Under the Influence

mixed media drawingWhen I hear that phrase, of course I’m immediately reminded of its use to describe those persons, so much dimmer witted than a barnyard fowl, who drive or operate heavy machinery or otherwise behave inappropriately (and most likely, quite dangerously) because they are under the influence [UTI] of drink or drugs. Personally, I would go further, with my concept of UTI encompassing other, equally dangerous things like ignorant social, political, religious or philosophical views that give their disciples delusions of superiority, imperviousness, entitlement, and so forth.

But it behooves all of us to remember that the phrase isn’t inherently negative, for one can be under positive influences as well. Even better if one can manage to be a positive influence. It’s notable enough in a long and active life if one succeeds in generally doing no serious harm (intentional or otherwise, and to be in fact benevolent and able to enact good and fine things, why, that’s remarkable and admirable stuff indeed. I know people who can do so right here in the blogiverse, teaching and leading us all to do and be better versions of ourselves, and doing so not only by sharing their stories but by being living examples of what they teach. My years of classroom teaching proved to me that I was better suited to being a student than a leader, yet tutorial and mentoring settings gave me a much greater level of comfort in that they allowed me to operate as a fellow learner and thus engage more deeply and without as great a fear of steering anyone (myself included) astray.

The bloggers I most admire, immensely entertaining and humorous and dramatic and artistic in ever so many ways, are always, at heart, teaching, whether it’s overtly and with carefully designed pedagogy and prescriptions or it is so inherent in their natures that it comes fully interwoven in the fabric of their posts. These favorites include, but are not limited to, logophilic, ecological, travel-oriented, cuisinal, community-building, arts-centric, historical, and in many cases, wildly multitasking blogs. Some bloggers are small fry like me, known only to a cozy circle of great friends who come by to read and sometimes comment, and some of those I greatly admire are large-scale bloggers, people with lots of published work elsewhere or major accomplishments in their fields (whether related to their blogging topics or not!); a few have multiple blogs and the amount, whether on one blog or many, of posts published varies from one every few weeks to daily. There may, in fact–given electronic media of all kinds nowadays–be people putting up posts every few minutes, but I haven’t the time and energy to keep visiting such volcanic sources and tend to keep to my group of favorites with an occasional foray outward.

So who are my influences among bloggers? Friends who give us invitations to visit them at places like The Bard on the Hill, Spanish-English Word Connections, and Year-Struck, Just a Smidgen, The Valentine 4, David Reid Art, and The Complete Cookbook, like Bardess DM Denton, The Kitchens Garden; like the blogs Cooking-Spree, O’Canada, Nitzus, Peach Farm Studio, and  Bishop’s Backyard Farm, like Blue Jelly Beans, One Good Thing by Jillee, Road Tripping Europe, My Little Corner of Rhode Island, Promenade Plantings, L Scott Poetry, Poetic Licensee, and Gingerfightback, and blogs like From the Bartolini Kitchens, Rumpydog and The Human Picture. There are many more I enjoy and admire, but each of these, whether longtime blogging friends or a site new to me, have proven to be influential and inspirational for me in many ways, both as bloggers themselves and often as encouraging and educational commenters here at my own place. We don’t always agree, which is part of what’s so powerful: the diversity of the world and its ideas and passions and hopes and loves, this potent brew is what makes the fellowship of bloggers such a joy.

That we can share it with so many, most of whom we know only in and through this forum, is a great gift indeed. Also shared among fellow bloggers: awards and recognitions. Some accept them and participate with great alacrity in sharing them, and others are happy to be complimented thus but have no interest in or simply no time for such things. All quite acceptable responses. This post, in fact, is in response to my having been ‘tapped’ by the gracious and yes, influential blogger Samina Iqbal, whose Forum for police support is a notable effort by one passionate blogger to garner greater recognition and appreciation for those who serve and protect the populace as members of the police force–indeed, a job few of us would dare or relish, yet most have great reason to be grateful that there are the admirable folk who do so on our behalf. She was named a Most Influential Blogger and has passed the torch here.

While I think she is over-generous in her estimation of what happens here at my blog, I am happy to carry out the task of sharing the aforementioned blogs and their authors with you, because they really do deserve the attention and I hope you’ll visit as many of their sites as you’re able; you, too, will find many things to influence you: ideas and passions, skills and arts, love and human drama and many a good belly laugh in the mix. Best of all, under the influence of these luminaries you will likely pose no additional danger to the general public if you should, say, get behind the wheel of a car. With the possible exception of the belly laughs, which could cause you to steer right into the ditch. But at least you’d be guffawing all the way to the emergency room, possibly accompanied by some helpful police officers. And don’t blame me!mixed media drawing

The Peace Police

What does it take to make us civil? A good upbringing helps, but it’s not enough. The law contributes its part, but that’s a pretty small piece of the puzzle–those who are unlikely to be civil are unlikely to care all that much about the law either. Education and experience are necessary to making us capable of civility, let alone willing to exercise it.photo collageThe flip side of this is the darker compulsion within that drags us into rudeness, insults, argumentative attacks and other such ugliness. Sometimes the wonders of the cyber-world convince us that we live in a moral vacuum where anything goes and we can think, speak and live completely unfiltered realities as we invent them, but it’s no more (and perhaps far less) true in the ether, where we don’t even know the people with whom we interact long-distance, that it’s permissible to tread heavily like that.

One Good Thing by Jillee is the marvelous namesake blog of a woman who is exceedingly creative and thoughtful and consistently gives us readers masses of useful ideas that we can use every day in the operation of our homes and lives. Want to consider making your own detergents and skin treatments? Find out how to do DIY projects to make and fix things all around the house and garden? Learn a new recipe or two? Our Ms. Jill is here to help. More than anything, her posts always get me thinking up further ways to make, do and use all of the delightful things she’s introducing, and how to tweak the things that I like but can’t use as-is–say, one of the lovely creams and potions she likes to make with lavender essence, which I agree smells nice, but I’m sensitive to it and can’t be around it for long. Even though this excellent blogger rightly touts the various medicinal qualities, aromatherapeutic uses and topical applications the fabled lavender blossom can offer, none of it’s right for me when I can’t tolerate any kind of significant presence of the stuff, so I have to use these posts as inspiration, a jumping-off point, rather than as carved in stone. I know when I arrive to read her posts that I may or may not find what she presents entirely applicable to my situation or taste every time even if it were practically infallible, nor does she ever claim such a thing.

So I was more than a little taken aback to see the comments that came in response to her recent post about reducing the calorie load in various recipes and foods by substituting alternate fats, sweeteners and the like. My own preference in my eating is to try to eat less processed foods rather than lower calorie foods, so if I wish to use any of the suggestions from this particular post, it will be because I think they’ll make the foods taste better rather than that I expect them to improve my health. But when I came to the comments made by other readers, there were a number of those correspondents who not only criticized her suggestions as though she were publishing them in a medical journal but, in some cases, got rather mean-spirited and began verbal fisticuffs amongst themselves. It struck me as not only exceedingly ill-mannered but was about as far from germane as possible, given the forum of that blog. All quite uncivil, if you ask me.photo collageBut of course, you didn’t ask me, so it’s not only not incumbent upon me to express my opinion in this matter, it might in fact be just a little bit uncivilized to take any other readers to task. Tricky business, this etiquette stuff. It’s certainly not up to me to ‘fix’ what I think is not ideal in others. I am not the law or the arbiter of good taste for anyone else, to be sure. I just hope that I don’t forget myself how to be at least as civil as my parents, teachers and betters have worked so hard to help me grow to be. I’ve got enough to keep me busy just remembering how to write a semi-civilized daily blog of my own and mind my own life’s business. But I don’t mind sending you over to the Good Thing blog so you can also have the benefit of its excellence–and perhaps skew the tenor of the comments back to more fittingly responsive–since I happen to know my readers have such gracious manners!

On New Year’s Eve: 2012 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I, as proprietress and perpetrator of this site, THANK YOU all from the bottom of my humble heart for your kind and gracious and astonishingly friendly support here. It’s a joy to meet with you here and share our lives and loves so happily. May each and every one of you be gifted with a sweet, magically wonderful 2013!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 35,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 8 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


Most Wonderful Time of the Year *

* You may think I’m warming up for my big Christmas caroling solo, but I’m not planning to torture anyone with that, just rejoicing in the anniversary of my #1 sibling’s birth. Happy Birthday, big sister!

photoYour kid sister is mighty happy to celebrate your birth for more reasons than I can begin to count. Nah, let’s go ahead and enumerate awhile.

For starters, there’s the plain friendship and sisterly guidance that have kept me centered, contented and with my head above water and showed me wonderfully how a life of excellence could be lived. There’s your being a fabulous traveling companion throughout not only life but also the world, from our expedition to Europe during our college days to places in the US as exotic as any overseas, and of course in our own hometown. There’s the delight of daily conversation, movie-watching, book-critiquing, dining out, opera-going, and many other kinds of adventures or occasionally misadventures, not all of the latter strictly of my own making, but some of them weirdly wonderful, hilarious and memorable all the same.

photoNow that I, along with flocks of cormorants this winter, have come to roost in Texas, it’s a long way from where you live and I don’t get to see you and give you squishy, ridiculously big hugs to celebrate the day, so I’ll greet you via phone, email, and blog. I’ll wish you a day of great happiness and many, many more to come. And I’ll thank you for all of the loveliness you’ve brought, and continue to bring, to my life.

This year especially, your birthday is not only a most wonderful time, but truly THE most wonderful time. Your birthday is clearly the first day of the rest of our lives for everybody, since apparently the world did not end. So glad the Mayans‘ message was just misread by all the doomsayers, because I look forward to a marvelous 2013 enjoying the marvelous wonderfulness that is my older sister–and many more such years ahead.

Trading Bouquets All ‘Round

photoI’m rather pleased with myself, but then that’s hardly a new thing, as anybody can tell. At the moment, part of my self-congratulation stems from passing the 500 posts mark on my blog, almost all of those posts at the rate of one a day. Yes, this blog is my multivitamin! I get so much affirmation, yes, but also so much practice writing, drawing, working out topical ideas, cooking, photographing and all sorts of other things that it’s beneficial in more ways than I can count.

I also continue to gain enormous amounts from the fellowship I find here with blogging friends and readers, where we share our thoughts and inspirations, and often, our hearts on a regular basis. This is a world that, considering I didn’t even know of its existence very few years ago and even then, had no idea of its potential influence on my life and others’, has become a remarkably important part of my every day as well as a challenge and quite frequently a great pleasure.

It doesn’t hurt that the kindness of previous strangers in my circle of blogging friends has also included cheering me on in the form of blogging award recognitions, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say, with a deep bow, Thank You to them once again for the gracious support and encouragement that make me feel happy to be here far beyond the initial drive that found purpose merely in enforcing my need to practice and to be accountable for doing so regularly. I am in fact trying rather hard these days to apply the same sort of discipline to getting back some seriousness about both useful physical exercise and some degree of greater mindfulness about my eating, both of which I know from experience serve to make any intellectual and artistic practice more feasible and more enjoyable too.

So to my generous and gracious co-bloggers Subhan Zein (passing along the Sunshine Award, though he himself is one of the brightest rays of light in the blogosphere!), Kate Kresse (she is so amazing she knows how to make me feel Illuminating, Versatile and Lovely whether she’s flying by to grant me awards or not!), and the London Flower Lover (whose land of peace-love-and-joy compels me and delights me at every visit!), I say that however slow my public acknowledgement of their sweet open-handedness is, it is truly sincere and grateful. Along with all of you dear people who have cheered me on with awards and readership and, especially, your constant comments and conversations with me, this has been a richly rewarding place to be for this last year and a half, and I will gladly keep ‘living here’ for the foreseeable future in your marvelous company if you let me! Your popping by this ‘daily diary’ of my thoughts, artworks and adventures makes every second of it a worthwhile treasure, and I thank you all. Bouquets to each and every one of you.photo



Sighhhhhhh . . .

I’ve got this little problem, see. It’s about my name. No, I am really pleased with the one I was born with–Mom and Dad did a bang-up job with that, as far as I’m concerned. Parents have it easy with the baby-naming stuff; it’s not their fault if the kid doesn’t match up with the moniker, considering that they had no way of knowing the shrimp beforehand to fuss over pairing name and gnome perfectly.

My problem is with my blog title. I’ve winged it with my online place’s birth-name, a version of my own, since I started the gig a little over a year ago, but in truth, it was pretty much a place-holder since I had no inkling then that I’d not only stick with the process but have people beyond the borders of my immediate family visiting with me here. So the problem is, if there’s nothing in the name of my blog to tell anybody outside of the aforementioned familial borders what the heck this blog contains, or why on earth they would have the remotest reason to bother visiting here. If, indeed, they did.

Now, then, I’m having a good old identity crisis. ‘Cause I don’t know what the heck to tell anybody either. On Tuesdays, yeah, you’ll generally find food-related ramblings when you show up. Other days, though, swerve from one topic to another so loosely and with such unpredictable abandon that I don’t know when I sit down at the keyboard what direction I’m bound to take. New drawing? New photograph? Reminiscences about travel, DIY monkeying, garden plotting, commentary on freeway drivers or a freshly minted and wildly ridiculous poem–I just haven’t figured out any sort of way to describe in a couple of words what’s on the non-Tuesday menu around this blog.

I’m open to suggestions. Thanks to my obsessive dilettantism, my spouse suggests that the family nomenclature for me of Short Attention Span Artist might just do the trick, but as accurate as it is in describing me (and probably what I do, too), it still doesn’t seem to me likely to tell a total stranger what to expect on arrival. Tangential adventures like mine could possibly be described as, uh, Tangential Adventures, but of course that’s pretty cryptic too. Art, Poetry, Photography, Essays, and Ingenious Insights combines the pompous and the dully categorical in a way remarkable only for its long-windedness.

I guess I’ll just keep a-sittin’ here in my little corner twirling my ponytail for a while and see if some astounding inspiration happens to alight upon my bedazzled pate. Ooh, Bedazzled Pate! Nahhhh, sounds like some kind of yummy mousse studded with masses of rhinestones. The truly big question remains. Who am I? Doubt that can be answered in this or any other lifetime. But perhaps I’ll figure out my blog’s identity one of these days, at the least. Feel free to help!


Three Hundred Sixty-Five and Counting


Please pardon my squeals of glee; I’m just a bit of a pig, my dears.

Yay me!

I know, I know, I say such things all the time, egotist and drama queen that I am. If you were really sick of my self-aggrandizement I assume you’d have had the good sense to stop coming here by now. Thank goodness I surround myself with people who, though otherwise entirely admirable in their many stellar qualities, are just loopy enough to spend time with me ungrudgingly and continue to share their own blogging abodes and the treasures therein with me in ceaseless generosity. But I am feeling a little extra pleased with myself these days for a couple of particular reasons. I’m just ridiculously slow to get it all underway appropriately.


I guess I’m a real slowpoke by nature.

I am told that a recent post of mine was, in the tally of my benign WordPress overlords, number 365 in overall production here at the kiwsparks factory. That is, in the looser sense, a year’s worth of posts for a daily blogger. However, honesty and my personal traces of OCD move me to say that while I did indeed ‘officially’ commit only so far as one year’s worth of daily blogging, I hadn’t yet fulfilled that commitment to the letter since the one-per-day agenda began in earnest on, if I remember correctly, the 6th of July last year. Sure, who doesn’t need something to do to celebrate her wedding anniversary in a more special way than that boring old romantic stuff? So I had a second milestone of the 365 variety yet to achieve in two weeks. I did double-post a couple of times along the way when the whim emerged, but that in no way made me feel I had met the standard I set in my original plan. On the other hand, WordPress would no doubt find it arguable that I’ve posted, technically, daily, because the WP time stamp does not agree 100% with whatever time zone I’ve been in at various points along the year, so it dates my posts differently than I would, and I am happy to consider my own time zone the decisive one, even if it means typing madly until I can press Publish at the stroke (the clock’s or mine) of midnight. I’m nothing if not a control freak.

All of this being said, the rewards of committing to this year of daily blogging have been considerable and entirely worthwhile. I have gotten back into a dedicated practice of writing and creating visual as well as verbal images that is its own reward, to be sure. I am reminded of the need to Make Things on a regular basis and find pleasure in that process as well as sometimes amusing my own little silly self with the outcomes as well. Most of all, I have reconnected with a social side of myself that is sometimes less easy to access, as a more naturally introverted and even shy person who expresses her bolder and outwardly more comfortable character better in print than either in person or (quelle horreur!) on the telephone. Yes, my nearest and dearest will tell you that I am chatty (or verbose) and rather unfiltered in nature when around them, but of course many of you probably know exactly what I mean when I say that it is specific to my feeling safe and in familiar surroundings that brings out that extroverted version of me.

The biggest payoff in this blogging process is, of course, the presence of that sort of a Safe Place for me to have social interaction with a much wider range of wise and talented and fabulous and fascinating people from all over the world than previously possible. I may have had my own self-centered reasons for starting to blog, but it is you, my dear visitors, commenters and especially my blog-sharing friends, who have made it continue to be worthwhile and in ever increasingly fine ways. I have again been gifted with several blogging awards, and though the late spring-early summer schedule around here militated against my taking much time to respond properly, it is yet another reminder that my web community is generous and supportive as well as simply a fun and kindly group of people. So I must say further thanks to Dr. Dan and Susie and my delightful correspondent at veggiewhatnow for sharing their generosity of fine blogs and passing along blogging awards as well, respectively: the One Lovely Blog Award, Versatile Blogger and a recognition I’d never even heard of before, making me a Food Stories Nominee for Excellence in Storytelling. Cool! All of them, all of their blogs, and all of the kindness showered upon me.

I shall certainly try to honor the spirit, and hopefully the letter, of these awards but I’d appreciate it if you cut me a little slack when it comes to sharing those Fun Facts about myself (as if I haven’t poured enough of ’em on you to nearly drown y’all already). As usual, I’m so impressed and humbled by the astounding company I’m privileged to keep that I hope every one of you will click on my three admirable friends’ names above and take a leisurely visit at each of their sites to see just what wonders await you there. You will leave far less hungry and far smarter and happier, really, I assure you. Dr. Dan is a Canadian internist and foodie-supreme who posts all sorts of succulent, sweet and savory cookery to make you dream. The wise and funny blog susartandfood is the place where Susie beautifully publishes her own marvelous food, along with superb art, fantastic writing and a good dose of wit throughout. And veggiewhatnow is a land loaded with grand vegetarian ideas, terrific photos and illustrations and a whole lot of useful information that just doesn’t show up anywhere else in such a friendly format.

My sharing of bits of brilliance about myself, well, that’ll keep coming in all of the upcoming posts just as it has in every post so far.

And here are some fellow bloggers greatly deserving of my passing along these honors, along with all of my previous nominees (please search my site via the various awards’ names found in my sidebar if you’d like to see the many other deeply deserving folk I so enjoy sharing with you):

logo + photoFor the Versatile Blogger Award, I happily commend to you the following standout bloggers: Mandy, filling The Complete Cookbook not only with gorgeous food and the photos thereof but also all sorts of domestic derring-do and lovely forays into the history (familial and wider-reaching) of landscape, pets, garden and more; Marie, managing a grand kitchen, a busy family, a beautiful property and gardens, and a dog who thinks she’s queen of the active crew of local wildlife, blogs at My Little Corner of Rhode Island; Claire, the travel, garden, cookery and photography (and more) blogger of Promenade Plantings; the supposedly year-stricken K, writing year-struck‘s wide-ranging, scintillating, touching and bracingly intelligent while often still hilarious tales; and Bishop, savoring through his Backyard Farm the natural approach to gardening, cooking, travel and the appreciation of fine libations both home-brewed and otherwise.

logo + photoFor the One Lovely Blog Award, I’m pleased to present: David, painting heart-stoppingly beautiful portraits and teaching lessons to lucky painters over at davidreidart (which my computer appropriately translates for me as ‘daredevilry’); Lindy Lee, weaving poems of the heart and telling tales that transfix, on Poetic LicenseeNitzus, magnificent and insightful photographer spreading the admiration of memorable and remarkable people, places and creatures far and wide through his self-named site; Cyndi, bookchick extraordinaire, wending her way through collected poems, stories and essays of her own, and stellar photography in the pages of cfbookchick; and Dennis, that inimitable Bard on the Hill, whose poetry spills out of the Texas hill country in rivers shared with poems he’s selected from many other fine poets.

logo + photoAnd for the Excellence in Storytelling recognition I enthusiastically nominate: Celi, at that magically inviting sustainable homestead, thekitchensgarden; John, who writes hymns of Italianate glory from the Bartolini kitchens; Tanya, la reina of the Spanish mountains’ bounty at chicaandaluza; Barbara, who has far more than justasmidgen of exquisiteness to share at her blog; and cookingspree‘s mistress of fabulousness at table, in the kitchen, and whatever amazing places she goes, Antoinette. All of my best to you–and theirs, too! Cheers, my friends.

A small footnote: while I am deeply honored and pleased to have been so generously given these recognitions, I am going to refrain from further award acceptance lest I spend too much of my time polishing my medals and strutting around in my tutu and tiara and too little time, well, blogging. Much ground left to cover, I’m pretty sure, even if I don’t yet know what it is. Meanwhile, you good people should busy yourselves with exploring the wealth of illumination at all of these other blogs too–so much fun ahead for everyone.photoPS–while I’m cresting this wave of self-promotional adulation, I’ll just mention that today at Zazzle.com there is a one-day 50% off sale on all of their posters and wrapped canvases, and mine are all over the site and pretty dirt cheap to start with, so if you go over there and search for kiwsparks you’ll see all sorts of affordable art, much of which has been seen on this blog before, on sale. Just saying.