Art Conspiracy

Every now and then my husband surprises me by finding a really interesting event and buying tickets. He knows I love art and artists so this weekend’s surprise was one of the best. We went to Art Con, a fundraising event put on each year by Art Conspiracy, an organization that conspires to bring artists and musicians together, raise funds, and activate awareness for regional creative programs and causes. Art Con is “street level philanthropy with equal parts community art event and fundraiser.”

Participating artists were given an 18″ by 18″ board on which to create a piece of art to be auctioned off during the event, which included alternating auctions and live music at a warehouse in The Cedars neighborhood of Dallas. More than 150 artists and four musicians (The Cush, Cliffs of Insanity, DJ Christy Ray and The Misfit DJ Set) got great exposure during the event and funds were raised to support MAP – Make Art With Purpose. The art was diverse and creative, as you can see below.

This is a photo of 18 by 18 inch art creations by Dallas artists participating in ArtCon11.

Some of the pieces auctioned off at ArtCon11

My husband and I enjoyed a delicious Cuban sandwich and yucca fries from The Guava Tree food truck and then we took our drinks inside the warehouse to peruse the paintings, finding several that we wanted to bid on. The people-watching was pretty fabulous; it was quite the eclectic, artsy younger crowd combined with middle-aged people in workout gear, older folks in motorized chairs and families with children running around playing tag. During the auctions, whenever the bidding passed another $100 milestone, the crowd went crazy. Bidding started at $20 and paintings sold for anywhere from $20 to over $800 before we left. While we didn’t end up coming home with any paintings, we did enjoy the evening and learned of some artists that we will keep an eye on, including those that create designs for Cykochik custom handbags. If you’re looking for a unique gift for a creative person in your life, check them out.

This is a photo of a crowd of people looking at paintings.

The ArtCon11 crowd deciding which paintings to bid on.

Change It Up By Going Outside

Get Out of The Gym And Into Nature

After a while workouts in a gym get a little stale. There are only so many lunges, pull-ups and elliptical sessions you can do before you’re bored. One day recently, people were hogging a lot of the free weights and medicine balls so when my friend Jody arrived for our morning workout at the not-so-great gym I wrote about last week, I suggested an outdoor run. Jody wisely pointed out that the gym is basically bordered by highways so a run might be difficult. But we decided to see what we could find. We ran by a lot of businesses, a CVS, a few banks and some restaurants. Not so beautiful.

But then we found a park nearby with a small lake.  Incredibly, in the middle of the urban sprawl, there was actual wildlife! I was so thrilled that I had to stop and take a picture of each new creature we came upon.

This is a picture of a swan taking flight.

I love how majestic this egret looks taking off.

There were egrets and an otter and birds I don’t know the name of—and a kitten. Until you come across those beautiful creatures, you forget how incredible it is to be in their presence. I’m so used to be cooped up in my temperature-controlled house, gym or office, glued to the TV, computer or smartphone, that just being outside was like a big adventure. I think endorphins must be increased when you workout outside as opposed to the gym—as long as you get away from the highway.

This is a photo of an otter eating.

This guy swam across the lake to find his breakfast. I think it’s an otter.

Because between the animals and the sunrise, the fresh air and the feel of uneven ground under my feet, I felt uplifted and inspired the rest of the day.

This is a photo of a black kitten.

This friendly kitten stopped for a visit.

Even the kitten who appeared in the middle of the jogging path around the lake made me happy. And then there was the pièce de résistance—the sunrise.


Getting outside proved to be just what I needed. It just goes to show you that even in the middle of the city you can find beauty in the outdoors.


Super Secret Squats And Other Gym Injustices

I work out at gym that has some issues. Like the rat poison box beneath my locker and the large rat trap beneath the counter. Like the cockroach that crawled up another woman’s leg in the shower and sent her screaming back to the changing area. Like the pool cleaner that dumps chemicals into the pool while people are swimming in it and, when questioned about the safety of doing so, says, “You’ll be fine.”

This is a photo of a box holding rat bait under a gym locker

Rat bait under my locker!

During the post-workout rush every Monday morning there’s a lady cleaning the showers with a large, high-powered hose-but I haven’t actually seen any soap. You’d think it would be more effective and nicer for the gym’s clients if she cleaned at night or maybe at 5:30 a.m. when no one has finished their workout yet. Then we wouldn’t have to step in the inch or two of water that pools on the floor by the toilets.

This is a photo of standing water on the floor of the gym bathroom.

Sloshing through water in the bathroom.

Then there was the lady who basically hunted me down when I first joined to set up an initial “goals” meeting. When I finally made the time, she berated me for working out with my friend every morning because my friend works out with a trainer there once a week. “We really frown upon that,” she said. “She might be sharing information with you.” Um, really? Super secret squats? Then, when I said that I couldn’t work out with a trainer right now, she turned downright icy. “That’s how I make my money, you know.” Finally, the parting kicker, which she said with a slight sneer while rising from her seat to dismiss me: “You should watch that body fat percentage because you’re bordering on overweight.” I didn’t come away with a single piece of marketing literature for training or group training or anything. Just an extreme dislike for Ashley. One day I might be interested in signing up for some training, but all she cared about was the immediate commission she wasn’t earning. Such a poor sales strategy. Then again, she may have done me a favor. Now, whenever cookies appear in the break room at work, I try to restrain myself by thinking about Ashley and her snide comment. So, yeah. Thank you, Ashley. Then again, sometimes the cookie wins out.

So why do I part with $30 a month to go to a semi-dirty national chain gym with employees who don’t care about their customers and are downright rude? Simple: Location. It’s the only gym near work. I guess that’s why they can be so bad and still stay in business. No competition. My friend Jody tried to write an email to the manager to complain about some of these things but it turns out you can’t send them an email from outside their system. I guess they don’t want to hear from customers. So she wrote an actual letter-on actual paper-to the manager to complain about all these things and delivered it to the front desk. She followed up twice. Guess what she heard back? Nothing.

I’ve made my peace with it. It’s just so unbelievable that a place could be managed so poorly and still stay in business. The best part about the whole gym is the people who work out there. They are so nice and friendly. Much friendlier than the people at the swankier, less cockroach-prone gym I used to go to. We all bond over each new gym problem. Yesterday I was putting my stuff in a locker when I noticed that one of the locker doors had been forced open (with the lock—that had obvious bolt cutter marks—still on it), and with the particle board still attached to the woefully inadequate-looking screws. “Oh, yeah, that’s been like that since last week,” a women getting dressed said, shaking her head and smiling at me. We’re friends now.

This is a photo of a gym locker that has been forced open, with the locker and particle board with screws still attached.

Lockers aren’t too secure – and then they just leave it like this!

Maybe that’s the gym’s secret mission statement: help customers make new friends by being the worst—and only—gym in a 10 mile radius. Oddly enough, being terrible seems to be working as a business strategy. The place is packed. I just can’t stop thinking of how much better they’d be doing by making some very, very simple customer-focused changes. Like not having rat traps out in the locker room.



The Weekend Fun Folder

My new friend Jody, who I met at work, has a Fun Folder (a Google Doc), which she fills with ideas for destinations, activities and things to do in each new place she lives. After every weekend, she talks about the interesting thing’s she’s done, as if she’s gone on a mini-vacation, even it if was only biking in a new area or kayaking down a river several hours away that I didn’t even know existed.

That’s how she views each weekend, like it’s a mini-vacation. It’s kind of brilliant. While I’m planning all the tedious chores I’m going to accomplish over my weekend, she’s concocting a mini-trip to some place I’ve never heard of even though I’ve lived here 18 years longer than she has. Of course, she’s a lot younger than me, so perhaps her youthful energy has something to do with her extreme fun planning.

A few weekends ago I wanted to join in the fun, so we met up to go kayaking at White Rock Lake in Dallas. The lake is not swimmable and sometimes bodies are found there, but that hasn’t deterred White Rock Paddle from setting up a rental shop on the shore. Of course Jody doesn’t need to rent; she has her own kayak that she attaches to the rack on her car. She’s the kind of person who just exudes adventure. Plus, as an added bonus, she’s always ready for a flood.

This is a photo of Jody and her dog Navi kayaking.

Jody and Navi kayaking on White Rock Lake.

Oh, and did I mention her dog, Navi? Navi likes to go kayaking with her. Many of the Fun Folder ideas include dog-friendly places. After our kayaking outing, for example, Jody found a place that allowed dogs on the porch and probably added it to the fun folder.

Last Saturday, I spent the day cleaning the house. Meanwhile, Jody invited me to go kayaking again with her and Navi in Fort Worth, sending me this photo of the enjoyable time they were having:

This is a photo of a dog in a kayak.

What Navi was doing last Saturday.

Meanwhile, back at my house, my dog was squaring off against the vacuum, which she vehemently distrusts. This is her keeping an eye on the vacuum while I took a break:

This is a photo of a dog staring at a vacuum cleaner.

“Stay right there, or else…”

So what’s wrong with this situation? Obviously, my fun folder was woefully under-consulted that day. However, I did vacuum up what seemed like a whole dog’s worth of fur. So at least there was a feeling of accomplishment. Not fun, but accomplishment.

Next weekend, however, I’m opening the fun folder. Accomplishment is overrated.

There’s Something About Sunrise

I drive to my new job in the pitch-black of early morning, the inky highway dotted with pairs of red lights speeding ahead. Leaving so early allows me to avoid traffic jams and go to the gym, but it also gives me the opportunity to appreciate the sunrise.

This is a photo of a sunrise taken over the tops of cars parked in a parking lot.

One of the beautiful sunrises from the parking lot of the gym.

Being a morning person, I’ve experienced a lot of sunrises. From the car, on the beach, from my bedroom window and even from a deer blind while accompanying early morning hunters. Sunrises never fail to inspire awe in me. The way the rosy light undulates with the cloud formations and bursts outward with as if hopeful that today will be better than yesterday makes me feel like anything is possible.

As I maneuver my car over to my exit, I glance to my right and that’s when, at 6:16 am, I know I will see the vivid reds peering over the dark horizon, welcoming me to the new day. I’m always intrigued by the slight differences each sunrise presents, as if the universe is asking to be noticed and appreciated for its efforts. Like a giant paint brush is mixing new variations of the same warm colors on a global palette and smattering them across the sky.

It’s no wonder that the painting that gave rise to the name of the Impressionist movement was Claude Monet’s 1872 painting “Impression, Sunrise.” It’s one of my favorites, capturing the peacefulness and optimism of a new day.

This is Claude Monet's painting, Impression, Sunrise, featuring the harbor of Le Havre with the sunrise reflecting on the water amid boats.

Claude Monet’s 1872 “Impression, Sunrise” depicting the port of Le Havre, France.

As Robin Williams’ character says in the movie Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, “Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.” It was one of his last roles and it is how I choose to remember him, sharing our appreciation of the sunrise.

Smile. That’s what I do in my car every morning when I look over my shoulder to yield for my exit and am rewarded with one spectacular splashy sunrise after another. Then, when I get to the gym, I often snap a photo before heading inside.

Feeling Appreciated

As a freelance writer, I often receive payments in my mailbox after completing a client’s resume or Linkedin This is a picture of the outside of an envelope with my name and the words The Best Freelance Writer underneath, which left me feeling appreciated.profile or finishing the edits of their book. Of course, I’m always grateful for the checks. And sometimes clients will attach a sticky note to the check saying how pleased they were with my work. I love when that happens. I was not expecting what I received in the mailbox today, however, and it had me feeling appreciated for the rest of the day. A repeat client sent in her check. On her envelope she had written my name and then underneath, “The Best Freelance Writer.” The fact that it was written in purple pen was even more uplifting. Then there was the beautiful flowery stamp. Not just your regular American flag. What a gift my client gave me. Probably without even realizing it.


Welcome, Thieves!

You know when you’re far away from your house and you realize that you left the garage door open? Well, that didn’t happen to me.

This is a picture of an open door leading into a house.

Scary to think what could have happened.

I mean, yes, I left the garage door open but no, I didn’t realize it. Not at the doctor’s office. Not at the Original Pancake House. Not at Ikea. And not at the grocery store. Six hours worth of not realizing my house was open for looting. It was like I was inviting everyone in to help themselves to our mountain bikes, ladders and power tools. And everything in our house.  (more…)

I Have a Different Kind of PTSD

When I was six, my grandfather convinced me to go sailing with him. Not just sailing, but racing. It was his

This is a photo of the author at the wheel of a 30-foot sailboat on a lake.

passion and he wanted to share it with me. He sailed long skinny boats called Two-Tens and raced every weekend in the summer on the North Shore of Massachusetts.

My grandfather sensed my hesitation to go with him. The whole thing would take up more than half the day, and I was unsure about being any farther from land than a swim away and also about tipping over.

“It’ll be fun,” he told me. “I promise this boat will never flip. It can’t. It is physically impossible.” (more…)

Happiness is a Visit From a Harbor Seal

It was a beautiful warm day in Bar Harbor, Maine and I was finally getting to go sea kayaking. Sea kayaking has

This is an Image of a harbor seal's head peaking out of the water.

Photo courtesy Mike Baird via Creative Commons.

been on my bucket list for a long time, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself until a few weeks ago when I visited Acadia National Park with my husband and son. (more…)

6 Ways to Find Quiet in Today’s Noisy World

I don’t know about you but when I am exposed to constant man-made noise, I get edgy. Bitchy even.This is a picture of the fall leaf colors on my solitary hike in New Hampshire.

The world (or at least the city and the house where I live) has grown so obnoxiously noisy. Leaf blowers and rumbling trucks; air conditioning units and the buzz of the computer; TVs and cell phones ringing; the teenager’s music blasted from the floor below.  There are fewer and fewer silent moments to just appreciate the soothing sounds of the natural world. I’m not surprised that The New York Times has created an online Quiet City map that allows users to find a place in any of the five boroughs where they can hear themselves think for a few minutes. (more…)