How to Create Illustrations

At some point in our lives, most of us have sat staring at a blank page trying to find the best words to write. It may have been for a book, a report, research, a thesis, or an essay. The beginning can feel exhilarating, exciting and daunting all at the same time.

It starts out like that for me when creating a children’s story. However, once the words have found their place, my work is only half done. That’s when a completely different set of blank pages presents themselves to me. This time waiting for images. Numerous pencil drawings are sketched before the right look of each character in the story appears. Once I have an idea for each of their personalities in that particular scene and the sketchy image fits the story-line, the oil paints come out and details start to emerge.

As I take the cap off a tube of oil paint, a faint smell wafts into the room and across the canvas. My excitement grows as the pallet knife scrapes a tiny color from numerous globs lined up across the pallet. I start to blend. With the slightest amount of Indigo, the night sky becomes more mystifying. The tiniest of crimson brings a blushing innocence to the young girl’s face. A bit of Ochre softly highlights the furry little fella walking in the stars.

I think, it may be rather humorous watching me create these scenes. Each shadow or line is felt before it is added to the canvas. My face will look surprised, my shoulders and eyebrows will rise.  I lower my brow and my bottom lip quivers in order to feel what the character is feeling. I believe any great music, literary, or art piece must be truly felt by its maker. If I don’t feel it, the viewer will not see it.

When creating a children’s picture book, the words are only half of the story. Each illustration carries a great deal of meaning. I enjoy personifying animals. Giving them an expression of surprise or hurt creates a deeper meaning to the story-line. To paint things that are not even mentioned in the words, allows the reader to perceive what they want to see happening. Making it their own personalized story.

The trinket I discovered from these illustrations that I want to share with young readers and listeners is to be curious and creative. The fast- exciting words of this story, asks you to listen. The illustrations beg you to be aware of what you see happening. Both words and illustrations in this upcoming book will invite everyone that reads it, to be more aware and inquisitive.

www.leannembenson.com

 

 

What’s in Your Cup?

Think about it. Aren’t people a lot like dishes? We are born with our basic structure of who we are as an individual. Some of us are born porcelain cups, others clay mugs. We are painted in a multitude of colors. Some of us even have intricate patterns. We cannot choose to be a mug or cup. But each day, one serving at a time, we can choose what goes into our lives and how we can serve others.

As a young woman starting to set up a household, my grandmother bought me the most beautiful set of china. It looked very similar to her set, that I admired and loved. As a child, I often thought that someday I would serve my grandchildren on her set of dishes.

I remember my Grandmother would take out her beautiful china dishes on holiday occasions. I would eat until I was nearly sick. My grandmother was a good cook. I vividly remember one Christmas eve dinner at her house when I was rather small. She served a dark plum cake for dessert. It was drizzled with a white sauce. Its sweet, smooth taste lingered. With each breath I took, the warm sweetness filled my lungs. I asked my Grandmother for the recipe. She never gave it to me. It might have been because, she didn’t have a recipe to give me. She often made up recipes adding a pinch of this and a dash of that. –Or, maybe the reason for not giving it to me was because it probably had a tiny bit of rum added. I will never know.

There were also times when it was only the two of us. My Grandmother would serve coffee and cookies on her fancy china cups and saucers. She also loved to drink out of colorful long-stemmed crystal glasses and would comment, “It made things taste better.” Only once, when we sat on the dock dangling our feet in the lake, do I remember seeing her drink from a can.

My Grandmother always made me feel special. We would fill our afternoon together discussing things like an art project she was working on, her garden, and we would revisit her youth. We seldom talked about feelings, and yet, somehow, I felt she allowed me to be that clay mug. And to empty all the bad thoughts that had consumed me, working and associating with negative people.  Slowly, she would refill my mug with good feelings.

When she gave me the new dishes, I promised to take good care of them so that nothing would ever happen to any of the pieces. Wearing a forlorn smile, she said, “I don’t want you to pack them away. I want you to use them. Enjoy your dishes! And when one of the pieces gets a chip or a crack, don’t be sad. Look at that chip with fond memories of when friends and loved ones gathered around your table. Why have beautiful things if you can’t enjoy them?”

My grandmother has long since passed away. Over the years I’ve learned to view my life like this gift of china from her. Life and cups are fragile. In an instant, they are shattered and gone. Life is not easy. Along the way, dishes get chipped, cracked, and broken. We could keep them safely packed in the cupboard where there isn’t any risk of them ever getting broken. But nothing lasts forever. So, use what you’ve been given to serve others and make memories.

The trinket that I discovered from this old “mug” that may bring flavor to my children’s stories is to “Savor the damaged dishes just as much as the bright, pretty ones!  Serve delicious food in them and appreciate the good memories they bring you. Don’t fill your plate too full. Remember to save room for dessert. And don’t waste time filling up on things that are distasteful.”

Maybe if we share some of these simple thoughts, we could dilute some of the bitter things that are being poured into our cups and mugs. –The bitterness we also refer to as anxiety.

…After all, aren’t people a lot like dishes?

 www.leannembenson.com

TAKE THREE

There is a common saying.” If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing twice!” However, is it worth doing three, four and five times? It took me numerous revisions to come up with the best storyline to my new book titled, The Lion of Tupungato.

Although the following piece is an interesting message, I found a better way to use this character to tell this wonderful story. This piece did not make it into the book. But I thought it would be fun to share with you.

When young Isabel moves from Argentina to the United States without her father or her lion, it was one of the hardest decisions Isabel had ever made. She grew up quickly without her lion to guide her. Isabel faced inequality and bullying. As a young nurse just out of school, she found herself dealing with a patient that was a wealthy narcissistic man. And if you didn’t know that he was rich, he’d tell you.

The paramedics had put up with as much as they could take of Max’s self-centered, outrageous behavior. The Emergency Medical Team transferred him into the bed directly in front of where Isabel had been charting. She quickly read over is new admission’s medical chart, while he scowled at her. Maxwell Smith, seventy-two years of age. Isabel went on to read medical terms for heart problems. Cardiac arrhythmia and shortness of breath.

Before she could get any more information about his case, Max pulled his head off the pillow and grumbled, “You’ve got to be kidding me! What could you know about heart problems? There was a long pause as Isabel regained her composure. Max huffed, “You’re just what I thought! I’ve got an uneducated imbecile watching to make sure my heart doesn’t quit. Young Lady, do you know who I am? –I’m one of the richest men in Minnesota! So, don’t you think I deserve the very best medical attention money can buy? …Of course, I do! So, get me a real nurse. Right Now! Go on…. I will not tolerate someone like you hanging around my bedside trying to figure out how to use that stethoscope around your neck.”

Isabel was speechless. Never in her entire life had anyone talked to her like that. Even the kids on the school bus, that made fun of her years ago, didn’t hurt like this.

 After this mysterious part in The Lion of Tupungato story that I can’t divulge. Isabel finds a strength from deep within herself. She possesses a newfound confidence and knowledge not only as a nurse, but as a person. The story continues with Isabel admitting to herself, “It doesn’t matter what Max Smith or anyone else says or thinks. I know in my heart I am a darn good nurse and I have as much right to be part of this medical team as anyone else!” Believing that she could handle any inequality that others might throw at her, Isabel dries her eyes and returns to work.

 Max Smith’s heart stopped shortly after ten-thirty-two that night.

In the next chapter: Max started breathing on his own again. Isabel looked out the window and thought of her lion friend, Pansy and how he had given her the courage and determination to be there for Mr. Smith.”  She then quietly turned and walked out of the room.

Days later, Max found out that Isabel assisted in his recovery. Blinking slowly, he cleared his throat. “I… I just wanted to thank you for what you did for this cranky old bully.”

Isabel turned and walked towards him, “I was just doing my job.”

 “No!  You went above and beyond the call of duty. And I see now, I misjudged you. You’re a good nurse! Probably, the best nurse my money can buy.

But Mr. Smith, I would have done the same for you if you hadn’t any money at all….

The trinket I discovered in this piece was more like a steppingstone. With each new revision of The Lion of Tupungato, I stepped closer to creating a story that would be exciting and fast moving yet produce an aura from a golden age in a faraway land. Finally, I found the best way to tell this heartwarming, endearing story of a young girl’s love and loss of friends and family that leads her to find pride and confidence.

www.leannembenson.com

What Do You Binge Watch?

A blush color seeps back into my white knuckles as I pull into the garage. The door slowly shuts, closing out the icy blanket that made driving home so miserable. Wondering if this winter will ever end, I hear a chickadee abandon his winter song and prematurely sing his springtime song, “spring’s coming.” My heart begins to melt depressing thoughts away. There are some good qualities to the long dark nights of January. It brings a new start, once the hassle of wrapping up business transactions for the previous year is done. It’s a slow month for most of us. And that’s a good thing!

Life is much more exciting when there are contrasts. Those busy holidays are much more enjoyable when it’s added to a rather empty calendar. The artist in me loves a splash of color in a monochromatic room. The nature lover in me craves a rainy day after many sunny hot days. I’ve learned to appreciate the quiet long dark winter nights after all the busy social Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s events. For most of us, January is a time to sit quietly and binge watch our favorite shows.

The most desired show for me, is not a program on television or online. It’s a warm welcoming fire surrounded by a beautiful stone fireplace. I watch as the small flames of the new fire sparkle on the small aspen wood kindling pieces and the stringy elm log fibers. The dark walnut wood is a beautiful log that adds depth to the fire, even though it will leave more ashes than the others. I think about how hard it was cutting each these logs from dead trees in our woods. It’s true, firewood warms you twice. I remember sweating as I carried, split, and stacked each log. –The flames grow and its heat intensifies as the heavy red oak and hickory logs become the heart of the fire. Watching the blue and orange flames dance around the twisted, knurled, blackened pieces of firewood, I become mesmerized.

Snuggling into my overstuffed chair, a calm feeling dilutes any feel of urgency. There’s no need to guilt myself into thinking I should be doing anything. Sitting with a glass of wine I notice the flurries outside. There is a snow globe effect in the windows that surround me. It’s close to seventy degrees difference from the temperature outside to what it is in front of the fire.

For those that live in the more extreme latitudes, learning to like winter makes life more pleasant. It’s a large percentage of our year. I figure, I can either muddle my way through these long winter evenings with a blur of television episodes or create a mood that allows time for contemplating life and becoming a little wiser.

The trinket from these experiences, I may find useful when writing children’s stories, is this. When winter tells us to slow down, try to listen. We shouldn’t sit and watch life pass us by. But rather, savor every minute.

 

www.leannembenson.com

Rethinking Auld Lang Syne

This coming Tuesday, most of us will either watch or attend some fancy places, bustling with influential people and dripping with wealth. But, are those classy New Year’s Eve party events really more fun and exciting?

You know the kind of party. Catering to etiquette, you “répondez, s’il vous plait”, more commonly referred to as RSVP with great anticipation of a great evening of celebration. You buy that flashy outfit in the store window, abandon your jeans and flats. You even read up on the latest news stories that everyone is talking about, so that you not only look smart, you sound interesting.

I remember a New Year’s Eve event that seems like a hundred years ago. It was my first fancy, influential party overflowing with black ties and black sequined dresses. I was young and naive. Black, brown, and grey is all I had worn, day in and day out for years. I had been told many times, “Play up on the artist in you and start wearing some color.”

This party seemed like the perfect place to try out a new look. It was a beautiful, artistic dress, a soft color pink, and very short. Accompanied by a pair of darling high spiked heels that added even more length to my long legs. –“Maybe I could pull this new look of confidence off after all.” I thought, walking out of the house.

Sipping wine, I tried to focus on the latest business. A new glass appeared unannounced. Keeping track of my alcohol consumption was the last thing on my mind. It was all I could do, to juggle thoughts of my Mother’s sharp eye with a message to stand up tall and don’t ask too many questions echoed in my head. Wishing to be at a point in my life when self-worth wasn’t awarded by committee, more wine materialized.

“Dinner will be served in a few minutes.” they announced. I snuck away to the washroom as the crowd slowly moved towards their dining tables. The floor began to move sideways. Those long purposeful strides in four-inch heels after a few drinks took all my attention. It didn’t take more than a glance to realize, this was not the ladies’ room! My hand still on the door, I spun on my heals. It was too late to hope that no one had seem me. There was a gentleman coming towards me with a puzzled looked as he glanced from me to the sign on the wall and back to me. There I was: the only woman in pink in a room full of black with hints of white. There were no reds, puce, or even hot pink dresses. It was obvious, the woman in pink in the men’s room, was me! That bathroom blunder didn’t go unnoticed. Many people had a good chuckle.

So, how did this classy evening become clumsy? Was it because I wasn’t being myself? Or was it because I had dressed out of my comfort zone? Could worrying about what my parents and others thought of me, put a damper on the evening? Why did I allow one tiny mistake to weigh so heavily on my success?

Hindsight often gives us 20/20 vision. If I had the wisdom of today or better yet the confidence and humor to laugh at myself, the evening would have been fun and exciting. However, I also view those times when my imperfections get the best of me, as an opportunity to build character and teach me compassion and understanding for others.

This world would be a boring place if we were all perfect and we didn’t need each other’s help or kindness. And I wouldn’t have a little trinket, like this for my children’s books: “It’s not necessary to impress everyone, because self-worth is not awarded by committee.” Here’s my new version of Auld Lang Syne. It goes like this, “Should old anxieties be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old anxieties be forgot, oh hell ya!”

Happy New Year Everyone!

www.leannembenson.com

Beauty and the Dose of Adversity

Looking back, on stressful days of building our house, has given me a different prospective on life. It was a time when life felt like a big chess game. Every move I made impacted the next. Often, several small moves had to be made to get to the final goal. And other moves didn’t seem to make any difference at all.

It was a Thursday afternoon. There was nothing significant about the day except our daughter would be coming home for a visit that weekend. She’d been working in the Peace Corps in Guatemala for the past two and a half years.

Progress on the house had come to a complete standstill. And even though the delay was frustrating, I was thankful to get a chance to join my husband at work and take my mind off building the house. My husband and I had worked together for years.  However, “The divide and conquer theory” seemed to be the only way to get our house built in the middle of no place where help was nearly impossible to find. And so, during the day, he kept the business running while I hung Sheetrock, sanded logs, and picked rock to build our fireplace. In the evenings we worked together on the house, until late into the night.

I remember how good it felt, walking across the runway in order to check everything was operating properly and giving pilots correct information to land in bad weather. After fighting the cold blustery winds all morning, we jumped back into our old 1976 airplane. Listening to one of the engines grind slower and slower, we realized, it wasn’t going to start. While my husband toiled over the engine, I did some bloodletting onto this page:

After months of being without the comforts of modern conveniences, there are times when it feels good to just sit alone and cry. Thinking of all that needs to be done before I can sit and do nothing, wears me to a frazzle. But if this house is ever going to be, –I can’t quit.

Things like hardwood floorboards were delivered premature, and yet, here we sit for weeks, waiting for our tile delivery. The first tiles arrived damaged! One of the palettes looked as though it had been dropped. Over forty tiles had been broken. Hoping for a speedy delivery of replacement tiles, is turning out to be nothing more than wishful thinking.

Wish as we may, none of the flooring is going to be laid before our daughter arrives. Rather than standing around the house thinking, how nice it would have been to give her the dream she was expecting, I went to work with my husband and found myself sitting in a cold airplane that wouldn’t start. I learned long ago to view traffic jams, long lines, and delays building the house, as a time to reflect.  –However, that’s easier said than done! So, I’m going to dig out the lunchbox and try to enjoy a quiet lunch with my husband.

–As always, the bad times don’t last forever. My husband got the plane started and we flew home. –It isn’t a perfect house, but it’s what we call home!

Looking back, I realize, these old words are far from dry and meaningless to me. But I do understand the big picture of life much better now. Even though our daughter had mentioned how nice it would be to have a finished bedroom and bathroom to use after living in a very minimalistic lifestyle in the Peace Corps, it wasn’t a bad thing that the house wasn’t done in time for her visit. Things worked out for the better. I had always tried to make everything perfect for my kids. And I guess, I was still trying to be that perfect mom for my daughter. But, we couldn’t produce that wonderfully finished bedroom and bathroom for her. –We did something better! We kept life real.

A trinket from that experience, I may find useful when writing children’s stories, is not to protect young people. Don’t make life look as though things come easily or automatically. Living in an abundance of the latest greatest items won’t bring joy or compassion. On the contrary, grace grows more beautiful with a dose of adversity.

www.leannembenson.com

A Piece of Humble Pie

I’ve always enjoyed the old song lyrics, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” But I feel that lately, the words have changed to, “Let there be outrage on earth, and let it begin with me.”  We’re bombard us every day by shocking news headlines. If there were feel good stories about humanity would we choose to share them over opinions of stories on cruelty, corruption, and injustices?

Which beliefs are important and which issues will be let go, may never be defined! Checking our bag of politics, finance, and religious topics at the door, before we arrive at the Thanksgiving table might keep those argumentative, condemnatory attitudes from souring the feast. Let’s not be fooled into thinking it’s acceptable to be rude and uncaring if it’s for the right cause. It’s never okay to be nasty!

The meaning of Thanksgiving for me, is putting aside our differences, celebrating our accomplishments and knowledge we’ve learned over the past year. It’s a time to be selfless, to pour out generosity on others without any expectations of receiving anything in return. It is the start to the season of giving. And the New Year will ring as if it were the final bell at the end of a boxing match. That’s when we can relax, feel good that we’ve fought a good fight against racism, and social or religious injustices.

At a time when The Cold War was still fresh in the minds of Americans, my father brought home three Russians for Thanksgiving dinner. While most people thought of the Russians as the devil incarnate, my father worked hard to dissuade racial prejudices.

It really wasn’t clear to me why these men came to our house. Thanksgiving means nothing to anyone other than people in the United States. I remember wondering, “Don’t they have any place better to go?” The thought wasn’t because they weren’t welcome, rather it was because, I grew up in a tiny house and having guests over for the holidays made it seem even smaller. However, my mother always set an elaborate, bountiful holiday table. It didn’t matter how much we had, there was always enough to go around.

The gentleman seated next to me, must have felt it was proper to serve the ladies. A mountain of mashed potatoes he had piled onto my plate left little room for my favorite dishes, candied sweet potatoes, dark turkey meat and cranberry dressing. We still laugh at the memories, try as I might, I could only eat half of what he put on my plate.

My father always tried to teach us to be slow to judge people and things you don’t understand. By sharing what we had with these three travelers, we received so much more in return. We learned people are just people. There are good and bad Russians, just as there are good and bad Americans. I don’t know why these Russians chose to come to our house over any place else they could have dined that Thanksgiving Day. Maybe, they didn’t have any place else to go!

When it’s time to sit down at the Thanksgiving table, I’m going to look at what I’ve served to others throughout this past year. Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and successes I’ve been given. It’s a time to reevaluate and ask, “Have I been gracious to others?” And if I’ve done something distasteful, it may be advantageous to eat a piece of humble pie and dish out some sweet apologies.

Here’s a trinket that may be useful to me when writing children’s stories with life lessons. — It’s not easy to put down our biases, and show respect for all living things, even if we don’t agree with them. So, I’m going to put my energy into trying to create fun and exciting children’s stories and let the life lessons fall where they may. After all, maybe the message of love and forgiveness comes more from the connection children get while snuggling up and reading with a loved one. –Could the next generation become more accepting, kind and compassionate? Maybe my answer to that question, is in the original lyrics, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Happy Thanksgiving EVERYONE!

www.leannembenson.com

 

Why has Halloween become the favorite holiday?

It’s fun creating costumes and impersonating a character, spending time pretending to be something you’re not, and laughing at the absurdity of it all.

I was one of those mothers that wouldn’t just buy my children a costume they happened to see in an advertisement. Instead, I would try to motivate them to create their own costumes. As they got older, they began to love the excitement of deciding on a costume and then constructing the image. We had hours of fun coming up with just the right look and even more fun acting the part of our characters. And they never ran into their double on Halloween night.

Creating mysterious Halloween images has always been exciting for me. And yet, for some reason I always wait until the last minute to come up with a costume. This year was no different. It was Tuesday morning, and I had barely started to put a costume together for a Writers Halloween party on Friday. Everyone was asked to dressed-up as their favorite character from a story they had written. I decided to be The Lion of Tupungato, as he appeared in the pansy flower at the end of my story.

Rummaging through my clothes, I found an olive-green skirt, shirt, and jacket that would make for a perfect pansy plant. My lion’s mane and tail had just arrived in the mail. With only two days to put this outfit together, I quickly dug through my art closet and found a few yards of old packing material. It was white, soft to the touch and yet stiff enough to keep the petals from drooping. With a few brush strokes to add color and a few tucks to add depth, it was a flower.

One of the most fun times I’d ever had creating costumes happened only a few years back. My Husband and I had been invited to attend a Pirate Bon Voyage party at the end of a trip we had been planning to the Bahamas. “All attending must dress as a pirate or wench,” the invitation stated. And so, we began working on the appropriate pirate attire.

A well-dressed young man came around the Good Will sales rack, just as I had grabbed a large brimmed lavender bridesmaids’ hat and plopped it on my husband’s head. Raising his eyebrows, he joked with my husband, “Nice Hat!” Ninety-nine- cents, some black spray paint, and three tucks later we had a pirate’s hat.

My husband is not a scary looking guy. Trying to give him an evil pirate appearance, wasn’t working! Eye liner only added intrigue, rather than the sinister look I was hoping for. Each attempt at making him into a scary pirate, only made me laugh harder.

Wrapping a bandana around his forehead with a long wig attached didn’t create that villainous look. On the contrary, it looked more like my mother wearing a bandana with bangs sewn in the front during the 1960s. Each time I looked at my husband, I couldn’t help but see this image of my mother in this scarf with fake hair attached. And the more I thought about it, the harder I laughed. Smiling, he stood quietly. Once I regained my composure, he would return to his silly pirate improvisations. Ar-r-r!

Digging around the house for my costume, I found an old leather vest, a blousy shirt, some black Capris, and a western leather hat. Making the three tucks in the hat, I was done! There was only one problem. I looked more like Paul Revere than a pirate. Our costumes were far from perfect, but we had fun and that’s worth more to us than any prize offered.

At the end of the ten-day island-hopping journey, it was time to say good-bye to this wonderful travel group. My husband and I walked into the party room, where all the other travelers stood dripping with expensive pirate costumes.  It was a bittersweet ending. Just when disappointment of leaving the beautiful Bahama islands was brought up, they announced the winners of the best couple’s costume. My husband and I had won a free night stay at three different resorts.

Has Halloween become America’s favorite holiday? And if so, might it be because, Halloween doesn’t come with all the baggage the sales industry has made around Christmas? Halloween isn’t about defining and separating us, from others who believe differently.  It isn’t about gifts or hosting a wonderful dinner or spending time with loved ones.  Halloween is a time to hang out incognito with a bunch of others. Leave our cares and worries about the world, behind, –if only for one night. We don’t need to plan. Just enjoy the spontaneity of it all.

The trinket I may use from these experiences to write children’s stories is this: It’s okay to pretend to be someone you’re not, for one night. However, all that time spent running around to please a few special people in your life and giving them your love, —is worth all the groundwork when life gets tough.

www.leannembenson.com

P.S. There were lots of great costumes at this party.  Thanks ladies, for being a few of the brave one to pose for this picture. I won most creative costume.

 

Making a House into a Home for the Holidays

Building a house, remodeling, or just sprucing it up for the holiday season can be difficult. Sifting through boxes for dishes, clothing, make-up, spoons, paperwork scattered among the sawdust and color samples during the construction process can become more than most of us bargained for. Is it worth the hassle?

We typically remember, special events and holidays in life. But we try to forget what it took to make those precious times happen. Those accomplishments, along with our pleasant memories such as gathering for a birthday or another Thanksgiving, makes a house a home. Humans are visual creatures. We like nice things and surroundings. That doesn’t mean we need to sit at a table with linen tablecloths or fine china and crystal goblets. But something as simple as the home decor or a well-maintained house can make the event more festive.

I’m proud of the house we built. And I’ve come to the conclusion; the joys far outweigh the challenges faced creating it. Recalling one of those crazy construction times in my life, I now chuckle.

It was Friday afternoon, when the dust from the carpet installers truck had settled down on our gravel driveway. At that time, we had been building this house for more than three years. I was excited to finally get a beautiful bedroom to sleep in rather than a construction zone. Thoughts of how we got to where we were, swirled in my head as my husband and I stood in the bedroom doorway admiring our new carpet.

Remembering a time when there was no water and sewer, no electricity, no house, there wasn’t even a road or driveway leading to this weathered rocky bluff. Electricity was the first thing to come down the driveway. After months of camping and hauling water in from miles away, the cold weather forced us inside. It was hardly what you would call a house when we moved. There was a shower curtain for a door to the only bathroom in the house. Dishes were washed in the bathtub, and laundry was washed at my sister’s house ten miles down the road. The bedroom had been temporarily set up in the basement until walls could block out the shrapnel in the great room where the mason chipped stones for months to make the twenty-one-foot-high fireplace.

The house was far from finished, but I was happy to have the bedroom carpeted. Putting things back together took most of the evening. The dressers were carried in and the drawers reinstalled. The paintings hung and the bed remade. With a quick bit to eat and a relaxing soak in the hot tub with a drink, we were ready for a good night sleep.

Exhausted, we both plopped into bed! Tossing and turning restlessly, led to little sleep that night. I was uncomfortable. My hips were going to sleep with the pressure of an overly firm mattress. It was so strange; my sleep number bed had been set at forty-five now was at twenty-five. The lower number seemed to command the mattress to expand. It was nearly three in the morning when I felt my husband sit up in bed. I looked at him with the sleep number controller in his hand.

Well, you’ve probably already figured out. Our controllers were swapped. However, it wasn’t until that moment, that we both came to that same awareness. He lay awkwardly in a hammock while I perched on top of an overinflated balloon. His setting went from seventy up to one hundred. You would think at that point we would dial the appropriate numbers on each side, turn over and finally get some sleep. That was not the case. For the next hour, we laughed. And about the time we started to drift off to sleep, one of us would start laughing again.

Remembering all the funny little stories that happened to us while building this house is just as important as the big holiday get togethers. Our muddled messes are just as precious as those accomplishments. Those everyday blunders help create the magic that turns a house into a HOME. The trinket from this experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories, isn’t that we made a mistake by being in too big of a hurry. The trinket is more about creating pearls in our lives. Just like an oyster, people need hard times to make that beautiful shiny gem of a pearl. Lives that are littered with mistakes, adversities, and annoyances have a much better chance of creating a sparkling, fun, and exciting life.

www.leannembenson.com

Ridin’ The Storm Out

Do you ever find it difficult to sleep after reading a disturbing news article?  If so, you may relate with this story. Last night I was plagued with thoughts of the homeless and hurting in the path of Hurricane Dorian and the Typhoon hitting Japan. Trying to concentrate on my breathing and then counting sheep just wasn’t working. I finally drifted off to sleep, only to wake a short time later thinking of a voyage we made across the Atlantic. It was a world cruise ship facing its last leg of a long journey, when my husband and I boarded in Venice.

It was a small cruise ship serving only eight-hundred guests. Touring many countries through the Mediterranean for the past week, we had now begun chasing the setting sun across the Atlantic Ocean. From our stateroom I watched the African coastline fade into the distance. Getting upgraded to the stateroom on the back of the ship sounded great until we realized the last room on the ship gets all the smoke from burning garbage each night and it’s a rougher ride!

While sipping coffee in bed early the next morning, the captain announced over the ship’s intercom we would be changing our original course in order to avoid a storm out at sea. We enjoyed a slice of sun on our deck throughout that entire day. It was the last sunset we saw from our balcony once the ship turned west.

 

Whitecaps waved a warning to those daring to cross the Atlantic. Over the next few days, I would not set my cup down without splashing coffee into the saucer. Coffee out of a covered paper cup was wasteful, but safer. While climbing the stairs to the restaurant for breakfast, we realized taking the elevator might have been a better idea. For as the ship began to rise, the next step up felt like a sandbag had been set upon my shoulders. It didn’t take many flights of stairs to figure out, if you waited to climb until the ship was descending it gave a sensation a bit like floating up the staircase.

This was not a glamorous trip with high heels and dazzling fashions. Forget about looking graceful. Hanging onto the rails, guests staggered down the halls to dine and be entertained.  The dining tables and countertops were wrapped in cellophane to keep dishes from sliding onto the floor.

The seas had grown more violent the second night. While a group of us were enjoying a game of Truth or Dare on the top deck, loud crashing waves splashed against the windows. Tired of fighting to stand up or even hear the questions and answers, we went to bed. My husband, the data junky pulled an inclinometer out of his suitcase. It was measuring our bed rising twenty feet up and falling twenty feet down.

The ship pitched madly throughout the night. As I stumbled in the dark from the bathroom back to bed, the floor was abruptly yanked from beneath my feet. “Lunge for the bed!” was my first thought. The farther the ship plunged downward the farther I fell. Remaining airborne long enough to think, “maybe lunging wasn’t such a great idea,” I finally landed safely! That night brought new meaning to the phrase, “a rough night.” Everything that was not secured into place, was on the floor the next morning.

 

Looking back on this trip, the wonderful qualities far outweighed a few days of rough water. We enjoyed many comfortable hours on board with excellent staff and a great group of friends. Some of them have remained in touch.

The title of this blog is an old song title by REO Speedwagon. And so, it’s seems fitting to use a verse from a Rolling Stones song to sum up the trinket I took from this journey that I may find useful when writing children’s stories. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you might find you get what you need.” No matter our age, gender, social status, faith, or political preference, life is more fun when everyone gets what they want. I got to visit a few places I’ve always wanted to see. My husband got the exciting voyage of crossing the Atlantic Ocean he wanted. It wasn’t the private forty-five-foot boat he had dreamed of taking. But if riding this storm out on board a larger vessel quenched some of that need for my husband, it made this trip worth every one of my bumps and bruises.

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