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Redefining What It Means to Give, This Holiday Season and Into the New Year

redefining what it means to give

With the madness of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales come and gone for the year, but the craze of the holiday season still fully intact, I want to focus your attention away from sales, shopping, and sugarplums for a moment. Because this season is also very much about something that’s bigger than buying: it’s about giving.

If your mind just turned to the handful of envelopes dropping into your mailbox and emails landing in your inbox from various nonprofits and organizations soliciting monetary donations this season, bear with me.

Because while opening our wallets can have a stunning impact depending on where the money goes, money isn’t the only thing we can give this holiday season that can make a real difference.

Redefining giving

All too often, our first thoughts immediately go to money. Which, in most cases, rightly limits our belief that we can make a real impact. But it’s time to flip the switch on these limiting beliefs and redefine what it means to give.

Giving is all about identifying and connecting with a need that someone else has. It could be one other person; it could be an entire country. It could be $1; it could be $1,000. But most importantly: it could not be money, at all.

Other ways to give

Giving extends beyond writing that check. Here are a few other ways you can make an impact this holiday season:

Give your time: As busy moms, sisters, daughters, friends, employees, and bosses, we know that time is one of our most valuable assets — which is what makes it so powerful when we give it away. Give your time by volunteering at a local pet shelter, school, food pantry, hospital, or nursing home. Sites like VolunteerMatch help you identify local opportunities you may not have thought of on your own.

Give your skill: Combine the gift of your time with the gift of your expertise, and it’s amazing what you can do. A site like Catchafire helps you find causes you care about and apply your skills to help organizations save money — often showing you what they’ll do with that money, instead.

Give your presence: While this is a bit less tangible than time or skill, it is perhaps even more important. In a world where we are constantly and perhaps a bit obsessively plugged in, being present and focused on the people and things in your immediate surroundings is a true gift. As you attend meetings, parties, and other get togethers over the next few weeks, unplug and practice simply being present.

Give your gratitude: Thanksgiving always inspires us to take a look at what we have, and all that we’re grateful for. And while internal reflection upon that is incredibly important (and can make a huge difference in our attitude from day-to-day), turning that gratitude outward to those around us can greatly impact our relationships, our happiness, and the happiness of others.

Next time you’re feeling incapable of making a difference when money is asked for, consider any of the ways above to give, instead.

“Giving opens the way for receiving.”

As Florence Scovel Shinn so perfectly states with the quote above, the truly phenomenal thing is this: the more you give, the more you’ll see come back to you. Each and every time I’ve felt that I’m not in a place to give — whether it’s money, time, skill, presence, or gratitude — pushing myself to do it anyway has returned more than I could’ve imagined.

(Reading this story of a family that spent six months volunteering around the world only to find that in the most impoverished of villages is where they encountered the greatest amount of generosity is seriously an inspiration.)

Look outward. Identify the causes that light you up and the places that need you, and give of yourself. And if I can challenge you a step further, it would be for this: make this a regular part of your life not just this month, but all year round. Because, as Winston Churchill so famously said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

What will you give this holiday season (and beyond), friends?

Make Space for What Matters: Unplug & Disconnect

unplug and disconnect

Where is your cell phone sitting right now? Is it next to you on your desk, over on the kitchen counter — or better yet, in your hand?

I can tell you that for me, that last option is where my cell phone has been far too often, for far too long.

A wake up call

I was recently at a business retreat (with a fantastic group of women), where we were asked to put our phones away while attending the morning session.

A simple request, right? Well, I have a confession to make: this was sincerely difficult. I have gotten into such a habit of looking at it: checking my email; scrolling through Facebook to see what’s going on; scanning Instagram for the latest. In just a few hours, I felt a weird sense of withdrawal that quickly opened my eyes.

The wake up call continued for the rest of the trip — from the restaurants I dined at to the airport I walked through to travel home. Everyone heads down, living life through their screens. To me, this is still a crazy phenomenon — and one that I’ve only recently realized I’ve succumbed to.

And it’s not just the airport or the restaurant. It’s in line at the grocery store. It’s in the few minutes before my yoga class begins. Sadly, sometimes it’s at the red light. We feel the need to fill each and every moment — and we’re lulled into a false sense of security and productivity when it’s filled with something on the screen.

Unplugging for a few hours at this retreat was exactly the experience I needed to issue a wake up call and inspire a realization that a detox is in order.

Unplug + disconnect

The fact that we are able to connect with people around the globe at the click of a button never ceases to amaze me. But instead of treating it as the tool it’s meant to be, we’ve exploited it to the point where it’s a burden we carry, and one that interrupts what life is all about: building relationships and experiencing moments that turn into stories.

Unplugging for me is about more than turning the cell phone off and hiding it in a drawer — unplugging and disconnecting means freeing myself from the need to be in touch. It means opening up the space to feel connected to what’s in front of me, instead of what’s on a screen.

With that space comes possibility: the possibility of new observations, of new growth, of new ideas. It’s a release from the connectedness of being plugged in; one where the connection is with ourselves and our immediate surroundings. This is the release I feel when in front of a blank canvas painting, out on a walk with Banks, or in the middle of an Adirondack lake in my guideboat. It’s a release I want to feel much more often, and it only requires one thing: the discipline to unplug and be okay with it.

Make yourself available

Anytime I’m anxious, uncomfortable, or feeling unproductive, my first instinct is to grab my phone. I’m guilty of it. I’ll venture to say you’re guilty of it. It’s time for me to start ignoring that first instinct — and I challenge you to do the same, as well.

As we approach especially busy times over the next few weeks filled with numerous gatherings of family and friends, I encourage you to unplug. Disconnect.

Disconnecting gives you space. Fill the space with observance; with gratitude; with thoughts that matter instead of aimless scrolling.

When you unplug and disconnect, you make yourself available for the people, the moments, and the experiences that are happening in the present — the ones that are easy to miss when your head is down and your mind is elsewhere. Build relationships and collect stories. Your work and your life will be better for it.

Will you join me in intentionally disconnecting?

Gratitude Attitude: Lessons in Being Grateful

alphabet gratitude

Each and every morning, I slip on my shoes and grab Banks, my dog and number one office companion, and we head out for our morning walk. I’ve talked about how this sets my day off right, encourages me to breath in the fresh air, and often acts as endless inspiration for projects, paintings, and work throughout the week.

So when a friend told me about using the “gratitude alphabet” when you walk, I was immediately intrigued. The idea? While out and about, find something you’re grateful for that starts with the letter of the alphabet you’ve progressed to. Simple as that — but also not so simple, when you really think about it.

Turning off to be here now

One of the hardest parts about living in the incredibly wonderful world we live in is that we are constantly connected. There is unlimited opportunity to be plugged in; to be in touch; to always be doing. While there is immense advantage to this, especially as a business owner and traveler, our constant state of connection makes it especially difficult to turn off and allow yourself to just be, in the moment. Right now.

It’s the consistent pull to be plugged in that makes the need for exercises like the gratitude alphabet ever more present.

Walking with gratitude

So for 26 days straight, as I headed out for my morning walk, I took myself out of the always-on mentality and instead seeked to take in all that is around me. And each day, I discovered more and more things that I simply passed before, that are truly amazing parts of my neighborhood; my day; my life.

Day one began with apples by the road.

Day two was Banks overlooking the lake at my favorite place in the world, Brantingham.

Day three? Color. Always so much color.

With a letter in mind each day, I took in my surroundings. When day seven came around, I was amazed at the amount of things I encounter — and often sail by — that begin with the letter ‘g.’ Grapes. Geraniums. Grandma Dier (I often think of her when I walk). Gravel. GREEN! The thought process often went like this, until I landed on the one that meant the most. I was so grateful for all of the shades of green that surrounded me right in that moment. Hundreds of shades — warm, cool, dark, light. The Finger Lakes is home to magnificent greens — and stopping to absorb that gave me the overwhelming desire to capture them and be inspired by them — and later infuse them into a branding project.

On and on this went — from the journal I write in daily to the fresh lavender growing in my yard, the quiet where I get my best thinking done, and the luminescent September sunrises that have graced each morning. The further I got in the alphabet, the more and more I realized exactly how much I am surrounded by — and fulfilled by — each and every day.

Living from a place of abundance

Most of the time, I’m inspired by nature. This “challenge” was no exception — but it also took me outside of that comfort zone and had me looking at everything that surrounds me, and how gratitude can come from even the seemingly smallest things.

And the beauty of it all is this: when we focus on what we are grateful for in each moment, we stop living from a place of scarcity (“I wish I had more…” or “If only things were like this…”) and we start to realize we are infinitely living from a place of abundance, where we have all we need.

Being grateful — and recognizing that gratitude — helps me to stay positive. It reduces worry. It expands my awareness, and impacts my creativity in a positive way. It’s yet another amazing tool in my toolbox of life.

As we celebrate the end of summer and welcome the onset of fall, I encourage you to take a moment each day to connect with where you are right now and recognize something you’re grateful for. And if you’re feeling brave, share at least one thing with me below!

Banks at Brantingham         journaling        September sunrise in the Finger Lakes

The Healing Power of Art

Art heals

You know those days when you have a headache that just won’t seem to go away?

Or how about the days when you’re distracted and feeling completely incapable of getting through your (never-ending) to do list?

Or, perhaps the worst: the days when you’re simply not yourself… and you don’t quite know why — or what to do about it.

I’ve had all of the above. In fact, everyone I’ve known has had those days when they would love to crawl into bed and start over again tomorrow.

But a bad day doesn’t have to be a forgotten day. How do you turn it around? I’m here to share with you my solution; my saving grace: art.

Art heals

“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.”Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

My life is centered around art. I’m a graphic designer, a painter, and a conscious observer. I’m drawn to art as an expressive tool. Fortunately for me, art is largely based on creativity, and there’s sincere power in creativity.

Engaging in creative activities relieves stress. It increases your productivity. And it’s simply been proven to help you achieve more success in many facets of life.

For me, art is my job. But it’s also my go-to for the bad, sad, and tough days that get the best of us. And it can be your go-to, as well.

I have a feeling that I know what you might be thinking: you’re not creative. You’re not an artist. Take that thought and squash it right now. The beauty of turning to art as an outlet for healing is that there is no one way to do it “right.” And because of that, no one is an expert. It’s about progress over perfection, and discovery over domination. It’s about finding the outlet that improves your mood, your outlook, and ultimately, your situation.

What that might look like for you:

1 – Painting: a blank canvas, an easel, and a set of fresh paints.

2 – Writing: a notebook, a pen, and a head full of stories.

3 – Photography: a camera, a subject, and a source of light.

4 – Sewing: a needle, thread, and a choice of fabrics.

See where I’m going? Using art to heal looks different for everyone. Art is color. Art is words. Art is texture. Art is seeing the world through your own lens, and translating it in only the way you can. And through this, there is learning; there is expression; there is healing.

All you need to get started is an open mind, and the desire to turn your bad day around.

Use art as your outlet

Artist Susan Griffin said this:

“I think artists can go to a level of vision that can often save us from a situation which seems to have no solution whatsoever.”

You don’t have to be a full-time creative to be able to find that level of vision. You, my friend, are an artist. So remember, the next time that headache sets in, or the to do list seems insurmountable, or the day just seems lost: it happens. And when it does, I urge you to do this one thing: turn to art.

Create when things are good, create when things are sad, create when things are uncertain. Open yourself to the healing power of art and welcome the change in your days.

Everyone Is An Artist

everyone is an artist

At the start of May, Ontario County welcomed the Midwest Travel Writers Association as the group embarked on its annual conference.

For nearly a week, the writers were wined and dined throughout the Finger Lakes, and invited to experience the best that our area has to offer. So naturally, I was honored that not only was I a panelist for a discussion on “branding you,” but I was also asked to host a plein air painting class for the writers on a beautiful Saturday morning.

For those of you unfamiliar with plein air painting, “en plein air” is a French phrase for painting “in open air” — or, quite simply, painting outdoors. With beautiful weather and paints in hand, we took to the iconic Canandaigua boathouses that stretch along the pier: a perfect backdrop of vibrant colored houses and bright blue water.

As suspected, there is some hesitation when you gather people who excel in other areas and hand them a paintbrush and a blank canvas. But for all of you who are compelled to say “But I’m not an artist!”, “I don’t know how to paint”, or “I can’t even draw a straight line!” I have only this truth to say: everyone is an artist.

What it really means to be an artist

Bear with me now. You may not have ever painted a brushstroke in your life (though I highly doubt you made it through kindergarten without doing just that!), but it’s never too late to put your inner artist to work. After just a few hours with these writers at the boathouses, here’s what they learned about what you need to bring to the table:

1. An open mind. Open your mind to the possibilities: the potential in a single brush stroke, the energy of a palette of bright, summer colors, and the possibility of creating something that is uniquely you. Inspiration is everywhere, and with an open mind, you can access that inspiration and just create.

2. Self-confidence. You don’t need to be the best. You don’t need to have years and years of experience. You just need to know that you can. Let go of those negative thoughts that have kept you from trying and know that you are enough.

3. Presence. With your mind open and the self-confidence you need to get started, that last crucial element you need to be able to call yourself an artist is the ability to be present. Shut down distractions, clear your head, and just be. It’s in this particularly open state that you’ll have the power to truly focus.

What painting can do for you

So you know that you have what it takes, but what makes it all worthwhile? Let’s consider this: have you heard about the incredible popularity of adult coloring books? They’re taking the world by storm at the moment, and for good reason. Like many other forms of art, sinking yourself into a creative mindset allows you to:

1. Unplug. No phone. No TV. No computer. Life entirely sans screens is, for the most part, impossible, but brief periods where you can unplug are key to finding presence and opening your mind to the world in front of you. (More on that, here.)

2. De-stress. Artwork has proven to be vital for stress relief. Art therapy reduces tension in your body, clears your mind of negative thoughts, and fosters self-awareness. And when we live in a high-stress world, it’s critical that we learn to manage our own levels. (It’s why those adult coloring books are back-ordered on Amazon right now.)

3. Get back to basics. You don’t need the “latest and greatest” in order to be an artist. It can start with a pencil and a napkin, if it’s what you’ve got. A basic set of paints and a blank canvas? Even better. The beauty of creating art is that you start where you are and use what you have — no fancy tech gadgets or learning manuals required.

The writers and I would both agree on that beautiful Saturday morning: being unplugged, sans stress, and getting back to basics was the perfect way to kick off the day and weekend.

Accept your role as an artist

Tie your hair back. Let your guard down. Be present. When you get past the barriers of feeling like you’re not an artist and accept art as a necessary and welcome part of your life, you’ll be amazed at the transformations you experience.

Painting does that for me, and when you accept the inner artist in you, it can do the same for you. Whether it’s coloring books, painting, or composing a song, repeat after me: everyone is an artist.