Quick Learner

I am one of those people who enthusiastically celebrate the start of each new year. Everything is fresh and open and possible – and for the most part, last year’s events are softened just enough to be put into perspective.

This foray into the expansive and exciting world of What-if inspires me to make resolutions – sometimes many, sometimes just a few. This year I’ve narrowed all of my goals and plans and hopes into one personal directive:

Take full advantage of the Now. Fill even the smallest moments with work that matters, connections that last and creativity that feels right.

Oh, it’s not to say that there will not be an odd hour, or let’s be honest, even the occasional day, lost to old black and white movies and a late morning nap, but overall, I want to fully utilize this great thing called living.

In 2003 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and life immediately became … fragile. Within seconds I had absolute understanding that this 40 year-old life of mine life was gigantic, loving and precious – but it could be lost without fanfare – without hope for another chance.

Before my doctor even finished saying, ‘I’m so sorry,’ I completely understood the simplicity and enormity of being human – to love and care and be involved. And I also accepted the serious commitment that life demanded, no matter if it lasted a few more months, or many years.

In my heart, I finally knew that being alive was more than frothy dreams about tomorrow, or carrying grudges from past wounds, or feeling weak, or being shy or languishing in self-criticism.

Being alive is actually dancing in the rain, splashing in the winter ocean in bare feet even for a second, giving flowers to strangers for no reason, and letting go of people – even family members – who need time and space to find their own way.

Following that head-spinning diagnosis and the ensuing medical whirlwind, I woke up laughing and grinning every day for years. Literally grinning and giggling.

I rarely do that anymore and miss it terribly, but each day I look forward to a bright start. Each morning is a quasi New Year’s Day if you will, that invites me to begin life once again with joy, work and appreciation …

… and to remember how fragile it all is.

 

Romancing the Wedding Dress

During these still warm days of autumn, plan an Aurora, Indiana day-trip with your favorite groom-to-be, or with a group of happily single girlfriends. Just be sure to include a visit to Hillforest, an 1800s era stately home, impressively positioned atop quite a hill in the midst of this historic river town.

Intriguing portraits and delicate china, as well as period-appropriate furnishings, many having been owned by the Thomas Gaff family, fill the house, making it easy to imagine the comings and goings of this mostly female household.

Hillforest invites visitors to walk through the Italian Renaissance home, whose history is warmly interpreted by friendly guides.

Something special that guests of the home will discover is an exhibit of wedding dresses dating back to 1849. These very personal displays add yet another dimension to the aesthetic delights found inside. Please visit Creatzart,com to watch a slide show featuring some of these lovely dresses on loan from local families and area museums.

Beware the chill of late November, though, since that is when these ethereal wedding dresses return to their tissue-paper lined boxes to quietly dream of orange blossoms and champagne.

Simon and Garfunkel Had It All Figured Out

OK – did I just date myself?

I have to admit that I was one of those kids who knew all of the lyrics to “Richard Corey”, “Scarborough Fair”, and “Mrs. Robinson”. Saturday afternoons were filled with records being played on the Zenith while everyone sang and pitched-in to clean the house.

Hmmm, come to think of it, my siblings and I had some pretty impressive dance moves up there on the couch and footstool – brooms and dust cloths in hand.

Anyway, singing “It’s All Happening at the Zoo” at top of my lungs may or may not have had an impact upon my penchant for zoos, since I’ve always felt a deep connection to animals, the beautiful, and the vulnerable.

While some kids wanted to live in castles or on islands, or with their favorite grandmother, I just wanted to live in the Philadelphia Museum of Art or at the Philadelphia Zoo. Both, preferably.

That hasn’t happened – not yet, anyway –  so I console myself by re-reading “The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”; by lingering in galleries and museums until the doors are being locked; by adopting an oh-so-needy and way-too-adorable homeless cat … or two … or more (four being the limit set by my more pragmatic half), and by visiting aquariums and zoos.

My most recent trip was to the Cincinnati Zoo. While its urban setting might restrict  expansion beyond the original 65 acres (off-site locations notwithstanding), this is a zoo that is vibrant and dynamic and always evolving, as you can see on my photo-blog, Creatzart.com .

This level of excitement is due in no small part to Thane Maynard. Yes, that Thane Maynard of the 90-Second Naturalist. This guy is passionate, driven and brilliant. As the director of this historic zoo, Maynard has brought it into the 21st century with the installation of solar panels over the parking area; continually updated animal environments to allow a more natural feel and room for the animals to move, and under his watch, the launch of a very Green restaurant.

The conservation efforts of the Cincinnati Zoo have been tremendous and have resulted in substantial savings of water, gas, and electricity. The monies saved by these often simple measures have been reinvested into the husbandry of the animals, as well as into educational programs, special events and behind-the-scenes tutorials for enthusiastic visitors.

Certainly this ethical and responsible zoo is all about balance. Since opening the doors in 1875, the Zoo has protected wildlife and worked to secure their futures, while providing we non-safari folks with a peek into the breath-taking worlds of majestic animals and delicate flowers, normally found far beyond our own front doors.

An engaging conversation with a Hyacinth Macaw, or a restorative walk past the waterfall inside the lovely conservatory, or a study of the wildly diverse botanical garden, blend beautifully with the hard-core science taking place at C.R.E.W. (The Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife)  as experts in many fields pull their respective experiences, knowledge and genius together to stay the very real threat of extinction of many endangered animals and plants.

This is important work that impacts the long-term future not only of polar bears, African Violets and Sumatran rhinos, but also of humans, and ultimately the earth. As scientists and the general public learn more about the animals in captivity, that information can be utilized to save more and more animals in the wild.

Although my preference is for every animal to be free – to swim gracefully through ice-capped water, or to lounge beneath 110 degree sunshine – that isn’t reality. Human expansion and human exploitation have decimated vital resources including water, food,and available real estate.

Certainly horrendous “zoos” filled with miserable, forever-pacing, dull-eyed captives are still in existence, and that is repulsive. People who have no business owning an ant farm –  much less a big cat or a bear – charge five bucks for tourists to pet a tiger cub or have their picture taken with a black bear.  These animals are wild and were never meant to be severely confined and often ill-treated, existing only as props in a photo shoot.

Zoos like the Cincinnati Zoo are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Before visiting or supporting any zoo, look for this accreditation that demands each of its 218 member organizations retain professional staff, operate only under a strict code of ethics, and actively demonstrate a deep knowledge of and respect for animals.

Fortunately it’s possible to have an entertaining day at the zoo watching the otters glide underwater, or hearing the unexpectedly thunderous roar of a lion, or experiencing the breathtaking speed of a cheetah – all while supporting education, preservation and research.

As the summer cools into autumn, a trip to an AZA zoo or aquarium is a great choice for singles, families and couples. There is a lot going on for a reasonable price.

Since 1967, Mr. Simon and Mr. Garfunkel have known that everything happens at the zoo.

And I do believe it … I do believe it’s true.

 

 

 

 

The Music of Home

As I write this, I can hear my husband and his buddies talking and laughing. Their muffled conversation travels through the duct-work and fills my office with a familiar comfort.

Noise.

His friends are here to hang out in the basement – talking cars, strategy and speed. My husband reminds me as the first guest pulls into the driveway that this is not a dinner party and no, there is no need to use pretty napkins or to serve a nice salad with the pizza.

The door opens and the guys thank me for allowing them into our home as they wipe their feet on the mat, smelling faintly of cigarette smoke and aftershave.

By ones and twos they arrive, arms full of toolboxes and snack foods. Hours later, when I deliver a thermos of hot coffee to a cluttered, well used table, someone asks if I’m Italian; another groans that they don’t need any more desserts. Every one raves over the gloppy coconut cupcakes and slabs of chocolate cake.

I love having a house full of people to cook and bake for. I love cleaning and making vats of coffee and sweeping the deck in anticipation of their arrival.

A crowd is so easy to spoil.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a chance to spoil anyone and too long since the house was filled with that happy kind of noise.

I grew up with siblings and friends and friends of siblings. There was disorder and laughter and running through the house before getting into trouble and being sent outside to play.

Ecstatic dogs jumped into the lake with us as we swam to the island to pick hot blueberries that exploded in our mouths. On our slow walk home, we searched out every mud puddle to squish and slurp and schplush through our toes.

But that was years ago and now even my child’s childhood is a quiet collection of photographs and family memories.

Every evening my husband and I talk and read and watch TV. On the weekends we kiss and argue and laugh.

But it’s all so terribly subdued. So oddly still.

That is, until Race Night is upon us.

Then with certain glee, I plan the menu, capture the cobwebs and buy the napkins that I know won’t be used.

And finally, as the pizza is devoured and the coffee is poured,  I listen as I work in my office. I listen for the music of loud talk and robust laughter.

And I am at home.

Changes Underway!

Hello Dear Readers,

First of all, I want to thank you for clicking onto, reading and even following my blogs. As you know, it is terrific to learn from fellow bloggers’ comments, or to receive feedback from a new reader who just happened to stumble upon a post.

Whether you are a long-time friend or new visitor, I appreciate your time and interest.

In an effort to improve both blogs, I am tweaking things a bit. One big change is to change the names – but not the addresses – of the blogs.

The more visual blog, Laughing at the Top of the Stairs, will become simply   Creatzart.  The address will remain the same – http://creatzart.com  – so there is no need for you, the Reader, to do anything whatsoever.

The wordier blog, Creative Curiosity, will revert to its original name, DiscoveringHome . Again, the address will remain – http://DiscoveringHome.com   so you needn’t worry about missing a post or having to re-follow.

These changes will go into effect near the end of this month. I’m letting you know now to forestall any confusion arising from the new names. As you’ve seen, I have already played around with different themes, and plan to stick with these.

If you have any suggestions or questions, please feel free to contact me. Again, I appreciate your support and feedback.

Susan

 

Write Tight = Get Fit

Just a moment ago, I stopped typing long enough to slug black coffee and devour a  chocolate cookie at my desk. Before the final crunch was complete, I wondered why I ever opted for junk when I have a fridge bursting with late summer veggies and fruits, last night’s leftover salmon and a pretty good homemade breakfast casserole.

Getting back to work, I write descriptions, explanations, intentions and persuasions. I share my passion for the places I’ve found and people I’ve met with words like “wonder”, “discover”, enrich”, and “”delight”.

But with a cursory glance, I see that I’ve drenched those perfectly appropriate words with adjectives and adverbs that coat and obscure meaning – like croutons demean the crispness of lettuce, or dressing mutes the clean snap of radish.

As it is with eating, so goes the writing.

The solution must lie in portion control and exercise.

A  delectable piece of writing limits the quantity and frequency of embellishments. The properly prepared meat of the story would stand alone, without need for chanterelle or – it pains me to even suggest –  commercial steak sauce.

It might be nice to add some steamed veggies with fresh herbs, a clear soup and straight-from-the-oven yeast rolls.

But honest food, like honest writing, needs no globs of this or schplatts of that.

And it is only through exercising the truths we eaters and writers already know that the change occurs.

Often less is more, so when necessary – or simply fun – to add an adjective or a cookie to the effort, the sweetness will be all the more appreciated.

There are definitely parallels between over-writing and over-eating.