Featuring colorist Ronda Francis

Sunday, September 27, 2015


Ooooo!! It's almost October, that spooky time of year. Trick or treating and Jack o'lanterns abound.

Kids love this chilling time of year so every weekend of October we will post a creepy craft for kids.

This weeks craft is Adorable Apparitions. What you will need for this cute craft is:

Mod Podge fabric stiffener (Buy here)

Cheese cloth

A bowl


Wine glasses or other cups or containers to hold the balloons


 A small amount of black felt or a black marker or Sharpie

First blow up as many balloons as you will make into ghosts

Insert them into the glasses so they are about halfway in, and popping out of the top. You will be resting the damp cheese cloth on these balloons so make sure they are blown up enough that they will not sink into the glasses. Tuck the knot into the side so you don't get a bulgy ghost.

Cut the cheese cloth into thick strips, about 3 or 4 inches wide. Make the bottoms of the strips uneven. This makes for a spookier ghost. If you are going for cuter use more of a square shape rounded off at the bottom.

Pour some Mod Podge fabric stiffener into a small bowl, and dilute a bit with water. Now dip the strips of cheese cloth into the Modge Podge, and wring until slightly damp.

Place one strip over the top of a balloon with the ends hanging spookily down, then place another strip criss-cross over the top, the ends hanging down also. Set aside to dry.

Repeat on the other balloons.

When they are dry to the touch, you can glue some little black pieces of felt for eyes, or use black markers or googly eyes from the craft store.

Now take a pin and pop the balloons, and remove them carefully from the bottom. Thread a bit of fishing wire or floss through the tops of their heads and Voila! You have a happy little family of spooky ghosts.

You can hang them anywhere, but I will be painting a branch black and adding them as the season goes on to make a Haunted Halloween tree. (I'll show you next weekend.)

Show me your ghosts! I'd love to post them.

Happy Haunting!

The craft next Friday will be Pet Ghosts--see you then for more spooky fun.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

UNUSUAL URGES~No! I Don't Want to Jump

About a week ago I was driving over the George Washington Bridge. Traffic slowed for a few seconds and I was able to look at the steel girders, beams, rivets, and thick wires that held the bridge together. My eyes followed the construction upwards and my mind put me somewhere out there about 100 feet up over the Hudson.

I could see the sparkling water below me and a seagull passed close to my right ear, and I could feel the grip of my left flip-flopped foot loose its traction--I could feel myself start to fall.

Just like in my dreams of falling, I jerked myself back to reality before I hit the chilly water, cursed aloud in the car and again wondered why my brain insists on playing these messed up games with me.

These odd moments do not happen infrequently.

When I was in Washington, D.C. I was strolling next to the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting pool. I did not want to get wet, my balance is very good, yet as I walked hand in hand with my then boyfriend I was pretty sure if I stepped up onto the edge I would have a hard time keeping myself from jumping right in. Of course I would not drown there and most likely not even get hurt, but again--strange urge!

I have never wanted to kill or injure myself, and I do not fancy myself much of a physical daredevil with urges to climb slippery mountains or jump out of planes.

Then why, oh why do I have these odd urges and thoughts at such inopportune times?

Seems there is some real science behind this urge. A team in Florida State's psychology department gave this freaky feeling the name "high-place phenomenon." Over 400 people in the study were asked if they ever felt the urge to suddenly jump from a high place, and although people who had considered suicide in the past answered positively more often, over 50% of non-suicidal participants said they had experienced the phenomenon also.  (Complete article from NBC News here: http://bodyodd.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/13/10657767-that-weird-urge-to-jump-off-a-bridge-explained?lite )

Imagine you have just ascended the 217 steps to reach the top of the Barnegat Light House in Long Beach Island, NJ. You step onto the completely enclosed catwalk that encircles the top-most portion of the structure and you look down and panic. Even though it would be impossible to squeeze through the iron bars you find yourself stepping away from the edge, or even retreating to the perceived safety of the inner light room.

Looking back outside and realize you would be 100% safe walking around out there and enjoying the view--so why did you run in? Possibly because we had some type of urge to jump?

We test ourselves in many ways. Some climb Everest, or base jump, or search for paranormal activity with EVP equipment and infrared cameras, some use Xbox for vicarious wars and battles. We want to feel brave and get a thrill, and we all do it differently.

When I was younger I used to go to graveyards at night with my camera and some friends to try and capture something otherworldly on film. We did see some other darkly dressed characters that we called grave robbers, and we were chased away by the police, but the only thing we managed to get on film was each other.

So my personal "thrill" is discovering and exploring the dark and scary. I do NOT like heights, yet I'm sure I will find myself once again daydreaming about being far to high above my comfort zone of sea level.

I would love to know if you have ever experienced the high place phenomenon, or anything like it.

I also like to stir the pot in conversations a bit--but I think that is something different... :)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

KIDS! How to Draw a Slightly Sophisticated Pumpkin for Fall

When I was in third grade I did not like my art teacher but he taught me one thing I will never forget--how to make a pumpkin look like it has dimension.

 That started a whole 3D thing for me--block lettering, perspective--but that is for another post. Back to the pumpkin. 

Like the title of the post says, this pumpkin is a bit more complicated than a cut-out orange circle and black triangle eyes. It shows dimension, color blending, shading, and highlighting. It takes a bit of time, but the results are worth it, especially for kids who like a challenge.

First, lightly draw an oval--any kind will do. Draw lightly at first because you may want to erase the guidelines later. Mine is a bit wide. 

Then draw a slightly crooked rectangle (technically a rhombus) for a stem . 

Starting at the bottom edges of the little rectangle, draw big curved lines to the bottom of the oval, keeping them a bit apart like this. 

As the lines get close to the edge, curve them to the side of the drawing. And then curve them toward the back, like in picture three.

You should see a bit of dimension now.

To make the stem look 3D add a small oval on top to indicate where it was cut. Many times the cut is not perfect so go around the small over and make jagged lines. Then curve the sides of the rectangle in slightly.

Now connect the curved lines at the bottom and the top, and also around the stem to indicate the shape of the pumpkin. Keep these lines pretty close to the original lines, if they are too curved the pumpkin looks fluffy.

These lines makes it more like a pumpkin and less like an oval.

It should look pretty pumkinish by now.

Then erase the original lines.

Notice the curved lines under the stem also. This also adds shape to the pumpkin and makes it seem plump and round.

To color use any paint you like, markers, or colored pencils.

I'm using colored pencils in several shades of yellow, orange, brown, ocher (a brownish-yellow, great for fall), and russet, (kind of reddish-brown). These are Polychromos by Faber-Castell. I LOVE these pencils, BTW. BUY HERE

First color with the yellows. Use the lighter shades first. Then move to light orange.
When shading use slightly darker colors in the creases and lines, and leave an area lighter if you like to show where the sun hits it. The darkest areas will be behind stem, at the bottom, and in the creases on the pumpkin and around the stem 

Light brown can be used to show shadow around the stem, at the bottom, and in the creases. Don't worry, the pumpkin is not perfect. Wavy lines or mistakes can sometimes add to the charm.

Use ocher, russet, and even some greens in the stem. Notice the lines in the stem that add depth and make it look a bit cracked. Some green can also be used in the pumpkin itself.

If you'd like to make your pumpkin into a Jack o'lantern, with a black pencil draw two triangles to indicate eyes. A triangle for the nose draw and a nice wide smiling mouth. You can even add a few teeth.

To add even more dimension, sketch in lines in the triangles on the left side to show depth. It's almost like you can see the inside of the pumpkin. Do the same of the curved side of the mouth and sides of teeth.

Or you can leave it just as you found it in the patch.

Voila! A pretty realistic pumpkin!

Now you can draw a few more--make them tall, or round, or even in different colors. Here is one done by a boy who followed the directions. It looks great, and very different than mine.

Show me what you make and how you decorate with your pictures.


Monday, September 21, 2015

Questioning the Blessings

As I was watching an Oprah rerun this weekend I realized how many people believe in or want to believe in angels and God.

The featured woman told a story of how she was walking home alone one night and heard a terrifying noise. She prayed for help and was physically lifted by an angel and carried to the safety of a bridge many feet away. She was spared because she asked God to help her, and he responded by sending one of his angels.

I turned off the television because this got me thinking.

Not because I did not believe her, not because her story was long winded, but because of the idea there is an omnipotent being somewhere choosing who to listen to--and more importantly--who to ignore.

I realized it bothers me when people say they are blessed, and until now I never could not figure out why. I WANT to be blessed, and I want you to be blessed too--but then that leaves the people who are in dire straights, hurting for money, sick, injured, lonely, sad, or worse. Are they the UNblessed? The forgotten? They may believe more than you or I, but all the praying in the world does nothing. It almost felt to me that the "blessed" were bragging and leaving the others that were not lucky enough to be smiled upon by the benign and loving father above out in the cold. Why were they the chosen ones?

So what does that mean?  And what about praying?

There have been some studies concerning prayer and the results are inconclusive. http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20050714/does-prayer-help-others-heal  The patients in the study listed here had less stress before a heart procedure if they were part of the imagery/music group. The group that was prayed over fared about the same as the group that was not. In a similar study the prayed for group had a slightly higher rate of complications after a medical procedure (52%) compared to the group that was not prayed for (51%). http://www.examiner.com/article/prayer-undergoes-a-real-test-with-interesting-results

Even the previous Pope had his moments of doubt: http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/02/27/17113318-pope-benedict-tells-cheering-crowd-i-am-not-abandoning-the-church?lite

He said: "Sometimes it feels like God has been sleeping." Interesting.

Prayer seems to be an unnecessary process if we are to believe in the entity we are praying to. We are taught that God is all-knowing and loving and that prayer will help when you are hurting. But the caveat--it will only work if it is God's will anyway.

I am confused.

Admittedly I am more of an atheist than believer, but this does not mean I cannot be swayed. The gorgeous world around me, the stunning sunsets and beautiful babies born everyday do not mean to me that there is a God--and yet I cannot say 100% there is not.

Many of my prayers and prayers of others I know have been ignored or disregarded, so I eventually stopped praying. I am not wicked and I try and do my best to help others and be a good person--nothing has changed since I have ceased praying other than I feel like less of a hypocrite.

I have many things to be thankful for including an inquisitive mind that can't process a subject simply by faith.

I would love your opinion on the subject--agree or disagree.

I would also love for you to change my mind.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Magic of Tea and Reading Tea Leaves

Tea is on of the most popular drinks in the world. Over three billion people drink tea every day. There are flavors to please almost everyone.

Earl Grey, a lovely black tea with bergamot, Chamomile, a delicate, green flavored tea which helps us relax, Hot Cinnamon Sunset, one of my favorites, is a hot, sweet, and spicy tea by Harney and Sons that tastes a bit like Dentyne gum and needs no sugar because it is made with sweet cloves, and hundreds and thousands of others. BUY HERE Another delight comes from Teavana, called Oprah Chai Tea. With ginger, cardamom, cloves, and black tea, it is just the best chai. What makes it even better is a portion of the proceeds go to the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation. BUY HERE

Tea is delightful with breakfast, tea time in the afternoon, or to calm you down before bed. With lemon and honey it makes our sore throats feel better. Choosing the perfect cup is almost as fun as drinking the tea!

Some believe that certain teas can help us see into the future, or help another fall in love.
For instance, if you add lemon balm, mugwort, eyebright and rosehips to black tea, you might get a glimpse of what is behind the veil.
If you add damiana, chamomile, mullein, and rose hips to black tea and sip very slowly during a full moon, a vision of your true love might appear in the dark. Please visit this site for even more magical tea spells:  http://www.wicca-chat.com/magicktea.htm

Some use tarot to see into the future, some the Ouija board, and others read tea leaves. 

Tea leaf reading, or tasseography, has been practiced since medieval times as a form of divination. 

Cups have been designed to make it easier for the reader to decipher the signs left by the leaves.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to reading the leaves; using the traditional symbols passed down from generations, or use intuition. For example, if the reader sees an S shape at the bottom of the cup, this could be read as misfortune if using traditional symbols, but the reader might not feel a negative at all, and interpret the S as something completely different. 

Set up a lovely area for yourself, and turn off anything electric, cell phones, TV, etc. Say a prayer of protection of doing a reading for someone else.

Reading the leaves is very simple. First, the tea is brewed, preferably in the traditional method with a pot and loose tea. If only tea in bags is available, the tea can be make by breaking the bag into a cup, or making a regular cup of tea and then breaking the bag and adding a pinch or two to the cup. Use a light colored, sloping cup. Use a tea that has a special meaning to you, or one whose scent has a spiritual meaning.

Before the tea is sipped, there are a few things to look for in the cup according to Serena, who has been reading tea leaves for generations.

  • Bubbles on the surface of your tea means that money is on its way.
  • If any tea leaves are floating on the surface, then visitors are imminent. The number of leaves shows how many days away they are.
  • If two teaspoons are accidentally placed on a saucer, then you can expect news of twins soon.
  • If a teaspoon is placed upside down onto a saucer then you will hear news of the ill-health of a close relative.

  • Then the tea is enjoyed. This is an important part of the ritual because you calm down and your thoughts are not erratic. While sipping, three questions can be thought of if there is no specific purpose for the reading.  Leave a small amount of liquid at the bottom, and swirl the remains three times clockwise. Now pour the liquid into the saucer, and look at the leaves left on the bottom of the cup. Some say if there are only a few leaves that your life is orderly and planned.

    Some say it means you are not living your life to the fullest. If there are many leaves you are busy, hurried, but fulfilled. Some say it could mean you are doing too many things, and should slow down.

    Now turn the handle toward yourself. Here is a list of the "zones" according to Wiki: 

  • Zones from top to bottom may represent either "distance" or "weight" of the omens. Images near the top (rim) are close while images near the bottom are distant. In terms of time, the distance from rim to base represents approximately 6 months. However, "distance" may also refer to relationship to a person or goal. The other way of looking at it is that images at the base of the cup can represent a "heavy" (ill) omen and, as they come nearer the rim, are "light" or joyful omens. The context will determine which is applicable. Context and symbolism are most important. Trust your instincts.
  • The handle of the cup is known as the "domain" and images near the handle are images related to home life and family. The further from the handle an image is the more "outside" the omen. Symbols opposite the handle relate to work or strangers, somewhere in between might relate to non-immediate family or "a friend of a friend." Images to the RIGHT of the handle indicate something coming TO the querent while images to the LEFT of the handle represent things coming FROM the domain.
  • A big clump of tea leaves with no discernible image might augur trouble on its way. If it is opposite to the handle, the trouble will likely be not of your making but if it is under the handle, it is considered to be of your making.
  • If there remains a drop or two of liquid tea that didn't come off with the draining, these are considered to be tears. It might indicate past or future sadness, dependent on the context of the rest of the reading.

  • Now you can begin looking for symbols. Apples, spiders, candles, and more have traditional meanings, but going with your intuition is always a great idea when reading the leaves.

    Look here for a complete list of symbols and their meanings. http://www.readingtealeaves.info/asymbols.html

    Reading can also be done with coffee grinds or the sediment left over from wine.

    Here is my reading: There were some drops of tea left of the bottom after I drained the cup. 

    Great Gramma reading leaves and bones
    These are known as "tears" and mean I will probably experience sorry. Or maybe it means I already did! I also noticed the leaves on the right near the handle looked like a cat, and on the top away from the handle is a little flag. On the bottom there is a dancing person and smiling kid or face. OK let's see...Oooo!! The flag is danger from wounds inflicted by an enemy. Great. And yikes. Since it's the left of the handle it is FROM me. The cat...difficulties caused by treachery. And it is close to the handle so it comes from home. Finally. The smiling face is pleasure and love and the little dancing figure means a pleasant omen of coming pleasure and gratification, good news, happiness in love and friendship; it also means that you will receive an unexpected invitation.

    I hope you will read tea leaves today and tell me what happens, or tell me if you ever had your fortune told. 

    I'd also love to know your favorite tea since I seem to be a bit addicted. 


    Wednesday, September 16, 2015


    I was talking with a friend the other day and realized she apologized endlessly during our conversation. She was sorry for being mad at someone, for laughing too loudly, for talking too much, and a few other things. I never mentioned any of these things as she spoke, and realized many people apologize for almost everything.

    I noticed this in her because I noticed it in myself several years ago. 

    I apologized if someone mentioned I spoke too slow, or too fast, or they clucked as I tried to carefully put my money away at the register, or WHATEVER. I felt bad if I told the truth, I felt bad if someone felt uncomfortable--even if it was not my fault. And I was not actually sorry--in fact I was kind of mad.

    I decided to stop apologizing for nonsense. Here is a list of things I am NO LONGER sorry for:

    ~ Speaking like I have ADHD. My mind jumps topics, things remind me of other things, and sometimes what you think is a tangent is me explaining things that will eventually come together at the end. Not everyone is linear, and being creative lends itself to idea links. This is ME. Not sorry.

    ~ Sleeping late. I work at home, I am a writer and and illustator. Unlike many people I sometimes get a burst of energy late at night, and I have some very good ideas after the sun goes down. I am lucky enough to be able to stay up late and take advantage of the hours I keep because I do not have to get up with the birds. I am not lazy or depressed because I sleep til 9:30 am and sometimes work in my slippers for a while. Likewise--I do not think you are acting like you are six years old because you go to sleep at 9:30 pm. 

    ~ Being a picky eater. Nope--I do not want to try organ meats, raw foods, or anything with cucumbers. I have lived over 50 years and have tried most things at this point, and will not ruin a meal because someone wants me to be adventurous and try something new. I know what I like--you can order anything you please.

    ~ Looking on the bright side. I regularly assume things will work out alright, because even if they don't there is sometimes nothing I can do, so I make the best of it. My attempt is realism with an optimistic bent.  I almost said sorry if you don't like it--but I caught myself.

    ~ Living a life I choose. I spent years making everyone happy. My career and life choices were put on the back burner as I helped everyone and put my own needs aside with a sigh. Now I am busy and happy and you may have to wait a bit. Took me long enough.

    ~ Not being perfectly neat. I have walked into endless homes and have been astounded at the austerity or extreme neatness and organization skills the owner must have. Where is all the stuff? I don't understand how a place where someone lives can be so neat, and I spent years apologizing for having pens, pencils, books, papers and other art paraphernalia around. I like my stuff, and I don't want to put it away because someone walks through the door.

    ~  Liking what I like. I like scary topics and being spooked, art, pencils, pens, birds, medical , the occult, and religious conversations. No longer sorry that I don't like sports or shopping.

    ~ Not being good at small talk. I like intense friendships and talking until the sun comes up--but I am not great at social climbing. No interest.

    ~ And most of all I will no longer apologize for having an opinion that is different than someone else's. 

    In no way am I trying to say I am always right. If I hurt someone, or make someone wait, or feel someone truly needs an apology--I am all for it. I just wish we would all stop the needless apologizing over silly things.

    Apologizing because you think someone will be mad or because your opinion is different from theirs at you can lead to lowered self esteem, and possibly make you seem like you are weak or lack confidence. Don't apologize unless you are really trying to fix something. Save it for the real thing and use it when it's needed.

    So let's break the habit--I feel more genuine, and a bit stronger too since I have changed that habit. We need to stop being sorry for being ourselves.


    Tuesday, September 15, 2015

    I Think I'm In Love With Target

    Almost every time I visit the beach I stop at Target on the way off the highway. I can see the sign from the exit ramp, and even if I really don't need anything the sign reminds me it is there, so I go.

    I go for a few reasons, the first one being snacks.

    Things do not stay fresh at the beach for a long time. Yes, I have plastic bags and Lock n Lock boxes, but never enough. My intentions are to find a snack after my long journey. (It's not actually that long but anybody can go for a snack after an hour and a half ride).

    Then I walk through the doors. Starbucks to the right of me, cute dresses to the left.

    Of course I end up buying a latte, iced tea, or once in a blue moon a Frapuccino--and the caffeine kicks in. They are so smart, location is everything. 

    My synapses firing faster and clearer, I have the energy to not only find the snack aisle, but to try on a few pair of stretchy jeans and really cute tops.

    A few turns into a dozen and I can't carry them all while drinking my Frap, so I get a cart.

    I find waaaay too many things I like, but since they are so reasonably priced I can buy them. Included in my haul was this adorable shirt that I had to try on two sizes too big because my size was gone. It was the cutest of the bunch and the larger size somehow made it look chic, IMHO. See shirt HERE

    Strolling into undergarments, I immediately spot my favorite underwear. Now in grey and purple, a few of those go in the cart too.
    I also found a Bali bra that is 100% comfortable, shapes without wire (no easy task for me), and comes in easy sizes like S, M, L, and XL. See bra HERE

    End of summer and a sale on flip-flops. In the cart.

    Ah! Back to school stuff. My son goes back to college and I'm sure he'll need a binder and spiral ring notebook. I also find a notebook cover for me--too cute pass. And notebooks for me in colors and patterns. In the cart. BUY notebooks from Target HERE:

    Made it to the snacks. I beeline right to the drinks, because Target is one of the only places I have been able to find La Croix seltzer.
    Although my fave is coconut (divine), it comes in other amazing flavors too, passionfruit and peach/pear. I get some pineapple juice too and start to dream of the delicious lo-cal non-alcoholic pina colada I make mixing it with the coconut seltzer. Coconut deliciouness HERE

    Target also sells a brand called Archer and I love the chocolate chip cookies.

    I think I'm done.

    Wait! I can get my mascara here too. My personal fave is False Fibers by L'Oreal. I have very blonde lashes, and these not only darken them to the blackest black, but make them longer too without clumping. (You have to try this--everyone I turned on to this mascara loves it and thanks me. They sell similar fiber products elsewhere for four times the cost. This is under $7). Buy HERE

    NOW I'm done. 

    I'm checking out and the cashier asks if I have Cartwheel, which turns out to be an awesome App that I downloaded on the spot and saved over $50. Get Cartwheel app HERE

    I drive off into the sunset.

    Oh Target, I love you.


    Sunday, September 13, 2015

    You Never Know

    A wise person once told me just do it, you never know what will come of it.

    I heard those words as a young person, and they stuck.

    Yes, we should make the most out of every situation and try and look to the bright side, but I'm talking about looking at more than just one side of the thing you are doing.

    For instance, yesterday I went to a conference/meeting of illustrators in Pennsylvania. Needless to say, I did not want to go. I was tired, a bit under the weather, behind in every chore, and just a little crabby. But I paid for it, and I went.

    The conference was actually great, but there was another side to it that was also great.

    The event was located in the middle of a farm that was surrounded by cornfields. Reminded me a bit of New Hampshire. It was overcast, and a storm was brewing in the distance. Some of the dilapidated buildings on the premises looked ominous. It was the perfect setting for a horror story, and the perfect setting for taking pictures.

    Although bucolic and lovely in spots, the other areas could have been straight out of Night of the Living Dead, so I snapped away.

    I did not have a camera, so I used my iPhone.

    Look for the funny within the serious, the hidden within the obvious, the emotional withing the stoic, or the love within the hate.

    To me there are many sides to every moment.

    Look for them--they are many times better than the obvious.