In Search of The Zen Mind

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She was here and gone in a flash, our Summer of Love truncated into a week at the front end and another that awaits us at the back. I did my best to embrace this first half, but I could have done much more. Not enough snuggling, not enough laughing, not enough listening. I'm half in, half out most of the time as my brain races from one thought to the next. It's a frustrating condition, likely more frustrating to the people who are trying to reach me and finding me half engaged.

I told you that, Mom. 

No you did not!

Yes, I did.

You did? I didn't hear you.

But you answered me.

I didn't hear you. I'm sorry.

My brain is a hummingbird, in constant flight. My heart aches for stillness, connection, the simple bliss of being fully immersed in the moment. Breathe in, breathe out, repeat. If there is a Zen Mind, I do not possess it. What is the opposite of the Zen Mind? I'm not sure. The Chaos Mind, perhaps? If so, I signed up at birth and it has only been exacerbated by the exit of my hormones post menopause. 

Ooo, the chaos mind? Sounds fun! I'll take it!

54 years later and...

...I'd like to return it, please.

No, seriously. Take it back. 

In our increasingly noisy, frantic reality, I am struggling more each day with finding focus. This is the plan. Keep us all so distracted by an endless parade of insanity that we begin to doubt ourselves, each other, our institutions, the very nature of reality.

Which is tenuous at best. 

Add to this The Chaos Mind, and it's a wonder I am able to complete this sentence.

What was I writing about, again?

I had a revelation last week, or a realization, depends on your perspective. I realized based on observation and personal experience, that women who have raised children and become 'empty nesters' tend to redecorate their homes and create a pristine, pretty, ordered, tidy, non-chaotic environment. After all, kids are messy and destructive and expensive to raise, and it's hard to keep a home clean, neat, and damage free with children running roughshod over it all. When my daughter was growing up, we had so much going on that any clean surface would be covered with detritus within moments of being cleared. Pillows and throws carefully arranged on furniture scattered hither and yon, impossible numbers of crumpled tissues, squashed juice boxes, and empty wrappers littered across the floors and shoved into couch cushions, endless papers from school stacked haphazardly and needing constant attention, samples from clients still in boxes stacked on top of other boxes creating towers of random craft supplies...dirty towels, used glasses, random socks...all proliferating with astounding speed.

Then she left for college. We moved. We moved again. Messy, cluttered, and unkempt shifted to clean, simple, and ordered. This makes The Chaos Brain happy, yet it does little to soothe the aching heart beyond keeping it and the caretaker of both of these organs from falling apart. I will put this here and add this over there, I will keep this surface uncluttered, this bed made, these towels folded just so, and these plants alive because I finally have time to remember to water them. 

Hooray. 

When my daughter comes home, I have to reset myself and remember that the clutter is good. I have to let go of the desire for order. I have to remember that I cannot control everything, or much of anything. I have to let the heart take hold and The Chaos Mind take a breather. 

She was here and gone in a flash, and the house has been duly re-ordered. The Chaos Mind has been appeased. The aching heart still aches. I should have done more snuggling, laughing, and listening and less worrying about the things I cannot control. One day, perhaps, I will find The Zen Mind.

Or not, but I strive.

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If you like this post, you might like my new book Fifty and Other F-words: Reflections From the Rearview Mirror. I'm just sayin'. 

Vanessa Kiki Johanning: Blooming in Living Color

 Vanessa Kiki Johanning

Vanessa Kiki Johanning

Some people color inside of the lines, some people color outside of the lines, and then there’s Vanessa Kiki Johanning. Vanessa colors outside of this world. Her Technicolor art is not limited to a canvas. Her home, studio, and gardens offer a wild panoply of hues. She’s an explosion of delight and being around her either virtually or in real life shocks you into a state of pure bliss. Her positive, persistent, playful nature draws people into her orbit and her uplifting, energizing messages keep them coming back for more. With 21 years in landscape garden design, Vanessa’s love for color sprouted from her love of flowers. That’s evident in her mixed media art, which features vibrant floral motifs as a recurring theme. 

Known as The Rhinestone Contessa, Vanessa is a landscape and floral design expert, fine artist, trend forecaster, teacher, consultant, event planner, and life-styler. That restless creativity has resulted in an impressive body of work. From journals to canvases to licensed clothing to fabric and even entire cars and trucks, she’s a prolific artist who sees the possibility for embellishment in every surface. She’s recently emblazoned her artwork on an array of products ranging from home décor to wearables, all of which you can find on her website. Endlessly inspired, constantly evolving, Vanessa is a one of a kind, rare and wondrous, walking work of art. 

First off …thank you so much Margot for including me in this series, I am honored and extremely humbled! You are such a Light shiner, in this world because Your integrity will always be the bottom line, that is sooo special in this day and age!

Let me see, where does it all begin?

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With your background in landscaping and your love of gardening, flowers play an integral role in so much of what you do. Your art is a virtual garden, and nobody paints flowers like you, Vanessa. What is it, exactly, about flowers that intrigues you? How have they informed your creativity? 

I started my love of horticulture with my father, we spent many hours together in our Large Midwest Yard. I have three younger sisters and they all got the inside laundry chores, I was the oldest and the one that got sent outside to help him. Sometimes we would even be working in the Gardens till way after dark, he was so passionate about it so I really felt special and close to him. He taught me how to plant the right way, and really nurture the growth. You can see right away that flowers have super special meanings, and that feelings attached to them! This is where my artwork comes from.

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I have designed hundreds of Gardens, and the Main ingredient to having a special space is to add feelings… Yes! its true! That is what my secret to design always is! Whether its to plant with names of friends or words that resonate with the overall theme, that was what makes it so special! Flowers to me will always represent rebirth and growth…for instance when you unfurl a tiny new leaf, YOU are the ONLY person in the world that has ever seen it! Its so magical! 

I’ve also always taken thousands of photos in the spaces I created, this became helpful when I began painting full time, later in my career. It was filling up my paint palette with every color imaginable! Some times I would plant 200-300 of a single variety, because I could just tell that it was needed, the same judgment is used now in my art!

You have a fabulous sense of style and a fearlessness in how you dress. Even though you were bullied relentlessly as a child, you’ve refused to shrink yourself or become invisible. I love this about you. Many women over 50 feel as if they’re disappearing or feel pressured by society to fade into the background. You’ve taken the opposite approach. You’re a wild, unfettered, fabulous force of nature! Have you always dressed outrageously? 

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Yes looking back I guess I always did, even in High school I would alter my clothes, but we always thought that was ‘Normal!’ Nowadays, I dress for Comfort, and I enjoy the fine art of Pattern Collecting. In my artists eye, I see my daily clothes choices are like a happy quilt, the patterns have a chance to dance and it makes the day so much Fun!  

How would you describe your approach to fashion?

A little too much, but still adorable and fun. Pippi Longstocking goes shopping at Anthropologie!

How can other women follow your lead and tap into their wild side?

I feel my best when I try to look like an artist. Getting a little attention is okay! Believe me! You never know where your next inspiration will come from, and it might come from a clothes conversation! Just do it! There is no such thing as 'The Clothes Police!' Have Fun! You don’t have to go full out wild, if you don’t feel like it. Try dressing like a Artist/Designer, and soon you will be one. Be Yourself… however that looks!

 Some days I’m a wild Hippie, other days I'm comfortable in a Chanel suit. NO rules!!  

You married your high school sweetheart, and the two of you have been together for 35 years. That’s a long time, and very impressive. So many marriages fade away or fall apart or become untenable. Tending to a marriage is like tending to a garden, you need to nurture it, water it, feed it, or it withers and eventually it dies. Can you talk about how you’ve cultivated your relationship? How have you two managed to make it work for 35 years? 

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First off, He is incredible! He is a robotic engineer and a super creative. He just thinks up inventions every day… and then I come along and want to add color to everything. We are a great team.

It just works… We always seem to have a project going on to work on together, it adds to the spark into the everyday. We have found out that we are most successful at anything we do together. We do a lot of singing and joking all the time at our house. We both Love experiences! Having his and her garages has been a lifesaver!  He is a great cook, and I’m a great eater! (Ha ha!)

In the book Fifty and Other F-words, I talk about facing the empty nest. How have you and your husband navigated this, especially with your children moving to another state? 

We always raised them to be ‘World Thinkers’ My husband has traveled in the service to over 20 countries, so it was not a surprise to us that they would “grow wings.” Of course it was sad, both our children left on the same day with our blessings after they graduated from college. They were ready to have some adventure! It is hard to not have them so close, but thank goodness for FaceTime and airplanes! In these times, we are still considered a close knit family. They are super creative, and believe in living a positive motivational life. Its always great to hear what they are up to! 

You’ve navigated your share of difficulties in your lifetime, as have most women over 50. I’m a believer in perspective, and how that informs our reality. We get that upon which we focus, and if we focus on the positive, it shifts our attitude into attracting more of the same. You’re a beacon of positivity, and so much of your messaging is about embracing happiness. You said this, “I never consider the story of my past to be a ‘weight’ of the future…it’s more of a slingshot!” How has your past, even the painful aspects, been a slingshot for your future?

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When we think long and hard about the paths that we have chosen, You can see the lowest moments were actually the ones that you can learn the most. You hear that a lot nowadays, but its so true! Tell me I can’t do something and I will want to do it even more! 

I have had traumatic things happen in my life that I have turned into a Focus. For instance I am an extreme cheerleader for bullied kids, I just want them to know that there are ways they can turn it around, to reset the narrative that will try to worm its way into their head…it is possible! I am proof! 

One of the recurring themes in these interviews is the idea of reinvention, or as Kathy Cano-Murillo reframed it, evolution. This is perhaps a more apt description, since we’re not tossing out what we’ve gathered along the way, we’re just tapping into new avenues of expression. Can you talk about your evolution? What led you from landscaping to retail to full time art? How did each experience feed into the next? How do you see yourself evolving in the future?

I sold my Landscaping company and my store in the same day, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I needed to find a new way to create and the voice in my heart was screaming to walk a new path. I still didn’t know I was an “Artist” believe it or not, but I had a taste of the Good feeling, and that would not let go of me. I wanted more.

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Somewhere along the way I heard “Fake it till you make it”… and it was not in a negative way! I truly believe that there are many jobs or roles in this life that you can just grow into! You can reinvent yourself at any time. Just TRY to become what you want! Try reading every book, blog watching every movie, and YYouTube video on the subject that you can! Take some classes! Immerse yourself into believing it can happen, and then don’t be surprised when you wake up one day and you will need to find New dreams to fulfill, because you've reached your goals!

I have always been creative and kept looking for outlets that made me feel accepted. The Art world is my home now…and can proudly say I am an artist, without blushing. 

Its the most wonderful time in the universe and I’m loving to create within these moments! I want to have my artwork in homes across the world, in anyway I can! 

I’m also loving your products, they need to be everywhere!!!! What else is on the horizon for Vanessa? Where can people find you and dive into your world?

Of course I post daily on Instagram and Facebook. They're just other ways to express creativity and artwork, right? Also super exciting news, I will be teaching Live at “Art is You” in Stamford Connecticut this fall, and other venues around the county! Check out their website for all the details coming soon! 

My colorful art products are with a company called Vida. They feature all of the creative parts of me that love color and Joy! They are always having great sales and amazing products! I love this company! 

Speaking of evolution, can you tell us about your Bohemian Forest Workshop Event? It sounds incredible!

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Yes! It is going to be so Special! My latest project is one I have been planning for 3 years.  “Bohemian Enchanted Forest Workshop” is coming up June 23, 2018, in Southeastern Wisconsin. I have been making and painting creative gifts for many hours into the night!  

Working together with the famous Artist named Bonnie Lynn Laduha, we are so excited to have a space to make into an magical fantasy Woodland Dream for the day!

 Its a workshop that will be so fun with the motivational speaker; Rachel Awes, a wooden angel Fairy Art project (we supply everything!), a Gorgeous salad luncheon, and so much more! With photo booths and fairy costume prizes, its sure going to be a memory for sure! Look for more info on my website: www.VanessaJohanning.com, tickets are still available until the June 18th deadline! Please come and bring a special friend for a super, once in a life time day! 

Thank you again Margot for taking the time to chat!! Your writing is mesmerizing, stimulating, and so Fresh! Love all your ways that you jump into Life! 

I look forward to all the amazing future adventures these moments have to offer!! Bring it!! We are ready for anything !! ~VKJ

Kathy Cano-Murillo Fantastic Fortitude

 Kathy Cano-Murillo

Kathy Cano-Murillo

For our final Fifty and Other F-words Book Launch Kick Ass Warrior Woman, I'm excited to shine a spotlight on one of my favorite women Kathy Cano-Murillo, a.k.a. The Crafty Chica. Kathy is a glittery ray of sunshine in a dark and weary world. Her Mexican-infused DIY ideas have been inspiring crafters for over 16-years through her wildly popular website CraftyChica.com where she shares crafts, recipes, motivational tips, travel ideas, storytelling, and more. Kathy describes herself as a crafty version of Selena-meets-the-Hallmark Channel-with a dash of Oprah optimism. That optimism is a major key to her success. She’s inspiring, she’s engaging, she’s joyful, and she’s one of the hardest working people I know. Kathy has written seven craft books and two novels, penned a nationally syndicated craft column for the Arizona Republic, and has designed several popular product lines sold in national craft chains. She does the crafty hustle on the daily, recently opening the Mucho Más Art Studio in Phoenix with her husband, musician, and artist, Patrick Murillo.

Kathy’s over 50, but she’s got the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-something. She radiates happiness, which keeps her looking and seeming far younger than her years. Never afraid to jump in with both feet, she embraces new adventures and new technology with open arms. If you want to know what’s going to trend, pay attention to Kathy because she’ll be one of the first to start the ripples and then ride the wave.

Writer, designer, artist, speaker, storyteller, motivator, mother, and entrepreneur Kathy Cano-Murillo has figured out the secret to success. It’s not just doing what you love, but knowing what you want and going for it with everything you’ve got.

We’ve known each other for many years, we both started in the craft industry at the Atlanta CHA show. It seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? You’ve done so much since then! When other people have given up you’ve kept going strong. Your tenacity is inspiring. What do you think is the secret to your success? How do you maintain forward motion even in the face of disappointments?

 Kathy with some of her vibrant, beautiful art.

Kathy with some of her vibrant, beautiful art.

Thank you so much, Margot! I’m so happy and proud of you for your fabulous new book! Thank you for including me here! Honestly, I’ve found the secret to success is pursuing my own kind of happiness without expectation. Having the mindset that no one owes me anything. I feel like it opens up more space for me to have control of my life and feelings. However, it took some hard lessons and some healing time to get to that point! I focus on what I know to be true: I love to make things. I love to share ideas. I love to meet new people. I love to share a brighter outlook when things seem bleak. I have faith in the future that there will always be an awesome destination ahead. I move forward to take chances, explore, try new things. Throughout the years I’ve learned that I can actually set my own course, which helps a lot!

You told me a few years back that you like to move in a new direction with each decade. I’m with you on that front! Can you talk a little about your many reinventions? What motivates you to try something radically different? Is that scary to you or exhilarating or a bit of both? A lot of women over 50 feel stuck, because we’re the most unemployed segment of the population. This is even more true for women of color. I think being an entrepreneur prepares you for the inevitable ups and downs professionally. Do you face or feel age-ism or do you think being self-motivated and self-employed has made that less of an issue for you?

 Ceramics by Kathy Cano-Murillo

Ceramics by Kathy Cano-Murillo

I’m barely in my fifth decade and haven’t quite set a concrete plan, but I am sketching out a loose blueprint! I opened a retail boutique in Phoenix and am loving the shopkeeper life. I originally had it as a bucket list item – a one-year pop-up shop, but now I feel it’s part of my destiny! I’ve recently thought about the term of reinventing and realized it doesn’t quite suit me. As I look back over my life, I don’t want to reinvent. I’ve accepted there is nothing wrong with the former me that I feel I need to give it an overhaul. My strength has come from my epic failures, my scars and battles. And my wins, loves, and friendships! I love who I am and who I’ve grown into. I feel really proud to have made it through the stressful times and still come out with hope. However, I do embrace the reality of evolving!!! It happens to all of us and it’s a bizarre and beautiful experience! You can fight with it, or open your front door and invite it in for an all-out party!

Honestly, the women I know 50+ are badass go-getters! Especially women of color! With the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the DACA situation, I feel like this time we are in, women are embracing the importance of speaking up, self-care, self-expression, and striving to live their best life despite these unjust challenges. They are incorporating their dreams and goals into daily life. I meet so many women online and in real life who have a side business, or are excited to retire so they can launch their longtime idea, or those who have become activists/artivists. And they are doing it! And being at this age is great because we’ve already seen what does and doesn’t work, so a lot of time is saved, lol!

Okay, now about ageism. Naturally it is out there. We all know it. But at the same time, there are also plenty of opportunities. I’d say I’m in the busiest era of my career these days, go figure! I did not expect that at all! I still do craft tutorials, but I changed my brand to be more lifestyle so I also do a lot of travel and food content, motivational speaking, product design, and so on. I absolutely love the variety!

It makes me happy to see so many young Latinas diving into DIY! It’s the whole reason why I started CraftyChica – to have the Latino community be part of the bigger story. A lot of the Latinx comunity never even heard of my brand so sometimes it’s like I have to reestablish myself all over again! But that’s okay because I’m all about meeting new people. The ones I have met embraced me and include me in events and that makes my heart sing because it proves creativity has no age! Or I’ll meet young girls who say they read my craft books in their grade school library, or that their moms have my books. For the emerging Latinx creators community - This is their time to shine. They are bursting with so much talent and innovation! I had my time in the DIY arena of Latino crafts, I am perfectly happy to cheer all of them on!

We’re both empty nesters with successful children who are thriving as young adults. It’s such a cool thing to see our kids bloom. It’s hard to let them go, and it can be a struggle for women as they redefine themselves once the children are gone. You and Patrick opened Mucho Más Art Studio recently. I’m so excited for you guys! It’s kind of a full circle, but the circle is so much bigger now. You started out making and selling handicrafts together. Did the empty nest play a role in this adventure? What’s it like working together? How are the two of you navigating the empty nest? What’s the big picture goal for the gallery?

 DeAngelo Murillo, Patrick Marillo, Kathy Cano-Murillo, Maya Murillo

DeAngelo Murillo, Patrick Marillo, Kathy Cano-Murillo, Maya Murillo

It’s been so wonderful to see our kids grow up! And it’s difficult when they leave because they’ve been by our side for so long. But it’s also very freeing and makes us reconnect with our own inner spirit and original life goals. Readjust and recalibrate!

TRUTH TALK moment…

It’s funny, recently Maya and I attended a large conference (separately). We happened to bump into each other on the Expo floor between our respective sessions. One of her followers who was there asked me, “So, what does it feel like to have a daughter in this space? Do you understand all the stuff she does, it must be so weird, huh?”

GULP.

OMG.

These were the exact questions people would ask Maya when she came with ME to my events over the years! It was such a humbling moment. Before I could even process a reply I blurted, “Actually Maya helped me with my brand since she was 8-years-old and she did such a great job, I bought her a web site when she turned 16! And that led to what she is doing now!” SMILE.

I know I should have just nodded kindly and not gone into details, but the tone kinda rubbed me the wrong way, even though this girl totally meant well. She was very sweet, but she had no idea. So even though I’m all about positivity, I have my weak moments of pride, lol! And then later in the conference, that girl ran up to me and said, “Oh my God, I looked at your web site, you are amazing!”

Back to your question – yes, both kids are moved out. The first two days, we binge watched Stranger Things and then got up from the couch decided we better start our new life. It’s actually pretty cool now. We have the Man Wing and the Chica Wing of the house. We each have our own studio and bathroom. We have a housekeeper and we order Hello Fresh. I get monthly massages. Less dishes to wash, less trash, less laundry. We adjusted with luxury. We really found our groove and picked up where we left off B.K. (before kids). I started going to Patrick’s concerts again and reconnected with a longtime friend who told me about the available gallery space!

We had nothing to lose, so we went for it! I love it so much. It’s like a job where you don’t get in trouble for talking too much. And now we are expanding! After being a digital entrepreneur for so long, it’s wonderful to connect with my local community. I’ve made so many new friends, young and old. I started a Latino Blogger Boot Camp, and I do a lot of mentoring and teaching. 

A lot of women over 50 feel invisible. We, as a society, are fearful of aging and death. I think that filters into attitudes about older people, and older women especially. We don’t have to be invisible, though, because it’s a choice. Our 50s are the perfect time to shine! You live life in Technicolor, and I can’t imagine you ever fading into the background. Can you share a few tips on staying vibrant and sparkly at any age?

 Kathy Cano-Murillo COPYRIGHT All Rights Reserved

Kathy Cano-Murillo COPYRIGHT All Rights Reserved

I always think of the Victor Hugo quote – 40s are old age of youth, and 50s are the youth of old age. We’re young! We are only halfway through our lives!

I think our 50s are the BEST because in our 20s we are worrying about what we want to do when we grow up. 30s are about locking in a career and family life, striving for wealth, 40s is being stressed about if we did all we want to do. But 50s is about making that to-do list and actually taking action! At this point we have released the pressure we put upon ourselves in earlier years.

The first step is release expectation of what people think. Who cares if we are invisible to them, it leaves more freedom to be loca and do what we want! No one is watching! My tips are a lot of what you share, Margot! Go get your life, try new things, have grace, pay it forward. Know that every day you are younger than you will be tomorrow so live it up!

Don’t be shy about what you wear, if it makes you happy, own it and rock it!

Don’t hate on the younger generation, learn from them and be an example for them. We were all there too. Don’t hate on the older people because we are going to be them someday!

Look at your parents’ health as a blueprint for you, factor it in, prepare accordingly, and see if helps alleviate the stress.

More than ever, make sure you are good with your finances, make a plan for retirement. That will curb some stress and maybe even prevent wrinkles? Don’t fear any of this, educate and empower yourself!

Lastly – say yes and embrace NEW! New music, new places, new foods, new crowds, new skills. Go be the new girl in a situation, it’s fun to meet new people! Even if you think you already tried something, if its been a few years, try it again!

You always have something new and exciting happening in your world. Can you give us a little sneak peek into what’s ahead for Kathy and Crafty Chica?

 Kathy and one of her beautiful handpainted ceramic mugs!

Kathy and one of her beautiful handpainted ceramic mugs!

Sure! Thank you for asking! You can find all of the following info at CraftyChica.com: I just released a new t-shirt line! I’m doing a Summer of Crafty tour this summer for Toyota. I have The Crafty Chica Show podcast where I share fun interviews and tips for creative business owners. I have my third line of Sizzix products coming out this fall, which I’m super excited about. And this December I’m leading a group to San Miguel de Allende for a crafting retreat! If you are in Phoenix, come see me at Mucho Más Art Studio (@muchomasartstudio) – or just check me out on social media @craftychica

Margot, thank you so much for having me as a guest! Congrats on your new book, it’s been so inspiring to see it all unfold from beginning to release date!!! Felicidades, amiga!

Lille Diane Fierce, Formidable, Fun

 Renaissance Woman Lille Diane

Renaissance Woman Lille Diane

Our sixth Kick Ass Warrior Woman being featured on the Fifty and Other F-words Book Launch is Lille Diane. Lille is a creative chameleon, a Renaissance Woman, an artist, vocalist, writer, healer, and 'human sparkler.' She radiates pure joy and shines it on everyone she meets. If you’ve not joined her Soul Picnic yet, you should. Lille's life has been a wonder filled journey of exploration even in the darkest of moments. Her talents seem endless. She’s turned her challenges into her gifts, sharing them with due reverence sprinkled with a judicious smattering of whimsy in her art, music, and musings.

After a devastating automobile accident, and a horse riding accident she’d had years before that resulted in traumatic brain injury, Lille was plunged into the depths of PTSD, multiple chronic, debilitating illnesses and MCS, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. The physical assaults on her brain, body, and spirit sent her into a spiral of dis-ease, depression, isolation, self-doubt, and fear. Through focusing on creativity, Lille was able to make her way from the darkness back into the light.

Lille has synchronized her creative gifts and the lessons learned as she lifted herself out of the undertow in a series of workshops, classes, essays, videos, and content to heal PTSD she calls Armchair Adventures. You can explore it all on Lille’s website Your Soul Picnic. Even if you don’t have PTSD, there is lots of juicy good stuff there.

“I created this picnic basket for all the armchair adventurers out here who are in various stages of healing and for those of you who are traveling alongside the one healing. I made this for people with PTSD. I made this picnic basket for myself and others like myself who are back out into the world functioning, thriving and embracing their newfound freedom. I made it for you reading this page. I made it especially for you, dear one.” Lille Diane

You’ve taken what could have been a life sentence of darkness and turned it into a high beam of light. That’s magical, truly. Was there a moment in the darkest part of your journey when the light was switched back on, or was it a series of incremental moments? How did you start your journey back to you?

Great question, Margot! I lived in varying degrees of shock for several years after the auto accident, especially that first year after my life flipped upside down. My brain was a jumbled-up, sticky mess as life became a series of surgeries, doctor’s visits, and psychiatric care appointments. I had no magic mirror to see myself clearly and my rearview mirror took a hit, too.

 Laughing Lille 

Laughing Lille 

PTSD is a wily foe. It doesn’t play fair. Nor does it show up in a logical, chronological order to help you sort your shit out. Trauma stacks, shifts, shape-shifts again, and hides in crevices in our brains. I’d never experienced something smacking me down so hard even though I’d gone through far worse trauma in my life. The old ‘me’ that bounced back effortlessly with a dimpled-smile and brightly, colored cartoon Band-Aids on her knees after the shit storms in life pummeled her was now MIA. Poof—gone! I no longer recognized myself in the mirror. Try as I may, I just couldn’t resume life as it was before. I was forced to go on disability through my employer while seeking psychological help so I could work again.   

While I was receiving treatment to help me locate my missing sassy pantaloons, I decided to use writing to help me unscramble my brain. Journaling and songwriting had always been my go-to self-help therapy when my life was happy, victorious, sad, confusing or tumultuous. I tackled a book idea about an event during the late 60’s, the Summer of Love era, when I was a teen and ran away to San Francisco to be a part of the Haight-Ashbury experience. I’d had this book and screenplay idea on a back burner for 20+ years so I jumped in with an almost hyper-focus to give it life.

The story line bounced between flashbacks of childhood trauma and ongoing tribulations of a 15 year old trying to escape an abusive step-father which in turn told the story why I became a habitual runaway in the first place. Yes, #metoo. I wrote page after page of graphic details about my childhood as a victim and my teen years to set the story line up as it happened. Unbeknownst to me I inadvertently unlocked Pandora’s Box letting loose villains, old ghosts, and wounds I was certain I had dealt with, yet, apparently I hadn’t. Combined with the recent trauma of plummeting 125 feet off a cliff, literally, I didn’t stand a chance. PTSD had me by the adrenal glands.

While it appears this might have been a negative unfolding of events, I can assure you, it was not. Shining a big ass flashlight on the accumulative layers of trauma I’d buried gave me much needed clarity and understanding why I needed so many fricking Band Aids in the first place. Shit happens and sometimes poopage hitting the fan isn’t a bad thing. It can be the beginning of fulfilled hopes, dreams, and opportunities to connect wayward dots to find true inner freedom. My seemingly rude, abrupt bump off the road of life was exactly what I needed to have the amazing life I have now. Transformation begins when we can say thank you for the shitty days as well as the sweet days.

You’ve packed several lifetimes into one, I relate to this on a cellular level. As you know, we live in a time when becoming a shape shifter is a necessity for survival. That lifetime career track has disappeared, and people are finding themselves having to continuously reinvent. This is particularly challenging for women over 50, because we are the least employed demographic. You’ve stitched a variety of things together to make a pathway forward. How did you weave the fabric of your current career track? What did it take to make this happen?  

 The colorful, joyful world of Lille Diane

The colorful, joyful world of Lille Diane

At the time of the accident I worked for a national art college and traveled extensively for the organization as a recruiter. I was diagnosed with acute and chronic PTSD and placed on disability before being dismissed permanently because I couldn’t drive or be in a car. I was crushed hearing the news, “I’m so sorry but we have to terminate you.” I was in my mid 50’s when I was fired. My boss, a woman I loved to bits, didn’t know the depths of hell I’d gone through to find that job after my 25 year marriage came to end and how damn hard it was to find employment at midlife after divorce. I choked back the guttural wails until I hung up the phone and spent the next couple of days in a prenatal ball.

I’d worked hard to build a successful music and speaking career before my divorce but without a partner I couldn’t do it and raise my teenage son as a single mother due to the cross country travel involved. I canceled my bookings; some nearly two years out, and reinvented myself (again) to support my situation. That being said, it took me almost seven years after my divorce to land a better paying job with health benefits because my work history of being self-employed and time off for motherhood disqualified me from getting hired. However, my biggest disqualifier was being in my late 40’s and it only got worse as entered my 50’s. It was the first time in my life to experience discrimination because of age. Not lack of experience. Now here I was again only ten years older in the same sinking raft.

My son was now grown and away living from home. I sunk my teeth into my new career working for the Art Institute and soon became a top recruiter. How could one not love being a cheerleader cultivating creative soils, planting seeds of possibility, and watering seedlings who dared to dream? Each day, I would tell students with heartfelt enthusiasm “Don’t settle! Live your wildest, creative dreams like you were born to do! You can be an artist AND survive because the entire world is run by artists: from the artists who create the food we eat, to the cars we drive, to the clothes we wear, the chairs we sit in, the magazines we read, the movies we watch, the houses we live in, and the devices we use! Art is Life and Life is art!” And yet, deep inside I knew I had stopped living my own creative dreams years ago.

When our van was tumbling down the steep mountain side I had the experience many say happens when you are close to death’s door. My life flashed before my eyes with my son being the brightest thought and then a brief sadness filled my heart. I was sad I hadn’t done all the things creatively that I’d dreamed of doing. I thought to myself, “Oh no! Not now! I still have so many dreams to fulfill, art to make, songs to sing, and people to love! I need more time!” I clearly saw I’d put my creative life on hold and was merely sleep-walking through my life. Then a tranquil peace filled me seconds later. Profoundly beautiful peace, with no screams leaving my mouth, as our car rolled onward to what I was sure was my impending death. Death did not take me that day. Instead, depression killed me softly with its unending song one thought at a time as soon as I left the hospital.

After having such a profound aha-moment in the car during the accident I sunk deeper into depression which I didn’t understand.  Instead of becoming a human whirlwind of creative genius because I got a second chance at life I became lifeless and paralyzed with fear. I wondered in silent horror what would become of me during the next decade and beyond. I fought flashbacks flying at me left and right and sleep didn’t happen unless I was medicated. The accident became my identity--not all the wonderful things I had done in my life. Down, down I fell in a spiral all the while hoping Scotty would beam me up from the nightmare my life had become.

 Lille Diane

Lille Diane

One day I looked around my office and faced the hard facts I wouldn’t be returning to the corporate world or most likely any job for an unknown amount of time. I couldn’t even leave my house to go to the store for food let alone a 9-5 job. That’s when I got the idea to toss anything that resembled a typical office décor or reminded me of my former corporate lifestyle. I no longer called my desk a “desk”. I called it my play station. I unpacked my art supplies that had been in boxes for over 10 years and turned the space into an art studio. Next I sat down and wrote a list of 100+ creative things I wanted to do and set about to check them off the list. I was surprised to see how quickly and easily my list grew.

This act alone was the visual and physical stimuli I needed to kick all my gears into fast forward. I ‘pretended’ I was an artist, acted like an artist, and practiced answering people when they asked what I did by saying, “I’m an artist.” I immersed myself daily in art making and discovered not only did it help me to focus—it calmed me. On days when I was bedridden, which was often, I’d watch artists teaching others how to make art on YouTube. I stumbled onto creative journaling and jumped in full throttle. Then I started taking online classes and began making some kick ass art. What flowed out of me astonished me with its beauty. Art making became my mental therapy and consistently worked to calm me. Eureka!

Out of nowhere I got an idea to start a blog which I named Woodstock Lily to document my journey as I crawled through the trenches of PTSD using creativity as my road map and healing method. Making or doing the items on my 101 creative thing’s list, and checking them off, began a life changing act of rewiring my brain. Then one day what began in April 09 as writing to an audience of one, my Superman, turned into an audience of thousands as I chronicled my PTSD journey on my blog. I never imagined anyone would ever read my blog that first day I hit “post”. I was wrong. I discovered people everywhere were dealing with PTSD and looking for a way out like I was.

The benefits art making provided to my overall physical, spiritual, and mental health was enough for me to see I had an opportunity, and a responsibility, to show others who were dealing with similar issues how art making could benefit them, too. My life changing event labeled “an accident” provided me the next steps of becoming who I am now, doing what I do now, and gaining my life back even brighter than before I gave up my creative life to raise my son 20 years ago.   

Music is a large part of your story, and music is a universal healing force. Sound reaches into our primal brain, resonates deep into our bones, and alters us fundamentally. You are using your music as a healing tool. Was this always your approach to music, or was this a revelation that came later in your life? What role does music play in your Soul Picnic basket?

I haven’t been able to sing since the accident like I used to. I recently learned I have scar tissue on my vocal chords and in my neck that affects my ability to sing. I’m currently undergoing treatment to remove the blockages in my throat and diaphragm. I have no expectations or lingering sadness about this situation. It is what it is and I had 45+ years being a songbird. So, for now I mainly listen to music and inhale the healing benefits like I do the negative ions here in the Colorado Rockies. If we experience a breakthrough in my ability to sing again, I want to belt a tune out with you, Margot. I’ll use this as my carrot to keep on trying.

 Lille Diane Chanteuse

Lille Diane Chanteuse

Your art is an explosion of color and happiness, much like the maker. Have you always been an artist? Do you recall your first artistic explorations? Creativity is the opposite of destruction, how has making art helped you heal yourself? What would you say to someone who thinks they aren’t artistic or creative? How do you use art as a tool for healing?

Art and music have been on my radar since my earliest memories. I guess you could say, “I was born this way” but Lady Gaga already said that. In fact, art and music are what kept me interested in school. That and boys, however, I digress. I was the kid that lit up like a Christmas tree when the hot off the press stinky mimeographed paper the teacher passed out was something to color instead of math problems to figure out. Academics, especially math, put me to sleep or offered me legitimate reasons to daydream. Art and music—I’ll continue to date them heavy until I put on my sparkly suit.

I love it when someone tells me they aren’t creative or they can’t draw a stick man. I smile and ask them if they can make the number 10? Usually everyone nods yes because everyone knows it’s a straight line and a circle. The exact same components it takes to draw a stick man.

More often than not, it’s this very person who thinks they have no natural skills to make art that totally rocks the art project I’m teaching and blows everyone away with their talents. All it takes is some art tools, a little time, and some encouragement for most people to remember to remember that enthusiastic kid they once were that loved art making, too. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than observing a person finding that sweet spot of fully engaging with their creativity again.

In regards to how I use art as my healing modality I think my paragraphs above tells the readers how art saved me, bathed me, and illuminated my soul beyond the stars and still accompanies me on my Earth walk today. How grateful I am for this!

What’s next for Lille Diane and Your Soul Picnic? Do you have a road map or are you allowing the journey to unfold organically? What’s on the menu for your Soul Food?

During the past three years an amazing amount of longtime goals, dreams and aspirations have come to fruition in my world. It feels like the Universe poured honey all over my life. I find myself saying “thank you” over and over again with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I’d like to share one last short, sweet story with your readers as I approach the ten year anniversary of the accident on May 4, 2018.

 Lille's 63rd Birthday Mesa Verde National Park

Lille's 63rd Birthday Mesa Verde National Park

My word for 2015 was Emerge. I did that by pushing through the debilitating pain of fibromyalgia, broken ribs and torn abdominal muscles from coughing due to pneumonia, and an out of shape body to get our home ready for market, pack and move cross-country to CO in early April. Later that year in October I emerged on a mesa top in Mesa Verde National Park victorious after a strenuous, not-for-sissies 8+ mile hike on my 63rd birthday. Sassy pants and girl-spurs! Boy Howdy!

In 2016 my word was Engage. Superman and I became part of a tour team here in the majestic Four Corner’s area. I worked the Tucson Gem Show with the team, who appeared on TWC’s hit TV show, “Prospectors”, climbed and hiked all over the southwest with our guys finding dinosaur fossils, gems, minerals and groovy rocks galore. I created my first online creative classes on SkillShare and learned how to use Adobe Premiere Elements, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Photoshop.  It’s also fair to mention, I survived being bitten by a brown recluse—twice, two weeks apart! Bought a house and moved again to our forever home!  Holy moly, what a difference a year makes!

In 2017 my word was Miraculous—a year of miracles… and oh baby, that’s exactly what happened! My new website Your Soul Picnic was created by my husband and myself and launched May 4th. I created and held my first art related gathering/retreat in Mancos, CO at the Painted Turtle Studio & Gallery in the downtown creative district. I began volunteering at the Turtle and became the gallery manager which included redesigning the gallery and helping to boost sales tremendously for this non-profit art studio and clay-co-op. I started teaching locally, sold bunches and bunches of my art (squeee) and was invited to become a board member for the Mancos Creative District. Whoa! That’s a whole lot of miracles right there!

This year, 2018, my word is Illuminate. I’ve dedicated this year to help others shine and sparkle. To uplift, encourage, exhort, showcase, walk-beside, support, and spotlight others that are Human Sparklers. I’ve had a dream for years and years to work with teens and teach them about art making as a tool to help with mental well-being. This fall I will be helping our local art teacher with her high school and middle school students to make murals and art journals. Pinch me! No, don’t! I love this fantastic dream!

And lastly, I have plans of doing more online and in-person teaching, blogging with more intention and regularity, making more art, and helping our community of Mancos, CO, the gateway to Mesa Verde, grow as the 17th Creative District in the state of Colorado. I trust the Universe that I am right on-time to shine, sparkle and illuminate organically as I continue to support the Turtle, other creatives, our youth, and beautiful souls like yours this year, Margot.

Thank you for inviting me to sprinkle some inspiration on the topic of midlife for your fans and readers, Margot! I love being in this grand stage of life called Grandmother Wisdom in many cultures. I choose to look at myself as a faerie godmother to those who see my sparkle and shine. If I’m invisible to some it’s simply because I am not their personal faerie. I’ve honestly never felt freer and more alive in my entire life! The only challenge I see ahead is bargaining for another 65 years to do all the things percolating in this silver-haired head.

Bio: Lille Diane is a lifelong creative entrepreneur and human sparkler. She lives in Mancos, CO with her super hero husband and rescue LabraDane. Her great hope is that her mini mesa she planted with thousands of Hollyhocks will become the largest Hummingbird haven on the planet and the luscious colors will be visible on Google Earth for the entire world to see. You can find out more about Lille at yoursoulpicnic.com and follow her on Instagram at lillediane.

Vicki O'Dell Fantabulous Female

 Vicki O'Dell

Vicki O'Dell

Vicki L. O'Dell is a maker of magic, an alchemist, a soothsayer, a wild, wonder full, woman of substance. Artist, gardener, Reiki practitioner, writer, and backyard farmer, regardless of what she's doing, it's done with heart and soul. She sums things up on her website with the following:

"Midlifer, empty nester & breast cancer survivor who lives on coffee and creativity. ♥ Lady Farmer wannabe ♥ Artist ♥ Writer ♥ Earth Energy Master ♥ Reiki Practitioner ♥ Believer of living in the moment."

Vicki is a survivor, but more than that, she's a thriver, and she shares her journey with other women encouraging them to slow down and savor life. Never one to take the main road, she's spent her lifetime exploring the side roads and creating new pathways. This restless creativity has led her on all manner of fascinating adventures that can be explored in depth on her website Make. Midlife. Magic. Vicki is, like many women over 50, redefining herself while rejecting the status quo. A gifted wordsmith, artist, and designer, she never ceases to inspire! 

We both spent many years working in the craft industry, and we’ve both segued into new directions. Things really changed in that industry, especially with the explosion of DIY blogs and the proliferation of what I jokingly call craft porn. Pinterest and Instagram shifted the landscape, making a very specific kind of image with a very specific color palette take over the internet. Then came the huge wave of bloggers willing to work for free product and exposure. It’s noisy out there, and there’s a lot of bad information. I know we both felt the crunch. What are your takeaways from this experience? How has that refocused your blogging?

 Mixed Media Canvas Vicki O'Dell

Mixed Media Canvas Vicki O'Dell

Wow! You summed up a few years worth of tears and heartbreak into one paragraph. That’s some kind of skill there, ladyfriend.

I have never been the kind of woman who likes what everyone else likes. In fact, once I see that something is becoming popular, I’ll drop it like a hot potato. Even when I LOVED it. And now that everything on the web looks similar I sit back and wonder why all of the photos I see look so washed out? Where did the COLOR and vibrancy go? Why is everything so BORING?

As usual, when something becomes super popular I turn my back on it and walk the other way. I don’t know why I’m like that but there ya go. All of this creative whitewashing has helped me to see that folks that live in bold color (like you and I) are needed in this world. The pendulum will swing back again and all of those white loving people will need us. I just keep my head down and keep doing what I love. How can I do anything else?

It’s made me stronger, helped me to narrow my focus and also helped me to see who I am as a creative. I’d rather not work than create things I hate. So I’ll work my part time job to get by and ride things out. Creating what I love and minding my own business.

You’re a mid-lifer, empty nester, and breast cancer survivor. I think a lot of women over 50 can relate to all three of these experiences. That’s a lot of change to navigate at the same time. That’s a lot of loss to navigate at the same time. Can you speak to how these three things have informed your journey? What have you lost? What have you gained?

By the time we women get to 50 we’ve seen a thing or 20. Sometimes the only thing to get you through the loss of today is knowing that you’ve lost before and survived so you’ll do it again. And again. It’s never easy but we do what we have to.

Also, I think the best thing we can do when we are experiencing one loss after another is to sit with the feelings and just let them be. It never does us any good to push them aside or try to pretend they aren’t there. Sit with them, feel the loss, and then give yourself time to deal. It took me nearly 3 years to get over the hellstorm that was 2014-15 but I’m still here. And quite frankly, I feel like I’m better than ever.

It’s true that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!

According to your website you’re a “Lady Farmer Wannabe”, would you really like to live on a farm? How much space to you have now? I’m fascinated by the rabbits, are you spinning the angora into yarn or selling it? What made you pick quail and angora rabbits? They’re wonderful unconventional choices!

 Quail eggs!

Quail eggs!

Haha! See my reply in the first question above. I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing. In this case CHICKENS. I have 1 acre outside a pretty big city here in Ohio. While I’m allowed to have chickens, and I enjoy hearing my neighbors chickens, I wanted to be different. Also, quail are much quieter and less destructive than chickens. Also, the eggs are pretty darn tasty.

I grew up on farms with both sets of grandparents. Yes, I’d like a small farm. I have this idea that most of us in our 50’s had grandparents who farmed, or at least had big gardens, but our parents had fast-food and TV and no garden. I think it’s why my/our generation has the health problems we have. Instead of turning into my mother I like to think I’m turning into my grandmother. I’m volunteering with a local group that hosts a community garden and I’m teaching women how to can and preserve the food from their gardens. It’s an important skill that most of our mothers didn’t pass down to us and I want to make sure that other women have that skill in their arsenal to help their families.

Also, French Angora rabbits create the most lovely yarn.

You practice Reiki and you’re an “earth magic maker.” Way back we chatted about moving in new directions and you were concerned about sharing those aspects of yourself online. I am so glad that you decided to go for it! Fifty and Other F-words is all about becoming your full self without fear, shame, or apology. I believe that when we do that, life unfolds for us. Did you have any negative reactions from craft fans? How has Make. Midlife. Magic. been received? Can you talk a little about Reiki and earth magic and what they entail?

 Making gardening magic.

Making gardening magic.

Every now and the someone will step up on their soapbox and point their finger at me and loudly proclaim that I’m wrong, but I don’t really give them any space in my head.  I have my opinions that are pretty strongly held, and I try to give others the same leeway. To a degree. No one has pushed me past my tolerance level yet.

I know from family history that some of the women back a few generations had some “gifts” that they used to help care for their loved ones. Cancer put me in touch with that part of myself. Receiving Reiki treatments at a local cancer support center helped me to see that maybe I had retained one or two of those gifts.

I took the Reiki certification courses and my instructor mentioned that I intuitively used a lot of earth energy in my practice. That lead me to becoming an Earth Energy Master. I’m part Cherokee and using the energy of the land around me is intuitive to me. It just feels right.

It is what centers and grounds me. Also, I’m an empath (I pick up on the energy of those around me and it affects me) having a way to ground and center is invaluable when it comes to the energy I receive.

You went gray a few years back and your hair is spectacular. What motivated you to do it and how did you manage the transition? I know a lot of women over 50 want to take the leap, but they’re afraid of the in between phase.

Honestly, it had a bit to do with time but even more to do with money. I was at a place where I had to color my hair every 3-4 weeks because it grows super fast. Also, the white hair wouldn’t hold the color, so it faded fast. It got super expensive to keep it colored so my stylist and I came up with haircuts and ways of coloring it that would allow me to grow it out without too much drama. My hair was short at the time, so I was also growing it out. That allowed us to cut layers into it that helped hide the “line”.

The in between phase stinks but once it’s done you’ll never regret it. I cut my hair short when I was diagnosed with cancer and donated it (Don’t even bother donating white hair BTW)  and from then on I’ve only trimmed it now and then. I get comments on my hair all of the time.

What’s next for Vicki? Where can folks find you?

 Vicki's colorful home.

Vicki's colorful home.

Well, I’m changing things up. Again. I think that creatives have a tendency to do that fairly often.

I was doing work as a Virtual Assistant, but I’ve let my clients go as it’s not something that I enjoy doing. And honestly, I’m burned out on it. Especially since social media seems to be changing on the daily.

I’m working out some new art processes and working hard in my gardens. I’ve been taking master gardener courses and permaculture courses to help me become a more earth friendly gardener. I’m teaching art classes at local rec centers and making appearances at home and garden shows and other public events. I’m not sure what I’ll get into next, but I know for sure that it won’t be boring!

You can find me on my blog Make, Midlife, Magic.

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Carolee Clark Flexible, Free-spirited, Feminist

caroleeprofilepic.jpg

Carolee Clark and I met online and later in person, for coffee, which has turned into a semi-regular respite from the day to day drudgery. Get the two of us together, and it's likely hours will pass in moments. She's smart, funny, insightful, and fearless. Beloved in the folk art community for her Halloween and fantasy themed art, she's a prolific painter and maker of hand painted delights through her company King of Mice Studios. Making is her full time job, and one she takes very seriously. Yet, her art, is full of whimsy. 

Since the 2016 election, Carolee has created a series of provocative paintings, asking other women to contribute to these statement pieces through their words. Each piece is infused with the collective energy of these women, making them powerful works of art. This new feminist art, and her "wicked and whimsical" folk art pieces, have created a body of work that is impressive and inspiring. Most of her pieces are sold before the paint has dried to a dedicated fan base of collectors, and it's no surprise. Just like Carolee, they're overflowing with enthusiasm, beauty, and joie de vivre. 

People think being an artist is a fun filled adventure. It’s easy to dismiss artists as flaky, but this is a mistake. Being a working artist is an incredible amount of work. Making things is just the first part of the equation, you need to make them, promote them, sell them, pack them, and ship them. You wear all the hats in your business and I know that can be exhausting. Yet, you do it so well! Can you talk about how you turned what you love into what you do for a living? What’s a day in the life of Carolee Clark like?

 Through the Forest Copyright Carolee Clark King of Mice Studios ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Through the Forest Copyright Carolee Clark King of Mice Studios ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Well, thank you for the kind words; you make me sound much more pulled together than I feel some days. I've worked as an artist in some capacity for the last twenty years or so, but it began as a part time thing; something I enjoyed immensely, and could do to supplement my late husband's income. When he became ill several years ago, and eventually fully disabled, I found myself in a position many women do later in life, of having to work full time and then some. He passed away two years ago, and my art is now my sole income, so I guess you could say a lot of what I do was borne as much out of necessity, as it was a love for creating.

A day in the life? There really is no typical day, except that I try to spend at least some time in the studio. I usually wake without an alarm clock, get myself up and ready, put the kettle on, feed the furkids and myself, and from there it might be sketching, painting, shipping, computer work, errands, or a break for lunch with friends. One of the things I enjoy most about making art for a living is that despite the best laid plans, every day is a bit of an unknown. 

 Nevertheless She Persisted Copyright Carolee Clark ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Nevertheless She Persisted Copyright Carolee Clark ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

We’re both unafraid to be politically vocal. I know a lot of people poo-poo that online. I could not stay silent after this last election and neither could you. You’ve made some powerful, beautiful art inspired by the Women’s March, Nevertheless She Persisted, and #MeToo. What inspired you to combine activism with art? How has that been received?

The election was devastating for me. It rocked my world at a time when it had already been turned upside down by my husband's death. I felt as though the rug had been pulled out from under all of us, and I no longer knew this country in which I was living. I remember friends cautioning me against speaking out because they thought it would alienate some of my collectors and hurt my business. But history teaches us that there are times we must speak up, and I felt strongly (and still do) that this was one of those times. As an artist, I communicate visually, so the feminist pieces I've done in response to recent events have been as much a personal statement as a public one. And I must add - giving credit where credit is due - when I created "Nevertheless She Persisted", I first put out a call on social media to women everywhere to share every "warning" and every "explanation" they'd heard from childhood on up, to be included in the piece. The response was overwhelming, and I'm very proud of the fact that those contributions helped make this piece a universal statement, as well as a personal one.

Making feminist art was a leap for me, a step outside the comfort zone of contemporary folk art, Halloween art, and mythic art. But it's been very well received, and has been confirmation - and in some ways validation - that creating from the heart is OK. When I painted the words "Nevertheless She Persisted", it was just months after losing my husband, and months after the election loss, and it felt like a personal affirmation too; like "I can do this. I can move forward. It will be OK".

You’re a widow. Many women over 50 find themselves in a similar boat. It’s a shitty boat, but you’re doing a damn good job as ship’s captain. I don’t think I could rise to the occasion as well as you have. Do you have some thoughts on how to navigate losing a life partner? Are you getting your sea legs?

I am getting my sea legs. It's not an easy ride by any means, and I still have my moments. I miss him terribly and always will. But I'm navigating life without him now, and for me, the only way to do that is to focus not on the loss, but on the thirty six years we had together; on the good memories we made, on treasuring the relationship I have with our daughter, and on gratitude; on knowing that this life I have now is in large part because of his encouragement and support. None of us move through life in a vacuum. We're all the product of our experiences and relationships, and I try to recognize that a large part of him lives on in our daughter, and in my heart and my work. 

You have a moving #metoo story that you shared on your blog. I was so impressed with your willingness to put yourself out there like that. You’re a strong woman, Carolee, and I admire you greatly. Did sharing you story have a positive impact on you, personally? Do you think that this movement is going to shift the Zeitgeist?

 Me Too Copyright Carolee Clark ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Me Too Copyright Carolee Clark ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Well, again, thank you, but any courage it took to go public with a very personal narrative came from other women who stepped up first. As for positive impact, it was a bit of a catharsis, but more importantly I think - or at least I hope - it may have an impact on other women, and in particular on young women who may find themselves in a similar situation. On a personal level, there was some criticism as to why I would dredge all that up, and there were people in my life who I think found it unnecessary and self indulgent. A few friends who were actually there at the time were silent, which surprised me, but the general public was incredibly supportive. I received so many messages of encouragement and support from women I'd never met. "Me Too" is an important movement, and I think we're seeing a shift. Hopefully the momentum will continue.

One of the most impressive things about you to me is how you forge and nurture connections with other women. I have a tendency to curl inward, which can be isolating. You make a concerted effort to cultivate friendships and get out and do things. I think a lot of midlife women could benefit from some of your wisdom on this front. Can you talk about how you motivate yourself to stay engaged, involved, and connected?

The older I get, the more I realize how precious my friendships with other women are. If I could tell young women one thing, it would be to treasure and cultivate these relationships, because if you make an effort to stay connected, they will be with you for a lifetime. They'll give you camaraderie and support in a way that a relationship with a man will not. That's not to discount men at all, and I think they're wonderful! But just to say that we need those female friendships too. We need to spend time with people who "get us".

What’s next for King of Mice Studios? Where can people find you and your art?

 Art by Carolee Clark Copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Art by Carolee Clark Copyright ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The best part about this "job" (I really dislike that word, because it's so much more) is that I never know what's next, or what's around the corner. Art is only limited by the scope of imagination, so the possibilities are endless. I look forward to seeing where it leads as much as my collectors do! If anyone would like to see my creations, I have an Etsy shop , blog, and can be found on Facebook , or by searching King of Mice Studios. Or join me and an array of incredible artists at the annual Bewitching Peddlers of Halloween show in Marshall, MI on September 29th! 

 

Lorraine C. Ladish Fierce, Fit, Fascinating

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 For day three of our Fifty and Other F-words book launch interview series, we're talking with Lorraine C. Ladish. Lorraine is a whirling dervish of enthusiasm. Founder and CEO of the popular bilingual online 50+ community Viva Fifty!, she is a survivor and a visionary, encouraging women to become the best version of themselves. Born in Spain into a family of writers, Lorraine spent her weekends as a child helping her grandfather collate books created on his printing press. Her passion for writing has led her to publish 18 books, beginning with her first non-fiction book where she shared her struggles with an eating disorder she battled for years before turning 30.

In 2008, she found herself divorced with two young children, broke, and unemployed. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her defeat, she took her writing and editing skills into the digital space as editor-in-chief of Mamiverse.com. A year later, she met and later on married the love of her life, Phillipe Diederich also a bilingual, multi-cultural single parent and writer. Her writing has appeared in a dazzling array of publications including HuffPost, NBC News, AARP, Redbook, NBCNews.com and more. She recently published an e-book Reach: from Single Mom on Welfare to Digital Entrepreneur and Tu Mejor Edad: Para tener una vida extraordinaria for HarperCollins.

I met Lorraine last year at Blog Her, and her energy was electrifying. She’s a dedicated practitioner of yoga, which has resulted, at 54, in a toned, slender physique that 20 somethings would envy. However, she’s not the kind of woman who inspires envy, she’s the kind of woman who inspires other women to become the best that they can be, whatever that means to them. She is not defined or limited by her age, in fact she believes that whatever age you are is your best age.

There’s something about women who have risen from the ashes, a fortitude that is built from losing everything and refusing to give up on yourself or your dreams. You radiate that kind of vitality. You are a powerhouse, a dynamic and enthusiastic woman who inspires other women to become the best version of themselves. When faced with what seems insurmountable, how can women survive and thrive? What do you think the secret of your success has been?

Oh, goodness, when people ask me: “how did you keep on going when you were broke and middle-aged,” my answer is, “I had no other option.” I´ve gone through life without a plan B, and always going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. Sure, I´ve been down, I´ve even battled clinical depression at least three times, and anxiety. I still do. It´s not easy. I´m not always happy, joyful and enthusiastic, either. Menopause hit me hard at 51 to the point that I had to sometimes spend an entire day in bed. Hormone replacement therapy was the best thing I could ever do for myself, but it´s no substitute for the willpower needed to forge onward no matter what. When my daughters try to cheer me on a down day, I tell them that as they know, I laugh hard, but when I´m not ok, I need to feel that down-in-the-dumps feeling with the same intensity, so that I can overcome it. I don´t shy away from crappy feelings. I do my best to feel them, and then work through them. We´re all handed difficult cards in life, now and then, or maybe more often than not, but we all have the capacity to overcome being knocked down. I´ve done it so many times, I´ve lost count!

Viva Fifty! is a bilingual community for women in mid-life. What drove you to build this platform? What were the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them? The internet has changed so much over the past 5 years, it’s so much noisier and there is a lot of competition for attention. Your platform seems to be thriving despite these changes, what sets Viva Fifty! and your message apart?

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When I turned 50, I felt on top of the world. I was engaged to the love of my life, whom I married a few months before turning 51, I was in good health, in good shape and in the best mental and emotional state I´d ever been in. I grew up without a mom (my grandmother raised me) and I had really bad self-esteem perhaps until my mid thirties, when I started trying to have a baby. I spent my youth hating myself and thinking I was just not good enough. I didn´t even finish college, I was so depressed. But at 50, I was thriving. After losing it all to the Great Recession and divorce at 45, here I was at 50, making a living writing online. I started posting on social media how wonderful it was to be 50 and only then did I realize other women did not feel the same way. It was hard for me to understand why … I didn´t feel – and still don´t feel – I had peaked and I certainly did not and still don´t, feel over the hill. So Viva Fifty was born out of the desire to share with English and Spanish speaking women that life isn´t over at 50 or at any age, really. My surprise came later, when younger women started following me and thanked me for posting my yoga photos alongside my age. They said it helped them lose their fear of aging. Then Viva Fifty and everything else became about just thriving.

What helps me make a full-time living with Viva Fifty Media, and support a family of five with it is mainly that I´ve always worked for myself. If I could do it in the 80s when there was no Internet, no cell phones, no faxes, imagine what I can do now! I´ve spent my entire life adapting to changing markets. If you consider I stared working full-time at 18 and I´m 54, that´s a long time. I´ve also lived in different cities, different countries, which requires mad adaptation skills. I always try to focus on solutions instead of complaining about a problem. When people are on Facebook bitching about the latest change in the algorithm, I´m already figuring out my next move. I have zero time to waste dwelling. My brain is wired for social media apparently, and yet I can´t even copy a phone number (I have awful short-term memory). Another reason behind my productivity is that I learned early on in life to turn an addictive and compulsive personality into being productive in ways that matter to me and hopefully make a difference. I have multiple streams of income – all having to do with the written and spoken word – and I´m also bilingual and multicultural. All of this helps make my business successful. I can, and do, reach different audiences. Also, as I mentioned, I hardly ever have a plan B, so plan A just has to work. What does change overtime is what plan A looks like.

Your first book was about your struggles with an eating disorder as a younger woman. Now that you’re in your mid-fifties, you practice yoga and you’re in amazing physical shape. How did you get here from there? A lot of women over 50 are fighting menopause and weight gain, their bodies are changing. Their metabolisms are slowing down. Do you think anyone can benefit from yoga?

I started out in sports when I was 12 and haven´t looked back. I´ve never not practiced a sport or a form of fitness. I started running and practicing yoga at 12 in an attempt to control sad and dark thoughts. By my teens I was battling full-blown depression and an eating disorder. I´ve been blessed and cursed with self-awareness. Running always helped me have a certain feeling of control. In my 20s I became a certified fitness instructor in a (failed) attempt to control my bulimia.  When I told students anyone could be fit, they told me I was wrong. They said I was fit because I was young and hadn´t had kids. Now I´m 54 and I´ve had two babies. Older people still tell me I´m fit because I´m young. Go figure! I started modern and jazz dancing in my 20s, when I was “too old” for that. I cried after each and every class, because I didn´t get the steps. But I never stopped going and of course I got better at it. Never made a living dancing but it was a wonderful escape. It also proved to be a lifesaver when I continued dancing through my divorce and poverty and met people on the dance floor willing to give me work writing. Had I stayed at home feeling sorry for myself, I would not be doing what I do now. I took up yoga again at 51 after I injured my hip at 48 after a half-marathon. One week into yoga, my hip was fine again. I don´t practice yoga to look good. I do it to feel good. If I don´t exercise in some form and/or meditate daily, my mood takes a nosedive. And yes, anyone can practice yoga. I´ve even seen people who are missing a limb practice yoga. Even visualizing yoga moves helps. I was on bed rest on one of my pregnancies, and visualizing workouts helped a lot!

 As to having managed so sidestep weight gain in midlife, I´m naturally thin, as is all of my family, including my 101-year old grandmother and my 80-year old dad (who I started running with as a kid). My doctor told me I lucked out during menopause because of this. But being thin isn´t always a great thing. I get a lot of side-eye and not exactly great comments from people telling me they´d love to have my “problem” of not being able to gain weight. I don´t follow any kind of diet, I eat what I like and I´m not vegetarian. I drink beer for goodness sakes! I´m half Spanish and I believe in enjoying life. I would tell woman concerned about weight gain in menopause to see a doctor her for menopausal symptoms, whatever they may be. I did and I am ecstatic that I did. If your doctor won´t listen or plays down your concerns, change doctors. Speak up, it´s your life, your body, your menopause!  I also don´t take anything for granted. I know being fit doesn´t guarantee being healthy. I´ve shared about my midlife health scares online. I try to appreciate what I have for as long as it lasts.

Kathy Cano Murillo and I have talked often about reinvention. We’ve both reinvented ourselves many times, usually with each new decade. The idea of reinventing yourself can seem impossible, especially after 50. Yet, we live in a time when job security and that lifetime career are becoming less certain. A lot of women in their 40s and 50s are returning to the work force after raising children. You have reinvented yourself multiple times, most recently online. Do you have some pearls of wisdom for women who find themselves facing the daunting task of reinvention?

Yep, I´ve reinvented myself plenty of times. I know it´s easier for me to adapt to change because I´ve been a rebel all my life and just the idea of having a 9-5 job gave me nausea. What was initially perceived by others as a defect when I was young turned out to work in my favor later on in life. People I went to school with are now jobless or stuck in poorly paid jobs they hate. Being weird, always working from home etc. proved to be an asset for me in the long run. I would tell women who feel lost professionally in midlife to seek out others who are like you and ask them to help you find your path. A job – in my eyes – is the most insecure way to live. You get canned and then what … You´re just not prepared for the hustle. This moment in time is the best to be an entrepreneur, to be a consultant, to work on your own terms. But not everyone is cut out for it, and it has nothing to do with age. My daughter is 17 and I can already see she´s not going to settle or try to fit in, whereas other kids her age are happy making hourly wages. Become obsessed with where you want to be and what you want to do, forget that age is supposedly an issue, and go for it. Heck, I make a living talking about my age. It´s absolutely liberating.  If I can do this, anyone can!

You remarried at 50, creating a blended multi-cultural family. I have several friends going through painful divorces and others whose spouses have passed away. It’s hard to imagine finding love again, especially in mid-life. Do you have any thoughts on how to find love in mid-life? How did you meet your husband? Can you share some of your love story?

Of course. I never was great at picking the right partner. I have no idea whether this stemmed from a lack of self-love, and fear of abandonment. (My mother was not a part of my life after I turned 5). I´ve made my share of mistakes in the love arena. I´ve suffered heartbreak, and plenty of it. But one thing I never became was jaded. Perhaps because I suffered tremendously after my parents´ divorce and my dad´s remarriage, I promised myself I would never have that happen to my kids. Of course, I did not marry at 35 to later divorce. But when the marriage was unsustainable, after giving it a million chances (and plenty of couples counseling) I thought I could not teach my daughters it was ok to stay in a toxic relationship. It was not an easy decision and I somehow felt some PTSD when I went through my divorce. But I worked with my ex to make sure my girls would have both parents and never see us yelling at each other. So far, so good. I´m a dreamer, I believe in love and good stuff. I kept my heart open. I still dreamed of having a family … maybe not the kind I had envisioned, but a family. I wrote a list of attributes that I wanted in a potential partner. It included detailed stuff like “bilingual, bicultural, responsible, loving, has a kid,” etc. To my surprise I met that guy. He had also come out of a divorce, had a kid similar in age to that of my daughters, he had also never had a 9-5 job … was a photojournalist back in school to switch careers. He wanted to be a book author, something I had already done. Long story short, we were introduced by a common friend and after our first date, we pretty much knew we wanted to know each other better. We were both committed to building a new family and well, in November it will be 9 years. Our kids were 5, 6 and 8 when they met. We´re a clan. And none of this would be happening if I hadn´t made some crappy choices earlier in life. I moved to the U.S. from Spain at 41 because of my ex. I owe him that!

I love the new video podcast! You maintain multiple websites, manage several Facebook groups, and you just published a new book. You’re constantly expanding your reach, which is admirable. What’s next for Lorraine?

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Well, first of all, let me make it clear that I have a team. Three people help me with the website, VivaFIfty.com and some of the social media handles. I have two Twitter accounts and five FB pages. But I also have writers and translators. My husband takes my photos. I do manage Instagram and YouTube on my own because that´s more personal. I started working with a business manager, Johanna Voss, one year ago, and could not be happier. I knew I could not grow without someone managing the business aspect of Viva Fifty Media. This is both my livelihood and a lifestyle. What´s next is I´m already working on my next book, in English, about how to turn our flaws into assets. I´m in awe of the opportunities that come my way just from showing up online every day and doing my best, whether I´m paid for it or not.  I will also be getting certified as a yoga instructor at 55, not to teach in person, but to better serve the women who follow me for inspiration and advice. No better way to learn than by teaching!

Debra Quartermain Fabulously Fun Filled

 Debra Quartermain

Debra Quartermain

 For day two of the Fifty and Other F-words book launch, it's a pleasure to introduce you to a true Hostess with the Mostest. Debra Quartermain has that rare and wondrous ability to make everyone she encounters feel cherished. She’s warm, gracious, thoughtful, and present in a way very few people manage to be. In our fast paced, hyper connected, digital reality, civility and kindness are often lost in the day to day hustle. Debra is the embodiment of both. It’s not at all surprising that her Bed and Breakfast, Quartermain House located on historic Waterloo Row along the Saint John River outside of Fredericton NB Canada, was the number 1 rated North American B&B on Booking.com for 2014 and 2015. The historic 175-year old Gothic Revival home has been lovingly renovated and appointed by Debra. Much like the proprietress, it’s enchanting.

A licensed designer, blogger and social media co-ordinator, Debra is a DIY doyenne well known and much beloved in the craft industry. Her design work has a signature stylish charm showcased in hundreds of published articles, several books and two lines of baby quilting fabric. She’s Chair of the Designer Section of the AFCI Association for Creative Industries and Design Team coordinator for Kunin Felt.

Debra is grandmother to 11 grandchildren she calls her “grandlittles.” A single mother who raised two daughters by herself, Debra discovered love and marriage in her middle years. She’s proof that Fairy Tale happy endings do happen, sometimes at the most unexpected times. And in this case, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving woman.

You raised two daughters on your own. I know how difficult that must have been, I was raised by a single mom. Growing up I wanted so much for her to be happy, to be able to exhale a little. She sacrificed so much of her talents and her dreams to raise us. What insights do you have from your experience as a single mother in terms of how it shaped you and continues to inform you?

 Debra's Playroom for her Grandlittles

Debra's Playroom for her Grandlittles

Looking back there are times I remember thinking, "How can I do this?" but being creative was my saving grace. I would always look for a solution, some requiring much more creativity than others. I could always make something and sell it. I have always been an eternal optimist.  What I brought out of those years as a single mom was the belief that it would get better and easier and an immense gratitude for all the moments of joy in between. I have two beautiful amazing daughters and they were always my beacon, to make a life, a home for them. Some of their memories shared made me realize that the little things, a surprise handmade doll outfit by the bed or a wake up in the night to watch fireflies were and are so very important. Making little surprises, taking time to just be present and spend time with my grandlittles I realize is the most important gift and has always been the most important gift of all. 

How have things shifted for you now that you’re a grandmother of 11? You’ve made wonderful play spaces for them at your B&B, it must be such fun to play in such a magical home!

 Debra has tea with one of her grandlittles.

Debra has tea with one of her grandlittles.

I still lead a very full life between the B&B and my design work, but family comes first.  All the grandchildren live nearby so we have play spaces for both, the boys have a cabin loft and the girls have a fairy tale attic play space. They love to play hide and seek, and scavenger hunts are a requirement of every party. Being a grandmother is truly the best role ever! We love our children and when they have children, it is so very special. When you think you cannot possibly love any more you do, it is such a gift.

We know each other from the craft industry. It’s changed so much over the past ten years, as you know, but you’ve managed to carve a place for yourself in the new landscape. You’re such a creative and inspiring woman. I think having that creative spark helps keep you young, vibrant, and playful. How do you think women can maintain or if they’ve not explored it yet, discover their playful, creative side in their middle years?

I celebrate my 65th birthday this year, I really cannot believe it.  The sixties are turning out to be the best decade ever. About eight years ago I went through a time of some very serious loss of loved ones, my girls on their own and my creativity disappeared. It took a little time, but I still knew that it would get better. I started going to belly dancing where at 50+ I was the youngest in the class! When I saw 80+ women moving and dancing, having the best time, I knew then that there was a whole lot more to come. My advice or really what I have learned is try something new, age does not matter, if you want to go for it. Just take a step and get out there, ask a friend along for the adventure! Finding something that ignites a passion may take some time but trying a few new things or returning to a past interest that was lost. Sometimes it can be as small as just wandering in a beautiful shop or a market, being present and buying an item which speaks to you. Start a journal, buy a beautiful one and some colored pencils, write, draw or doodle, just play with the pages. So many little ways to get started because really everyone is creative.

How does creativity inform your day to day reality as a designer and B&B proprietress?

I have thought a lot about creativity and what it means to me, I am aware of my footprint in this life and what I want to create and leave. My design clients manufacture products which work well together, I use them in thoughtful, useful and fun ways for special events at the B&B, party décor and playthings for the grandlittles and home décor. Providing inspiration in an authentic way

I think people are surprised to find out that the possibility of romance awaits them, regardless of their age. So many people give up on that idea of finding a life partner. Your love story is so delightfully romantic. How did you meet your husband?

 Debra and her husband Russ

Debra and her husband Russ

Well, we met in a very unromantic way but at the suggestion of my daughter I tried online dating. I made a list of what I was looking for in a partner. I looked at the responses to my profile and there was one, no picture and five years older but what he wrote was intriguing. I replied, and his response of a beautifully written page long answer was the beginning of a couple weeks of correspondence as I was travelling.  On my return we met downtown for a drink and I knew when I took his hand and looked in his eyes that he would be very good for me. Were you surprised to find love in your middle years? I was and yet I always felt I was meant to be married by the time I was 60.  Do you have any insights for women over 50 who may be widowed, divorced, or single and looking for love? Never give up on love, I truly believe Life is simply a love story. Write down what you are looking for in a partner, what is important. I had decided to look for someone my age or three years older at most, I would have missed out on my darling man as he is five years older if after his initial inquiry I had dismissed him as too old. I am a hopeless romantic but also practical if you have your life set in a place and do not see yourself moving ever then do not start something too long distance either. Opening a B&B I needed to date someone close by and he showed up. So, a list does really help, know what you want and then open yourself up to go find it.

You own and operate a five-star Bed and Breakfast on the east coast of Canada. This is a somewhat new adventure for you, and it’s been such fun watching it unfold. The Quartermain House is magical! How did you find it? What made you decide to open a B&B? What did it take to make this dream a reality?

 Quartermain House

Quartermain House

I had downsized into an apartment after my daughters left home and my mom had passed away but really missed a house and garden. My brother on the west coast was looking at coming home three or four weeks a year and missed my home as well. We decided to buy a family home together and were interested in a historic property along the river. When my real estate agent took me into 92 Waterloo Row, 175 years old, I knew it was the house, I fell in love with it immediately. Why showing my brother around via Skype, he remarked “I guess you will live there alone except for when you have family and friends to visit.” I walked around a little more and said to myself, this would make a wonderful B&B even though I had never stayed in one, don’t drink coffee and have a gluten intolerance. However, I have always loved cooking breakfast and having guests. I also knew I was meant to meet someone too. We agreed it would be a great idea, the city did too and after several months of renovations we opened for business. I met my husband Russ about a month after the B&B was to be a reality. We now have the best of all worlds, the B&B has welcomed guests from twenty different countries and we have a wonderful family home for all our family, we close when my brother and daughter living away come home and for the rest of the family locally they visit all the time. The little girls often greet guests with a “pleased to meet you” and shake their hand.

I love this quote from your website: “Live with a young heart, a generous spirit and immense gratitude, never lose your sense of wonder, joy and magic!” Can you talk about how you infuse your life with these principles?  

We all travel through life and deal with all that it brings, in the mix is the best and there are the times of immense change, of loss and pain. That is life but in between all those times are all those moments, the everyday moments to enjoy and truly savor, to be grateful for. There is always wonder all around us, grandchildren are such great teachers of that. I believe what we give out comes back and what we fill our spirit with reflects on our entire wellbeing. We have the power of immense energy, I choose to share my power in wonder, joy and magic. That is what I do best, I make the magic for my family, friends and guests. I care so deeply, and I know this is not forever, so I am keenly grateful for every moment that is.

What’s next for Debra?

For the next few years everything I am doing now I will happily continue to do so. Art and writing are finding their way into my life more, that is exciting. The B&B needs its history told I believe. Being part of all these grandlittles growing up, possibly more to come, that is such a joy! I look out every morning on the river and feel grateful, this is my wonderful life!

Mel Kobayashi: Fearless Fashion

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For the launch of my new book Fifty and Other F-words, I'm sharing a series of interviews of women over 50 who are kick ass warrior women. They exemplify the message of the book, that rules are made to be broken and women over 50 are fascinating, fabulous, fierce creatures! I wanted to make a virtual version of The Lady Party, inviting powerful, persistent women to the table. These women are redefining what it means to grow older, through their art, writing, businesses, and even their romantic lives. 

We begin with Melanie Kobayashi artist, writer, provocateur, stylist, public speaker, videographer, and wonderfully wild woman over 50. She’s the fascinating personality behind the popular Instagram and blog of the same name Bag and a Beret. She pens a Vancouver street style blog Culture Serf and creates surrealist videos on her YouTube channel. Her paintings are alive with color and movement, fascinating, energizing, beguiling. From abstracts to social commentaries, she has a distinct voice and perspective.

Mel has been featured in Elle, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire Ukraine/Brazil/Hong Kong/Netherlands, and PopBee. She was named one of the top 7 best blogs by older women and Over 50 women with ridiculously good style by Who What Wear. She was also listed as a top 10 fashion blogger over 50 who completely dominates the style game by Pop Sugar.

 Mel with her alter ego Miz Bagg.

Mel with her alter ego Miz Bagg.

There’s a connection between her paintings and her fashion images. She’s become the canvas and the clothing and accessories the paint. Mel loves fashion, fashion loves Mel. Mel and her outrageous alter ego Miz Bagg are proof positive that age has absolutely nothing to do with style. If you aren’t following her adventures online, get on it. She’s puts the f in fabulous, one of our favorite f-words.

I have been following you for the past few years online. You have such a great sense of humor and fun, and I think that sets you apart from other style bloggers and Instagrammers. Did you have a plan when you started Bag and a Beret, or did it grow organically?

First, thank you for those words of praise. It almost feels like you’re talking about someone else!

I started my blog in early 2012 to have a blast with “Style, Comedy, Art,” which is my tagline. I still do; that basic tenet hasn’t changed. Outfits, sketches, videos, mini rants, style fictions, art, a satirical life/style magazine, I’ve played hard. And aging and fashion are fertile grounds for comedy and exploration. But there have also been subtle organic shifts in my blog too.

At the beginning I was all about pushing my style boundaries. Through that process, I discovered that my clothes are almost secondary to how I “own” what I wear. So now, with limitless style options, I’ve begun asking myself, what do I really, really want? My stage covers a wider scope of expression as I feed myself in new ways.

Many new real-life challenges that have come up through my social media. I’ve confronted the terror of modeling, auditioning, public speaking, schmoozing, being interviewed, and filmed, things I never imagined doing when I started out, and I blog about it all. Now I can imagine anything.

Which brings up this next point, the idea that social media success means monetization. At first it freaked me out. Would that make me a sell-out? I’m not alone in this; it’s a convoluted idea held by many artists, especially women. But now I say, hurray! Get paid for my social media success and creativity? That’s wildly empowering when I retain editorial control.

What drove you to explore style as a form of personal expression? Who is Miz Bagg and how does she factor into your equation?

There was a confluence of three major events that propelled my style explorations. 1) In my late 40s I noticed that people started to gaze right through me like I was invisible. I was not!! Their vision was broken and I used my personal style to fix their “youtheyetis.” It worked. 2) I lost my big art studio where I did large-scale action painting, so I started funneling that pent-up energy into action styling. 3) I was going through life turbulence beyond my power and surrendering to the chaos through creative expression in art and style saved me.

 Miz Bagg by Melanie Kobayashi

Miz Bagg by Melanie Kobayashi

Miz Bagg, I love her! She is my alter ego - outrageous, narcissistic, super-high-fashion, absurd, Anna Wintour on crack maybe. Miz Bagg is an extreme risk-taker who enjoys satirizing fashion, lifestyle rules, and aging beyond my own comfort level. She is a scapegoat and cultural vanguard at the same time.

You have a very strong sense of color. It’s clear in your paintings and your fashion photos. Women tend to tone themselves and their fashion choices down after 50. You’ve dialed it way up! I’m with you on this 100%. There’s this weird pressure on women to “age gracefully” and become invisible. In Fifty and Other F-words, I encourage women to age in whatever manner they see fit and to allow other women the room to do the same. Talk to us about your thoughts on color, style, and being Technicolor after 50!

We are definitely on the same page here, Margot!

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It’s ironic that just when women are starting to become invisible, a bunch of style rules kick in on how to stay that way. I don’t get it. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg: are we invisible because we want to be or are we invisible because people treat us that way?

Personally, I’m doing my best to be seen and heard through styleactivism, a word I made up which means, when I dress to feel fabulous, those positive vibes impact my environment as well. It’s a form of community care. I have never felt more alive.

My clothes bring any movie, song, character, or scene to life, real or imagined, from Tilda Swinton to Charlie Chaplin. They affect my movement, attitude, and even interactions, full-on Technicolor. Dressing in something I love can turn a down day into something extraordinary – without drugs, well, except caffeine and chocolate.

I think it’s a shame when women looking for more excitement in their lives don’t take advantage of this easy pick-me-up because they are afraid, so I feel fantastic if I can motivate them to embrace a more colourful existence.

Finally, for me, clothes are also not just fabric on skin; choosing to wear what I love is an exercise in freedom. Use it or lose it; that sounds implausible, but is it?

We share a deep love of thrift shopping. You’ve made some great thrift store videos.  Do you have any thrift store tips to share? What’s the coolest thing you’ve found at a thrift store? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found at a thrift store? What do you say to women who are hesitant to step inside of a thrift shop?

 Melanie Kobayashi strikes a pose!

Melanie Kobayashi strikes a pose!

Haha, my thrifting videos are a blast to make with my friends. In fact, thrift shopping with friends is one of my top tips - it’s never time wasted laughing, rummaging, and trying on outfits in a thrift shop. Where else can you relive your school days, your prom, and your first job? Of course, it’s always a shock that these clothes are now, gulp, vintage.

On the practical side, thrift shop clothes can be mis-sized and mis-hung, so it pays to have a peek through several sizes. Also, check the sections you might usually overlook, like sportswear or suits, or even menswear, I’ve found great robes and t-shirts there.

The coolest thing I’ve thrifted is also my best score – a pair of lace-up Miu Miu boots for $15, which I saw featured in a Vanity Fair magazine the next day. The shop thought the crackle finish was damaged leather. Of course I have many vintage pieces that are also contenders for first place. The weirdest thing I’ve found is a tie between a pair of faux-suede, fringed short shorts and a real tutu.

To the hesitant woman, do your research in advance to find a thrift shop that looks the least intimidating – there is a wide variety of them. It would probably help to make your first visit a fun outing with friends, and consider following it up with a debriefing at a favourite hangout. Also, keep an open mind. You’ll be amazed at the range of quality and variety, and the low prices make it easy to experiment with new looks. My only caution? Watch out – you might get addicted!

I am intrigued by the Art and the Brain lectures you did with Dr. Paul Swingle. A lot of my fans are artists, can you talk to us about Unlearning How to Paint? What does that mean? How does it work?

The university where I studied art specialized in what I call brainy art, the kind that sacrifices beauty for deep meaning, so art for beauty’s sake was a no-no. Realism was a no-no. Painting itself was pretty much dead.

 Mixed Media Abstract by Melanie Kobayashi

Mixed Media Abstract by Melanie Kobayashi

At the time, I liked the intellectual exercise, but I didn’t know it would cripple my ability to make joyful art for the next 20+ years. Every time I’d try to do a still life or landscape, I’d hear the questions – Does this have meaning? Is it valid? And stop. I was so stuck!

Then, on impulse, I started making art that integrated, say, joyful colour, but within a critical framework, as a sneaky way to get my happy fix, although I didn’t see it like that at the time. I went through tons of these exercises exploring different themes. Of course, I was subconsciously creating a roadmap for Unlearning How to Paint – or deprogramming myself from the rules.

One day, a couple of years into the journey (yes, it took a while), I found myself poised over a carpet of paper 5 feet by 12 feet, a one-foot brush in each hand, with several cans of house paint, great music, and no brainy context whatsoever, just the freedom of the moment. And it hit me: I was CURED!!! This is the success I shared in the lectures and workshops.

Now I’m amazed that I can create paintings that look not unlike those of one-time child prodigy Marla Olmstead from the documentary, “My Kid Could Paint That.” Or brainy art if I choose; the point is, now I have choice, and I see the value of each approach. Getting there wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it. If someone now looks at my painting and says, my kid could paint that, my reply would be, Thank goodness! Could you?

Let’s talk about the Travelling Yellow Skirt Freak Show. You took a negative comment from a friend and turned it into an invitation for women to celebrate positivity. It’s interesting to me, because it’s such a layered thing that you experienced and shared. You let it breathe, and considered it, and that’s powerful. What I like best is that you’ve decided not to give negativity power. I think that’s wise. I’m a huge fan of delete, block, exhale. We don’t have to accept or entertain every thought that someone flings in our direction. Can you share the story of the skirt? Is it still on the move?

Like you, Margot, I try to celebrate the positive and exhale the negative. This is exactly what the Travelling Yellow Skirt Freak Show was all about.

The Freakish Yellow Skirt (FYS) is a big, bold, bright-yellow maxi with an elastic waist, which I bought on super-discount at a retail shop. The first time I posted on it, I received a negative comment from a male friend. The other women on my blog immediately sprang to my defense. I tried to make light of the comment, but it was the first critical one I’d had on my blog.

A blogger in Australia, Sarah of Misfits Vintage, suggested that I send the skirt out into the world for a cleanse and as a symbol of positivity. This was her idea, not mine, but I thought it was excellent and The Travelling Yellow Skirt Freak Show was born. Australia was the first stop. Another blogger, Shelley of Forest City Fashionista, soon joined in to help coordinate FYS’s itinerary.

Six years later, FYS now hangs in my closet, retired, safely home after thousands of miles logged around the world, heavy with the imprints of 35 woman, including myself, who have worn her, photographed her, and honoured her spirit with the addition of a unique signature in fabric, paint, and notions. Clearly, it’s not my skirt anymore; FYS belongs to every woman who has contributed to her fabric. And her energy still shines.

Although FYS is not still traveling, I feel that her journey is not over. It’s possible there may be a little book about her adventures or a small gallery show.

What’s next for Mel and Bag and a Beret?

 Mel Kobayashi in Armani

Mel Kobayashi in Armani

Ah, the big question. The success I’ve had with social media is creating many exciting new opportunities. I am starting to offer style-boost coaching and an e-course. I’d love to do more motivational speaking on the topic of joyful pissed-off aging as well. I say “speaking,” but what I do is a bit more like performance art. I have other projects in mind too that feature the words Think Big. Heh.

In general, I am more proactive than reactive in my life now. When I started out, I named my email actlikeadiva because I figured if I aimed over-the-top, falling short would still be a step toward empowerment.

So get ready for more Mel and Bag and a Beret – if you can stand it! Hahaha!

Can #MeToo Go From Moment to Movement?

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It's funny how many famous men feel compelled to weigh in on the #MeToo movement with completely tone deaf observations. It's as if they just don't get it that women are no longer willing to put up with this bullshit. There's a current that flows beneath their narrative, that men have a right to abuse women and women need to accept it. The patriarchal construct is unraveling, but these men are clinging desperately to the threads. Posing as allies, they are parroting the very attitudes the #MeToo movement seeks to confront without the slightest whiff of self awareness. Some men are convinced the momentum will dissipate and they will be able to return to the status quo.

After all, boys will be boys.

Amirite?

Not so fast, fellas. 

That means, you, Matt, Louie, Mario are not welcome back to the party. We see you lurking outside, hoping to slip in the side door. Not now, not six months from now, not ever. Your fifteen minutes were over months ago. You aren't in a time out, your time's up and you're out. You traded in your fame card when you assaulted, degraded, and abused women merely because you felt you could get away with it. There's no acceptable amount of time for you to avoid the public spotlight and then come skipping back as if all is forgiven. Your contrition is false, you are tainted, stained, deflated, and defeated. You don't get the shiny prize of fame and fortune anymore, you get the sad sentence of humiliation borne from your abhorrent actions. 

And you would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those meddling women.

You know, the women you abused without compunction, until you got caught with your pants down.

It means that you, Karl, need to wake up and realize that young women are not required to endure sexual harassment so you can sell couture. You're a fat shaming, woman hating, out of touch narcissist who sullies the legacy of Coco Chanel. Sexual abuse is not part of the job description for a fashion model. Curves are not ugly. You know what's ugly? Your archaic attitudes. They're out of fashion and irrelevant. We're fed up, with you. Sashay away. 

It means you, Tony, have shown your true colors, and your special magical self-help bullshittery won't protect you. If you truly valued women, you would never have physically intimidated and attempted to humiliate a woman in a public forum, a woman who paid for the privilege of being insulted and verbally assaulted. We see you. We heard you. You can't walk this horse back into the barn. 

It means you, Donald, and your grab 'em by the pussy "locker room talk." The manner in which you regularly and shamelessly insult and demean women is inexcusable. Your absurd early morning Twitter rants, the endless deny, deflect, distract, repeat, it's deeply disturbing. Your vitriol may play in your rallies, but your days are numbered. 

#YouToo shall pass.

#MeToo is a moment but it won't become a movement unless we maintain the momentum. We will have to fight to keep this energy moving forward. We can't capitulate. We can't make exceptions. We can't give a free pass to men with intellect or talent or money or power or creativity. Women are equals. We are not objects. We are not less than. We have a right to move through the world unafraid, unashamed, and unimpeded. Sexism is deeply ingrained in cultures around the world, tied to firmly entrenched religious, social, political ideologies. Challenging these ideologies will not be easy, but it must be done. We must do it for ourselves. We must do it for each other. We must do it for our young women who are STILL being treated as second class citizens. We have to challenge the status quo. Shift outmoded perceptions. Rewrite the code.

It's not just men who abuse women, women abuse each other when they excuse, encourage, and enforce sexist ideologies. When women refuse to stand up for each other, to protect each other, to fight for each other, we are participants in the patriarchy. When women see each other as competitors, we are playing into a false narrative that holds us back and keeps us down. And, sadly, there are also female sexual abusers and they must be held to the same standards. 

It's not just women who are victims of sexual harassment and assault, we need to acknowledge this. No one should be abused or assaulted at work, at school, at home, at church, or anywhere by anyone, ever. That revelation needs to be part of the equation moving forward. More than that, we need to acknowledge and illuminate the myriad ways that women of color and LGBTQ people suffer systemic abuses daily, and do everything we can to help them rise. 

As the daily onslaught of assaults on decency continue, from the casual and overt acceptance of racism, to the rising tide of Xenophobia, to the rhetoric of fear and hate gaining sway, to the sanctioning of homophobia and the eroding of women's reproductive rights, to the backsliding of decades of progress, we must stay focused and committed. We must be a rising tide, lifting all boats, maintaining and gaining momentum. So that when arrive at the shore we are a tsunami bringing a wave of acceptance, equality, and possibility.

We must take this moment and turn it into a movement so that one day no woman, nobody will ever have to say #MeToo again.

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Fifty and Other F-words Book Trailer

Hello, Gorgeous!

 So excited to see this book sharing the shelf with some of my favorite writers! 

So excited to see this book sharing the shelf with some of my favorite writers! 

Last week I shot and edited a book trailer for Fifty and Other F-words. You can watch it below. It's a humor book, but it's more than that. It touches on a variety of aspects of life after 50, career challenges, reinvention, menopause, diets, the Empty Nest, fashion and style choices or the lack thereof, relationships, and aging DISgracefully. What does that mean, exactly? I believe that we should all age in whatever manner we please and allow other women the breathing room to do the same. We spend so much time judging others and enforcing arbitrary rules about how women should age, dress, act, think, and age. There are no rules.

As far as I can tell, 'aging gracefully' is just code for becoming invisible. 

No, thank you.

If you're not a woman, or over 50, or experiencing all of the things in the book, there may still be something of value inside. Consider it a primer or a sneak peek of upcoming attractions, or distractions as the case may be. Or think of it as a window into one woman's struggle to rise from the ashes of her defeat in spite of a dizzying array of challenges. It's funny, it's thoughtful, it's visceral, it's raw, and it's real. You don't have to read it all or even love it all. You can skip the chapters, poems, listicles, or essays that don't resonate, because my experience is not your experience. There is some advice, but it's not a self-help book. I'm not here to tell you how you should age, in fact, I'm hoping to help free people from the arbiters of aging and their rigid proclamations. 

I need your help spreading the word. If you like the book trailer, please share it! If you get the book, share a pic and tag it with #over50andfearless and I'll share your post. If you read and enjoy the book, write a review online, or tell two friends, so they tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on. If you do any of these things, you have my deepest gratitude. Thank you. 

People have been asking about signed copies. I'm in a quandary here. If I buy the book with my author discount and pay for shipping here, then sign, sell, and ship it to you, in order for me to make even a few dollars and make sure it gets to you in a timely fashion I have to charge you more than the retail cost of the book. Also, my handwriting is hideous. Many years of tapping on keyboards have turned my penmanship (which was always questionable) into a scribbly mess. I'm not sure you want my scribblings in your book! So, for now, I am not officially selling copies, but I am working on the logistics so stay tuned. If you want a scribble signed copy, I will have to charge for shipping and if that's not a problem, then we're a go! Email me at margot@margotpotter.com to discuss.

Meanwhile, you can grab a copy of the book online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon (affiliate link), and in Barnes & Noble bookstores and other bricks and mortar retailers. Ask your favorite independent local bookstore to order it for you!

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Takeways AARP Disrupt Aging: Implications of Living 100

This post is made possible with support from AARP’s Disrupt Aging. All opinions are my own. 

 "It isn't about living longer, but making the most of a longer life." Jo Ann Jenkins

"It isn't about living longer, but making the most of a longer life." Jo Ann Jenkins

Last week I attended the AARP Disrupt Aging: Implications of Living 100 Event at the Newseum in Washington DC powered by Forbes Media. It was a life altering day. I've been thinking and talking about rewriting the scripts on aging since before I turned 50, and being surrounded by people with the same guiding thought, especially at this moment when my book on this topic is launching, was an affirmation and an inspiration. We are living longer, and the old models of aging are no longer useful or relevant. We don't need to follow some archaic idea of what it means to be an older person.

The idea that aging starts at some point along the journey is absurd. We are aging from the moment we are born. There is no moment when we reach the top of the hill and no reason for a downhill slide. Life is a process of becoming. It isn't over until we take our final breath. We write our story, and with each decade we can start a new chapter, filled with possibility for expansion, adventure, and growth.

We are never too old.

It is never too late. 

 "Learning is just curiosity with legs." Dave Evans

"Learning is just curiosity with legs." Dave Evans

At any moment, if we so choose, we can write a different story. 

"What if we didn't have the word 'retirement.'" Jo Ann Jenkins CEO, AARP Author Disrupt Aging

This, so much this! I have seen it over and over again. People retire, stop growing, stop doing, stop connecting, and they begin to decline. This is not destiny, however. What if we looked at retirement as an opportunity for reinvention? What would that look like?

We could go back to school or as Dave Evans of Stanford University's D.Life Lab suggests, enroll in YouU. How many lives are you? What if there is no 'best you', but instead there are a myriad of possibilities?  "Learning is just curiosity with legs." Dave Evans

We could serve others, making a positive difference in the world and making connections that help keep us joyful and alive. We don't have to feel isolated. We can release the stories that no longer serve us. We can risk rejection, and in the process risk joy. "This idea that we're alone is a false narrative." Cheryl Strayed, author Wild. "We take risks because even though it may turn it badly, it may turn out gloriously."

We could reconnect with the people we love, nurture and strengthen those relationships. We could pursue and cultivate new relationships. When we build a life of meaning, we become more optimistic. "In order to heal the world you need the ability to give and receive love." Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States 

 "Grit never peaks!" Rich Karlgaard

"Grit never peaks!" Rich Karlgaard

We can nurture our bodies, get up and move. Keep the life force pumping through our veins. "Disrupting is exercise, activity, and moving." Jeff Halevey Host of Workout from Within CEO Halevey Life

We can reinvent ourselves! We are peaking in different ways as we age, the rate of decline after each peak is incremental. Our experiences offer powerful insights that younger people have yet to cultivate. "Grit never peaks" and as we get older "we're much better editors of what's valuable in our lives." Rich Karlgaard Editor at Large and Global Futurist at Forbes Media

We can redesign our lives and redefine ourselves. It requires some reflection. What gets you up? What gives you purpose? With whom do you do it? Can you do it with a smile? "Redesigning our lives does not happen by accident." Debra Whitman, PhD EVP and CPPO, AARP

We can focus on how what we do impacts the world at large, from the small to the big picture. Even the most mundane interactions offer us an opportunity for kindness. "Everything I do I ask myself, "Is this going to do some good? Can I help people with this? Is this a force for good in the world?"" Ann Curry, Emmy Award-Winning Journalist, Executive Producer & Reporter, PBS Series We'll Meet Again

I made a video with more of my takeaways, but the gist of it is this. The world may deem us irrelevant, or ask us to become invisible, or suggest that we have nothing to offer, but this is only true if we accept it. There is no better time that right now to become the person you've always wanted to be, to explore all of the many facets of who you are and what that means. We #disruptaging by smashing stereotypes, changing the Zeitgeist, shifting the paradigm, and rewriting what it means to grow BOLDER with every passing year.

I'm all in. It's my guiding purpose, it's my biggest message, it's the thing that gets me excited to get up every single day.

I will not go gentle into that good night.

How about you?

Let's #disruptaging, together!

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Why I Love Button Up Shirts

Hello, Gorgeous!

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I'm opining on my love for the classic button up shirt today. As you can see in the graphic to the left, I have a collection. 

A few years back due to a heady combination of menopause, stress, and asthma medications, I gained a significant amount of weight. I talk about this in my new book. I spent most of my life being very thin. When I had my daughter at 34 and gained 50 pounds. I lost that weight through diet and exercise, and stayed slim until hitting my late 40s. Then defying diet and exercise and all efforts to combat it, the weight came back. I have tried to lose the weight again, but it's been a challenge. Therefore, I am learning to embrace myself at this new size. Dressing my new body has proved challenging. Many of the styles that worked for me at size 2 and 4 and 6 and 8 don't work as well at size 10 and sometimes 12. 

Enter the button up shirt. 

As you can see in the graphic above, I have a lot of them. 

There are more than what you see in this photo. You can get the scoop on them in my newest YouTube video, Stylish Crap I Found at Thrift Stores. It's funny. Watch it. Just click the arrow to play and enjoy. I'll meet you back here.

I like the button up shirt because it's stylish, comfortable, cool, and easy to dress up or dress down. The button up shirt is surprisingly slimming, particularly in the upper arm area. Button up shirts come in an infinite variety of colors, fabrics, and patterns. I didn't realize this had become a Madge style staple until I opened the door to my closet recently and saw the gathering of button up shirts staring back at me. 

Wait, what? When did this happen?

I think they're multiplying in there when I'm sleeping.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

However, I will say, the button up shirt presents a plethora of style options. Wear it open with a tank top underneath, or button it all the way up and add a chunky necklace, tie it up at your waist and add a fit and flare skirt and strappy sandals, wear it untucked with a pair of capris and some ballet flats for an Audrey Hepburn appeal. I'm also fond of buttoning the first few buttons and leaving the bottom open.

This may be ill advised but it's my life and I will wear what I please. 

Button up shirts are also fabulous with leggings. 

I write about my love of leggings extensively in my new book

Did I mention I have a new book? I wasn't sure if you'd heard. I highly recommend it, and not just because I wrote it. But mostly because I wrote it. It's actually pretty good if I do say so myself...which I just did. 

But I digress, we were talking about button up shirts. I find them to be effortlessly chic. I find them endlessly applicable. You may like them too. Or not, but it's worth a try. You can find them by the bushel at your local thrift shop for a few dollars each or at stores like Gap, Old Navy, J Crew, and Land's End. Take one out for a spin. Look for button up shirts that fit you without being too baggy or so tightly fitted that they gap between the buttons. I prefer women's shirts to men's shirts, because the little tailored details accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Men's shirts are so boxy, they're more like tents. I do like an oversize men's shirt for a beach cover-up or belted and worn as a dress. If you're a busty gal, button up shirts may not work for you, although you may find if they're worn open with a tank top or tied around the waist they look fabulous.

You never know until you try. 

If you decide to try a button up shirt or you already own and love them, let me know in the comments! And for the record, I would never, ever tell a woman what to wear or what not to wear. We should all wear what makes us happy and allow others the breathing room to do the same. Period. I'm just sharing what works for me in the hope that it might inspire you to find what works for you. 

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Thrift Shop Observations

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It's Tuesday, which feels like Monday because I spent Monday with my friend Nan on a thrifting excursion. Something interesting is happening at thrift stores. I've never seen anything like it in my many, many years as a thrifter. 

Thrift stores are getting BUSY! 

Concurrently, prices are going up.

I abandoned a fabulous little mid-century ashtray yesterday after deciding the wait wasn't worth my time. The line was epic, and people waiting had overflowing shopping carts. It was 3 o'clock on a Monday afternoon. It's the same thing no matter what time or day I thrift lately, epic lines, furious activity! 

"Who are these people? Don't they have jobs?" Asks the writer who spent the day wandering through dusty thrift shops. 

Then I heard a couple in the shoe aisle yelling brand names to each other, "BCBG! Guess! Ann Taylor!"

A ha, re-sellers!

More and more people are realizing they can make money buying crap from thrift shops and reselling it online. Keying into this phenomenon, thrift shops are trying to get a bigger slice of that pie. The thing is, if they raise prices too high, there won't be any room for re-sellers to make a profit. If this trend continues, thrift stores may become less busy. This will be better for the portion of the shoppers who are people on a budget in search of clothing and goodies at deep discounts. These folks are just shopping for bargains. There are lots of bargains to be found still, if you're savvy. Different color tags go on sale every week, Goodwill has a shopper's card for discount prices, some thrift shops offer senior discounts, and a little time spent digging can yield bargains that the folks doing the pricing have missed.

Then, there are bins. The bins are much busier than they used to be. This is because re-sellers can make a lot more money buying from the bins. If you're willing to get down and dirty, you can find all sorts of stuff in the bins. They are filled with crap you have to dig through and people can get downright aggressive. They'll toss crap at you without a care. I don't go to the bins too often, because I'm not a big re-seller and rude people drive me to distraction. Also, I have ADHD and it's sensory overload. Though I just sold a book I found in the bins for a quarter for 120 dollars to a rare book dealer. He'll likely sell it for more than twice that much to a collector.

Not too shabby, eh?

Some of the shops we hit yesterday were outrageously overpriced. I would not balk at this as much if they'd clean things up and display their crap in a manner that reflected their rising prices. You can't look like a junk shop and charge antique store prices. Or you can, but I'm sure as heck not going to buy from you. Also, a thrift store is a not an antique store. Nothing is curated, and it's all donated. A junk shop is not an antique store, nothing is curated and it's usually a hodge-podge. I have a theory that most junk shop owners are hoarders who want to pretend they are willing to part with their hoard, but the higher the prices, the lower their desire to sell. Antique shops are curated, there are booths, they are carefully maintained and displayed. Thrift shops and junk stores offer random piles of dirty, dusty, funky smelling stuff jammed on overflowing shelves without any thematic relevance. It's tossed willy and nilly and much of it is truly the crappiest of the crappy. I will give Goodwill credit for displaying their knick-knacks by color, but it's still mostly junk that has not been curated or edited or thoughtfully arrayed. Finding treasure in the trove of trash requires persistence. 

I went thrifting yesterday with my friend Nan, and we were both surprised at the rising prices and the plethora of other shoppers. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue. In the meantime, I have some new Crap I Found at Thrift Stores videos for your thrift-ertainment which I have sprinkled throughout this post.

Enjoy!

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Midlife Musings: The Beauty Equation

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I started this essay on the Beauty Equation yesterday, but then something happened and my thoughts were re-routed. I don't want to leave this topic unexplored, though, because I think it's powerful and resonant.

So much of a woman's worth in our youth and beauty obsessed culture is based on her physical appearance. We judge and are judged by how we look, what we wear, how we style our hair...and all of this is shallow, surface level judgement has real impact on our professional and personal lives. As a woman in this climate, if you opt out of the Beauty Equation, you are doing so with full knowledge that it will affect you personally and professionally. As we head into mid-life, it's hard not to chase that brass ring of youth and to want to feel beautiful and, ultimately, to feel relevant. 

I'm here! I'm not fading away! I've got so much more to bring to the party! Helloooooo!!!!!

As a woman over 50, I have to fight the pressure to stay pretty or fade away. It's ever present, especially as my physical appearance changes. It's deeply embedded in our culture.

Think of this, for a moment. Imagine if a woman over 70 became president and it turned out that she had an unprotected sexual encounter with a much younger male porn star. Imagine how that would be received by the press. Imagine this woman having had extramarital sex and then paying hush money to this much younger porn star. Then, imagine if it emerged that she'd also had a concurrent long term affair with a Playgirl playmate. 

Do they call them playmates? Is Playgirl even a thing anymore? 

As you can tell, my fascination with porn and sexy magazines lacks conviction. I'm not into 50 shades, unless we're talking paint chips, because those get my creative juices flowing even if they don't cause a tingle in my nether regions.

Fifty shades of chartreuse? Now you're talking!

But I digress, we were talking about a hypothetical female president in her 70s having sexual encounters with a porn star and a playmate and paying them both hush money to squash the stories. This would be scandalous and likely lead to her impeachment. Paging Shonda Rhimes!

The double standard is fascinating to me, but there is biology at play. A woman over 70 is no longer biologically capable of producing offspring, a man over 70 is. In fact, I think for many men, the fact that our current POTUS was able to cajole both of these women into having sex with him is impressive. He's not pretty, not by a long shot, but it doesn't matter. It's also important to note that men get a pass on the Beauty Equation if they're famous, rich, and powerful. Women, however, do not. 

So much of a woman's worth and success is driven by how we present ourselves to the world. There are expectations for a woman that are not equal to those of a man. Again, imagine this 70 something woman had a turban of dyed yellow hair, if you will, that wrapped around her head to conceal a large bald spot. Imagine she slathered on make-up that made her look a strange shade of orange. Imagine she was borderline morbidly obese and wore a huge bow to cover her waistline. Imagine she regularly posted obscenities, threats, and barely coherent rants on social media. She could not be elected.

I cannot tell you how many women have told me that they could never, ever have pink hair because it would affect them professionally. They're shocked when I explain that it's part of my branding. Still, I'm an outlier, and for most of my adult life hot pink hair would have been a barrier to entry. It's a conscious choice I made for myself and also to make a statement. It took losing everything and having nothing left to lose for me to finally take the plunge. If I had aged out of my career, I was going to create a new career that allowed me to be authentic and unfiltered. I am not interested in aging gracefully or following some outmoded set of rules about how women should present themselves after 50. I'll tell you this much, you cannot be invisible with hot pink hair. I can't honestly say I am entirely immune to the desire to look and feel pretty, but I'm finding that what I feel is beautiful is shifting. It is incredibly freeing. 

Beauty is skin deep. Let's go deeper. Let's shift the Zeitgeist, lift our gaze, change the conversation to what a woman does, thinks, says, and what she has to bring to the party. We, women, can stop shaming celebrities and each other publicly and privately. We can raise each other up, celebrate our achievements and potential. We are half of the population and the conversation. Think of what we could achieve if we stopped chasing the Beauty Equation and stopped demanding that other women do it too.

I love seeing women bloom in mid-life, and finally come into their own with a defiant, daring attitude. If the world wants to make us invisible, we will dial up the volume! Or not, because we should age in the manner we see fit and allow other women the breathing room to do the same. 

Being true to yourself, that's the solution to the Beauty Equation. 

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Avoiding the Pretty Trap

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It's hard not to get sucked into the cycle of wanting to be pretty, because getting compliments and attention feels good. Yet, as I get older and the pretty part of my equation continues to decline, I am finding myself less concerned with being pretty. Perhaps that's because it's more difficult to achieve or perhaps it's because I'm seeing the insidiousness of the pretty trap with more clarity.

Funny thing happened on the way to this essay. I wrote the previous paragraph and stepped away to tend to my dogs. Before I returned to the keyboard, I visited social media for a moment, and stumbled onto a thread discussing my writing. This particular morning it was a particularly shitty discovery. It's one thing when a stranger insults you, but a different thing when it's someone you know. 

In this thread I was insulted by being called a lovely person. This sounds weird, I know, but stick with me here. The woman began by calling me a lovely person, but she countered that with an unceremonious and unsupported dismissal of my talents. Being lovely was the consolation prize.

Gosh, thanks! I feel so much better now! You think I'm a shitty writer, but I'm lovely so it's all good. 

I could go into a long winded diatribe about how she was wrong and I feel offended, but what's the point? She's already dismissed me in public. And you see, by calling me a lovely person, she's made it seem as if she's not insulting me. This happens to women all of the time. Men do it to us. We do it to each other. 

She's lovely...but she's not a real (insert something important here.) 

Poor thing. 

How many cares a woman loses when she decides not to be something, but someone.
— Coco Chanel

I am tired of the pretty trap. I don't care if you think I'm pretty or lovely or gorgeous or beautiful or resplendent or any other adjective related to the supposedly appealing nature of my meat suit. I'm far more interested in being interesting than in being pretty. I also don't care if you think I'm interesting. If you don't like me or something I've created, feel free to keep that to yourself, or whisper it under your breath, or if you can't control your unbridled enthusiasm shout it to the roof tops.

Whatever.

If you wish to give me a sincere compliment, I will graciously accept it. If you want to give me a critique, feel free, but have facts to back up your assertions. If you have a back handed compliment you feel compelled to hurl in my direction, I suggest you take it and forcefully stuff it into your posterior. 

Own your ugly words. 

Don't roll shit in sugar and call it candy.  

It's none of my business what other people think about me. I don't have to empower or own other people's opinions. 

I am going to work at not falling into the pretty trap. I am going to remember this when I become jealous of another woman and start to hide behind an insult disguised as a compliment. I am going to work at being more supportive of other women and what they have to bring to the table. I am going to check my envy, ego, and insecurity at the front door. I'm going to remember this when I talk to my daughter, and bemoan the fading of my youth and the indignities of aging. I want her to know that the pretty trap is a lie. Who we are and how we treat others is far more important than how we look.

There is room enough in the sky for every star to shine. Competition is a myth. If women could stop competing with each other and start supporting each other, we could change the world.

I'm starting with me. 

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Life's Too Mysterious, Don't Take it Serious

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I went to a funeral on Monday. The only time I go to church is for weddings and funerals. I'm not a church lady. I don't feel more connected to the divine through rituals or stained glass windows or huge statues of Jesus hanging from a cross. I'm not moved by the music or the chants or the sacrament. I've explored various and sundry faiths and practices. None of them resonate for me. I make no judgment if it resonates for you, truly. 

I feel closer to the divine when I'm in nature and marveling at unfathomable wonders. I feel connected to the source when I stare at the stars and realize how small I am and how insignificant my life is in the face of everything that surrounds it. I am humbled by every day magic. My god/dess is a verb, the act of unconditional love. I am the instrument, occasionally playing in tune and often slightly off key, but through practice the song keeps improving. I understand the power of myth and ritual, but I am not called to it nor bound by it. 

My mother often says, "This life is but a split second in eternity."

Puts things in perspective. 

As I stood in the church, and then sat, and then stood, and then sat again, I felt nothing. Yet, I could see that other people found comfort in the rituals and the words of the priest. This made me happy. If it gives them hope and helps them negotiate sorrow and loss, so be it. People are afraid of death, and faith helps make death seem less permanent and therefore less scary. I get that. We don't want the people we love to just cease existing. I don't want that, either. Religion has not solved that conundrum for me, though physics has offered some solace. Sometimes they even converge. 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We are made of the stuff of stars and to that stuff we will return again and again and again.

There's comfort in that revelation. 

I don't know what happens to our consciousness when we die. Some people feel certain that there is a heaven and a hell and our souls, after death, spend an eternity in one or the other. I think both can be found right here, on this plane. I don't believe in some eternal resting place where we are rewarded or punished. Reincarnation makes more sense to me, but that is just another theory and another way to avoid confronting the unknown. Maybe this is all there is. Or maybe physics is right, time is not linear and there are infinite versions of this happening simultaneously. Maybe death and life and everything that we experience and believe to be real are illusions.

I don't know.

No one knows. 

I believe that love is real. Love endures. Love transcends. The rest is inconsequential. I will love as much as possible for as long as I can and when I am no longer able, I will hope that the love I have shared keeps resonating on a higher frequency.

As time passes, I am finding myself less concerned with figuring it out. I don't need affirmation or confirmation. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other as I seek the compassionate heart. I believe that love is real. Love endures. Love transcends. The rest is inconsequential. I will love as much as possible for as long as I can and when I am no longer able, I will hope that the love I have shared keeps resonating on a higher frequency.

I went to a funeral on Monday. The woman who died left a lot of love behind. I could feel it filling the church and spilling out as we left. None of the rituals or chants or trappings resonated for me. Her love, however, did. 

And I suppose that's my faith and the vast and mysterious universe to which we all return is my church. 

Amen.

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Exuviance HA100 Micro-Filler

 I was sent this product for review. All opinions are 100% my own!

I was sent this product for review. All opinions are 100% my own!

Hello, Gorgeous!

Today we're talking about Exuviance HA100 Micro-Filler, a new and revolutionary product from Exuviance. They sent me a sample to review, and this is my honest opinion.

First, let me state for the record that I believe women should age in the manner they choose. Embrace your wrinkles, reject them, or make an uncomfortable peace with them. You do what works for you. They're going to show up eventually, regardless. I believe every gal should do what makes her happy. Remember that you are not your appearance or your skin, you are the fabulous woman who lives underneath. 

At 54, almost 55, my face is changing. As I've mentioned before, I'm still coming to terms with that. I like my face, and I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to it. I do what I can to take care of my skin. I stay out of the sun. I use sunscreen. I wear hats. I cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize. As a result, my skin looks pretty good. Even so, since I've stopped getting Botox, which I miss and I loved in case you were wondering and even if you weren't, I have developed a triangle of lines between my eyes. I do not like this triangle. It makes me look worried. I am not worried. I am annoyed at this triangle. I used to wear my hair off of my face, as you can see in my photo to the right. Now I wear bangs, solely to cover this annoying triangle. 

When the folks from Exuviance, part of the dermatologist developed NeoStrata brand, offered to send me a sneak peek sample of their new Exuviance HA100 Micro-Filler, which is launching on May 20th between 7-8 EST on HSN, I was all over it. They make highly effective skin care products, with lots of solid scientific research behind them. What intrigued me about this product was the opportunity to specifically target deeper wrinkles on your face. I knew immediately what wrinkles I wanted to target, the annoying triangle. You use the patches once a week, and the serum daily. I've also been using their Age Reverse Hydra Firm for the past two weeks, review to come, and I am a regular user of their Age Reverse Neck Cream.  

The patches come in a sealed foil pouch. They are sort of like a Band-Aid, adhesive along the edges, flexible material on the back, with sharp cones in the center. The cones deliver pure hyaluronic acid directly into the wrinkles overnight while you sleep. This intensely hydrates your skin, plumping it up so the lines are less prominent. Much like collagen, hyaluronic acid in our skin decreases as we age. Babies have a lot of it, which is why their skin is so soft and plump. As we get older and our skin loses volume and softness, we see wrinkles and sagging. It's kind of like the difference between a grape and a raisin. The patches help to reintroduce that volume into your skin, which decreases the wrinkles. The serum addresses dark spots, sagging, and uneven texture. Together they work to help restore a more even, glowing, plump appearance to your skin.

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I used the cones once so far, and I definitely saw improvement. I am going to continue using them over the next month and am looking forward to even more dramatic results. 

Here's the 411 from Exuviance about HA100 Microfiller:

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Smooth the look of your hardest-to-treat deep lines - crow’s feet, forehead creases, smile lines – with Exuviance HA100 Micro-Filler. This two-step intensive treatment with daily serum and once-weekly soft Micro-Cone Patches works together to target the look of deep lines while you sleep. Micro-Cone Patches with 100% pure Hyaluronic Acid are designed to dissolve into skin overnight, plumping and filling the look of deep lines with surface hydration. Use with AGE REVERSE Total Correct + Sculpt Serum formulated with Aminofil® as part of this 2-step intensive antiaging treatment. Contains 4-week supply: 8 (4 pairs) Micro-Cone Patches AGE REVERSE Total Correct + Sculpt Serum 10 mL / 0.34 fl oz. 

Main benefits of the product include: 
• 100% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Micro-Cone Patches help plump and fill the look of deep lines with surface hydration
• Exuviance Age Reverse Total Correct + Sculpt Serum helps transform skin, addressing the look of signs of aging including dark spots, sagging skin and uneven texture
• 73% said their fine lines/wrinkles were less noticeable after 4 weeks of using HA100 Micro-Filler (Serum daily, Patches once a week)

The one month regimen of HA100 Micro-Filler is available on HSN, starting May 20th from 7-8pm EST. I am going to try to stretch mine to two months by using a single patch on the lines between my forehead once a week. However, you can use the patches anywhere on your face where you want to target deeper wrinkles. It's a heckuva lot less expensive than Botox, at $88.00 for the kit. 

As I said, I'm all for women doing what makes them happy. Sending the annoying triangle of lines on their way is most definitely doing that for me. 

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Hello, Tuesday

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Hello, Tuesday.

It's sunny. There's melt-y snow on the ground. My daughter is upstairs, asleep, which makes me happy. She's only here for the week, and then gone again. Right on the heels of that unwelcome departure, of course, my husband is heading overseas for a week and a half.

This refrain is getting really old. 

I am adjusting to the new home, new town, and the new wrinkles that have arrived unceremoniously.

Oh, hello, new wrinkles.

From whence did you wander and how might I direct you onward?

Hi thee ho, wrinkles.

Thither and yon.

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Not that you have asses, but you get the point.

Oh, that's how it's going to go then. 

Persistent little buggers, aren't you?

Aging is an interesting phenomenon, because it's mostly incremental, but there are these occasional little leaps forward that seem to happen overnight. My lower face is marching ever towards my neck. Then, there's my neck, also on a southern trajectory. You can read all about that in my new book

Shameless book plug? Why yes, thanks for asking.

I don't see these changes in the mirror as much as I see them in photos. Social media, that insatiable beast, is ever in need of photos. Since I'm home alone, often, they're often selfies. It's weird, taking and editing photos of yourself. It's illuminating seeing your face on a computer screen as you lighten the contrast or brighten the exposure in a vain attempt to present yourself in your best light. Oh so much dual meaning in that sentence...I would unpack it but I think it best to leave it where it is. 

According to the aging gracefully police, I'm supposed to embrace the passage of time and the changes to my face and body with solemn reverence. Honestly, I'm not on board with that agenda. I admire those 'wicked cool' over 50 ladies who claim wrinkles as stripes as they strike bad ass poses in couture clothing. I am not one of them, at least not yet. I lack the couture and the conviction. I'm just me, Madge, doing my best to negotiate the indignities of aging and learning to accept, if not embrace, the ravages of time. 

The truth is, much of what happens to our skin as we age is a result of sun damage and inflammation and free radical damage none of which is inevitability. It's not written in stone, merely etched in your epidermis. You can always sandblast that shit. It's just a meat suit, after all. I am not my meat suit, I am the consciousness that currently resides inside. At least this is what I tell myself. I may just be a random array of synapses firing in my brain and central nervous system surrounded by a random collection of matter briefly arranged in this meat suit that will return to the great cosmic dust bin upon my departure. We are the stuff of stars, just ask Carl. 

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.
— Carl Sagan

It's not that I'm afraid of getting old, because I'm hoping to live a long, long time. It's just that I like my face the way it is and I'm not yet ready to let it go. I've already let my wonderful child go, and my hopes of ever playing Sally Bowles in Cabaret go, and my ability to traipse about town in ridiculous high heels go...how much must I release to the passing of time?

Besides, time an illusion we humans accept as reality, as is space. We're having a consensual delusion. 

Wow, this got deep.

Anyway, it's Tuesday. I'm writing a blog post. I think I hear the vague sounds of my daughter rustling around upstairs. The dogs will need to go outside to sniff things and pee on other things. The small details of my daily delusions beckon. I do hope that you have a lovely day. If you see my wrinkles, kindly tell them to fuck off.

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We Can Do Better, Women

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We no longer have access to live TV, we've cut the cord and our antennae is useless. Thusly, we didn't watch The Oscars last night. I avoided social media until this morning, because I knew what I would find in my feeds. 

And there it was...in all of its ugly, sad, judgmental glory...the ubiquitous women bashing other women for their sartorial and dermatological choices. I scrolled through a disappointing stream of nasty comments about 'her face' and 'her dress.' The snide asides about Botox, fillers, exposed boobs, hideous dresses...blah, blah, blah.

Break out the Scarlet Letter, Hester. But don't you dare Bedazzle that shit. Women should neither be seen nor heard. 

Like clockwork, even with #timesup, the snark pours forth from fingertips poised on keyboards as they sit on a couch in their PJs passing judgement and desperately seeking attention. Look how funny I am! I risked nothing! I did nothing! 

Go me!

I wish we could be better, women. 

First came the speculation about a variety of actresses over 40 and who had the most work done. How could she do that to her face? How dare she not age gracefully!

Then, the winner of most offensive thread in my feed was from a woman who suggested that "me to" (sp) actresses whose "boobs were sticking out of their sexy dresses" got what was coming to them. Yup. Blame the women. According to this mythology men are weak willed perverts led around by their dicks and women are sirens luring them into wanton acts of sexual harassment merely by their presence. If they would keep their boobs covered, men would keep their hands to themselves. 

You know, that old chestnut, they were asking for it. 

This story is as tired as the women who keep telling it.

Let's write a new story, shall we?

What a woman wears is her business. What a woman does with her face is her business. Every aspect of a woman's appearance is her business. If you insist on being an arm chair critic, roll that chair up to a mirror and take a good look at yourself, sister.

Because bitchy doesn't look good on anyone.

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