What are our pens doing?

Each morning I read from 3 published works. They have become my friends that greet me in the morning. I open each with anticipation that the words in these collections are waiting to speak to me; specifically and gently. My habit of reading these is old enough to have taught me that indeed the genius minds before me are able to comfort me, inspire me, to give me hope. It’s why I get up so early!

You see I don’t wake up calm and collected. I wake up with butterflies in my stomach, worried about something, anxious about a little bit of everything. But these three friends always prepare me to step into my day with eager anticipation.

These three collections found me. My friend Teresa Noble gave me a little paperback called Thoughts for the Quiet Hour years ago. It’s no longer published but Dexter finds copies for me on the internet; “Used…gently used …excellent condition”. I never asked him to do this. He just surprises me because he knows I love to give them away.

My second book, Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, found me in Colorado when I was on a trip I couldn’t afford at a conference that I was driven to attend. And last, and as they say “but not least”, is my Life Application Bible from my sister-in-law Janeece. I never knew there was a bible with “helps” at the bottom! All those years of church and no one told me! Really?!

So here it is, February 11th and I am thinking about November 21st from Thoughts for the Quiet Hour. It inspires me each time I read it. It’s like I have forgotten the words, and then there they are, reminding me again “to write”. Each day, this collection of philosophers starts with a verse from the bible. D.L. Moody collected 365 of his favorites; that in and of itself is amazing. And then he collected someone’s commentary supporting each verse. Now that I can Google, I keep my phone in my robe pocket just to see who these unknown geniuses are. Not every morning mind you, but sometimes.

November 21st starts with a quote, “I heard from behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet saying… write.” It sounds like Shakespeare, right? Well almost, it’s Revelation. And then Thomas Champness says, “Are there not others who would dry their tears if we would remind them of past joys, when we were poor as they are now? Would not some, who read these plain words, place inside the envelope something bearing their signature to which would make the widow’s heart dance for joy! What are our pens doing??”

What are our pens doing? My daughter-in-love (law doesn’t say it right) Sarah, my son Chad’s wife, heard my cry for personalized stationary a few years and ago and now it’s a staple of my budget. Envelopes bearing my address and personal cards bearing my name are like crystal champagne glasses. It states to whomever I am writing that what I am saying is intensely personal and very important to me.

I look for those moments when I can slip a word of love to someone else who may be experiencing life in a way that brings particular joy, or sorrow, or generosity. They should know their kindness to me meant something or that when I woke up they were the root of my anxiety and that I am honestly praying for them. Or perhaps, they just need to know I remember some past sorrow that is revisiting them just now.

What are your pens doing?!? ….. Write! Do it! Don’t wait. “Are you adding joy to other men’s lives? If so, then angels may tune their harps when we sit at our desks…looking at our pens as writing music for them to sing because what we write makes their client’s joy be full!” Joy! You see what I mean about these people that inspire me! So now, you …. Write. Write. Write.

Spell check. Save. Send. 🙂


Watching Creativity Become

It’s that time of year when parents are invited to come to class with us and we share our work. What has been a private process of creativity becomes public for the first time. I suppose you could argue that the class provides a weekly audience, but by now that audience has shifted to a trusted legion of fellow travelers. Your classmates are your comrades on a journey that opens up new worlds of insight that are nearly impossible to explain to anyone else. Hopefully, if all goes well, your class has become your best audience, providing a mirror for your discoveries; a group that can delight in those revelations right along with you, in fact sometimes before you.

But once parents arrive everyone gets jittery all over again. Perhaps this audience will enjoy being an observer of their child’s self-discovery and savor this one tiny glimpse of their child’s journey. Experience tells me that for some, this hour becomes a time of discernment that may bring a jab of criticism or the need to measure success. That’s the chance you always take as an artist when you show your work, but with your family it’s more personal.

So to all whose job it is to observe creativity on its journey, I have these words of encouragement. Creativity is precious and very private. I once taught a class where one child was so exceptionally shy that the mere idea that everyone’s parents were coming to observe gave him an instant case of the flu. I knew his cold sweats were motivated by his tender soul not germs floating in the air. And so we created a plan.

Every great work needs a lighting design and every production worth seeing needs a great stage manager. The flu disappeared as our lighting designer/stage manager was born. When everyone’s parents arrived this young boy stood proudly by the door. He knew his role in our collective success. We started working and proudly he stood. He had joyfully participated in the class all semester warming up, becoming the man who owned all the caps in Caps for Sale, happily playing a monkey in the tree. But not today. Today he was prepared for something else. Today he would shine the light on the other actors. His cue came and flawlessly the light switched on! Bravo!

How could I begin to explain to a type-A parent that he was indeed learning, becoming more confident by the moment and especially today? What I know is that until an individual develops enough confidence in what he or she has learned you may not get to see it. It may remain hidden until it has gelled.

I don’t remember his parents’ response. I do however remember his! He was elated with his role stage left. OFF STAGE LEFT to be more correct! He knew. I knew. It was a good day.

I Choose to Have a Sunday

I choose to have a Sunday, a time apart. Not just to do the wash or pull weeds, or go to the grocery, or all that other stuff we don’t have time to do during the week, but to head to my spiritual home. To have 2 cups of frothy coffee at a much slower pace than a Monday or Tuesday, put on something nicer than jeans, but less corporate than my suit, and go “be”.

I need a place to go once a week apart from the cares of my world, to be refreshed. Going to church, for me, especially when I don’t rush off after the service, when I slow my pace and connect, grounds me. This is where I learn to rest, to serve, to let go, to be thankful. Once I am there I become less worried about results. It’s like stepping into a zone where I realize there is an entire universe out there so much bigger than me, and ever so gently my daily worries melt away. I am reminded to forgive, to tell the truth, and above all else to be kind. It presses me to pay attention to the details of other people’s lives, to show up, to get outside of myself.

I loved reading that Jim Henson said he spent time in prayer every morning; that this time helped him start the day with a good frame of reference. I absolutely know this to be true. Finding white space! Ah me. Filling our spirits is as necessary as breathing.

A Charmed Life at Kids Who Care

www.zuilma.comI was listening to Charles Osgood this morning, as I do when I get ready for church. I heard words that describe why I hope that I always work at Kids Who Care. It is the key to relationships for me. We create a work of art together and it allows us to be in relationship. We teach each other the things we know. I get to share words of the all the greatest geniuses I’ve read about or observed. I get to pass along advice like “always say important things face to face”, “written thank yous matter”, “leaders pick up trash!” And you say things like “my heart is smiling”, or you show me your fairy notebook, or squeal with glee at the thought of a real Tinker Bell climbing through the window. Why wouldn’t anyone want to be in those rooms and basements and on those sidewalks? I have spent my entire adult life in relationship with artists and children. A charmed life for sure. A rich life beyond anything money will ever be able to glean.

The Legend of the Artist

For some reason I have never thought about true art belonging to a certain place, or a particular city, or a specific part of the world. I have seen Michelangelo’s David in Florence and Picasso’s pen and ink sketches at the Guggenheim in New York, but I’ve never equated great art with a location. It’s everywhere.

I guess it’s why I have never pined away to be somewhere that I am not. I have always been satisfied to have the work that I have in the place that I am. Every morning I read the words of historical geniuses from a tiny paperback book called Thoughts for the Quiet Hour; one for every day of the year. It lost its binding years ago and lives in a little pink zipper book pocket meant to hold a bible. August 25th offers the legend of an artist by Orison Swett Marden. To completely appreciate his words you should Google him.

“There is a legend of an artist who long sought for a piece of sandalwood, out of which to carve a Madonna. He was about to give up in despair, leaving the vision of his life unrealized, when in a dream he was bidden to carve his Madonna from a block of oak wood which was destined for a fire. He obeyed and produced a masterpiece from a log of common firewood. Many of us lose great opportunities in life by waiting to find sandalwood for our carvings, when they really lie hidden in the common logs that we burn.”

– Orison Swett Marden

Never wait to give life to your vision. It is for now, not for some other time and place.

Things That Can Derail Your Day

There are things that can derail my day in a nanosecond if I’m not careful. So I have created a list over time that I look at almost daily. I wouldn’t have to read it over and over if I had mastered these things 🙂 I am a “work in progress”! I love this list…

  1. Be careful of tiny distractions.
  2. Don’t be distracted by people’s temperament
  3. Don’t worry about vindicating yourself 🙂
  4. Give people a fresh start.
  5. Visibility is not about being seen, it’s about connecting.
  6. Seek to understand, not to be understood.

Each of these “one liners” has a story of course. I will share those at another time.

One Bird at a Time

I have this phrase that lives in my head; “One bird at a time, One bird at a time, One bird at a time.” It comes in 3’s, and if I am really lucky it resurfaces when I need it. It’s for those days when I am catapulted into foggy confusion by the sheer volume of information. It’s for those moments when I feel like I am under water and everyone around me is up there on the pool’s edge moving along. I can’t quite understand them, and I certainly can’t join the conversation because if I open my mouth I’ll drown. All that water pouring in.

So, “one bird at a time” helps me take the first step, get into the flow, and naturally, I move forward. Perhaps this story will help you. 🙂

There was a young boy sitting at his kitchen table with an open tablet of Manila paper, colored pencils out of the box, and his text book lying open. He was frozen; staring at the text. His dad came into the room and asked him if he could help and the little guy burst into tears. His assignment was due tomorrow; 12 state birds drawn and labeled. It was impossible! He hadn’t even started. His dad gently smiled and simply said, “One bird at a time, son. One bird at a time. Just take one piece of paper, draw the bird, and label it. When you finish with that one, go to the next, and then the next. Before you know it the project will be complete.

It’s September and my list of to-dos seems to grow exponentially. Before I can check anything off, the list has doubled or tripled in length. So today, right now, I say to myself, “One bird at a time, one bird at a time, one bird at a time.” It’s working! Join me. 🙂

Rejuvenate Your Feelers

Following any marathon of work that mimics the explosive ongoing energy required of a Kids Who Care summer, you need more than a nap. You would do well to create a window to “rejuvenate your feelers”. Like a butterfly that sunbathes to refill the solar cells in his or her wings, we all need dedicated quality time off in order that what follows will have the possibility of being fruitful.

What I learned this year on my annual trek to breathe the Aspen filled Colorado air is that I should always pack a journal. I found myself writing in a Mead College Ruled Spiral Notebook I picked up from one of those gas station/fishing bait quick stops along the highway. When I am quiet I discover things, and I always want to write these things down because I know from experience, that if I write these morsels down they will find a place to resurface in my life.

Like today, I read Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. You know her. She wrote Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, Julie & Julia. Her play, Lucky Guy, starring Tom Hanks is on Broadway now. She talked about the difference between 30 and 50. There is a difference by the way. I loved them both for totally different reasons.

Then it struck me, this is the place, Purgatory, Colorado, where Kids Who Care’s Heart to Heart was conceived. I suddenly realized I have been observing generations of families from balconies overlooking the ski slopes for over 25 years. Daily I sit with frothy coffee, or a glass of Malbec, or maybe something with huge volumes of crushed ice and lime, and watch families play; multiple generations dedicating time to be together, apart from their daily stressors. It’s is good to see. After my summer marathon, it is a place of bliss, to “breathe a little”. Sip a little. Observe.

So I am closing my Blue Mead College Ruled Spiral to return to Nora Ephron’s words and a fresh avocado with chips. I’ve bathed myself in sunscreen, “Freckles only please with a little Colorado tan to take home.” Dexter stands in the crystal clear lake catching dinner, I hope.

It’s September, and it’s time to ”rejuvenate my feelers!” Wherever you are, I hope you will do the same.

Kids Who Care’s 25th Summer

The 25th Summer at Kids Who Care wasn’t just a birthday it was a passage. Something happened this summer. Something like that first summer in 1989, when we received a standing ovation from a standing room only house; everyone felt it, and then someone was brave enough to call the question, “Now what?” And so in response to that question, what was in our hearts started becoming a tangible thing, step by step, and here we are 25 years later.

To every one of you that has performed on this stage, this is my 25th Summer Message to You:

Although we had talked about the 25th summer for a couple of years, I had no idea how it would feel. The experience of that much love in my heart all surfacing at once has no words. Each year for 25 years, I have spent 11 months out of 12 staring at you on stage; joyfully watching, tweaking, correcting you, your work, your work ethic, but mostly being fed by you. Fed by your performances, your growth, your advice, your response to my work, to our work, for twenty-five years I have most of all adored you.

DITH - Texas Toast Alums

The first rehearsal that you sat as alums in the middle of the house waiting for blocking from me was horrifying and exhilarating simultaneously. I wasn’t expecting you and there you were; an entire row of my brilliant “children” waiting for direction. I had no plan for you! I was busy preparing your place to step into the light and there you were … early by my watch. But you seemed happy not to have a job. Just to sit in the sweet spot and watch. Take it all in.

Opening night hit with 150 kids preparing to go on stage and a list of 42 guest alums showing up in bits and pieces. I desperately wanted to enjoy it. I knew how special it was. I should be feeling something extraordinary, but I wasn’t. I was standing in the center of it all distracted by the details. “It’s like a wedding and I’m the bride and I can’t find my list,” I said to Andrea. And she knew. I wanted to feel that high moment, but I just felt confused. What in the world am I doing? And then I remembered, I’ve never done this before. Six guest celebs front and center, that’s normal, that’s a tradition. But the front 2 rows filled house right to house left, that’s new!

We created a circle, passed the squeeze, the curtain went up. The audience loved it, I loved it, and then I saw your faces exiting the aisles! There it was. That’s the moment I was looking for! Sheer unbridled joy shared by all of us. The reason for existing!

By Friday we settled in. You sat on stage and told the company why this place was important to you and where you were now. The 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. hour to greet and place alums became this comfortable sweet place. Like chess pieces, we moved you from seat to seat, gave you last minute stage directions and time to run your cameos. It started to feel familiar. Some of you had been with us for a full week by then. You were the glue. It made what happened this summer different. It was like the company had arrived. It was more than creating cameos for our friends.

The Summer Company, and especially the Resident Co., was a bit star struck. You made everyone nervous.  Weird, right? There was their history sitting on the front row staring at them. Yep, there you were! The characters in the “tribal stories” we had shared; the original Peter Pan, the real Cowboy, Joseph from the story of “The Wall”. They were excited and in awe, but at the same time sort of freaked out. You had no idea. I witnessed something I’ve never seen before. You were the stars they had heard about and you had come to hang out with them. Very, very cool.

DITH - Tall ManThe Saturday morning coffee was a small “State of the Union”. The realization that this small $1,000,000 company had fought for its place in the cultural distract, its’ ownership, and its’ soul, and won! You were introduced to Cruella and The Giant that made us who we are. We celebrated that it has been a joyful, incredible journey, but that tomorrow stands poised waiting for you to affect us!

By Saturday night it had become a collection of my favorite children all in one place doing what we love. The theatre WAS a party! Our pre-curtain speech jumped into the center and we flew! The performances were the best they ever could have been, the audience the most animated. BJ hit a streak in “The Day Dad Made Toast” that was unprecedented, even in his long history of performances with us. I gave him a standing ovation.

Following the performance, we stepped on to a porch filled with birthday cake and candles, food trucks, and the proper volume of music! By 11:30, I found many of you at Conlon’s, our own personal Irish Pub. I witnessed “Differences” like never before and it was my great pleasure to truly toast you!!! Each of you, for believing in what we did once upon a time. By 2, I didn’t really want to head home. Dexter stood with my purse and a gentle look and we left. But not before I spoke to Andrew Shaw, thank you Ky!

By Sunday morning the sound of Moms in my kitchen and Dads setting up tables was as comfy as an old robe. No worries, no façade, no mascara, no lipstick. I intermittently stepped out of my bathroom in various stages of getting ready to direct someone to a cabinet or a dish. Like it was yesterday, these were my dear friends preparing brunch. It was perfect!!! The family connection complete.

Seeing you on my porch, in my front yard, filling my living room again, changed me. It was beyond anything I expected.

☼ To the beloved Kids Who Care Staff… Chad, Kathryn, Billie, Kate, Andrea, Ehleshea, and Zuilma… Thank you! We did it. We properly celebrated.

☼ To our Alums on Staff and the Alum Board Members…Vanessa, Lane, Taylor, Kate, Andrea, Chad… Thank you! I love you dearly.

☼ To Alum Moms who organized brunch, Janet Lanza and Susan Willis…Much love to you.

☼ To Board Member Karen Vermaire Fox…Thank you for the party on the porch. Huge kiss!
☼ To Kate, thank you for insisting I play Grown Up Wendy, and to Chad and Dexter for encouraging me. To Elise, thank you for letting me swish across stage. After 24 years of acting first, followed by 23 years of directing first, and the first 12 years simply playing make believe, it was wonderful to return to the stage. I’ll do it again.

☼ And to All of You, the Alums out there … Thank you for being there. Kiss the ones you love, buy an alum shirt, and get busy. The 50th will be here before we know it!

DITH - Wake Me Up - Alums