Didn’t See It Comin’

News headlines have been bombarding us with that terrible “C” word that ends with -19 for an entire year now. So, I decided to give people a different “C” word to read about — Creativity!

Creativity doesn’t just happen for me. It’s messy! Paint ends up on the floor and on my shirtsleeves. Then I end up walking in it and dragging my sleeve on surfaces around the art room. Before I know it, I’ve got paint just about everywhere. But, if I’m lucky, somewhere in the hours and hours of chaos, something wonderful is created. Like this silly painting of the world dancing with the sun.

I’m just as messy when I write a story. My fingers bounce about the keys. Jumbled words begin to work their way across the screen. Only after all my ideas are spilled across the page, do I begin to sort them out and make sense of it all. I started this story by flipping back through my calendar, looking for inspiration. Well, I did not see it coming! But, after digging through several months and unfurling the mess of events, I was amazed at all the humorous things that had happened. And I ended up having a phenomenally fun time with –Creativity!

I’d like to hear about things you’ve done during this time of isolation and if you ran into any situations that you “did not see coming.” Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Please feel free to share this blog.

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Don’t Like the Taste but Love the Sayings

Years ago, it was rather common to have Valentine’s Day parties in school. Among the many festivities, students would give cards with silly little sayings to classmates. I recently read a story where a teacher had taken that old tradition and expounded on it. She gave students an assignment to send Valentine cards to their classmates. These cards were not to be filled with silly sayings nor were they to be about love. Every student was to think of something nice to say about each of their classmates. They were then asked to write and send them that short note of encouragement.

We often think of Valentine’s Day as a day only for lovers. But I’ve always used the 14th of February to show love to all the special people in my life. I would make heart cookies for my kids, say something nice to a coworker or classmate, and do something nice for friends.

It has been years since I made those heart shaped cookies. I decided that this year, I would buy cookies for our local food shelf. For the last few months now, I have been calling Kris, our local food shelf director on my way to the grocery store and asking her what food items the shelves are lacking.

Ketchup is always on the list. There are many other food items that are deemed unnecessary and are not subsidized. I guess, ketchup is not a necessity. But I certainly wouldn’t want to eat a hotdog without ketchup or mustard. And I can’t imagine, never having cookies or anything sweet. So, along with all the other items on Kris’s list this month, I bought a couple cases of cookies.

Donating cookies is not going to change the world. In fact, I believe giving those cookies did more for me than it did for the food shelf customers. During this time of isolation and other times when I have felt down, encouraging words or a tiny gift from others has been the most helpful to me. So, I decided to turn that thought around.

For years I have given to the food shelves. But I became so wrapped up in self isolation this year that I have done little more than write a few checks. I had forgotten to take notice of people that might be down on their luck. But I’m back! And I’ll continue giving not only when it’s convenient or easy for me, but when they need it. …like Ketchup!

Is there something someone did for you that made Valentine’s Day more than just another day? Please share your stories with me. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Feel free to share this blog.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

http://www.leannembenson.com

Where Do You Setup Your Easel?

With only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, twelve musical notes, and three primary colors, is there anything left to create? Think about it! How many combinations can we create before all the new concepts to write, sing, or paint are used up?

This past year has given me the opportunity to work on that equation. I wrote down stories I have never told, and painted things I might never have expressed as well as a few other projects that may never have been finished. At times it felt as though my fingers had a mind of their own as they flew over the keyboard or danced across the canvas with a paintbrush. Sometimes I make a mess of a project and need to start over. There are those pieces that seem to have a mind of their own as they grow into something different and more beautiful than I imagined. I’ve even found the courage to post many of my stories along with my artwork in previous blogs.

It is exciting to hear there are so many people starting to paint, draw, sculpt, knit, write memoirs, fictional stories, or poetry for the first time in their lives. Now, maybe you’re not going to be able to take your easel and paints to the train station, at the break of day, to create that soft array of colored smoke as it billows out of the train’s smokestack, like Monet painted. But to conjure up images from our armchairs might be a place to start.

It is not the amount of detail or beautiful colors in Picasso’s paintings that make his work so great. But rather the way he captured scenes like no one had before. His paintings beg us to think about the grotesqueness of war. I can’t imagine he would have been able to paint those honest, raw feelings if it were not for the fact that he had lived through those awful conditions.

I am rather certain that many of the first pieces that Monet and Picasso painted were not great. But after a few thousand works, they came up with some “keepers”. How might Picasso or Monet have expressed this past year in a painting? None of us need to be as artistic as they were, nor do I think, it’s mandatory to be good at drawing or spelling. What I do think is important, is that everyone has an opportunity to paint, sculpt, or tell their story in their own way.

Let your bad thoughts go into a project. Savor the good times by showing it in your artwork.  Your story and mine, might not be as glamorous nor beautifully written as stories by Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. But to people we know, our stories might possibly mean more. And who knows, just maybe, one of those items you create, will be around long after you’re gone.

This year is jam-packed with fresh new possibilities. Open a jar of “creativity” and taste some new flavors. With only twenty-six letters in the alphabet, twelve notes, and three primary colors, is there anything left to create? The only thing that limits that equation for me — is me.

Please feel free to share this blog. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. So, tell me how you are finding ways to express yourself, and I will post them.

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Greetings!

Thank goodness for holiday festivities! They come during the time of year when darkness falls early and stays too long. And despite all the turmoil throughout this year, there is still plenty of holiday cheer and goodwill going around. We may not be getting together –but we are finding ways to show we care.

Giving our time, sending gifts, food, clothing, toys and cards are just some of the ways we are showing that we care. Many of our packages are going to family and friends. And a great deal of these gifts are being donated to families that need a little help this year. One thing is for certain: we are touching lots of hearts and souls with the gifts and greetings we give.

Sending greeting cards is an easy way to connect and it’s exciting hearing back from everyone. I savor every card I receive. Opening a card, is like getting a hug. And each card that we get is displayed on the staircase that comes down into the living room. By the time Christmas has arrived, our staircase is lined with photos and greeting cards from all our friends and family. This is one of my favorite holiday decorations.

Creating humorous, and even unusual stories with illustrations is one way I’ve found to sprinkle a lighthearted perspective on dark times. And so, while my paintbrushes were still wet, I decided to create this Greeting card for you.

Wishing you an Incredibly Joyous Holiday Season and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

Thank you for reading my blogs and for your replies. See you next year.   ~Leanne

www.leannembenson.com

The Tree I Almost Missed

A soft Minnesota breeze touched my shoulder with the warmth of September instead of the December day it really was. Among the bills in my mailbox, I had received a Christmas card. It was the only thing that said the holidays were here.

A week ago, my husband asked if I wanted a Christmas tree. My reply was something like, “I don’t think so. No one will see it anyway.” And so, the house remained the same. No garland. No stockings hung by the fireplace with care. And no Christmas tree!

Something in that warm breeze changed my heart when our first Christmas card arrived in the mailbox. I heard my own advice echo back. It came from a time when my children were growing up.  Often, I would remind them it was important to celebrate each holiday and every little accomplishment throughout life and to make each day special.  That is when I knew –we needed a  Christmas tree this year.

It was a proud tree that topped almost ten feet tall standing on the table. The lower branches cascaded towards the floor. The first, second, and third row of lights were hung across each tree branch with care. But a battle arose with the fourth and fifth string of lights. As soon as they were plugged in, the lights went dark! Scrunching my nose, I thought to myself, “This tree is just not meant to be…” then I sadly walked away.

After taking a short rest and a deep hearty breath, I was ready to tackle the lights on that tree. Digging through boxes of old decorations, I found two new string of lights. But they didn’t match! For these were LEDs. And the lights I had already placed on the tree were strings of incandescent bulbs.

I decided to let things happen naturally and not work so hard to make everything perfect, as I often had throughout my life. So, rather than taking all the lights off the tree, I pulled lights from the branches at my knee and tossed them to the top of that evergreen tree. Scattering the bright LED lights among the warm old-fashioned ones, the wires became a tangled mess. Twisted wire turned into knots.

Taking a few steps back, I looked at each branch, covered with sparkles and wondered if the ornaments would hide that mess of wires I had made inside the tree. Sitting by the fire with my husband by my side, we stared at our half-decorated Christmas tree. Tenderly, he turned and said, “I like the simplicity of this tree.” The LED bulbs appeared to shimmer with a silver cast of light. While the incandescent bulbs sparkled with a warm copper glow.

A simple tree decorated with only lights was an interesting idea that had merit.  And so, I pondered, “Would a quiet, simple Christmas be so bad?” Don’t get me wrong, I love to celebrate! And I look forward to lots of parties and festivities in the coming months and years. But this year’s gift –is time! Time for faith. Time to reflect and give thanks. Realizing this year was going to be a Christmas like no other. Maybe, in some strange way, this shambolic tree was rather symbolic of this year!

My husband was right. The tree was beautiful just the way it was. Just as this year was beautiful, just the way it was! This once unwanted, mismatched, and scarcely decorated Christmas tree had brought us wonderment and joy. And to think, I had almost missed this tree. The tree that taught me; sometimes the most wonderful things happen when you open your heart and mind up to do something different than you never have before.

Wishing you a peaceful feeling as warm as copper-colored lights, enthusiasm as bright as silver lights, and quiet simple pleasures as humble as the bare branches of a tree. Have a Happy Holiday, how ever you celebrate!

Please send me your replies. Let me know if you think my string of lights on my tree will unwind with ease, or will I need a wire cutter to get them off. Tell me one unique way you’ve decorated your Christmas tree. I look forward to hearing all your fun thoughts and ideas.

www.leannembenson.com

You Are More Capable than You Ever Believed!

If you lived through 2020,

With your face half covered and your hands rough and dry.

 

If they cancelled your trip to a far-off country,

Yet you held onto dreams of going in July.

 

If you couldn’t eat out, or even buy bread,

And instead you learned baking wasn’t something you hated.

 

Rather than complain about the articles you read,

You looked for other ways to stay updated.

 

If you listened to all the political ordeals,

And still kept an unbiased attitude.

 

If you opened your mind–to the different ideals

That freedom gives us –and you smiled with gratitude.

 

If you enjoyed watching other’s progress,

And weren’t plagued with being envious.

 

Or shared in the joys of another’s success,

And never once were you disingenuous.

 

If you kept your cool, when the markets went down,

When fires did blaze, and hurricanes would rage.

 

If you stood by the royals as they gave up the crown,

And you hoped racial equality would soon come of age.

 

And instead of criticizing those that were sickly,

You brought them a care package of chicken soup.

 

Rather than cry about missed opportunities, or times that passed too quickly,

You virtually connected with your Sis and her troop.

 

If you didn’t let loneliness in the door,

And knew not to drink from that sobering cup.

 

If on this Thanksgiving, you’re thankful for

Those everyday miracles, and the things that kept your chin up.

 

If you could “smell the turkey baking and fresh pumpkin pie”,

Even when you “couldn’t breathe”: You’ve achieved

A great deal this year.

 

For you cannot deny,

You are more capable than you ever believed!

 

~Leanne M. Benson

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A Stairway to The Past

If you have ever taken an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) off road, where there is little to no markings, you may already know; it can be more than just a bumpy ride. You can discover a lot of interesting artifacts. Thanks to a friend of mine and neighboring landowners, I experienced quite a journey.

Yesterday, I was invited to join a small group on an adventure. When the ATVs turned off the well-traveled road onto a worn-out path, I stepped into the past, to a time when horse and buggies ruled this land. The tracks were once a country road in Iowa. In some places, erosion cut deep into the path.

Each of the vehicles rolled slowly over the boulders and small ravines. As we meandered through the woods, I was tossed about, and my seatbelt pulled at my waist. Looking at the scenery, it became obvious why this road had been abandoned. On one side lay a steep hill and on the other a babbling trout stream.

A few miles into the woods, we stopped to take a closer look. At my right, stood a cement stair leading nowhere. But in my mind’s eye, it led into a tall rectangular room with a potbelly stove on the far end. This schoolhouse had been built in 1910. Listening carefully, I could almost hear these cement steps telling me their story:

I watched as a young girl grabbed the shovel leaning against the stoop. She began pushing the snow that had drifted and blocked the door to the schoolhouse. Mary was a young girl, not much older than the oldest students that attended this school.

Arriving an hour earlier than her students was part of Mary’s job as teacher. It took quite a few trips out to the wood pile, to fetch enough firewood to keep the children warm throughout the school day. Under her breath, she thanked the old farmer that lived down the road. He had stacked a pile of firewood for the school just up the hill. Entering the school carrying a heavy load of wood, her breath became more noticeable in the stillness of the room.

Mary tried to blow lightly and evenly on the tiny flame that licked at the twigs in the potbelly stove. As a first-year teacher, patience with building a fire, was something she had not yet learned. She began stacking the firebox until it was nearly full. Shutting the door, she peeked through its isinglass window at the flame. Noticing its glow was dying out, she quickly opened the door to the potbelly stove and smoke billowed into the schoolhouse. It took perseverance, but she finally got the fire roaring. After the better part of an hour she removed her hat, mittens, and coat.

When her students arrived, the little dusting of snow that had blown in through the cracks in the walls had begun to melt. Mary led all eighteen of her students in saying “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.  Reading was the first subject of the day. Divided into eight small groups, one child for each, began to read aloud. Soon the room was filled with voices.

The thick, rough dimensional timbers that spanned overhead, creaked from the warmth. A tiny red area began to grow on the glossy black stovepipe flue at the joint that turned to exit the schoolhouse. A loud rumbling sound like that of a freight train came barreling down the pipe. But no one hears it coming. Within seconds, the wall around the flue caught fire.

As smoke began filling the room, Mary yelled for the children to get out. Stooping to take a breath of fresh air, she began crawling across the floor. But her long dress kept getting in the way. Gathering the material around her waist, she managed to scoot over to the door. Reaching up, she unlatched the door and ushered her students outside.

After making sure no one was left inside; she ran to join the other children on the hill. Standing in the snow, they looked back to see the old schoolhouse burn to the ground.

Staring at the old, blackened cement stairs, I murmured to myself, “Could that be what happened to the old schoolhouse?”. Just then, one of the ATVs started up. As we rolled out of the woods and onto a farm field the sun glistened its last rays on the treetops.

The trinket I found in this experience that may help in my creative writing was knowing that it’s important to stay on well-marked roads and byways when I want to get to where I am going, but when offered an opportunity to get off the beaten path, take it! For that’s where life becomes interesting.

Trail Ride Video

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You Do WHAT to Make a Cup of Coffee?

Across the bedroom the clock glared at me with a bright red 6:08 as I peeked out from under the covers. It was Saturday. However, that really didn’t matter. Sleeping late had never been my thing. The best part of the day for me has always been watching the sunrise. I heard my husband’s soft greeting, “Good morning” as I shuffled to the kitchen in my fluffy slippers. Opening the jar of coffee beans, I breathed in the rich, intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted beans. And with my eyes closed, I smiled.

It was hard to believe that only yesterday, those dark, supple coffee beans were green seeds. You see, coffee is not really a bean at all. It is a seed that comes from a fruit that looks very much like a cranberry. Opening the sack to grab a handful of these green seeds, I could smell the earthy rich soil from the family plantation in Nicaragua where they were grown.

You would never consider eating these green seed. They are so hard you would break a tooth trying to bite one open. It is amazing how anyone ever figured out that the seed from this inedible red fruit, when roasted, was quite delicious. I have also wondered the same thing about tapioca. The root is poisonous. Yet, someone discovered if you spit out the root and eat only the little beads found inside, called tapioca, it is rather tasty. And there is the pufferfish that is extremely dangerous to eat if not cooked exactly right. Fortunately, I have never been so hungry that I would eat or drink ANYTHING distasteful, especially if there was a chance it would make me sick. I have also had the luxury of dabbling in the kitchen and experimenting with new ways to prepare food and drink just the way I like it.

Within days of roasting these little coffee gems, they are ground and infused into the water to make espresso. Adding a soft swirl of frothed milk on top of my cup, it becomes Latté. After all that, I finally get a chance to sit down beside the fireplace and enjoy this rich, bittersweet, creamy cup of coffee. And as I gaze through the windows the sun begins to rise over the valley. It sounds delightful, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, all that goodness does not come without a price. Not only does it take a lot of fiddling around to get to that first sip of coffee, but cleanup is rather time-consuming. The messy roasting process is not something you would ever do in your kitchen. There is a great deal of smoke that billows out of the roaster. The skin of the seed flakes off and the hot air blows chaff around the roasting area. But roasting is only half of the mess. It is amazing how those coffee grounds manage to get in every single kitchen cabinet.

You might ask, “Why don’t you just make a cup of coffee with a Keurig Machine? It takes only a few seconds to go from an empty cup to a full flavored hot delicious cup of coffee and there is NO mess!”. I guess, it is the same reason my husband and I grind organic wheat berries to make our own bread. It is the reason my husband cuts firewood out of the woods and I split, haul, and stack it to heat our home. It is the reason we cook most of our meals at home. It’s because even when our projects don’t work out the way we planned, if we learned something, it was never a waste of time.

I discovered there was more treasure in not just reading about these things. Taking the time to create them makes life more meaningful and enjoyable.

Please feel free to share this blog. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Send me your thoughts and I will post the appropriate, non-spam remarks.

Unintentional Wrecking Ball

Do you ever feel like you are on the wrong path but changing is too scary? You continue walking deeper and deeper into a foreign place.  You are not quite sure where you are or where you will come out in the end. The path starts feeling more like a treadmill and before you can stop it, you are racing through life. Not able to get off or stop the busyness of it all. Unexpectedly, things begin to come together for you and life is looking good! And so, you run faster and produce more. Then suddenly, in the middle of your life, the path ends, and you are left standing on the side of the road with no way home.

This poem is about staying positive when a wrecking ball destroys all that you have built and worked for in life.

The trinket I found in this little poem, is to take life slowly and lay one brick at a time.  Think of our actions as paving stones. And if we are lucky, a few of our bricks might be part of that road to help the next generation.

 

Please feel free to share this poem. Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Send me your thoughts and I will post the appropriate, non-spam remarks.

Give Your Head a Holiday

One way I have found to chase away the blahs when things seem a bit too political, and catastrophic, is to give my head a holiday.

We have all heard, it’s healthy to take a rest once in a while, from the stress of everyday life. However, with so many places closed lately, it is difficult to just jump in the car and get away. And so, little vacations in our minds are more important than ever. Here is a new way I have found to give myself a break.

For the last few days, instead of stewing over bad news, I have begun to fill my head with silly sounding words. And then using those words, I created a new twist to an old well-known tale written by Hans Christian Andersen. It was super fun and it got me out of my slump. Try it sometime….

A Twist to The Emperor’s New Clothes

This is a tongue twister of a tale for those that like to whittle words.

Once upon a time there lived a deceitful fella. His name was Tom Campanella. He had no talent. He had no thingamajigs. And he seldom had any gigs.

 He finagled funds from hardworking folk that really were quite broke! But it was the wealthy he preferred to bamboozle. Leaving their bank accounts with a little less moola. 

Arriving in town before a rooster’s crow, Tom waisted no time, getting to the ruler’s chateau. While driving along, he made plans of tomfoolery, to lift some loot and the magistrate’s jewelry. 

He introduced himself to the royal Highness, “I’m Tom the tailor.” And “Yes, I am the finest!” The King was impressed to be told, “I’ve got the finest silk and satin fabrics to behold.” 

Tom boasted to the king, “My nifty machine will make a pair of pantaloons, before the strike of noon.” When in fact those basting stitches, were really sewing bogus britches. 

The Emperor would squint and groan– but saw nothing being sewn. “Where are the wears that you weave?” The Emperor said, “I do not even see a sleeve.” 

Tom then sputtered more malarkey to the doubting monarchy, “Only a nincompoop or a numbskull cannot see this robe is AWFULLY BEAUTIFUL!” 

Pretending the outfit was adorned with royal studs. Tom hoodwinked the Highness to doff the old duds. The King thought to himself, “I won’t be a fuddy-dud. My royal blood be laud.”  

Holding a thing of nothing, the tailor announced loudly, “It’s Done!” And the emperor put it on proudly.” Changing his clothes, the king stood and posed. Unaware, his hind-end was exposed.  

The Emperor concealed his dismay, as the seamstress began to say. “I dare anyone to dispute how dapper you look in your new suit.”  

“Do I really look that great?” The King began to contemplate. But he soon took Tom’s bait. “Let us not lollygag, for your kingdom doth await.”  

The parade route was packed with excited folks waiting to see their Emperor’s new suit and cloak. But instead of delight they were dumbfounded to see the Emperor’s bare buttocks and belly. 

“What in tarnation has become of our leader?” The ladies and lads began to get weepy. Then a brave little ragamuffin stopped the whole farse, by giving his blanket to cover the royal’s ars.  

The Emperor stood proud, until he knew that there was no satin shroud. But he did not go berserk nor have a hissy-fit. Instead he hailed a taxicab and went home lickety-split.   

No one ever knew what happened to the fella, who called himself Tom Campanella. I guess, with the threat of a battle he decided to quickly skedaddle.  

The message in this story is not simply to be wary of all the untrustworthy Tom, Dick or Harry’s. But rather to see what depicts royalty, is the way they handle adversity.

A story by Hans Christian Andersen. Rewritten by Leanne M Benson.

The trinket I found was laughter. This piece reminded me not to take myself too seriously and I was able to truly laugh.  Laughing out loud is good for us.  Laughing until it hurts is a great workout for our stomachs and it creates lots of little endorphins that flood our bodies and help us feel happier. So, find things that make you laugh. And laugh!

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Comments are often enjoyable and fun to read. Please send me your thoughts.