Friday Night Book Club: A Russian Feast

February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Some books read like a symphony. They start out innocently enough, a little tug here and there to capture your ear, then they rise and float as different instruments chime in – and before you know it you’re swept away by the melody, by thunderous twists and gentle pauses, cheerful refrains and deep undertones carrying heart and mind to unexpected places.

A Gentleman in Moscow is such a book. It’s also a book that reminds me why I find the written word so magical.

In telling the story of an aristocrat under house arrest in Moscow’s finest hotel during the 1920’s – 1950’s, a world within a world is brought to mesmerizing life – a world as surprisingly large as it was obviously small, as delightful as it was touching, while offering a glimpse of Russia during a broad span of massive change  – and Amor Towles masterfully ties it all together with a steady beat of delicious writing.

Like a fine wine (or perhaps a Vodka?), there were passages so yummy I had to pause now and then to savor the flavor. Like moments in a symphony that hold you briefly but luxuriously suspended in time and space, I would find I’d stopped to relish a particularly brilliant sentence. (But, don’t worry, you won’t pause for long, because you’re already anticipating the next movement.)

A Gentleman in Moscow had all the key elements right – irresistible characters inside a beautifully written, well-crafted tale. Well done, well done.

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Women Marching

January 22, 2017 § 1 Comment

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Women are amazing. And millions of us joined together as one yesterday, in a triumphant display of sisterly solidarity, to protest… what exactly? I may ruffle some feathers here, but I’m missing something.

Here’s my just-one-person-in-a-sea-of-people perspective.

I’ve made my own way. I started my graphic design and illustration business when I was 27. I’ve raised my daughter as a single parent. Did being on my own make it harder? Absolutely! As a fairly private person, this is not a card I’ve often laid on the table, nor admitting that there have been times I’ve been on my knees wondering how it’d all work out. But going it alone didn’t stop me, nor did being a woman stop me. I didn’t feel I’d been gypped. It was my path. I went the distance. I’ve worked hard. I might do some things differently but I’d do it again. And maybe all that makes me a strong woman. It also had the side effect of strengthening my belief that we, as women, should support one another.

My daughter has said, “but Mom, not everyone is like you.” And that’s true – not everyone grew up free from the idea that a woman was somehow less than; not everyone grew up believing that she could be many things, that she wasn’t “just” anything. Not a homemaker or a wife or a mother or an astronaut or an artist or a teacher or a star Olympian. She could be and do whatever she wanted. No one said to me, “you can’t do that”.

All of this was a big deal in shaping my beliefs, and I do understand that not everyone had what I see as my good fortune. But it did allow me to see that girls – you – we – are amazing! And along the way of life I’ve met tons of truly wonderful women. Some have husbands and families, some do not, some work, some do not, some are on their own, some have support. And not all – perhaps not even most ­– had my kind of childhood. But a lot of us have reached the point where we realize we’re a pretty awesome species. We’re smart. We’re savvy. We’re compassionate. We’re creative, We’re nurturing. We’re strong. We’re survivors. We’re thrivers. We’re warriors. We’re angels. We all have different strengths and different weaknesses. We struggle mightily here and succeed wildly there. We are flawed and we are perfectly amazing.

We also appreciate those who paved the way before us. The voting revolution happened, the sexual revolution happened, women “broke the glass ceiling” in corporate America, women own businesses, we have freedom over our bodies. There are women world leaders. Women in the military. If anyone still isn’t getting equal pay for an equal job, demand it, fight for it. Nothing happens overnight, nor are things perfect, but history can attest to the enormous strides that have already put us in a position to do as we please. We’re a far cry from the Patriarchal societies that persecuted wise women and healers, or that relegated women to second class citizens with few rights and no voice. We’ve come a long way.

And so I loved the idea of yesterday’s unity. I’m just not sure what it was meant to achieve. Was this about “women’s rights”, “human rights”, or outrage about the election of someone you can’t stand? Was it about fear? Because the way I see it, we in America, in perhaps the entire first world, have it pretty good. What rights are we lacking? One glimpse at some less-fortunate countries shows us that women there have a much rougher go of things than our well-fed, well-clothed, freedom-to-protest selves could possibly imagine. They are the ones who know fear. They are the ones who need women’s rights issues taken by storm.

I’m looking for some sense here. Maybe, in the end, what the marching achieved was simply this: a wave of sisterhood. And that’s a good thing in and of itself.

I’m all for acknowledging concerns, giving them voice, lending a hand. Joining together for causes we believe in. Supporting one another. Stepping up, reaching out, knowing that the feminine is divine and strong and powerful. Claiming and embracing that goddess within ourselves and radiating our beautiful, fierce, gentle, wise spirit into the world. Continuing to share, teach, grow, and rise. Holding heads high. Believing you can.

But not complaining. Because, while our work is not done, we are already amazing.

Love, Peace and Santa

December 23, 2016 § 4 Comments

Visions of sugarplums. Partridges in pear trees. Sleighbells. Snowmen. Bright red bows and brown paper packages. Reindeer on rooftops, stockings and candy canes, holly and nutcrackers. Angels singing. Hope. Goodwill. Peace. Love. Santa.

Yes, Santa Claus.

Granted, I’m not sure he wears a jolly red suit and drives eight flying reindeer over all the world on a single night. Nor am I convinced that he comes down chimneys. There are lots of questionable details. But is Santa merry? Is he generous? Kind? Loving? Do his eyes twinkle? Does he light up hearts on Christmas Eve? I say yes. And we sure could do with more light in this world.

Santa Claus – with a whole lot of helpers – shares much more than toys – he shares hope, and goodwill, and peace, and love.

Santa is goodness. Santa teaches the joy of giving. (And receiving, it’s true.) He’s ingenious. He’s magical. Knowing Santa is believing in something unbelievable! Something you can’t see. Something bigger than you. Something bright. Something miraculous. Santa Claus, you see, is a lot like faith.

So, yes, I do believe. And I tell you this – beyond the shopping, the wrapping and cooking and crowds; beyond the fuss, beyond frustrations or the too much or too little, lies magic. I can’t tell you exactly what it is, but I feel it each and every year, some time during Christmas Eve – a glimmer? a glow? the settling of hoofs on rooftops? – that fills my spirit with an extra sparkle; a brightness. And I think it’s because this holiday season is really about the gift of light, and the gift of joy.

I wish you the gifts of light and joy. I hope you’ll be merry. I hope you’ll be glad. And I hope you eat all the cookies you want. (But do leave some for Santa…!)

……………….

As usual, I go a little crazy making holiday designs. Here are a few to get you in the spirit, just in case you’re not already there – some old, some new. Blessings – P

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Crazy for Books

December 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

I think books are pretty marvelous things, and that anything that encourages reading, inspires creativity and ignites the imagination is also marvelous. And because it’s gift-giving time, just maybe you or someone you know will consider some of my works worth the giving! It’s been a joy to create them, and an even greater joy to watch them being appreciated. I hope they’ll make lots of people happy this holiday season… the little and the tall, the big or the small; there’s something for all to enjoy. 😉

With peace, love and magic – Patricia

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Where?

All books can be found at http://amazon.com/author/patriciasaxton
Or individually:
52 Weeks of Peace: http://a.co/gNCy4sM
A Book of Fairies: http://a.co/0uir8Kg
Book of Dragons: http://a.co/hffGpIh
The Book of Mermaids: http://a.co/aE3IGC9
Magnetic Mermaid Dress-up: http://a.co/aw8h4u1
Related gifts: http://www.cafepress.com/saxtonboutique

Thanksgiving Grace

November 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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It’ll be Thanksgiving Day when this posts, and I hope everyone has a beautiful time of it, with bellies and hearts full.

Some tables will be overflowing, some spare – but wherever we are, the sentiment of gratitude is worth treasuring. It’s good to pause and reflect, and give thanks for our blessings, for the people we love, the gifts we have – as well as for the soil that allows our food to grow; for the sun and rain and wind, for the workers who oversee the crops, the delivery people and stock-the-shelves people and checkout people; the plates we serve our meals upon; the sweaters that keep us warm; the crews that keep our roads safe to travel and the neighbor who lends that last-minute package of spinach you need.

I’d have to add chocolate to my list, and tea, of course. And music and paint and pencils and the magic of creativity. And the coach who pushed me harder; the teacher who encouraged my best work; the stranger who made me smile on an especially bad day. For people who’ve laughed at my jokes, and those who showed me lovely things about myself that I didn’t see, and even those who made me see things I didn’t want to see or feel things I didn’t want to feel, because all of that, it turns out, builds character worth having. And if life is indeed a bowl of cherries (I’m not sure who came up with that one, or why, but we’ll go with it), we’d be well to appreciate the shiny parts as well as the pits, as one would not be so without the other.

Gratitude has no bounds, but today’s a perfect day to be extra thankful – and to send out a wish that yours will be filled with goodness and grace.

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Is it Over Yet? Surviving the 2016 Presidential Race.

November 7, 2016 § 1 Comment

Is it over yet? Man, this has been a doozy. I’m not sure what I want to say or how I want to say it, but something wants to be said. And I’m sure others have had similar thoughts, perhaps already shared out into the world. But we each have a voice, so I might as well use mine too.

The general gist of what I want to say has to do with coming together in the aftermath of what has been, without question in my lifetime, our dirtiest, most contentious presidential race. It’s been torturous. It’s been strange. It’s been mean-spirited. It’s been like watching a no-holds-barred professional wrestling match where the referees have either opted out or taken sides.

I wasn’t sure we could be more divided than we were 4, or even 8 years ago, but I was wrong. There’s a similar – perhaps worse? – level of animosity towards opposing frontrunners (both of whom also happen to be the most generally unpopular choices ever), and all too often towards those who support those candidates. People, largely on social media, can be vicious in their righteousness, with dialogue that’s condescending and non-productive. There’s little genuine conversation – but there is a lot of judgment. Friendships are damaged, families tense. Like-minds share pedestals with like-minds and pat themselves on the back for their better wisdom and condemnation of those they don’t understand.

I’m glad my parents aren’t here to witness this display and I’m really, really sad that this has been my daughter’s first presidential election experience. I’m appalled and embarrassed and can’t wait for the damn thing to be over.

But of course, every election comes with its good, bad and ugly. (This one just seems to have achieved new levels of ugly.) History repeatedly shows that it’s bound to get heated. Passions run high. This is why our mothers told us to never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. And I would tend to agree – although it’s a shame, because, intellectually, it makes for fascinating conversation. The trouble is it usually deteriorates to something accusatory and utterly emotional. Perception rules the day alongside a seeming lack of intent to truly consider another point of view or do the extensive homework required to get a bigger, clearer, more detailed picture. And yet, how could we sift through it all even if we tried? Who has that kind of time? And who knows what’s truth or not? In today’s world we’re fed non-stop not only by the tv news, but by a huge and ever-expanding social media machine made of both organized groups and regular people laying claim to this or that, all shouting to have their voices heard – because, of course, they are right and you are wrong. Or maybe worse than wrong. (“How could they possibly…?”) So we hear what we choose to hear, we process, and some of it becomes belief.

Belief is a powerful thing; and it can take many forms. And once it sinks its hooks, it’s hard to change course or even allow the idea of an alternate course.

After tomorrow, though, it will be over. (Do I hear a Hallelujah?) The aftermath will be a country half glad, half angry. And here we have a chance – there is always a choice – to put aside our disagreements and be respectful to one another again. To not judge people who voted with their heart instead of their head or their head instead of their heart, or however wrong or skewed you think they are – and if there are issues one feels strongly about, find a way to work on them. A new head honcho at Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t mean we put our heads in the sand for four years. If something’s important to you, get involved.

We should also keep in mind that a President is a leader, surrounded by a system of checks and balances. They don’t work in a vacuum. They are not a dictator with total power. Nor are they our parents and we their children. In this country, they’re elected to protect and defend our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Remember that.

And remember that we really are all in this together. So let’s shake hands on November 9 and get back to the business of living side by side, neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend. Love in the heart, eyes open. Because this place we call home may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn great, and worth our best efforts.

Outrageous Happiness #21: Kaleidoscopes, Crayons and Rainbows

November 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

The world is mad, life is hard. Color is fun.

And right now, nature’s on full, gorgeous, dynamic display. Bursts of color sing all around, challenging our impulse to be dreary in the face of all that madness and hardness. So – notice. Drink it up. Revel in it. Let your mind splash around in it, your spirit bathe in it. Walk in it. Wear it. Paint it. Have fun with it.

True enough, rainbows don’t last and kaleidoscopes change. Crayons wear down, paints run out. Bright orange leaves turn brown and crumbly. A sky that’s blue can quickly turn gray. But there’s the beauty – everything recycles, refreshes and reboots. It always does. And we can, too.

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“If you’re feeling blue try painting yourself a different color.”
– Hannah Cheatem, age 8

 

How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

Friday Night Book Club: On Laughing and Crying

October 7, 2016 § 1 Comment

You should never read the ending of a book in the morning (kind of how you should never go to bed mad, or put sugar in herbal tea) – because what if someone comes to your door, and there you are sobbing.

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And if you’re not teary, you at least need some time to sit with it a while, linger a little, say good-bye to the characters you’ve met along the way. You need time to return to reality.

Fortunately, no one rang my doorbell when I finished reading A Man Called Ove this morning.

I didn’t expect to have so many emotions while reading this book. I didn’t expect to break out laughing. (Though I adore humor – who doesn’t? – I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to eliciting an actual “hahahahaha!” from books or movies.) And I didn’t expect to cry. I thought it might be filled with quirky people I didn’t particularly like. Turns out, it was filled with quirky people I somehow did like. I also liked the writer’s often tongue-in-cheek writing style – another happy surprise, and not something everyone can pull off, but something Fredrik Backman did spectacularly well. And in the end, I had to accept the fact that this book touched me deeply. For whatever reason. I loved it. And I think most people will find that they, too, will laugh and cry and feel.

………

For you book lovers out there who might like to read along virtually, my friends and I gather on the first Friday of each month. Some other Book Club books we’ve read since my last Friday Night Book Club posting (which, I confess, has been quite a while) are – in order of preference, my favorites first: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sender, The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain, The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.

I’m also reading Diana Gabaldon’s entire Outlander Series outside of Book Club, because I’m obsessed with them. Currently on book five, The Fiery Cross. And I have a long list of books on my GoodReads author page if anyone wants to connect over there.

Peace, love, happy reading.

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Outrageous Happiness #20: Happiness vs. Bill-Paying

October 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

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This morning I came across a wonderfully written, though somewhat sarcastic (if not scathing), article about the apparently very American pursuit of “being happy”. Of course I felt immediately stung, almost guilt-ridden for not only participating in that pursuit but dedicating a whole section on my blog to “Outrageous Happiness”. Indeed, in my sensitivity, I felt the finger pointing. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the piece, filled as it was with sharp wit.

It was written by a Brit, who proudly claims to possess a certain genetic cynicism – which, whether by nature or my own DNA steeped in British realms, I really do “get”. Even as a born optimist, my inner cynic is very much alive at times – except I like to think of it as healthy skepticism rather than gloom (which seems an appropriate opposite of happiness), and it definitely doesn’t include a distaste for happiness, nor for anyone’s interest in attaining that lovely state of being. Because it is lovely.

Have you ever met someone who exudes a kind of contented joy just for being alive? That person who knows how to not take things too seriously, who, without effort, seems to embody an easy, uplifting attitude? In truth, I think these individuals are quite rare, but what a gift they are. They don’t intrude or demand, they just, very simply, brighten life. Whether a stranger or someone you know, that they exist at all is an inspiring thing.

The Dalai Lama is, to me, one of those people. And his mantra – that we’re here to experience joy – is a pretty exciting concept. Impossible and possible. Makes perfect sense and makes no sense. But it feels really, really good to consider, and terribly worthwhile to at least try to infuse joy into our own lives.

And yes, it must be said that there are times when happiness has nothing to do with anything. Your car breaks down, you can get mad all you want but in the end you get under the hood and fix it. Or a baby’s diaper needs changing. Or a light bulb. It’s not whether you’re happy or unhappy about it, it’s just something to be done. There are also people for whom the whole idea of happiness feels completely out reach, and many of us have experienced periods or events in our lives when a heartfelt “look at the bright side!” just. does. not. work (and may raise your shackles quite a bit more than your spirits). Even for those who have been blessed with a happy disposition, it’s not a 24/7 deal. It just isn’t.

Point being – for the record – that no one should feel in any way at fault, less than, or stressed out if they aren’t feeling the glow of positive vibes all day every day. In fact that would be pretty strange, especially when you consider how volatile life can be – from a pot boiling over in your kitchen to, please, any number of things out there in the big wide uncontrollable world. Our equilibrium can shift in an instant through no fault of our own.

And all that said, I can see where the author of the article concluded that our pursuit of happiness was creating more anxiety. But it doesn’t have to. It’s a matter of perspective.

“Happiness” is not, and never should be, a test you pass or fail. It’s something that’s very hard to measure – some days we fly, some days we fall, some days we want to stay in pjs all day, other days we want to conquer a mountain. Sometimes life is just hard. But I hope we never give up, because it sure beats the whole “pay bills and die” outlook, and for that alone, happiness is absolutely worth pursuing.

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How’s your Outrageous Happiness going?

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

September 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

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My father blamed our year in Germany for my wanderlust. We lived in Karlsruhe, where each weekday morning I walked a tree-lined, cobblestoned path with my brothers and sister to meet our school bus. I was in kindergarten, which meant I got out early, so my Mom would take me exploring after school, often having me translate (because as a kid you pick up languages really fast, especially if you want Sabina, Helga and Petra to like you), and often involving ice cream or Toblerone bars. Towards the end of our stay, we traveled to I don’t know how many countries (I got a doll in each one, and the collection was fairly substantial), and I relished every minute. At 5 years old, the world was my oyster – and indeed, that whole experience may have set me on an irreversible path of desire to see as much of the world as possible.

Since then, I’ve come eye to eye with an elephant in Kenya, gotten sick on the Nile, slept in hammocks in Mexico’s Yucatan jungle, Greek Island hopped, was reprimanded at St. Peter’s cathedral for my too-short skirt, reveled in Venice’s waterways, swam in pristine natural pools under hidden waterfalls and lots more. Here at home I’ve gotten a taste of the my own country’s north, south, east and west. And there’s SO MUCH more to see. Oh the places I still hope to go…!

That said, just recently I got to visit the great country state of Texas, where everything is bigger. I loved Austin’s Tuscany-like hills and funky shops, and San Antonio’s rich history housed in limestone architecture. I did not buy new cowboy boots, but did see lots of little lizards, was treated to Texas barbecue ( a “must” I was told), ate lots of fajitas (my favorites were at Austin’s Güero’s on South Congress), enjoyed graffiti walls and art spaces, and had an absolutely fantastic time with my Texan friends.

All of which was in somewhat stark contrast to another recent trip, where I’d gone north to the Finger Lakes region of New York State – where everything gets cold and very snowy in winter – and fell a little in love with a small town on a crystal clear lake, surrounded by farms, vineyards and well-kept, New-England-ish homes. Oh so lush and pretty.

I don’t know what’s next, but for now it’s time to hunker down again at home, where there are designs to be designed and books to be written and paintings to paint. Oh, and bills to pay and rooms to keep clean.

But here’s the best part – I can still go places even when I’m sitting still. Places of the mind, places ignited by ideas and imagination. Places conjured by thought, or a view, a conversation or a moment. A dash of color, the way a leaf is lit by the setting sun. A song, a train whistle, children laughing, crickets chirping. The scent of rain, or a flower, or dinner roasting. Something in a dream, something in a story. The tumbling of ocean waves.

You go don’t have to be someplace grand. Granted, I’ll be the first to say “I want to go there!”– but the places your imagination can take you can be equally grand. Places your mind can take you by learning new things can be equally priceless. Places your feet can take you can be equally inspiring. Just by being present, observant; experiencing the world around you, listening to the world within you, stretching your senses – oh the places you’ll go! And isn’t life richer when you do.

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“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…” 
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

 

 

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