Monthly Gratitude Pages

A few years ago, I started the practice of writing a page at the end of every month, listing all the things for which I am grateful. I tried keeping a gratitude journal and writing three things every day before going to bed – but that only lasted about three days. Too much commitment. It turns out once a month is perfect!

I’m not going to share my monthly pages with you in this blog as I imagine that would bore you terribly, but I thought it would be fun to share a sample of one here. I will tell you though… that this is one of my favorite practices because I am always amazed at how positive and energized I feel after doing it. It is especially magical when I force myself to do it when I’m feeling angry, frustrated or depressed. It only takes about 10 minutes and it always manages to change my mood.

This month was easy since I’m so grateful for my new life…

Gratitude Page – July 2017

Monthly gratitude page – YAY! Of course I am grateful for this new life… as an artist, mom and wife. Hiker and photographer too. I am grateful for having less stress personally and for our family. At least for now, rushing doesn’t exist in our lives. I love that. I am grateful for my commitment to my 100 day challenges and for social media being there for accountability, as a commitment device. I am grateful for all the wonderful women with whom I have enjoyed one-on-one time recently: Teka, Brittney, Julie, Lori, Kristin, Wendi, Jessica, Jamie and for all the women in the Athena Project. I am grateful for all the gorgeous hikes that I can literally walk to form my front door. I am grateful for all the fruits and vegetables I can buy in abundance. I was grateful that our trip to the East Coast was successful – the lake in Pennsylvania was beautiful, the Glover family filled with fun, kind, caring and smart people. Despite the heat and humidity of New York City we made great memories. I am grateful for the girls enjoyment of the Golden History Camp and for the quiet home while they are there. I’m grateful that Peanut gets to be home with me all day (instead of in the laundry room). I am grateful for my new camera and laptop. I am grateful for bountiful creative ideas on what my next map is going to be made of. I am grateful that I got the Athena logo to a place where I’m proud of it. I’m grateful for Trevor Noah’s audiobook that was moving, entertaining and educational. I am grateful for Lucy learning to ride a bike! I am grateful for our new neighbors who seem really cool. I am grateful for all the artsy mentors I’ve had over the last few months. I’m not sure I could be any more grateful than I am right now. I forgot to mention that I am grateful I got to see Michelle Obama!

Contemplating the start of 100 Maps & 100 Hikes in 100 Days

I feel a push and pull to clean up the house and be productive or to just relax, be alone, be introspective, meditate. Relish in some peace and quiet.

The girls still need me, want me. Sophie is okay enjoying being back in her room after two weeks away but Lucy’s room is a mess and she’s whining that I should help her clean it up. I have my own art studio that needs cleaning, a mess because I dropped boxes there packed with all the crap from my office at the Zoo. In a week, it will have been a month since I left the Zoo. Crazy. Time to clean up and move on. But I don’t have the motivation. I know Scott is in the basement enjoying time to himself and I know I need that too.

And then I’m also faced with the strangest feeling that I have all the time in the world… ahead of me… without a job to drive to on Monday or a trip to prepare and pack for. Just this open-ended schedule filled with freedom. I’m going to do my best to embrace this feeling but for now it’s just very, very strange. Scarey? Maybe. The only thing I fear is laziness. As long as I create structure for myself that won’t happen.

Also, I need to work hard if I’m going to be successful. And I think what I need to do is define what success is. I’m starting to day dream about this new artsy lifestyle allowing me to travel – either on my own here and there in search of inspiration, as a family which will be limited because of Scott’s vacation time, or just me and the girls. I’m not talking about our world trip plans in a couple years – I’m talking about here and now, and in the next few years leading up to the trip. I want my art to support those dreams… that’s success to me. Right now it can only be dreams because we can’t afford that vagabond lifestyle. I need to be conscientious of our household budget. But if I make maps and if they start selling, one way or another, that could allow travel back in my life. That’s the whole point of this new freedom. I feel thirsty for adventure.

This IS a whole new adventure. I also feel overwhelmed by possibilities and by the open-endedness of it all. I am afraid that it might paralyze me. What a strange feeling.

Right now I deserve the quiet. It took every ounce of patience to spend just 3 days as a family in New York City in the peak of the summer heat and humidity. I am drained. I need to reset and get reenergized.

I know I’m putting a lot on myself but I am also so, so eager to get healthy again. To eat well, get fit, get outdoors, exercise daily. Do it. I know everything will become so much more clear once I do that.

I also wonder about doing the Artist’s Way again for some guidance and structure.

Or starting my 100 days of making 100 maps. Combine that with 100 days of no drinking and 100 hundred days of hiking (or 100 days of 10,000 steps). Hmmm, I just looked up that if I started on July 25, 2017 and did it for 100 days straight that would take me to November 1, 2017 right before my 41st birthday. Talk about a kickstart to this new life as an artist!

Should I do it? I have 3 days to decide. I love the idea of being so disciplined, of using this is as accountability to not be lazy and having complete faith that this 100 days project will lead to something! Something big.

It could work because we don’t have any big plans to go away between now and then. Commitment.

My Word for 2017 is SHARE

I love this idea of choosing a word at the beginning of the year that will motivate and guide you throughout the year. My word for 2017 is SHARE.

I will share my art, my writing, and myself. It is scary but it is time. I came up with the idea of making Wander + Wonder World Maps over 12 years ago. I had recently moved to Colorado from Australia and I was in a job that I didn’t find creatively inspiring. I also was pretty sure I had met the man of my dreams and figured it was time to settle down and stop being such a vagabond. This is a journal entry from November 2004 when the idea first came to me:
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Twelve years is a long time. Since then, I have given a few maps away to friends, I have been commissioned to make a couple and I have decorated my home with them but mostly they just sat flat underneath the bed in our guest room, for years.

SHARING MY ART
I was thinking of opening an Etsy store but I was scared. I went to my therapist, Melanie, with my fears of being egotistical and selfish for wanting to sell my art and having this desire to put myself out there.

“Charlotte, what if instead of feeling like you are being selfish by sharing your art, you consider the fact that you are being selfish if you don’t. What if the world needs your art right now… especially now.” This was a month after the elections and it was clear that she was alluding to the sense of dread that had recently washed over half of the American population. She helped me meditate on this idea that the world needs my art now. Melanie guides me through short meditations in our sessions and that is where the magic happens. I closed my eyes and felt lightness in my body, the evidence I needed to know she was right. It is time.

Of course that two minute meditation didn’t instantly rid me of fear and trepidation. That has taken about six weeks with the additional help of a very special book.

Around the same time I met with Melanie, I started reading The Artist’s Way. Have you heard of The Artist’s Way?! If you are a creative type (or not), if you have even a sliver of spirituality floating within you (or stand strong in your beliefs), if you love the idea of serendipity (what I call magic), or if you’ve ever wanted to figure out what your true calling is… read The Artist’s Way. But be prepared, it’s not just a book, it’s a 12-week program that has the potential to change your life. I read it ten years ago and it motivated me to push myself to make more art. I’m reading it again and this time it has allowed me to let go of all fear when it comes to selling my art.

I’m ready. I’m doing this. I’ve decided to open my Etsy store on 01.17.17. I don’t know if that’s an auspicious date but it looks like one so I’m going with it and that gives me exactly a week to get it together and do what I need to do to make this happen!

In order to do that, I am gifting myself a week off work to make art, to have adventures, to meet with other artists, to write, to wander and to wonder. And guess what?! I am SHARING it all with YOU. Because, after all, my word for this year is SHARE. I will be blogging daily until my store is open and posting to Instagram and Facebook.

Here is the first photo to start the week off on a happy note…

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Stay tuned for more on Sharing My Writing and Sharing Myself.

Forty and Full of Gratitude

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Today is my 40th birthday!

I woke up early this morning (per my usual modus operandi) and decided to journal about this milestone birthday. Here’s what I wrote about upcoming festivities and reflecting on my life up til now.

My big birthday bash is this Saturday at our local brewery. We are expecting about 50 adults and 15 kids. Maybe more. That’s more guests than we had at our wedding! Crazy. Well, you only turn 40 once.

Isn’t it funny that I’ve chosen to have a big bash to celebrate my birthday instead of something small and intimate. And that I’m actually excited about it? I mean that seems a little crazy coming from an introvert like myself. How is it possible that I am actually excited?

It’s because I’ve gained so many wonderful friends over the years and many of them will be here to celebrate with me. In chronological order in my life: Jade and Jon from childhood, unfortunately no college friends or travel friends since they’re so far away (Ahhh!!! Update since I wrote that — I just got a text from my college/travel friend Megan who just said she’s coming from California! I am sooooo excited!!!) , Scott’s friends from when I first moved to Colorado who quickly became mine too, Marjorie from my first job in CO, Playgroup friends, Book Club friends, families from Golden that we’ve become friends with over the past few years, work friends from the Zoo, and my recent besties, Teka and Jamie. Of course, family too – Scott, the girls, Emilie, Matt and Maman. So many people that I love dearly all coming together. I can’t begin to express how grateful I am for that!

So now… how do I feel about being 40? Kind of weird if I’m being truthful. Up until yesterday, I felt fine about it. But I woke up this morning feeling kind of weird. When you’re in your 30s you are still on the young end. But 40 – when you tell a kid that you’re 40 they definitely think that’s old. But of course, I feel great.

Twenty years ago, if I had been offered the opportunity to look into the future and this is what I saw, I would be happy about it. A wonderful husband, beautiful, healthy children, a nice home (that finally feels like I belong in it thanks to all the work we did this year), amazing friends, a job that I love and being part of this incredible community of Golden, Colorado. Still taking photographs, still making art, working hard to stay strong and healthy and looking good. I probably would have thought that I would travel more but that requires time and money and it’s not so easy with kids in school, but at least it’s part of our plans for the near future.

I also feel fine turning 40 because I can look back and see all that I’ve accomplished over the years. All my incredible friendships that I’ve made along the way – listed above since most of them are coming to my birthday party! My early years in Boston (making it out of there pretty much unscathed – a child of unhappily divorced parents and a mentally ill mother); then a more safe, traditional childhood spending the rest of my youth growing up on Martha’s Vineyard; summers spent with my family in France and traveling around Europe; college and my years of world travel (living in England, Italy, India and Australia); amazing jobs as a teenager working in a bakery, a stationery store owned by a local artist, then with my friends (Jade and Jon) essentially running a bead/jewelry store together, and waitressing at Jade’s aunt and uncle’s restaurant; as an adult working at UMASS, in an art and frame shop in the heart of London, being an art teacher in India, assisting a designer in Australia, being a web designer at International Networks, running my own successful freelance company DESIGNi2i, and now my job at the Zoo; getting married and starting a family – going through natural childbirth twice, once at home in my bathtub; turning our house into our home by filling it with love and things that I love (specifically Scott and the girls and our pets); making art for over a decade; going through heavy-duty therapy to let go of anger and resentment from my childhood so that I can be the best mother that I can be; going through marriage counseling to ensure that Scott and I will have a strong and loving marriage and so that I can be the best wife that I can be; starting yoga and meditation in my early 20s and sticking with it, intermittently, throughout all these years, staying spiritual; focusing on my health – making fitness and good nutrition a consistent part of my life over the past decade; and lastly, being on this constant quest to grow, to learn and to improve as a human being on this earth. To be filled with gratitude for this wonderful life that I’ve led. When you’ve accomplished all that, it’s not so hard to face the fact that you are 40.

Now… on with my day. I’ve taken the day off work to enjoy a little solitude and to fill it with things I love to do: write (done!), draw, go on a photo adventure, meditate, go for a hike, enjoy nature, and spend quality time with Scott, Sophie, Lucy and my pets, Peanut and Patches. I know my introverted self will need this day of introspection, peace and quiet before the amazing chaos that is about to ensue!

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Creativity Retreat & My Nine Symbols

Last week I had my team over for a little creativity retreat. We had had a couple hours of craft time in the past but this was our first time making a day of it. We had a great time. We went to a Creative Mornings Denver talk (these happen monthly and are free to people in creative fields), then went out to brunch and then came to my house for a quick overview about what I learned in a recent leadership training and then craft time! Brittney tried embroidery for the first time ever and Mandy made a beautiful beaded bracelet.

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I decided to draw my 9 ‘personal symbols’ on little river stones (that I will eventually glue into a little shadow box). It was an idea that I got from listening to the Happier podcast – which is a new one I started listening to by the woman who wrote The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben. I am really enjoying the podcast. And loved this idea for your own personal symbols (inspired by the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism). Here are what I chose to represent myself:

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Dove in flight with olive branch
I love birds. I have images of them throughout my house. This choice of decor was not a conscious one, it just started happening over the years of decorating my house. To me birds represent freedom and flight. I also love the dove with an olive branch as a symbol of peace. In my youth and in my twenties I was idealistic and dreamt of peace on earth. Now, middle-aged, I understand that that is a far-fetched idea and I recognize that the best I can do is find peace in myself; foster peace in my family; and cherish it in my friendships.

World Map
Well, duh, anyone who knows me knows this is an obvious one. It has been the focus of my art for over a decade and for the decade before that I spent years traveling around the world… visiting or living in all the continents except Antarctica (still on my list). I had traveled to 30 countries before the age of 30 and lived in 7 of them. To me the image of a world map, represented without political boundaries, is a reminder that we are all connected, the world is one. They represent my love of travel as well as my calling to make art, but also humanity and this shared world that we all call home.

Elephant
Symbolizing my love and adoration of animals. I have always loved them since I was a child. My bedroom was a menagerie filled at various times with cats, birds, snakes, turtles, frogs, hamsters, Guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, lizards and fish. In elementary school I thought I wanted to be a vet, in middle school a marine biologist and by college I thought I’d become an animal behaviorist. I veared in a different direction once I decided to honor the artist and designer in me but then came back around, and was able to combine animals and design, when I got my job at Denver Zoo five years ago. I feel that animals have a lot to teach us, especially elephants and other species that have a certain untapped wisdom like wolves, killer whales, great apes and even ravens. Having animals in my life, especially during a not so idyllic childhood, offered me companionship that I didn’t otherwise have. Having pets, even as an adult, has taught me what it feels like to love and to experience unconditional love.

‘W’
I like the idea of using a letter that is an obvious serif typeface to represent graphic design, since that is my profession. But also ‘w’ stands for so many things – wander and wonder (I am happiest when I am following this motto for myself); www (world wide web and my profession as a web designer for the last 20 years); also ‘w’ stands for wife which is a big part of my identity.

Om symbol
This is the one symbol I chose to represent yoga, meditation, and my love of Eastern spiritual ideals. I am not a religious person but I am spiritual and I believe in the power one can find within oneself by finding calm, being centered and focused, using visualization and positive thinking. I believe in the idea of being in the present moment even if I find it to be a constant challenge. Having yoga and meditation in my life help with that. I believe in the connection between mind and body. I believe that we are all connected and that we have a higher purpose during our time on Earth.

Tree
This tree encompasses the idea of nature, growth and creation. Nature is where I feel most spiritually connected to something bigger. Nature is my religion. I grew up on an island and have now settled in the mountains. Through my travels I have experienced extraordinary spectacles of nature – deserts, waterfalls, rainforests, glaciers, rivers and grasslands. No matter what my environment I stand in awe of my surroundings – the vastness and power of the ocean or the strength and presence of mountains. I also love to stop and look down to inspect the minute miracles of nature – buds on trees, wild flowers, tiny insects, nests and broken egg shells. This tree, for me, also represents growth and regrowth. I want to always be growing as a person, to continuously learn and improve. In the same way that a tree cycles through the seasons so do we during the course of our lifetimes. We have ups and downs, valleys and peaks, and when those darker moments present themselves it is important to remember we will come into the light stronger and changed, hopefully more wise and truer to ourselves.

Compass/North Star
This is the one tattoo I have on the pinky toe of my right foot – which in and of itself represents my rebellious side (but not too rebellious). I got it when I was 17 in someone’s basement – in 1994 when tattoos weren’t so mainstream. I gave it a lot of thought before getting it. Even at that age, thanks to my European parents, I had a passion for travel. I came up with this symbol because it was meant to look like a compass – North, East, South, West and like a representation of the North Star both of which meant direction and guidance. As a young person about to enter the world, eager for independence, I felt that direction and guidance would come from trusting my intuition, being true to myself and facing the world ahead with courage. Those ideals have always stuck with me as has my little pinky toe tattoo.

Camera
When did I fall in love with photography? I learned how to develop photos in a darkroom when I was 16, my dad gave me my first SLR camera at 17 and I traveled to East Africa at 18. It was an early introduction to some of the most magnificent wildlife and landscape photography the world had to offer. I fell in love. In college, I took a broad array of art classes but mainly focused on photography – at times spending 10 or 12 hours in the darkroom without even taking a break to eat. Those days I used photography as a form of self-discovery. Years later, I traveled the world taking photos, obsessed with capturing moments and memories. When I eventually settled down in one place, I made a point to work somewhere where photography was part of my profession. At Denver Zoo, I am the Design & Interactive Manager, leading our design team, but I am also the staff photographer. I love the connection I feel with the animals when I am photographing them, following their every movement, waiting for that glint in their eye that tells me there’s a soul in there. By sharing these photos of our animals with our guests through our marketing efforts, my hope is that they too experience that connection and sense of awe. In the future, I’d like to travel and photograph animals around the world in their natural environments. Today, I get to do the next best thing. Which actually works better for our family – my kids would miss me too much if I were constantly up and going on photographic adventures.

Greek symbol for Motherhood
This one was an obvious one it was just hard to know what symbol to use. I found this Greek symbol of motherhood and liked it because when you are a mother, your children are intertwined with you. It is inevitable that they become part of your identity, even if that was hard to accept for me at first. Motherhood is the ultimate symbol of creation. How do you even begin to write about bringing life into this world. I can’t, so I won’t. I will say that my daughters have taught me how to love, how to nurture, how to surrender and have forced me to be a whole lot less selfish. I won’t lie, it was really hard for me to be so needed when they were really little; nurturing didn’t come naturally to me. I was filled with guilt, inadequacy and a small sense of failure. I am grateful that numerous sessions of therapy have helped me come out the other end and now I am proud of the mother that I have become. I am there for my children and I am doing my best, along with my husband, to raise kind, curious and happy daughters.

Bonus to this exercise is that I shared it with Sophie, my 8 year old, and she spent a couple hours the following day trying to define her own personal symbols which included: Energy (being active), Yin Yang, Family, Never Give Up (infinity symbol), Friendship, Chinese symbol for tiger (to symbolize animals), Japanese symbol for water, Japanese symbol for earth, symbol for Bravery. Some of them stood for who she is and things she loves – a few others, I think, she chose just because they seemed ‘cool.’ Here are her drawings:fullsizerender