, baconed green beans, and fruit salad.

On Christmas morning, the children sat on the stairway until each child had arrived. Then they ran for their Christmas stockings. Afterward, we all took turns opening one present at a time. It made the thrill last even longer.

Breakfast was homemade doughnuts, eggnog, and sliced oranges. The doughnuts were fried a few days before. The caked ones were dunked in sugar, and the raised doughnuts were dunked in either white frosting or chocolate and sprinkled with coconut or slivered almonds. They were frozen to keep them fresh until Christmas morning.

These memory-building traditions are what binds families together long after the celebrations are over. Please share your family traditions with us. If you need more space, email your comments to me at and I’ll place them in this blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Christmas Shrub? Give me a Break!

My December issue of “Better Homes and Gardens” got me into the Christmas spirit, until I saw a photo-list of shrubs to plant for Christmas color. After reading their suggestions, I was enraged. More and more, I think I’m becoming a “conservative” environmentalist.

I’d like to repeat my article which appeared last year titled: “The Brazilian Pepper Tree Saga” by Carol Allen Anfinsen at http://Blogz.Org.Ning/Profile/blogs/

The painting is of a mocking bird, in the branches of one of these “bushes” eating the berries. They do love them, and guard their territory from other birds.

The Brazilian-pepper tree, alias Christmas-berry tree or Florida Holly, is an attractive shrub that sprouts red berries part of the year, grows tall, and spreads wide. When I first moved to Florida, I enjoyed watching the wide variety of birds that fluttered in their branches. So when the landscape crew attacked them with machetes and axes, I was enraged. Had we come to this in our obsession for perfectly trimmed hedges and weed free lawns, I thought?

Yes, I would later acknowledge, the Brazilian-pepper bushes were beginning to take over the hedgerow, and their absence meant that I could now see the field behind where cows grazed with cattle egret; but what about the birds? Hadn’t the pepper trees been food and refuge for the brown thrashers, the cardinals, the northern bobwhites and robins, the local mocking birds?

Before I launched into assault mode, I did some reading and investigating; turns out, that attractive Brazilian pepper is considered “one of the worst exotic pest plants” in the State of Florida. Wouldn’t you know?

Brought here from Brazil in the 1800s, the plant was used as an ornamental for its beautiful red berries and shiny green leaves. Deceivingly charming, the plant is part of the poison ivy, oak and sumac family that many people are allergic to. When crushed, the leaves smell like turpentine and can irritate the skin, nose and lungs. No wonder my allergies had flared up in Florida.

Why is the plant so prolific, I wondered? Bingo: “the pepper grows well in poor soil and shade,” and spreads wildly when the conditions for growth are optimum – plenty of sunshine, plenty of rain. Birds and raccoons find the berries delicious and spread the seeds through their guano and scat.

How is that a threat to Florida?

• The pepper tree shades out native plants

• The pepper destroys foraging areas for herons, egrets and other water birds

• The pepper’s roots get so thoroughly tangled up with mangrove roots that it’s impossible to uproot them

The beautiful Brazilian-pepper is on Florida’s “do not plant” list, and its “sale is against the law.” And I thought it was a harmless shrub; if looks could kill.

Today I smile as I walk past the hedgerow. Young leaves are sprouting, filling in naked branches replenished by sun and space. The peppers are sprawled out behind them; roots exposed, leaves withering, on their last gasp. A few yards south, a fence with a stand of pepper trees grows rampant; the property of another developer who will eventually face the removal of this encroaching invader.

Better Homes & Gardens is way off base encouraging the planting of these bushes. They will eventually spread, overcrowd, and destroy the natural vegetation in your yard. Find something better to plant! Please.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kelly’s Rose – “Work in Progress”

My friend, Kelly, a photographer and author of the blog took this beautiful photo a few months back and featured it on her blog. I loved the striking contrasts and perspective so much that I asked Kelly if I could paint it. She was gracious enough to consent, so here I am with another “work in progress.”

I decided to first experiment on a 12x16 art board. I’ve painted on panels with similar surfaces before, but never one as smooth as this art board. At first, I didn’t like the feel of it. I’m used to having more “tooth” on my painting surfaces. You are seeing my first application of paint.

Initially, I laid in the drawing with pencil and then used a brush and burnt umber to set the lines and shapes. To get the texture and highlights I want in this painting, I may have to use several coats of paint and perhaps do some glazing. The objective is to render the glow and feel that Kelly has captured in her photo.

Today’s feature is a photo by Kelly Bell photographer and author of the blog Kelly has given me permission to do a painting from her photo. Kelly’s photographs always blow me away!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Featuring -- “Dainty Diva”

I almost called this painting: “Amelia at the Barre.” When I saw my granddaughter in her beautiful costume, I knew I had to paint her. Not only did she awaken my love for the ballet and for the energetic works of Degas׳, but her picture brought back so many memories.

As a child, I wanted to become a dancer. From the first moment I saw a ballet, I loved the grace and power of the dance. I begged and pleaded with my mother to take lessons. I wanted to take both tap and ballet, but it was too expensive for our family budget. Finally, she agreed to ballet because I could begin in my stocking feet.

The only teacher nearby was Movita Cardon whose husband owned several stores in town. She had a wonderful studio in her basement with a grand piano that she pounded on as she shouted out commands. When we didn’t perform well, she would stop playing and give us a demonstration until we got it right.

I loved every moment of class, but sadly, my dancing days were numbered. One family crisis after another forced me to stop and then start my lessons over and over again. After each interruption, I’d lag behind the other students requiring extra help and class time. Eventually, I was moved to another class with kids I didn’t know to begin again.

The final straw came when my uncle died; and I was pulled out again, this time for keeps. In spite of my pleadings to go back, my mother’s answer was a firm “no.” In our household, the word “no” had grave finality. Once that word was laid down, no amount of pleading could ever change it, even if you dared ask.

For months, I watched from the chairs reserved for parents as Ms. Cardon put her students through their paces. I imagined I was dancing with them: first position, second position, third and fourth with pliés in between; fifth position, pas de bourres and jetés.

At some point, I became a distraction and Ms. Cardon asked me to leave. She was never rude, but implied that her open back door was for students only. She suggested I come back for lessons and said they had missed me. I smiled and thanked her as I climbed the stairs for what I knew was the last time.

There is something about the ballet that still calls out to me. When I was raising my family I loved to dance and jokingly called it “exercise” when my children made fun. Deep down inside, I was living the dream I was never meant to have.

Carol’s paintings, prints, giclees and cards are 20% off from now until January 25. Check out her artwork at

Friday, December 3, 2010

Times are Tough for Everybody

When money is tight, and the economy is hurting, artwork is the last thing people think about. It was and always has been a luxury item; something people buy after food and rent.

It’s not a staple. You don’t need it to survive. When all is said and done, art is the last thing you consider buying after all your bills are paid. That is if you have any money left at the end of the month. With unemployment at an all-time high, these factors have increased ten-fold.

I shared some “starving-artist” recipes with you awhile back, and joked about how that phrase goes in and out of fashion, depending on the economy. Today it’s not a joke, and competition between artists is getting ugly.

There are many “wanna be” artists out there; people who hang up their shingle thinking they might make some extra cash when times are tough. Doodlers and drawers come out of the woodwork and offer their wares at next-to-nothing cost. People are getting hungry and desperate. The disparity between the rich and the poor is growing.

I didn’t intend to make this a doom and gloom piece, but it seems to be heading that way. Even normally successful businesses are being hurt. Government policy, unsavory business practices, and greed have brought us to our knees. Like you, I’m waiting for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our economy needs us to go on a spending spree, but most of us are tightening our belts. After all, it was our money taken from us through taxes that got us into this mess in the first place. And now they’re asking us to give them even more by increasing taxes on gas, food, and staples.

If we managed our personal budgets the way the government manages our tax dollars, we’d all be living on the street.

This holiday season, I wish each of you cheer, blessings, and the faith in yourself necessary to get you through this. I’ll need the same. If we pull together, support one another, and help one another, somehow we’ll get through this. On the bright side: art is an investment; it can lift your spirits and define your "space" in a good way.

Photos in this blog, including my bird artwork, were taken inside the “Green ‘n Groovy” store at Bella Vista Shops off Daniel’s Parkway in Fort Myers. Owner, Lisa Boucher, has a broad array of merchandise from recycled art, funky jewelry and clothing to new and unique, one-of-a-kind pieces.