Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: December 2021

Some of G.’s famous passengers and co-conversationalists.

How Did I Get Here?

By G. S. Norwood

It’s the time of year when many of us look back to review the year we’ve just lived through and look ahead to what we want for ourselves in the year to come. And yes, I’m doing that, with all my journals and planners and pens loaded with different colored inks. But lately I’ve had more than a few lifetime-level “Pinch Me” moments, so today I’m going to look back at my career, and ask myself, “How did I get here?”

Fountain pens in a ceramic holder, and a handcrafted Journal.
G.’s trusty pens and journal: photo originally published in a 2020 post on The Weird Blog. (see credits below).

The Kid From Missouri

Let’s face it. I am just a kid from Missouri. I grew up in small towns, the daughter of two public school teachers. We weren’t rich. We weren’t well-connected. And, although liberal, we were hardly members of the “Liberal Elite.” I went to a state university, not Harvard.

Nor was I born into a famous family, or a social circle with members of international renown.

My parents, and eventually my sister, were all teachers. I figured I would be, too. What else did I know? In fact, when I decided NOT to pursue a teaching degree, my mother openly worried that I would never be able to support myself. Clearly her career expectations for me were modest.

“When I decided NOT to pursue a teaching degree, my mother openly worried that I would never be able to support myself.”

G. S. Norwood

A Life in the Arts

And yet . . . A friend once said of me, “Gigi has met more famous people than anybody else I know.” I’ll be honest. I’ve met a lot of famous people, from Poul Anderson to Sonny Landreth. In the process, I’ve realized that fame is frequently restricted to the professional circles you move in. Plenty of people reading this blog post will have no idea who either Poul Anderson or Sonny Landreth might be. Others will say, “Wait. You’ve worked with who now????”

The thing is, I wanted a life in the arts. I didn’t have to be some fabulous Broadway star, but I learned early on that I loved the work of putting on a show. You can find real magic in creating experiences to share with audiences. I was adapting fairy tales and directing plays in my back yard by the time I was in the fourth grade. I learned to make costumes in a professional summer stock theatre company as a junior in high school. Scholarships and my work as a paid staff member of Missouri State’s Tent Theatre got me through college.

Writer Poul Anderson and guitarist Sonny Landreth.
Science fiction grandmaster Poul Anderson (L) and world-class guitarist Sonny Landreth (see credits below).

Iconic Conductors

That kid in Missouri listened to a lot of classical music, but I never dreamed I’d meet internationally acclaimed conductors. Conductors were distant icons, like Leonard Bernstein. And yet, I once found myself sitting at my dining table in a rural part of west Texas, interviewing a highly respected German conductor via an international phone call. No big deal for a woman who wrote the newsletter for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, where the conductor was scheduled to appear. But that little girl from Missouri, who still lives in the back of my brain? She was saying, “Wait. How did I get here?”

Missouri Girl piped up again that time my friend, the internationally acclaimed novelist, wondered how she might interview someone at the New York City Ballet about The Nutcracker. The New York City Ballet is an icon of the American arts world, as far above local ballet companies as the gods on Olympus. Then I realized, “Oh! I know Andrew Litton, their conductor.” How did that happen?

The Dallas Symphony, Andrew Litton, and New York City Ballet.
L-R: The Dallas Symphony on stage for Christmas 2021, Conductor Andrew Litton, and two dancers from the New York City Ballet (see credits below).

Composers in My Car

And then there are the composers. I grew up thinking composers were dead guys like Mozart, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. These days I get to fist-bump a whole pantheon of contemporary composers, some of whom are writing commissions for my own Dallas Winds.

Which is how I have found myself chatting about cars with Omar Thomas, recommending Italian restaurants to Frank Ticheli, and winding up with a Bacon number of 2, thanks to Steven Bryant. I’ll always cherish the 45-minute one-on-one conversation I had when I drove the revered wind ensemble composer David Maslanka to a speaking engagement in Fort Worth. Ditto the lunch I shared with composer/conductor/choral music superstar Eric Whitacre.

Some of G.’s famous passengers and co-conversationalists.
Clockwise from left: Omar Thomas; David Maslanka, Steven Bryant, Eric Whitacre, and Frank Ticheli (see credits below).

Just Say Yes

I don’t say all this to brag about my friends or my accomplishments. I’m just a woman who works hard to support myself, in a field I find fascinating. And how did I get here? I knew I was most comfortable working in the arts, so I said “Yes!” to the opportunities I encountered. But it would never have happened if I hadn’t believed it was possible.

When I went looking for jobs, I didn’t look at the listings for bank teller or retail clerk. I looked in the arts. And I wasn’t super picky. Over the years I’ve worked as house manager for small-scale folk music house concerts. I’ve written newsletters and grant proposals for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and shepherded a bus full of Dallas Winds musicians through rural Oklahoma to a concert gig in Arkansas. Rarely was it glamorous, but it was always fun.

G.’ little red Mustang.
This Mustang, “Roze,” has carried many famous composers to places they needed to go. (Photo by G. S. Norwood).

Make Your Own Opportunities

In 2011 the Dallas Winds recorded a collection of Christmas music. The record company didn’t know what they wanted to do about liner notes. I told them I had an idea, and they invited me to have a go. They liked what I wrote, so if you ever happen to check out the Dallas Winds CD Horns for the Holidays, you’ll see the result.

On the way home from our most recent Christmas concert, I tuned in to WRR-FM, Dallas’ fabled classical music station. The announcer was introducing the next work with words that sounded strangely familiar. “That has to be Alfred Reed’s Russian Christmas Music,” I thought. Sure enough, and it was the Dallas Winds’ recording of it. Every classical music lover in a four-state region had just heard those liner notes I wrote on an off chance back in 2011.

That would not have happened if I had opted for a career in education.

The “Horns for the Holidays” album cover, and the Dallas Winds onstage.
The Dallas Winds holiday album mentioned in the post, and the wind ensemble in a recent photo with conductor Jerry Junkin (see credits below).

So . . . How Did I Get Here?

It wasn’t talent, or connections, or blinding ambition that got me where I am right now. I simply held out for the adventure. I wanted a career in the arts, and looked for any opportunity. When you do that, opportunities open up. Composers and conductors hop in for a ride in my little red Mustang. The liner notes from that Christmas CD led to liner notes for a John Williams recording. That recording wound up being nominated for a Grammy Award. A slightly surreal moment for that kid from Missouri.

Which is all just to say that, if you dream of a career in the arts, go for it. Your mother may fear for your solvency, and your more conventional relatives may sniff at the way your jobs reconfigure themselves every few years. But you can make your living in the arts. You may not get rich and famous, but you’ll have a whole lot of fun. And, someday, you may look back on the whole crazy trail you’ve left and wonder, “How did I get here?”


G. and Jan have ourselves to thank for a couple of the photos used in this post. One is the “Journal and Pens” photo by G. S. Norwood, first used for the post “Necessary Indulgences” a little more than a year ago. The hand-crafted journal is by Iona Handcrafted Books, and the pen holder is by Janet Rodriguez of Hart Street Pottery. The other is the photo of Omar Thomas, originally from his website, first used almost a year ago in the post, “Why We Need to Represent.” G. also provided the photo of her red Mustang GT.

The photo of master science fiction author Poul Anderson is from his Amazon Author Page, with a glimpse of a few of his books courtesy of Goodreads. Many thanks to The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI, for the photo of world-renowned guitarist Sonny Landreth, doing what he does best. We also appreciate the public Facebook pages of The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, The New York City Ballet, and conductor Andrew Litton for their representative photos.

There are lots of people to thank for the montage of marvelous composers. We’ve already mentioned the wonderful portrait of Omar Thomas, above. Our thanks also go out to Steven Bryant and Frank Ticheli (Photo by Frank Ticheli – Sent by subject; also published on the J W Pepper Blog, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons) for their photos. David Maslanka’s son Matthew Maslanka provided the photo of his father composing (presumably his 10th Symphony). And the wonderful photo of Eric Whitacre in his “Choir Geeks” T-shirt is by Marc Royce, via WOSU. Finally, we thank Reference Recordings for the Horns for the Holidays album cover, and the Dallas Winds for the photo of that ensemble taking a well-deserved bow (led by Conductor Jerry Junkin). All montages are by Jan S. Gephardt. Deepest gratitude to all!

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

By Jan S. Gephardt

Around my neck of the woods, it’s the season of “holiday cheer.” But frankly, I’m not seeing a whole bunch of bright, sparkly people out and about, having a real good time. That may partly be because (when I go out at all) I tend to hang out with people smart enough to wear masks. I can’t see their smiles, if they are smiling. If they are, that’s nice. But if they aren’t, that’s all right, too. It’s okay to feel what we feel.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post titled “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I sought out hopeful stories because I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person. I thought that in the midst of “the COVID-19 winter” (I was assuming there would only be one), finding reasons to stay hopeful was a good idea. It still is. And there are still reasons for hope.

But as we crank up for a second COVID-19 winter, I also want to say that it’s okay to feel what we feel. If you’re “merry and bright,” that’s awesome! Congratulations, and don’t let anybody cast aspersions on your joy!

Truth is, however, a lot of us are having trouble getting there, this year. Me included.

An illustration depicts white, spiky coronaviruses as snowflakes in a wintry landscape with evergreen trees.
An uncredited illustration I found on Medpage Today and used in my December 2020 post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.”


We can be forgiven for feeling exhausted. Especially those among us in the health care sector have carried far more than a fair share of the burdens that never seem to end. My husband worked in an extremely busy lab until his retirement earlier this year, and my daughter recently secured a certification in health care, so I am “closely adjacent” to that overburdened sector.

To the anti-vaccine holdouts across the USA let me just say: Y’all please get vaxxed and boosted so we can end this thing before it ends all of us. And thank you to everyone else who already did take those measures.

Of her job, ICU Housekeeper Andrea says, “One minute you are important enough. The next minute it is like, no you aren’t that important to get the proper equipment, but you are important enough to clean it for the next patient.”
Quote image from Brookings.

Heavy Burdens for All

I’m not sure how teachers continue to cope, either. Between the historically chronic under-resourcing of time, funding, and facilities, combined with the most bizarre teaching environment in living memory, I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the field. Except, kids need to learn and teachers need to teach. God bless you all.

A teacher from Durant, Oklahoma said, “After 33 years, I just retired. I was already frustrated so much regarding public education and the route it was going. Covid just pushed me over the top.” A teacher from Pauls Valley, Oklahoma said, “I’m seriously considering leaving after 21 years because I’m immunocompromised. My passion or my health? I’m struggling to decide if the risk is worth it.”
Both quotes are from an excellent article in the Tulsa World.

A deadly pestilence has spread everywhere, and it’s ravaging the immune-compromised (and the misinformed) among us to a catastrophic degree. Complications from the seemingly-endless pandemic have snarled our supply chains, spiked inflation, and exacerbated food insecurity.

The exhaustion spreads much farther, of course. Maybe you’re a front-line worker living in daily danger just so our grocery shelves stay stocked, our deliveries get made, or our community services keep working. But you don’t have to be one, to be exhausted. Every single one of us carries heavier burdens these days, and it’s okay to feel what we feel.

"Workers on the edge of poverty are essential to America’s prosperity, but their well-being is not treated as an integral part of the whole. Instead, the forgotten wage a daily struggle to keep themselves from falling over the cliff. It is time to be ashamed." - David K. Shipler
From AZ Quotes.

Fear and Division

Meanwhile, one of our major political parties in my country has been taken over by death-cultists, insurrectionists, and white supremacists. It used to be a party of community-oriented, business-centric, mostly-responsible old white men. Now it fields “public servants” like the ones in Missouri who are trying to kill as many school children as possible. That is for sure scary.

So are the unmasked (yes, pun intended) efforts to subvert voting rights and election integrity, in service of keeping a dwindling minority in power. So they can . . . force young women to have babies they can’t support, in the name of the party of . . .  personal liberty?

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.” - Hannah Arendt
Quote image courtesy of BukRate.

Oh, yes, and so they can provide a continuing drag on efforts to mitigate climate change. In case we weren’t beleaguered enough already, there is always the existential threat posed by climate-driven superstorms. No one can argue that this month’s historic tornadoes and recent hurricane seasons were “normal. Not scary enough? How about extreme drought and ever-longer wildfire seasons? We’ve now got those, too. “Thanks,” climate-change deniers.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
See credits below.

It’s okay to feel what we feel, because our fear is justified. We can’t allow fear to destroy us, but maybe it can motivate us to push harder for necessary changes.


God help us, we have plenty of reasons to grieve. As I write this, we’ve had 805,112 COVID deaths in the United States, per the CDC, and 5,384,178 from COVID worldwide, as reported by “Worldometers.” By the time you read this there will have been all too many more. Of course, COVID isn’t the only health issue out there that’s killing people.

Among all the other dangers in the world, we’re also murdering each other at an astonishing rate, especially in the United States, where it’s easier to buy a gun than it is to legally drive a car.

And let us not forget the frightful toll of famine throughout the world. Food insecurity is widespread in the USA, but we’re far from the worst-case scenario. We could be living (or struggling to) in The Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, Syria, and more.

More to Grieve than Deaths

Egregious as they are, all the unnecessary “extra” deaths aren’t the only losses to grieve. We could be fleeing widespread violence and climate disaster, only to be penned up in squalid COVID hotspots at an international border. Or subject to slavery, torture, and genocide in “re-education” camps, at the hands of other authoritarian governments, or in failed states.

We may be climate refugees who’ve had to flee our homes. Or we may have been priced out of homes in our communities. We may have lost our beloved small businesses and personal financial resources during the pandemic. Political tensions and other stresses may have torn our families apart. (Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too).

As long as poverty & hunger is prevalent in any continent or country, then the world at large is never safe.” – Oscar Auliq-Ice
Many thanks to QuotesLyfe.

It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel

Is it any surprise our children are struggling with mental health issues? If we’re honest, most of us are. So seriously. It’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, stepping past denial and letting ourselves feel whatever we truly feel is the first step toward healing.

A reader new to this blog could be forgiven for having started to doubt my earlier claim that “I am by nature a hopeful, and generally optimistic, person.” This post has been pretty much of a downer. But we can’t successfully fight an enemy if we can’t name it, and we can’t overcome an evil if we can’t describe it. Given the misinformation abroad in the world and in our popular media, identifying the sources of our perils accurately is more of a problem than it should be.

We can’t help how we feel. Bug we can help what we do with how we feel. We must have the courage to face our situation, before we can do anything about it. It’s a vital first step. Only then can we can educate ourselves and start to build a stronger future out of the rubble all around us.

So, it’s okay to feel what we feel. In fact, it’s more than “okay.” It’s absolutely essential.


I used the first illustration last year in my post “A Season of Small Bright Spots.” I found the uncredited illustration on Medpage Today. And it really bums me out that it’s appropriate again.

The quote image of Andrea the ICU Housekeeper is from the Brookings article, “Essential but Undervalued,” about the forgotten and underpaid front-line health care workers who keep hospitals running. I wanted to include both quotes from Oklahoma teachers. It was very hard to choose from among 20 insightful teacher-quotes in a Tulsa World article from July 2020. Many thanks to AZ Quotes, for the wisdom of David K. Shipler, and to BukRate for the timeless Hannah Arendt quote.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN (I assembled the image-quote). And finally, I’m indebted to QuotesLyfe for the quote from poet, author, and founder of Icetratt Foundation for Social Investments, Oscar Auliq-Ice. Many thanks to all!

Ask yourself what is really important, and then have the wisdom and courage to build your life around your answer.

I Just Want to Write

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes, I just want to write.

Please understand. I love my job. At this moment in my life, I’m able to do the exact thing I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life. I write the novels I’ve always wanted to write, and I publish them the way I want to. As Chief Cat-Herder (today’s my day!) and Manager of Weirdness at Weird Sisters Publishing LLC, I get to do all the things.

I’m a lifelong artist/graphic designer with strong opinions. That’s why I’m really glad that I get to be the Art Director. After more than a decade working in direct marketing, I also have opinions about how the marketing should be handled. Happy for me, I’m in charge of marketing, too. But sometimes I’m not so excited about doing those things at the moment. Sometimes, I just want to write.

The old and honorable idea of 'vocation' is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. – Wendell Berry.
See credits below.

Where Does Your Heart Call You?

Perhaps you know what I mean. I hope you’ve found your vocation, or your perfect mode of expression. Maybe it’s a pastime or an art form that uniquely calls to you. Whatever it is, there’s something deeply satisfying about that “perfect fit” thing. Sometimes, for me, that perfect fit is artwork. But most of the time I just want to write.

If you haven’t found your “perfect-fit thing” yet, I wish you good hunting. I am convinced that finding it is part of the essential journey to becoming ourselves – whoever we’re best-suited to be. If you’ve followed my blog for a while or read my books, you’ve probably figured out that I’m a big believer in helping people become their best selves.

On my fictional Rana Station I’ve tried to imagine a world in which the stated objective of the government (if not always the achieved result) is to help everyone to reach their full potential. Pam tells Shady at one point in A Bone to Pick that “Ranans don’t throw people away.” Shady is skeptical (as we all should be), but it’s a worthy aspiration.

I want you to identify your strengths or talents, and to find something about yourself that makes you unique and special, and refer to that image each time you find yourself feeling insecure or unsure. – Carlos Wallace.
See credits below.

Reality Check

Of course, the notion that one can “find oneself” and immediately start embracing their bliss full-time is naïve, exceedingly self-centered, and breathtakingly entitled. We ordinary mortals out here in the real world usually have day jobs that we need to keep. Very few of us are privileged to walk into our dream jobs at the entry level. Even after we’ve been at it for years, we still must try to move from whatever we’re doing now to jobs that “suck less,” whenever we can.

Often we also have families, and sometimes we have family members who need us to help them survive. I’m thinking now of children, elders, disabled siblings, or beloved persons who have fallen ill. Caregiving is too often thankless and unpaid, it’s always demanding, and it can come upon us at any stage in life.

These realities often hold us back from “fully realizing our potential” as we might wish. But in my experience, a “passion in your life” is essential, even if you have to squeeze it in edgewise. This might be a favorite activity, an art form, or other means of self-expression. And it can be a godsend, a fortress, and a refuge when our lives are challenging. Those “squeezed in edgewise” moments can be what keeps us going when life is otherwise bleak. Those were the times when, throughout my life, I called a time-out (even if it was only a brief mental check-out) because “I just want to write.”

Take time to do what makes your soul happy.
See credits below.


We often feel torn between competing urgencies. Several decades ago I found a helpful way to approach prioritizing activities. Many people have since criticized Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989. But even the dissenters usually seem to agree that his “Matrix of Importance Versus Urgency” can be a valuable tool.

To use it we must first decide what is IMPORTANT. For me, that includes the stuff we absolutely must do, or everything comes crashing down. But it also needs to include your “survival passion.” If the thing that brings color and life into your world isn’t in your IMPORTANT category, something is deeply wrong with your priorities.

But assigning the IMPORTANT label means you also have to assign UNIMPORTANT tasks—and that seems a bit “all-or-nothing” to me (I see “all or nothing” as a dysfunctional mindset and therefore untrustworthy). I prefer to rank things as having greater or lesser importance. Thus, my personal matrix includes ESSENTIAL and IMPORTANT categories. Then again, some things absolutely DO deserve to land in that circular file marked UNIMPORTANT.

Just make sure your “perfect-fit thing” regularly gets its turn to rank as ESSENTIAL, or you’re doing it wrong!

Ask yourself what is really important, and then have the wisdom and courage to build your life around your answer.
See credits below.

What is URGENT

I freelanced as a graphic designer and direct marketer when my kids were small. They knew if they interrupted Mommy at work with a request, they might be asked, “Is it on fire, bleeding, or dead?” One time a little smart-aleck answered, “No, but it’s about to flood.” Yeah, that got me out of my chair.

My point is that, when it comes to Covey’s guidance on priorities once again, my personal matrix includes a third category. Disasters (or their near-avoidance) merit an URGENT label. In the short term, they can even trump ESSENTIAL. The most ESSENTIAL and IMPORTANT things may not always be things . . . but the most URGENT things are nearly always performance-based.

A looming DEADLINE is a more manageable kind of “urgent” (unless you make a habit of overcommitment and living in denial). You can see them coming, plan for them, and manage them, at least hypothetically. Sometimes they’re boring things, often they’re mundane, but they nip at your attention like a shoal of piranhas. They are urgent in their way, and they definitely need to be done. But for me they exist on a lesser tier of importance than major life-goals. At least, until those DEADLINES become imminent (as is the case with this blog post).

But this part of the matrix has a null-side, too. I’ve noticed that some things just never get done, and no one cares. Anytime I find myself considering or doing something on that end of the spectrum, I’ve got to stop ask myself why.

There’s no disaster that can’t become a blessing, and no blessing that can’t become a disaster. – Richard Bach.
See credits below.

I Just Want to Write

Since you’re reading this, I made my DEADLINE (after it had nudged its way up into the URGENT category). I’ve heard many writers decry blogging as busywork – and perhaps for them it is. But I’ve been blogging since 2009, and I’ve frequently been glad I did/do. For me, the practice pays ample rewards. That keeps it in my IMPORTANT category, so you can probably count on seeing another post in this space next week.

But sometimes I just want to write (fiction). I used to feel guilty about “taking” time to indulge myself this way. Over the years, however, I’ve discovered that’s not a healthy approach. We each must allow ourselves time to do our “perfect-fit thing,” the thing that gives our souls maximum joy. If we don’t, we’ll eventually gnarl into crabby, miserable beings who live bleak, painful lives.

So, here’s the blog post. I hope it offers you inspiration and additional “permission” (if you need it) to do your “perfect-fit thing” and correctly value it as ESSENTIAL. But as for me, Rana Station calls. I need to go check in with Rex and Shady for a while, because right now I just want to write!


I had a lot of help with the illustrated quotes for this week’s post, and I’m deeply grateful to all of my sources. Here they are in order!

I found the Wendell Berry quote through Brainy Quote, normally a favorite source of illustrated quotes. But this time it had no background image, so I found my own with some help from “stylephotographs” via my 123rf subscription. I needed considerably less help with the “find yourself” quote from Quote Stats and Carlos Wallace. Thank you!

I loved the visuals for the “soul happy” quote-image from Southern Living, which I found via Pinterest, and the “really important” quote from Live Life Happy. My deepest gratitude to both of you! I hope my efforts to put them into a format more compatible with this blog post enhances them, rather than detracting. That same wish applies to the “disasters and blessings” quote from Richard Bach, as originally visualized by Greeting Ideas. Many, many thanks to all!

Charitable giving opportunities abound.

Giving of Ourselves

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes the best way to beat supply-chain issues is by giving of ourselves. If that sounds so sweetly altruistic you can’t even stand it, please hold on. Don’t give me an eye-roll just yet!

Last week I wrote about solving supply-chain issues for holiday gift-giving by focusing on locally-available goods. And especially those bought from small, locally-owned businesses. But the smallest, most local resource at our disposal is right here in our own homes, inside our own skins. It’s us.

And there are all kinds of ways to give of ourselves that don’t involve huge sacrifices of time, labor, and money. Actually, giving of ourselves in the ways I have in mind often are fun to do. And many are cheaper than buying more traditional stuff. So hear me out.

Handmade fiber art from G. S. Norwood: crochet, quilt, and knitting.
My sister G. S. Norwood gets crafty in several fiber art media: L-R, my daughter’s terrier Anika approves of her crochet project (on my bed); a “Log Cabin” quilt she created more than a decade ago; the beginning of a cable-knit project from 2020. (Photos by Jan S. Gephardt; G. S. Norwood).

Our Crafty Side

Many of us do not believe we are creative or artistic, but don’t sell this one short. There are many ways to create cool stuff without having to be Picasso or Mozart. Last year my sister wrote about her needlework and gardening, along with other “lockdown pastimes” people developed. The post is Get Crafty! (exclusively on The Weird Blog).

Perhaps you, too, have honed some skills during lockdowns. I’m not only talking about knitted booties or crocheted afghans, either. Do you know great recipes to share? Print up a little collection of them to slip into a holiday card. Suddenly, you have a nice little gift! It’s practical and tasty, too! Not to mention economical.

Four examples of hand-decorated wrapping paper.
How to make hand-decorated wrapping paper? at left, Marian Parsons used stencils (top) and stamping. At right, Morgan Levine made simple prints using a pencil eraser (top) and a wine cork (see credits below).

Giving of Ourselves by Adding Flair to the Delivery

Maybe we have a gift package, but we want to give it with extra style. Giving of ourselves by adding personal touches requires some imagination. And maybe a little paint or fabric, etc. Back in 2016 I ran a series of four blog posts about crafty wrapping strategies.

One post offered Five Slick Tips to Make Our Own Wrapping Paper. None of them required artistic talent, though a good eye for color and design helps. Stencils and stamping strategies meant no drawing skill required, though you will need craft paint, possibly glue, construction paper, and a few other household items.

Fabric of the Imagination and Repurposed Wraps offered clever on-site recycling suggestions for old boxes, tins, fabric, ribbon, and much, much more. While Does Your Gift Wrap do Impressions? suggested some themes one could explore.

Stage play, kids at a zoo, and historic steam engine.
A stage play, trip to a zoo, or a ride on a narrow-gauge train are only a few ways to give and share experiences. (See credits below).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Giving Experiences

A less homemade “giving of ourselves” approach is to give our loved ones well-chosen experiences. Perhaps they’re excursions to enjoy together, such as a zoo or amusement park trip with a child. Sometimes the greatest gift is spending time with someone you love.

But even if you’re separated by vast distances, there may ways to place someone’s wished-for concert tickets in their hand. Or to give them an admission pass to a place you know they want to go. In an age when we can buy tickets online, tickets to practically anything – anywhere – can be had. Concerts, plays, restaurants, parks, zoos and aquariums, nature centers, and museums are within reach practically everywhere. We just need to keep the recipients’ tastes and preferences foremost in mind!

Respite care and yard work photos.
L-R: Offering help with caregiving, joining a yard crew team (this is Madrona Group Real Estate’s team, center), or helping a neighbor rake her leaves are all great ways to give of ourselves. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Our Service

While we’re talking about spending time with those we love, I’d be remiss if I said nothing about gifts of service. Giving of ourselves in service to someone else’s need is a profound – and often profoundly pleasant – thing to do.

Giving of ourselves through individual services, such as babysitting, pet-sitting, or offers of respite for caregivers can make a huge difference for someone in need of help. We may have someone on our list who needs this kind of help.

Do you know someone whose leaves you could rake? Perhaps an elderly or sick neighbor whose drive or walk you could shovel when it snows? Letters or groceries delivered to their door, gutters cleaned out, a ride to an appointment . . . We may never know how deeply they appreciate it, until years later. When it’s our turn to be on the receiving end.

Charitable giving opportunities abound.
There are many ways to give to charity. Boxing Day and Giving Tuesday offer special opportunities. But whenever you give, I suggest Charity Navigator as a good guide. (See credits below).

Giving of Ourselves through Donations

Volunteering through agencies or organizations is another way that giving of ourselves can help others and benefit our community. And as I noted in my post “The Value of Volunteering,” making a difference in someone else’s life is a satisfaction few other pleasures can match. We should start early with teaching our kids this joy, too.

Some of us may have people on our lists who “have everything,” but who might be touched and honored if you dedicate a donation of gifts or services in their name.

Donations don’t always have to be of money, although that’s often the first thing we think of. And it’s certainly true that money is always the right size, the right color, and the right flavor. We don’t have to wait for special days such as Giving Tuesday or Boxing Day, although we may be able to compound our gift through matching funds on such days. We also might consider setting up a monthly gift for a special cause that we or an honoree on our gift list would really love to support .

Household donations, a child hair-donor, and a blood donor.
There are ways to give of ourselves that literally cost nothing—but some might just save a life. (See credits below).

Giving Literally of Ourselves

Donations in kind are also often greatly appreciated by recipients who need them, and the holidays are a time when many of us do most of our charitable giving. Donate gently-used clothing or housewares and toys to thrift stores that support charitable organizations. Donate food to food pantries (give them things you would like to eat, or choose from a list of most-needed items). Also consider paper goods, and other household necessities. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are always needed!

While we’re giving of ourselves, don’t forget we can donate blood (through the Red Cross or a local blood bank) or other tissue and literally save someone’s life. Those with long hair like me can ask our hairdressers to help us donate some of our hair. And, each time we renew our driver’s license, we can make sure we’re registered as an organ donor! Once we’re done using them, parts of our bodies can make a world of difference for someone else. What better way to say “goodbye with love”?

A word cloud of “Thank You” in many languages.
No matter how you say it, “Thank you” is a message all of us appreciate, but we hear it too seldom. (Image by “dizanna” via 123rf).

Giving of Ourselves Through Gratitude

Even for someone who’s not normally much of a writer, there are two kinds of writing that any literate person can do. First, we can write (and tell and show) the people we love how very much they mean to us. We should tell them what we love about them. And tell them why we think they’re special. Second, we can write sincere “thank yous” when they do something for us or give us something.

In this hurry-up world, people don’t get thanked enough. We should try to remember to thank the harried sales clerk who helps us find what we’re looking for. And thank a person who does a thoughtful thing for us.

We should thank the front-line workers who stock our groceries, deliver our mail and packages, or pick up our trash. Once again, I’ve written blog posts that may be helpful. Take a look at “Three Creative Ways to Thank a Veteran,” “Three Great Ways to Thank First Responders (Plus a Suggestion),” and “Another Way to Thank a First Responder.”

The Opportunities are Endless

Giving of ourselves is far more than just a simple strategy to beat the supply chain issues of the moment. This kind of giving can become our joyous offering to the world. We must find the ways that work best for us. There’s a special niche for which each of us is uniquely best-suited. And when we find it, it’s fun and rewarding to make giving of ourselves a lifelong habit.


Many thanks to G. S. Norwood, for the images in the first montage (originally published in her blog post “Get Crafty!”). Likewise, the full image credits for the second montage can be found in Jan’sFive Slick Tips” post on creative giftwraps. The ones in the montage are courtesy of designers Marian Parsons and Morgan Levine, who is now a celebrated ceramics artist. All montages in this post were collected and assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

Photos for the “Giving Experiences” montage came from far and wide. Many thanks to “What’s on Stage” (London) for the Johan Persson photo from the production of Some Like it Hip Hop. We’re grateful to the Ft. Wayne, IN Children’s Zoo, via Vet Street, for the pic of kids with one of their giraffes. And the great photo of the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge’s steam engine (with actors to add flair) comes from Nick Gonzales and the Durango Herald of Durango, CO.

Deepest appreciation to Visiting Angels, Darts, and Upworthy, for the “Yard Chores and Caregiving” photos. For the “Charitable Donations” montage, we thank Giving Tuesday, the BBC and Getty Images, Charity Navigator, and Checkbox Accounting. Finally, for the “Literally of Ourselves” montage, we thank Love to Know (in-kind donations), The FDA (donating blood), and “Still Playing School” for the three-part image of “E” donating her ponytail. And the “Thank You Word Cloud” comes from “dizanna” via 123rf.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.

Beating Supply Chain Issues

By Jan S. Gephardt

We’ve been hearing a lot about supply chain issues, and the resulting problem of inflation (due to the market forces of high demand and lower supplies—no, it’s not the infrastructure bill). Deals aren’t as good, this year, we hear. Shop early, and don’t wait for deals, we’re told. Supply chain issues are messing things up, and there could be worse to come!

Be scared! Be angry! These messages come through loud and clear. The economy is going to hell, and we’re all gonna die. Or so some would have you think (mostly so you’ll give them money).

I don’t believe it has to be that bad. And you don’t have to receive that word, either. We can beat supply chain issues and have a lovely Christmas/Holiday season, if we keep our priorities straight. In this post I plan to focus on smaller-scale, creative and adaptive things we can do to beat supply chain issues in sustainable ways.

Four images of backed-up shipping lanes off the coast of California.
Back in February 2021, the Coast Guard documented a growing backup of cargo ships outside California ports (Freight Waves/US Coast Guard).

We Can’t Whip Inflation and Supply Chain Issues with a Closed Mind

If you have a fixed idea of What Christmas Has To Be, and it’s built around the newest, coolest, hottest toys, electronics, and fashions, I can’t help you. Is hitting the Black Friday, Cyber Monday (or, for that matter, the After Christmas) sales your idea of a good time? Do you seek out the very most rock-bottom prices for trendy items that are on “everyone’s” must-have list? Well, then, for you I’ve got nothin’.

If you (or the people on your gift list) will only be satisfied with those hot new, influencer-endorsed, “must-have” things, this post is not for you. You live in a different reality from where I’m centered.

But if you’re willing to open your mind and be flexible, to focus on the fun, the personalized, and the unique, then read on.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.
A lot of people will be fighting through crowds or fueling a massive wave of shipped packages this year in an effort to get ahead of supply chain issues (iStock/Sculpies; Amazon).

“Buy Local” is a Survival Tactic—For Us and Our Communities!

You’ve heard the mantra “buy local” a gazillion times by now, and there are good reasons why—even if the local shops are a bit more expensive. Local shops (even local franchisees, although they often aren’t able to be as flexible) are invested in the community. Larger concerns are not, and they actually can’t be.

I’m old enough to have seen some “big box”-type stores rise and fall. Remember K-Mart?They still exist!—but not around Kansas City. Do you remember Borders Books? They were fun while they lasted. But when things went sour and the business model changed, they cut their losses and closed local outlets.

Never mind if they’d run local stores out of business and now they were the only sources. I’ve lived in rural communities where that was literally the case. But their corporate offices didn’t care.

That was then. Now it’s the online stores that grab ever-greater percentages of buyers. Maybe you don’t worry about the possibility that you’re perpetuating inhumane workplaces. Maybe you can ignore underpaid, stressed-out warehouse or factory workers, who have to meet ever-higher quotas at an ever-faster pace.

Shipping from overseas adds a significant carbon load to the environment. Shipping from online outlets can drive up the price of your bargain. And ultimately, everybody’s fuel prices, too. What’s the carbon footprint, even if it’s “free” shipping?

A different view of a very busy Amazon fulfillment facility, and a Foxconn factory with suicide nets.
At left, Prime Day 2021 at an Amazon warehouse in North Carolina. At right, do you remember the Foxconn suicide nets from 2010? It’s clear that extreme pressure in factories and fulfillment centers can still be a problem. (NBC News / Rachel Jessen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Buying Local and Staying Open-Minded

If you shop from a list of pre-determined items, your track is rigidly set. The only issue becomes “what’s the lowest price?” Maybe you also shop for quality or value-for-the-money. Maybe you shop for “can-I-get-it-by-X date?” But if that’s your strategy, then serendipity is not your friend, and neither are supply chain issues. You may have to wrap a box that contains a picture of the “someday my box will come” item.

I have often made excellent gift-finds by walking into a local store and looking around. I once bought half my Christmas presents at Kieran’s Hardware Store in Lockwood, Missouri (there’s still a hardware store there, but it doesn’t seem to have Kieran’s name on it). One of my students, who clerked there part-time, offered great help. We had a fun and creative experience. Most of those gifts were a major hit with their recipients, too.

A quaint row of small shops in Kansas City, MO.
A block full of small, mostly local shops in the Kansas City Brookside neighborhood (First Washington Realty).

Local Gems

I bet your area has such stores, if you seek them out. Places like Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas They know their stock, they gift-wrap for free, and they’re experienced “book matchmakers.”

Places like the R&R Center in St. Clair, Missouri, which is on its fourth generation of owners from the same family. It is way more varied and essential than just another Ace Hardware Store.

Or places like Brookside Toy and Science in Kansas City, Missouri, a shop I’ve depended on for a couple of decades’ worth of great Angel Tree toy finds. Their knowledgeable staffers are amazing!

Storefronts of Rainy Day Books, R&R Center, and Brookside Toy & Science.
L-R, The proprietors of Rainy Day Books outside their store, R&R Ace Hardware, and Brookside Toy & Science’s storefront. (Rainy Day Books; Google/Laura Montgomery; Google/Brookside Toy & Science).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by “Shopping Local” for Food

If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that both my sister and I have strong feelings about supporting local businesses, especially artists. My sister’s posts “Setting the Table” and “A Necessary Indulgence” on The Weird Blog offer glimpses of how she treasures small craftspersons. There were strong elements of this aesthetic in her recent post “A Birthday Indulgence,” too.

But artisanal efforts don’t only happen in the realms of art and fine crafts (we’ll revisit those disciplines later in this post). The most delectable artisan crafts create food.

The season for farmers’ markets may have passed, but that doesn’t by any means show that all the local food-oriented businesses have closed. Very much to the contrary! Just look at “the two Kansas Cities.”

Some KCK Connections

Here in my neck of the woods, we have Bichelmeyer Meats, another longtime-local (70+ years), family-owned shop (pronounce it “BICK-el-my-er”). They’re located across the state line and the Kaw/Kansas River, in Kansas City, Kansas.

This old-style butcher shop supplies locally-reared, grass-fed meat that’s never gone anywhere near a feedlot or a meat-packing plant. They also offer a selection of outstanding house-made sausages and their own, competition-tested barbecue sauce. It’s Kansas City. Of course they have barbecue sauce! They also do their best to be affordable, even for folks on a tight budget. Does your area have such a gem, too?

You might not have exactly the same ethnic mix in your area, so the specialty foods will vary. But I bet you have delicious and unique offerings! Strawberry Hill Baking Co. has operated in Kansas City, Kansas for more than 100 years, and their Povitica (pronounced “po-va-teet-sa”) has become pretty famous. It’s an originally-Slavic treat that all of us can enjoy!

Sausages, the Bichelmeyer’s logo, four kinds of Povitica and the Strawberry Hill logo.
Along with locally-sourced, grass-fed meats, Bichelmeyer offers house-made sausages. And Strawberry Hill Baking Company makes Povitica in a dizzying array of flavors. (Bichelmeyer Meats; Strawberry Hill Baking Co).

But wait! There’s Chocolate!

Kansas City, Missouri has deep roots in chocolate candy-making. We’re the original home of Russell Stover Candies. But if that’s too “mainstream” for you, we have a deep “chocolate culture” here.

Annedore’s Fine Chocolates is within walking distance from my house—yet, alas, nowhere near far enough to walk off the calories! André’s Confiserie Suisse (which shares a building but is technically next door to the local Swiss Consulate) is about an equal distance from my father’s South Plaza condo. And we can’t forget Christopher Elbow, with a shop downtown! Each has their own approach, and each has been judged as world-class.

Yes, the chocolate is strong with Kansas City! What is your home town’s specialty food?

Annedore’s, Christopher Elbow, and André—all Kansas City chocolatiers.
Kansas City’s world-class chocolatiers Annedore’s (top) , Christopher Elbow (center), and André’s present a divine approach-approach-approach conflict! (Annedore’s Fine Chocolates; Christopher Elbow Chocolates; André’s Confiserie Suisse).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Shopping Local Artisans, Artists and Crafters

If you’re onboard with the philosophy of shopping locally and creatively, you probably already have scoped out local art fairs, festivals, and craft shows. This time of year, they often pop up in malls and convention centers. Earlier in the season, they might have been outdoor street fairs. We recently had such a gathering in our River Market district.

But even if there’s no show this week/weekend, that doesn’t mean there’s no art to be found. Here in the Kansas City area we have any number of wonderful creators with their own studios. Check out Genevieve Flynn (jewelry) or Susan F. Hill Design (fiber art). For paper-based art, consider Angie Pickman’s Rural Pearl Studio (wonderful cut-paper art; technically in Lawrence, KS), and my longtime friend Randal Spangler (fantasy art originals, prints, and more).

If you’re aware of a local artist, they’re probably planning a holiday open house. Ask to be put on their mailing list, so you’ll know when it’s happening!

And don’t forget local artist groups and associations. They’re probably having holiday sales, too. For example, the KC Clay Guild has its 39th Annual Holiday Pottery Sale and Studio Tour this coming weekend. The Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City already participated in the Creative Hand Show and Sale for this year, but Creative Hand has a great list of artists and their websites. You can bet than most of them would be willing to sell you cool stuff.

Offerings from the holiday shows for “Creative Hand” and the KC Clay Guild.
Holiday sales offer quite a range of interesting objects and wearables. (Creative Hand; KC Clay Guild).

Options for Beating Supply Chain Issues are all Around Us

Thinking outside the commercial run of average stuff may be an adjustment, but it’s worth the effort. We just have to look for local options, and keep an open mind. I hope this overview gets the ideas flowing (I do plan to suggest more ideas in an upcoming post). Our own supply chains will be that much more resilient when we “shop local,” and our communities will be, too.

I’d love it if this post gives my local favorites a boost (Go, Kansas City Metro!). But it’s also true that there are local treasures wherever you live. If you already love local gems in your area and want to give them a shout-out, please mention them in a comment below!


First of all, thank you, just in general, to all the local businesses I’ve highlighted in this post. I’m proud of you for persisting in the face of price-undercutting by “big box” and online competitors, COVID lockdowns, market crashes, inflation, tight job markets, and all the other challenges you’ve faced—sometimes for decades and across generations. You’re part of why I love my hometown.

Second, I deeply appreciate the sources of all the photos and logos used in this post. Please note that all images are credited in the cutlines. All montages, except the 4-photo collection from the US Coast Guard via Freight Waves at the top of this post, were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

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