Barefoot Books and Bedtime Routines

At the recent craft show I worked, I watched 4, 5, and 6 year-old boys run around the room like the Tasmanian Devil. I asked their parents if this is what their bedtime routine was like. To a parent they all nodded their heads, yes, and rolled their eyes.

Then I showed those parents a little magic. I asked each of those little boys if they liked putting puzzles together and all of them nodded their heads yes. I took out Barefoot Books Portside Pirates and before their parents knew what was happening, each little boy stopped their whirling dervish activities and sat down and completed the puzzle.

Working on a puzzle in the evening helps children’s minds gather all their scattered thoughts into one focus of finding which piece fits where. Set a timer for 10 minutes so you and your kids don’t lose track of the bedtime hour and help both of you calm yourself as you transition to the land of dinosaur dreams and moon walks.

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With a little help from your friends

My personal commitment this holiday and Christmas season is to purchase my gifts from small business owners and, better yet, from small business owners I personally know.  I invited my entrepreneurial friends to share with me their personal and professional goals so I could share them with you.

Each of these women featured brings a unique gift to the marketplace. As you consider your gift purchases this holiday season, I hope you will consider my friends and their services/products as a choice you could make to help support small business and hardworking people in our local communities.

Brilliance by Design

DSC02444For 37 years, my friend Donna Bauer has been helping people make their surroundings more beautiful. When I bought my first home nearly 25 years ago, I was inexperienced in decorating an older home. I was inexperienced in decorating. Period. Added to the challenge of a first-time decoration project was that my 1920s-era home had plaster walls and four layers of wallpaper. When I asked Donna if she could help me, in her characteristic way she said absolutely.

Donna scraped and prepped and painted and re-papered my two-bedroom bungalow and helped me turn it into a home I was proud to own. In a field that tends to draw more men than women because of the physical work involved, Donna is one of the hardest-working individuals I have met. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty and she sticks with a job until it’s done.

From her early days of working primarily as a house painter, Donna has expanded her business to refurbishing and up-cycling pieces of furniture that others have declared as useless. Donna has the heart for saving what others have given up on and the creativeness to draw out the beauty of a piece that has been covered by the wear and tear of life.

“In 2004, I learned the art of decorative and faux painting and in 2012 we expanded our painting abilities once again when we discovered the beauty and joy of refinishing antique trunks,” said Donna of how she learned the art and craft of upcycling furniture.

Donna currently sells her pieces in two stores in central Iowa; however, she is able to show you all of her work through her website and can make arrangements for delivery.

0_0_0_0_629_472_csupload_62256348She also produces her own artwork and for the holiday season she has hand painted winter scenes on vintage screens, hand painted wood signs and “a few other goodies”

“With our years of experience, we know how to work efficiently with as little inconvenience to you as possible while still delivering a final product that surpasses your expectations,” said Donna of her approach to customer service. “From the initial consultation to the last walk through, we keep you abreast of our progress, so you know exactly what we are doing and how much it costs.”

Donna gives back to her community by donating her furniture and other pieces to local charities and fundraisers. The philosophy which guides her the most and is evident in her kindness to others is a strong relationship with God. Through this relationship she has developed a personal philosophy to “never give up, to do my very best always.”

Heartlines by Sandi

IMG_4167It’s been said that “women hold up half the sky,” but in the case of my friend, Sandi Browne, she’s one of a special cadre of women who have walked on the sky.

I met Sandi when the universe asked me if I would extend my stay as a mental health therapist at the local hospital in the town in which I lived up until October. I’m glad I followed the universe’s bidding because otherwise I would have missed the delightful experience of Sandi Browne.

As is characteristic of mental health therapists, we got down to brass tacks in sharing about ourselves in our first day. When I mentioned that my first career was as a journalist, Sandi shared about the book she recently authored, “Touch the Sky.”

IMG_2638”I have had an unusual life as an Airshow pilot and wing rider during earlier days of aviation.  I wanted to share the adventure of flying and the choices of balancing career and family,” Sandi said of her motivation to write the book. “I am a creative person who enjoys challenges and learning new things.  Writing was a new area to explore.”

Now deceased, one of Sandi’s mentors was Tracy Pilurs, who “was an airshow pilot, built her own airplane and wrote a monthly column for a national aviation publication. I wrote about her in my book,” said Sandi. Sandi also took numerous classes and worked with a writing coach to ensure she offered a professionally prepared memoir.

Since Sandi is a mental health counselor, she contributes positively to her community nearly every day.  (That’s a whole other story!) She mentored me during the time we worked together as therapists. Sandi’s other ventures include jewelry making and spending time with her beloved family.

Whether or not you are an aviation aficionado, you will enjoy reading about the adventurous spirit of Sandi and the other air show performers in her book.

Younique with Tracy D. Haynes

10015116_823336371015034_229457299_oSomeone needed to take my place at my last position when I moved to Houston, and I am happy to say the universe sent Tracy D. Haynes. With her hearty laugh, Tracy has a centeredness about her that lets others know it’s going to be okay. As a social worker, Tracy has contributed to the world around her by working with kids in the foster care system and in her spare-time as a mentor for at-risk kids. But a woman has to eat and social workers aren’t counted among the overpaid in our commerce-based economy, so Tracy is earning extra income with Younique, a direct sales company for cosmetics. “I chose to start selling Younique makeup for the extra income as I am single parent,” said Tracy of what prompted her to begin this business in August of this year. “My goal is to use my earnings to help pay off my student loan debt as well as purchase a home.”

Tracy chose Younique’s products because they are “mineral based and last longer than the competitors. The makeup is made of natural ingredients and the best part is the money back guarantee,” she said.

10613021_976247989057204_4523186656862772128_nWith my eyes nearing 50 years, I decided to give Younique’s popular 3D Fiber Lash Mascara a try. And, wow, the promoters weren’t overselling it either when they said it boosts lashes by “300 times their natural length.” For the month of November, Younique is including a free lip stain for every $150 in purchase. I say stuff the stockings with Tracy’s products. Everyone will be happy with the quality of the product and the experience of Tracy.

Natural Nesters

katrina fullerKatrina Fuller and I met at a social gathering for which the purpose was to raise our experience of spirituality in our daily walk around in the lives we live. There, I first learned about the commitment Katrina has to Natural Nesters, her business that provides pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and breastfeeding education and support, and integral therapy services to families. Since 2009, Katrina has worked diligently to spread her message that natural approaches to child rearing are the best and she has invested a large amount of time and resources to earn several certifications and credentials, including her Ed.D.

What motivates Katrina to work as hard as she does is the knowledge that when best practice is used in pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding and parenting, she is influencing positive growth for families and their children and that it spreads exponentially. Katrina quotes Sheri Dew about her impetus to advocate for mothers and children: “Perhaps having influence is not about elevating self, but about lifting others.”

While most of Katrina’s in-person clientele is located in Lea County, New Mexico, she is available to consult through email and phone sessions. Except for professional trainings, Katrina is offering a 10 percent discount on her fees for the month of December.

small businessBut you don’t have to be a woman about to give birth to work with Katrina. Katrina offers a robust menu of services designed to provide more awareness of the mind-body connection. She offers the following slate of services:

Henna Designs

  • Silhouette Painting
  • Plaster Casting
  • Digital Photography
  • Birth Art & Stories

Yoga Instructor:

  • Prenatal
  • Postnatal
  • Mommy & Me
  • Guided Meditation
  • Infant Massage

Reiki Practitioner:

  • Individual
  • Couples
  • Children
  • Pets
  • Distant

Placenta Specialist:

  • Meal Preparation
  • Encapsulation
  • Tincture & Salve
  • Prints & Keepsakes
  • Burial Consultation

“I learned the most important life lesson not just from the families I serve, but from my own family as well,” said Katrina. “I have experienced the joys and challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenting and am able to utilize my own experiences and professional trainings to help other families be successful in their own efforts.”

Barefoot Books

sam, dan, meI am ending this with a shameless plug for myself. I am a founding member ambassador for Barefoot Books, an award-winning publisher of children’s books. I chose to do this because of the company’s core values of offering an “authentic alternative to the commercialization of childhood. Barefoot Books encourages parents to make time for make-believe, and to share stories from all over the world with their children, so that they can glimpse the simple truth that the human condition is universal.”

itookthemoonforawalk_pb_wMy goal is to earn enough money to pay for my younger son’s attendance at the Westview School, a school for children with special learning needs. I need to earn money in such a way that it gives me the flexibility I need to care for my family, including as a caretaker for my mother.

The most important lesson I’ve learned, so far, in this endeavor is that if I stand up and ask for what I need the Universe is grace-filled to deliver.

Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving) is an American Express sponsored day set aside to remind consumers that the lifeblood of our economy is a small business. None of us featured above have a personally owned shop on a Main Street, U.S.A. (yet). However, we all have a small business from a brick and mortar home and big dreams for our lives to provide economic security for our families. I invite you to explore my friends’ websites and I trust you will find many special Gifts of a Great Life among them.

small business

It’s a big job, but it can be done

Mrs. Esther Grosvenor taught the Colfax High School seniors their last English class before they graduated and embarked upon the world to conquer whatever it was they thought lay before them. While the 17 and 18 year old students in her class spent more time counting the days until graduation than they did counting their verbs and nouns, Mrs. G. (as we affectionately called her), nevertheless, persevered in her job in assigning the task of diagramming sentences and drilling the rows of pimple-faced boys and girls on the difference in meaning between affect and effect, lie and lay, and simile and metaphor.

If she was inpatient with the impertinence of us she didn’t show it. After 40 plus years in the classroom, Mrs. Grosvenor had developed enough equanimity about her job that not much fazed her in her interactions with children disguised as adults.

When I finished her class and Colfax High School in 1984, I also left the town for the bright city lights of Des Moines. Six weeks after I walked across the gymnasium stage, my parents had sold the-old-Miss-Byal house where we lived and packed up the green Chevy pick-up and moved us off to the town where both of them worked for the city government.

After I moved to Des Moines, I wrote to Mrs. Grosvenor. I don’t remember the details of my letter to her; likely, I thanked her for attending my graduation reception and made mention of my move. Based on her response to me, I must have had questions about the role of women in the work force.  It’s been 30 years since I graduated from high school, and I have kept her letter tucked away in a small cedar box.

It’s because of our move for my husband’s promotion for work, that I had the chance to reread the letter. In this move I am following my husband for his work and I am unclear as to what my professional place is. Mrs. Grosvenor’s words are more apropos now than when she originally wrote them. Her perspective on women in the workforce was formed from her own life experiences and long before feminism became a topic of conversation and debate in our popular culture.

As I settle into a new phase in my roles as wife, mother, daughter, and employee, her words provide a gentle reminder of the importance of finding the right balance. The past few years were rigorous in tending to all of my family members and embarking in a second career as a mental health counselor.

We are in the beginning stages of our family’s transition. Many details have yet to be decided upon. But just like they were 30 years ago, Mrs. G.’s words are encouraging to me. I’ll keep hanging in there and like Mrs. G. vowed for herself as she expressed her apprehension about the change she was about to seek for herself, “maybe I’ll finish that novel I started some years back.”

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Mrs G page 2Mrs G page 3

Courage

My friend, Linda Grau Powell, is a poet, artist, educator, and entrepreneur from Plains, TX. She has a rich soul and generously shares herself with others who cross her path. I hope you will enjoy this brief encounter with her.

October 22, 2014–Copyright © 2014 by Linda Grau Powell

photo (1)Courage is putting on wings

Attaching them with tears

Softening, dissolving

My healing heart

Connecting to all

Knowing I am love

Ethereal as my flight

Into the unbolted

Center of beingness

Experiencing my loveliness

Accepting my weaknesses

Fearless with joy

I circle and glide

Free to be

Free to be me

Free to love me

Free to forgive me

For forgetting myself

Over and over again

When I crash land

And break my wings

And break my spirit

And lose me.

House Hunting in Houston, Part 2

Last I shared with you, we were moving into this house:

rustic knolls

That was before Mike visited the home in person. While it was a very fine house, it ultimately didn’t meet our needs for space and accessibility for two growing sons and my mother who lives with me and feels safer using her wheelchair for mobility.

Fortunately, Texas has a section in its real estate statutes which gives every buyer a 10-day option to withdraw an offer with no explanations necessary. Despite the knowledge we might have difficulties in finding another house, we let this one go.  So, it seemed as if we were back to square one. In the meantime, Mike’s company suggested we take advantage of temporary corporate housing to help us transition to Houston and to allow us some time to settle our sons into school.

So, here we are, one week into Houston life and while it appeared on arrival our first daunting task would be to find a home which would meet our specifications, it turned out the universe shined its favor on us and on Wednesday, the 15th, we found this house:

prince george

Here, a very BIG shout-out goes to my favorite real estate agents Ruth Sayers and Chris Glapa who scouted the house for us. And it is no exaggeration to describe the Houston housing market as zipping along like a high speed bullet train. My agents saw the house the first day it went on the market.

And while, to you, the dear reader, it seems as if this house just fell into our lap without much effort on our part, we encountered two inconvenient setbacks which ultimately contributed in a positive way for us to be in the right place at the right time.

Until permanent housing is available we are staying at The Lakes at Cinco Ranch apartment complex. It’s a beautiful setting with easy access to walking trails and the premier outdoor shopping area, La Centerra at Cinco Ranch. The playground is right outside our patio door, making it ideal for our little guy to run and jump and shout without bothering our neighbors.

But our second day here, the neighbor upstairs plugged his toilet which somehow caused it to overrun ALL DAY LONG and because of the tremendous power of gravity, the excess water poured into our apartment, including the closets where we had just hung our clothes. We discovered this scenario after a VERY long day of nerve-wracking I-10 traffic and helping our youngest son transition to his new school, which was a rough transition.

When we walked into the apartment, my son, Chris, commented it smelled like rain and I dismissed it as our being unaccustomed to how humidity felt after living in the desert for seven years. Then, I walked into the master bedroom and when the water pouring out of the light fixture landed onto my head, I realized “Houston, we have a problem.”

My first thought was do I turn the light back off or do I leave it on. Either way, someone is going to get electrocuted with water pouring out of the light fixture. I realize now electrical engineers improved upon lighting designs with these dilemmas in mind, but on that day, all I could think about was how after my apartment was completely flooded it would soon burn up in flames because of the electrical fire.

The second thought I had once I decided to turn off the light switch was who do I call and how do I find their number. Eventually I located the corporate housing customer service after scanning the hundred emails in my in-box. To their and the apartment complexes credit, despite that my discovery was after normal working hours, the maintenance people promptly shut off the water upstairs and helped clean up the mess downstairs.

Although the corporate housing people offered substitute housing for the night, Mike and I decided after moving all of our clothes around that we could make it work with Mike sleeping on the sofa in the living room and my sleeping on the second twin bed in the third bedroom.

And then, Mike got sick. Very sick. All night sick. Puking up his toes sick.  And that was sick enough for Mike to decide he had better stay home from work the next day. And that’s the only degree of sick that will keep Mike home. Because any sick less intense than that, Mike is going into work.

And his staying home that day, prompted me to ask my fabulous real estate agents if they could move up house hunting by two days, trusting that by afternoon Mike would be feeling better.

And it was a two-day window that gave us the chance to put an offer on this house. On Wednesday evening, my agents telephoned the listing agent with a verbal offer and followed up with our written offer, which wasn’t completely finalized until 2 p.m. on Thursday. It is here that a BIG shout-out of GRATITUDE goes to the universe and the owner of this home who kept his verbal word with us EVEN THOUGH the next day he received a second offer over the list price.

And, as Paul Harvey said, now you know the rest of the story.

Life After Heaven

When I was in high school and felt closed in by the smallness and meanness of others, I would drive to the cemetery, one of the highest points in my home town, and look out on the horizon and think “I can’t wait to get out of this place.”

Eventually I did leave that place and it took leaving it to understand how Iowa compares to the rest of the communities my life has taken me.

Even though I’ve lived where I am now for nearly seven years, if people ask me where I’m from I always say Iowa. Of course, I am nowhere near the league of famous Iowans such as Ashton Kutcher, Johnny Carson,  Ann Landers,  John Wayne, and a hundred plus more that could be listed. So my Iowa endorsement doesn’t bring any star power to it. I’m a run of the mill Iowan with parents who came from the tiny towns of Eldora and Knoxville and where I grew up during the summers with my grandparents and in Colfax during the school months with my parents.

As I’ve traveled past the river boundaries which contain Iowa, I hold on tight to my home anchor because it keeps me tethered to a moral compass which has provided me direction in what respecting human dignity looks like in groups of diverse people.  Where I live now, no vocal moral outrage  is heard from a town of 45,000 people,  that 18 people, several of them under the age of 18, were murdered in the past three years. This is two shy of the number of people murdered  during the same time period in Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines, a city 650 percent larger.

When I placed my son in an on-line public school option this year, I did so for a couple of reasons:

  • I wanted to feel more secure about his physical safety and quality of education, and
  • Iowa had vetted the organization and had given it the green light.

The school’s rep made a point to talk about the rigorous process they endured to be allowed into my home state. In my mind, if Iowa gave the on-line school the green light, then I knew I could have confidence this organization would deliver a quality education.

pumpkin patchIf you ask if Iowa is heaven, even with my intense admiration,  I will tell you almost. It’s had its challenges over the course of its history to make it slightly less than idyllic. Weather-related natural disasters in winter and summer frequently make it challenging.  The economy tanking, especially in the agricultural and manufacturing industries in the late 80s and through the 90s, shuttered businesses, schools, and communities. The departure of young people, like myself, as a result turned Iowa’s demographics a little more grey. So, it is rebuilding a first in the nation reputation for education.

But something about these hardships personal to Iowa is what has built in its strong character.  Iowa people respond to their own personal crises and,  consequently, they diversified the economy early enough that it pretty much weathered the 2008 economic bust. They can now boast of being the sixth best place to do business, the first best in the cost of doing business and an unemployment rate under five percent.

Iowans also pay attention to the world around them and consider it a calling to be pivotal in moving the direction of the country forward.  You can either cheer Iowa or throw a pox on the house of the Iowa presidential Caucus every four years. But Iowa is fiercly protective of its political tradition and consider it worth the fight to keep its first in line place on the January schedule for the heat-up of these political races.

When you read of Iowa’s low crime rate, it’s because Iowans watched what other parts of the country weren’t providing to the least of their citizens. They take notice of this lack and make sure the infrastructure, such as education and jobs, are put in place to provide a way for people to climb out of a no choice other than violence to meet their needs.

My being from Iowa is a quirky twist of fate. I could be one of six billion people from somewhere else in the world. But, fortunately and gratefully, I’m not. So, while I may have some more of the world to see to compare it to my Iowa, on my last day, I hope my spot high on the hill in that cemetery will still be available for me.

House Hunting in Houston

Actually, it’s house hunting in Katy, but that doesn’t have quite the same alliteration to it and unless you’ve been to the Houston area, you may not have heard of the blossoming, booming western suburb.

I spent two full days with my favorite Katy real estate agents, Ruth Sayers and Chris Glapa, who in my day when I was their age would have been called yuppies. But in this day, Ruth and Chris are nearly young enough to be called my children. With an eye for organization and thoroughness, Ruth handed me a clip board with a stack of listings she had picked and I had picked and we weeded through the rows of houses narrowing down neighborhoods, school districts and I-10 access routes.

Some houses were a tad too close to the freeway system (meaning the back yard was directly adjacent to the ramp onto the freeway), some houses were more work to make habitable then what I have the energy for, and almost all houses are in some process of being purchased or merely minutes away from it. This is in large part due to the energy industry in the Houston region and the research and development going into oil and gas. In the last year, the Houston region has opened over 112,000 jobs. With its focus on oil and gas, people are relocating to the region and my family and I are going there for the same reason.  (My husband, Mike, works for DCP Midstream.)

As a consequence, however, housing inventory hasn’t kept pace with job creation but builders are hammering like mad to accommodate people who are in the market to buy a house. All house hunters, if they want a place to call their own, are acting quickly and decisively.

The adjectives quick and decisive, though, are at odds with my naturally anxious and perfectionistic inclinations, and so in the beginning while I agonized over an offer to buy, other families were already moving into the house that I placed stars by on my clipboarded list. After the first day, when I had narrowed my choices down to two, I sat with Ruth and Chris writing down the pros and cons of each home, both of which had only been on the market for a few days. When I finally flipped a coin and picked House A, the owner had already accepted an offer to buy. It was the same story with House B.

By the end of the second day, I had picked House C and D. I did an admirable job of keeping my “this is ridiculous” thoughts to myself when both of those options were closed doors to me, too.

Now, I’m home and my husband and I are back to perusing photos of homes on Zillow, Realtor.com, and my agents’ website knowing that dim photography lighting puts a flattering face on anything. And while I will fight against my perfectionistic and anxious tendencies, especially when it comes down to plunking down six figures for the next 30 years of my life, Ruth and Chris have a template offer at the ready to expedite to a seller’s agent as soon as I utter the words “this looks like a nice place.”

houston house hunting