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Not That I'm Complaining...


Not That I'm Complaining...

I came home to silence, the kind I needed — the whirr of the refrigerator, the click of the ceiling fan. It’s been two months without a day alone.

Not that I’m complaining. 

My husband — the beloved husband who crossed an ocean for me, for our life together, who is adored by his mother-in-law, adopted by his sister and brother-in-law and tolerated by his twenty-three-year-old autistic ‘step’ son — is training into a new restaurant which means a nine to five schedule with weekends off.  Same as my schedule. A departure from his two weekdays off and evening shifts.  How wonderful it’s been to spend time together. 

Well, spending time together isn’t really right — he was studying and fretting and exhausted from the ungodly regular person experience of a 6:30 a.m. alarm.  Also he’s Egyptian (Middle Eastern, man, traditional, blah, blah, blah) so requests for dinner and pressed clothes and his coffee were more like orders this month.  

Not that I’m complaining.

He’d do the same for me if I was learning a new job with all the executives in the company watching my every move. I’d do the same for you.  

His training was going on during the time that my parents were preparing to go north for the summer. While they are a very capable eighty-fourish, they are, well, eighty-four.  Requests for help with the thing on the thing (cable box) or the thing that won’t (internet) were coming rapid fire until they left.  They made it to the cabin and the Russians delivered their car. I kid you not, a family of Russians have a car delivery business and drive a rig from Spokane to Orlando for them.  So, all is well.  Except for the phone call last Thursday, “Can you stop by the house and look on the shelf upstairs, over the computer for my Powerball numbers and in the closet on the shelf above the shoes for the Bose noise cancelling headphones?”  One assumes that if dad wins, mom will need the headphones to cancel out the partying with the Russians.  

Not that I’m complaining.

It’s just of note that also my daily lunch hour for the last three weeks was devoted to picking up Henry, who is in a job training program. They needed to change the schedule last minute and I didn’t have the emotional ability to call Access Lynx and update his disability services van. Somehow mustering the strength for a daily drive across town was more doable than being on hold for forty-five minutes. 

Not that I’m complaining.

No. The complaining came when I stepped into my gloriously silent home sure that the husband would not be back until 11 p.m., knowing that Henry was with his dad until the next day and the parents are being cared for by the Russians.

I dropped my bags on the kitchen bar, stepped out of my clothes and headed to the sliding glass door.  I stepped into my bathing suit, opened the door and heard, no, it wasn’t thunder. It must be the neighbors rolling out their garbage. My feet hit the heated concrete porch and I heard it again. The roll. The boom. Then the pool which was reflecting the sun turned to gray in front of me.  

I started to feel the complaint rise up in me.  How could you, God. Universe.  Thundercloud.   How could you?  I stood looking at my beautiful pool, thinking about my how I hadn’t complained for two months. I wanted to scream but instead said to no one, since I was actually alone, “Well. That hurts my feelings.” 

With that admission I somehow moved from complaint to the understanding that I was tired, my energy poured out on people I love and on their well being.  And now I had a choice.  I could sit in the rain speaking out loud my What Have You Done For Me Lately complaints or I could choose me. 

I sat down at the piano, the one my parents bought when I was six or seven and showed an interest.  The interest waned at fourteen but not because I was fourteen, rather because I was terrible. Really. Very bad. It’s possible I haven’t played the piano in 20 years.   

I pulled out the Easy Classics and played. Mozart tepidly, Bach badly and found a Couperin that wasn’t horrendous. Then I made a BLT (turkey bacon, of course, Egyptian in-laws) and sat under the cover on my porch while it rained, amazed by what life is like when I can’t complain.  


Are you your own difficult client? 


Are you your own difficult client? 

Create an environment for success with your most difficult client — even if that person is you. 

Step two in planning a Creative Retreat is setting the expectations. 

You’re the Client

I started writing about the Creative Retreat I gave myself as a gift. To make sure I got the most out of it, I needed to set the right tone. The first thing I know about myself is that I’m rebellious.  (So difficult!, as my husband loves to say.) If there are rules, I’m going to find a way to rebel against them.  This is a good thing in a creative setting, that mutinous attitude can produce all sorts of great ideas. Two things I need are structure and fluidity: A plan that is too open, I’ll wander aimlessly from room to room wondering what to do. Too rigid and I’ll reject it all and end up doing nothing. 

You’re the Guest 

I decided the best way to handle this difficult client was to create distance between me and the plan.  So I treated myself like I was a guest to the retreat and sent myself a PDF welcome letter with a schedule.  

Here’s the welcome letter I sent to myself, from me the Creative Retreat Director: 

Creative Retreat 

Welcome to the Creative Retreat! Your time here will be spent renewing your intention towards a project and recharging your creativity. We expect great things! 

We encourage you to participate fully and to be fluid. Be aware of when you need to stop. Be aware of when you need to keep going (even when you feel like stopping.) Identify the difference between fatigue and fear. Start each day with stretching, meditation, a walk or a swim. Center yourself. 

Here is your plan for the week. We hope and expect that you will stick to it and simultaneously make it what you need it to be in the moment.

You’re the Director 

You are in charge of your creativity and your energy.  When you put a little distance between yourself and your plan for your creativity (i.e. your NaNoWriMo schedule) you establish your own authority over your energy.  Planning and executing a Creative Retreat as the Director and as the Client was really helpful to getting the most out of the experience for me. 


Do-It-Yourself, In-Home Creative Retreat


Do-It-Yourself, In-Home Creative Retreat

For many years I’ve wanted to create a three or four day retreat. I toyed with the idea of a creative retreat for moms or spiritual seekers, writers, caretakers, or pet rescuers — you name a group and I thought maybe they needed one. I got to a point in my current project that I realized it was me that needed the retreat.  Bu who would lead it? 

It needed to be given by a skilled presenter with a passion for leading retreats, an understanding of the creative process, and a focus on writing. I looked at my LinkedIn profile and indeed, I fit the bill. 

So, I did it. I took vacation time the four days after Labor Day which actually gave me nine whole days if you count the weekend before and the weekend after. Since I was the event manager and set up crew, as well as the creative leader and spiritual mentor, I needed all that time. 

That it coincided with my husband’s visit to his family meant I could have the house all to myself and design a schedule that fit my particular needs for a creativity recharge. 

In upcoming posts, I’ll debrief the days, so you can create your own retreat, because, believe me you need one.  But here’s where it starts — with the intention to recharge and reconnect. The style is up to you — you can design a retreat that’s pure creative boost, or you can, as I needed to, focus on a particular project. 

Here are the steps to enact your retreat: 

Step 1:  Decide on a date, time and place. 

Look at how many days you actually need three, four, five? Look at your family calendar and your work schedule and see when the stars align for you to take off from both.  

Then find the place that matches those dates.  Can you book an Air BnB? Can you offer to housesit for a friend?  Are your parents on vacation? Can you farm out your own family to other homes? 

I’m cheap so I didn’t want to actually spend money. I housesit while my parents snowbird, so their place was an option. Ultimately, this project would take my total attention, and I had my husband’s support, so if I needed to I could have booked 3 days at a local Air BnB. Luckily, the perfect vacation time from work for me coincided with Mohamed’s annual visit to Egypt. My child is currently playing the role of sullen graduate who locks himself in his room so Voila!  My home became the perfect oasis from it all. 

Step 2: Design your retreat schedule.

My detailed schedule included an introductory welcome from the director (me) and activities like: creative exercise, focus exercise, pool time, yoga, timed writing, project draft, guest speaker, nap. 

Step 3: Out of Office

Let employers, friends, family members and clients know you are going on a retreat.  Use the word ‘going’.  They would totally respect your time if you were booked at a conference and had paid for an expert staff and hotel. You are an expert on your creative needs and you have booked this time. You are not available.  Do not elaborate.  The moment you tell someone (as I screwed up and did) ‘it’s in my home, I’m leading it!”  They will see fit to break down your boundaries and invite themselves for coffee, for a pedicure, or ask you to rewrite their website ‘super quick’.  I set ‘out of office’ messages on ALL of my email accounts including the one for discount mailers from 

Step 4: Do it.  Do it!  

I’ll walk you through my schedule in upcoming posts so you can adapt the idea for yourself. Just know that this is important. This work is important. Your creative spirit is important. It’s worth taking the time to feed the creative stream. 


Autism Life Hack Number 9: If Today is Bad—Christmas Comes Every Year!


Autism Life Hack Number 9: If Today is Bad—Christmas Comes Every Year!

Last week my friend Olivia started a blog. She’s going through a transition right now—leaving her day job to start an artistic adventure.  And what she found was that her desire to be a free spirit was being squelched by her need for…structure.  

Of course, this seems backwards, but it makes perfect sense to me as an artist and an autism aficionado.

So, here’s what I know about being an artist. A film maker needs a producer. A writer needs an editor. Michelangelo needed the Pope. And do we rail against those tyrants and their deadlines? And their ‘this won’t work because’? And their ‘we don’t have the budget for that idea’?  Yes, we do.  And then we produce art. Sometimes it’s great art, sometimes it’s just art that meets a deadline. Limits frame us and we can find freedom within the framework. That producer’s voice challenges us in our idea phase and we push back, most often by doing the work. Otherwise we tend to get lost in the idea phase, coming up with endless ideas that never quite get done.

We don’t like to do the work. Making stuff is hard! I recently set a goal for myself to blog once a week. I won’t tell you when I set that goal, but suffice it to say that it wasn’t when I actually started producing work once a week.  It was well before that. 

So, the tyranny of the deadline, the expectation of the producer, the demands of the donor keep us on track. 

Now, here’s what I know about autism. Once again, I’m not an autism expert, I’m a Henry expert.  And as a huge fan of Henry’s I’m also a fan of his particular autism.  Autism needs structure.  It craves it.  When it doesn’t get it, it has a meltdown.  I’ve noticed this in more than just Henry’s autism.  It happens a lot with the people in our community and mostly the people in our car line at our autism program school. 

Henry is actually pretty loose with his scheduling needs.  He can go with the flow more easily than others I’ve driven to the field trip.  I’m sure that’s in large part because I dragged him from this event to that when he was a toddler.  He had to get used to my freelancer schedule. 

One of the ways Henry handles his stress if he’s in transition is that he goes back to his calendar.  I know I’ve talked about this before as it related to Hurricane Irma. But here’s the beauty move he uses that I love: If things really aren’t making sense and he’s going to have to go with the flow longer than he’s comfortable, he launches THE CALENDAR.  He goes through every major event, listing as much of the year as he needs until he settles. 

Here’s an example:

Me: Mom needs to pick you up Tuesday and take you to school on Wednesday instead of Dad.  And then Granddad’s out of town, so Thursday will be different.

Henry: and then October Halloween. November Thanksgiving. December Christmas.  Then my birthday and spring break.  Then Summer!  Go to Grandma’s house. Go to Idaho. Fourth of July!  Theater week summer camp.  Then October Halloween.

Me: yep.  That’s what’s going to happen, I’ll pick you up on Tuesday and then Halloween will happen.  Thanksgiving will be the 4th Thursday in November, then Christmas. And we’re good?

Henry: Yep!  We’re good.

If you are going through a transition in your life, if you don’t have the structure you need, remind yourself of the pillars.  There are pillars to life that likely won’t change.  Christmas comes every year. The fourth of July is always on the fourth of July. Ramadan will be here for a month, even though the dates change. These are things you can count on!

Autism has all sorts of great life hacks for us. Henry and I do a David Letterman style top ten list of the Top Ten Autism Life Hacks That Will Change Your Life and how they can help us. Number 9, THE CALENDAR, is a good one and I hope you’ll use it!









Soul-Full Creativity

Last weekend I spoke at the Caregiver Forum hosted by Share the Care, Inc. an organization that provides respite for caregivers and adult day care. Their Caregiver Forum weekend was scheduled for the week Irma hit and four of us local artists planned to lead sessions on improvisation and communication closing with a team keynote that focused on the arts and getting engaged.  But Irma shifted our plans by a month and I was the only one left available.

I’m often leading while being led. I think that’s mostly the way it is when you lead; the message comes back around to you.  But this weekend was different. These were my people in a way I hadn’t experienced before. When I lead creativity sessions it’s often for other creatives and we connect on the foundation of our work and our experience with doing what I call corporate creativity.  Or I lead trainings for nonprofits and HR departments on team building, creativity, inclusion, diversity, storytelling or branding. I connect with those groups based on a shared passion for team building or brand expression.  But these folks didn’t know about my work style or my writing process.  They knew about my day.  The minute by minute. The repeating instructions 3 times in a row. The can-you-please-not-eat-all-the-food-for-the-week-in-a-day Thursday afternoons. The seriously-enough-with-the-stacking-of-the-empty-water-bottle-Saturdays.

I led an improvisation breakout and gave a keynote Creative Caregiving. I shared exercises and ideas on how to find your own personal creativity and how to connect with it. My message to my peeps and therefore back to myself was: your creativity is your respite care.

Creativity is yours. It’s a spa date. It’s a connection to the divine. It feeds you. It restores you. It’s all yours.  So, find a way to retreat into your creativity every day. 10 minutes! Remind yourself of your essence. Explore your ideas. And come out renewed. Find that respite for your soul and you’ll be as joyful this little band of exhausted, yet energized, caregivers.