When your friend’s a genius

I recently posted a picture on Facebook and got a lot of comments about how beautiful the colors are.  I’m especially fond of the picture that was behind me which was painted by Diane Woods.  I’ve posted it here.
Diane is my friend. She’s also a genius.  An artist.  We’ve been friends for over 30 years.
It was July 4th a number of years ago. I had driven up to her house in Napa, California’s beautiful wine country.  I had commissioned Diane to paint a special painting for me.
I have a very intense life and asked her to paint something that would nourish and rejuvenate my spirit.  This painting was the result.
It was July 4th that we picked out the colors together. This picture of Diane is how excited she got when we found the right colors.  

It captures her happy exuberance for her art.  An exuberance expressed in each of her works.

While you can most certainly enjoy the beauty bursting forth from this painting, it has many secrets that only a trusted friend would know and remember.

For example, the side of the frame contains the hint of a red dress because, as Diane told me, “You may want to go out later.”  And, if I did, she knew I would certainly want to wear this particular red dress.

You see, I fell in love with this dress which was on exhibit at the San Francisco art museum Diane and I were visiting and I tried to talk Diane into breaking into the museum with me at night to steal it.

Diane didn’t think that was such a good idea, so she surprised me by painting this special dress into my painting as her way of giving it to me.

But there’s only a hint of it in the left-hand corner, a hint of red. You have to look closely to see it and only I know that it’s the red dress that I wanted.

This painting has many clues to the inside of my heart.

Life is good when your friend’s a genius.



PS  Diane does a great amount of commission work and can paint an expression of the beauty in your own heart.  She’s also worth following on FaceBook if you like sudden bursts of joy.


Sometimes we get really lucky and meet someone like Louis, someone whose communication transcends the ordinary and takes us to another world, inside and outside ourselves. Louis Alan Swartz has been a deep inspiration to me and one of my best friends. He passed away last week and my article this week is a tribute to him.

Louis wrote poetry. Poetry that transformed hard hearts into gentler ones, transformed lost hope into optimism, transformed extreme grief and loss into glorious new love.

This is the power of transcendent communication. It makes you see the world with new eyes. You lift your eyes from the keyboard and point them to the stars.

Louis looked past the “behavior” of humankind and into the heart of humankind. And that’s who he talked to.

I, and the very large and growing “Louis Fan Club,” are feeling deep grief and joy for our memories. Louis hated to see me cry. His last communication to me, as I was weeping over the pending loss of him, was, “I am alive!” And he is. In all the glorious poetry he has generously given to the world. Poetry he created with another dear friend of mine, the fine artist, Diane Woods. I will share a little bit of it with you.

“My purpose in life is to wake the sleeping spirit of man.

“You are constructed of magic.

“You are here to pervade joy.”

– Louis Alan Swartz

With love,


A quiet rebel’s guide to being unrealistic

Every person who ever told me to face reality never seemed very happy to me. I was told to face reality from the time I was little. So it started young. And it was from a good number of people.

I was a BIG day-dreamer and it happened when I told them dreams of what I was going to be, what I would do, the life I dreamed of living. This is when they’d look at me severe and grimly and say, “Dreams are nice, but you need to face reality.”  Then present me with an expectant look that plainly said, “It’s time to wipe that smile off your face, young lady.”

I only had one teacher, Miss Herman, who said, “You’re going to go places, Ingrid, don’t forget that, and don’t forget us.”  I will never forget her.

Actually, if you want to know the truth, it started really early.  Apparently, when I was a baby, I spent a lot of time laughing. My mother said even when she left me alone for a little bit in my crib, from the next room she could hear me laughing and laughing. When she came in, I was being very entertained by the light dancing on the ceiling as the trees outside swayed in the breeze and their leaves cast playful shadows of light. (Note:  I still find that endlessly entertaining.)

Anyway, she took me to the doctor because I was laughing so much, everything made me happy and I was always laughing at the least little thing. She was afraid I was mentally defective. The doctor examined me rather thoroughly and told my mother that I had no mental defects, she just had a really happy baby.

She couldn’t quite understand why I was so happy. It makes total sense to me. I had a really cool family and I was super happy to be alive.

I also really liked people. I found pretty much everyone interesting.  I loved talking to strangers.

So teachers, and even random people, started telling me to face reality pretty early. They made a point to let me know that the world was not as good a place as I seemed to think it was. Reality came to mean something pretty grim, slightly dangerous, a little or a lot unpleasant and definitely something you couldn’t do anything about.

And, most important, when it comes to you versus reality, reality always has the winning hand, you will always lose.

You can understand why I wasn’t crazy about the reality they kept telling me I had to face. It clearly meant giving up my dreams.  It actually meant I should stop dreaming altogether.

So, I learned to look very serious. I learned how to get the straight A’s in school that seemed to make everyone happy, grades that turned out to be meaningless because they were no measure of whether I was a good person or whether I could do anything meaningful, or contribute anything worthwhile to the world.

But I knew this was wrong and I couldn’t sell out my dreams.  I was a quiet rebel.  I didn’t announce my rebellion, I just acted on it. I won’t get into all I did to make school tolerable, suffice it to say, I had a really good time (clean fun) and laughed a lot when they weren’t looking.

I started our organization, Effective Training Solutions, when I was in my 20’s. They told me to face reality yet again, that I was too young to start my own company. Even my mother told me to go get “a real job” when I told her I was the CEO of a company of one.

And here I am, over 30 years later…living a dream.

Because that’s what it comes down to.

Dreams versus reality. It’s not you versus reality it’s your dreams versus reality.  And, in truth, it’s someone else’s reality they’re trying to get you to face, it’s never yours.

And that’s what this New Year is all about. There are WAY too many heavy-duty realities being enforced on all of us.

What does that do to our dreams?

If your answer is, that you dream even bigger and are making those dreams come true, Bravo!

If your answer is, that you’re waiting to either see how it all turns out or are waiting for it to change, it’s time to reclaim your precious dreams.  They are the most important part of your life. 

I spend 20% of my time observing reality exactly the way it is.  And 80% focused on how I want it to be and making it happen.

We have 12 people in our organization. We just had a series of major end-of-year meetings. We looked back over the last year and forward into our new year.

The reality looking back was grim.  We received an email at 3 PM one day in March telling us that, starting at midnight, we were not allowed to come back to the office. Every single client we had scheduled through 2020 suddenly canceled. We had no online training going, only in-person clients scheduled, so suddenly the rug was pulled out from under our business and our dreams completely.

My team and I had an immediate meeting and within two hours we had new dreams we were inspired by, a strategy and a plan.

Over the last nine months we have executed on it, with many pivot points along the way where we responded to continuously changing observations about what our clients really need.

In 2020 we pulled together, did the hard work, basically climbed a very high mountain, and were so busy climbing, we never looked down to see how far we’ve come.

In these meetings, we realized we had reached the top of a very high mountain and we all sat back to enjoy the beautiful view.

The wins from our clients have been so satisfying, so richly rewarding, so deeply moving, so profoundly wonderful, we were filled with gratitude.  All the new people that we’ve met and who have enriched our lives so greatly. And we are so happy for the great number of people that we have helped who now can go forward to communicate successfully to the world around them and create new realities.  People who are making a difference, people who are uplifting the world around them.

We look back on 2020 with pain and sorrow for the injury that was done to the dreams of so many.
And we look back with great joy for all the people we helped.

The world around us has been unrelentingly brutal. Surrounded by this harsh reality, we created our own world of goodness and brought many people into that world. 

And that’s what this new year is about.  

It’s not about facing reality. It’s not about waiting to see what’s going to happen. It’s not about waiting for everything to change.

It’s about creating a beautiful new reality that truly makes us … you, me, all of us … deeply satisfied and happy.

Facing reality isn’t going to get us there. Creating reality will.

So my wish for you is to be filled with the courage (because it takes real courage) to face your dreams and make them your new reality.

I will never tell you to face reality. I believe in your ability to CHANGE reality, to improve it, to make a better world, for you, for your family, for everyone you work with.

I believe in you. I believe in your dreams.

I’m all about making dreams come true.  That’s the best part of life. And helping people.

And being way too happy. And laughing way too much.

Wishing you a most beautiful new year.


Are we smart enough?

Constitution Room

I’ve always been someone who likes to see it for myself, to make up my own mind.  I made my mother laugh endlessly when I was little and she told me not to touch the stove because it was hot – my immediate reaction was to touch it myself to see what I thought about it.  She loved this about me and gave me inspired nicknames with great humor.

That’s why, when I read a biography, and I love good biographies, I also immerse myself into what’s called “source documents”, which are the letters and writings by the person I’m reading about.

Biographies tell you what other people think about this person, their interpretations of their thoughts, emotions, motives and actions.

On the other hand, a person’s letters tell you exactly what they were thinking.

Two biographers can interpret the same letter completely differently.  Exactly the way two people can hear what you’re saying and come out with totally different meanings of what you just said.

Have you ever noticed when you talk to two totally different people they hear you differently? Imagine you say something to someone who likes you, and then say the exact same thing to someone who doesn’t like you.  If each one of them wrote a book, you’d end up with two completely different books about you.

Wouldn’t you want someone to know exactly what you said if they were hearing about it years later?

I’ve always been interested in how this country created a political system on a foundation of freedom and rights.

Political systems are created by people, so this has been a study of people, their thoughts, philosophies and actions.

I’ve read numerous books and biographies, but what I love most is their letters.

The letters tell me what they were really thinking.

George Washington has 87 volumes of published correspondence.  (He spent most of the Revolutionary War writing letters.)

Thomas Jefferson wrote 20,000 letters.

James Madison wrote 12,000 letters and over 72,000 pages of his writings have been published.

John Adams wrote 1,160 letters to his wife alone, the most intimate conversation imaginable, pouring out his heart without restraint.

Benjamin Franklin corresponded with an astonishing range of men and women internationally, writing over 8,000 letters.

These are all available to read yourself.

You really get to know them reading their letters.

Biographers read these letters and put a story together.

I’m interested in some of the stories that are told, but what I really like is to read the letters themselves because they tell a much more complete and vivid story than any biography.  I create a fabulous movie in my head while reading – I can see them so clearly.  Their words are powerful, passionate, direct.  It’s like they’re talking to me.  I don’t need someone in between telling me what they said or what they meant – I get it straight from them.

Lately I’ve developed a passionate interest in the US Constitution.

It’s impossible to fully understand this document without also reading the 85 essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay called the Federalist Papers. The Constitution is the equivalent of an org chart and job description. The Federalist Papers, written immediately after the Constitutional Convention, explain what each part means, the philosophy, the reasoning, the why. These essays are a beautiful piece of writing about human rights, liberty, political philosophy – profound and timeless words about humankind.

What I’m into right now is making me laugh harder than any book I’ve read in ages. It really illuminates the wide difference between how history actually happened and what we were taught in school.

In school, this was no more than a paragraph in my history book:  Delegates from the 13 colonies got together in 1787 and created the US Constitution.

It sounds so simple. They met, they wrote it down, they went home. If you’re from Philadelphia like I am, you know they also went to City Tavern (still in operation, true to its history, totally fabulous) and put down some beers together.  And there you go, we have this thing called the US Constitution.

Let me just say this.  These were 55 people from completely different parts of the country who wanted completely different things.  Imagine for a moment, bringing 55 people you know together and asking them to all decide on something simple, like where to go for dinner.  You know very well that, even with a simple topic for discussion, 55 people will get entangled in an elaborate debate. I’ve seen groups with way fewer people take 20 minutes to decide what pizza topping to get.

These were 55 VERY OPINIONATED people.

So what I’m LOVING reading right now is James Madison‘s notes of what happened each day during the Constitutional Convention. Day by day for 4 months.  May into September, 1787.

Madison wrote down word for word the key points that were made, what many of the delegates actually said.  It’s a very, “Pinckney said this.  Then Randolph said this.  And Colonel Mason said this.  Wilson disagreed by saying this.  Morris wouldn’t agree unless we inserted these words.”

Madison doesn’t interpret their words – he’s faithful to what they actually said, the words they used.

The day’s notes end with, “And then we voted and this is how each of us voted.”

I’m understanding the US Constitution so much more deeply.

Reading these notes makes the whole process much more REAL. I have watched many groups make big decisions and there’s a tremendous amount of back-and-forth.

When it comes to the US Constitution, it’s the back-and-forth that’s fascinating.

For example, on day three of the Constitutional Convention, Thursday, May 31, 1787, they spent the ENTIRE day debating whether people were smart enough to govern themselves.

I thought that going into the Convention they were already all in agreement about this.  Not so!  This was a controversial issue. A MAJOR controversial issue. A number of delegates seriously doubted that the people themselves could be trusted to elect members of Congress.

Elbridge Gerry from Massachusetts, who “did not like the election by the people,” said, “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.”  WHAT????????

Gerry believed average people were “dupes of pretended patriots” and wanted people of “honor and character” to lead.  He did not have confidence that a sufficient number of average Americans possessed these qualities.

He was far from alone in this viewpoint.

And then there was Pierce Butler from South Carolina who very simply thought “election by the people was impractical.”

It was a HOT debate. Could we the people be trusted to govern ourselves? Were we smart enough?

The alternative would be to pick smart people, people smarter than us, or smarter than most of the people, who would basically tell everyone what to do.

In other words, the choice was to have a government that says:  “You’re not smart enough to know what to do, you’re going to make bad decisions, I know more than you do, so we will make the rules for you and tell you what to do.

Or:  Do we tell the government what we want and say to the government, “We’re smart and we know what we want.  You’re going to do what WE want you to do.  Not the other way around.”

I look at what’s happening today, and this question, 233 years later, is once again on the table.

Are we smart enough for self-government, to govern ourselves?  Or do we require others who are “smarter than us” to lead us, to lead our country?  Does the government tell us what to do? Or do we tell the government what to do?

I sat drinking my tea this morning, watching the sun rise, and imagined the beautiful room in Philadelphia I’ve visited many times (photo above), filled with 55 extremely smart, well-read, eloquent men, fiercely passionate men, men with intense convictions, impelled by a powerful sense of duty sufficient to get on their horses and ride for days to be there, to leave their families for four months, knowing they would create a national philosophy and system represented by a document that would create a nation and impact generations to come.

And here they were.  Day 3.  A hot summer day and a hot debate on whether we were smart enough to govern ourselves.  I pictured, almost like a movie, 10 hours of fierce debate on this one topic alone.

Have you ever passionately debated anything in a large group for 10 hours?

These men understood the art of debate, the art of real deliberation that is lost today. Their deliberations are beautiful.  They’re not angry.  They’re listening.  They’re carefully and eloquently examining the pro’s and con’s of each point of view.

So, how did it turn out?

James Madison considered self-government, trusting the people, as essential to free government and a free country. His argument to the other 54 delegates was, “The great fabric to be raised would be more stable and durable if it should rest on the solid foundation of the people themselves.”

Later, in Federalist Essay #49 explaining the rationale behind the US Constitution, Madison would write: “The people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived.”

I don’t know how many times he wrote or said this throughout his lifetime.  Too many to count.

Finally, at the end of this passionate day, they voted. Six states voted the people would elect their Congressional Representatives. Two states voted against and two states were divided. So 6 to 4 it passed.

Far from unanimous.  Almost a tie.  Close call.

But ultimately they decided.  We are smart enough to govern ourselves.

I’m glad they did.  I think so too.  I would have voted for it.  I think we are.

Much love,


Crisis and what I think will happen

Rocks into rainbows

It was a beautiful day in March, mid-afternoon, my assistant and I were in the office, heads together working on my schedule for the rest of the month. Out of the corner of my eye, as I glanced at my computer, I noticed an urgent email saying that starting at midnight we all had to work from home.

My staff and I mobilized quickly.  Within three hours we had a plan and a new life.

For over 30 years we have delivered training and coaching largely in person, only very occasionally and sporadically delivering online webinars.

What we did that week and in the last two months is build a brand new business entirely from scratch overnight. Online training and coaching.

In less than two months about 450 people have completed our training programs, way more than we ever reached in person given that amount of time.  We’ve added over 20 corporations newly to our list.  The success stories and the wins flooding my inbox completely blow me away.

But this blog isn’t about that.  It’s about our country and even the world.

The word crisis is older than our civilization and many others that came before us.

Following it’s trail here …. in the 1400’s crisis had come to mean a decisive point in the progress of a disease.  But it also meant vitally important or decisive state of things, point at which change must come, for better or worse.

It arrived in English from Latin which took it from the Greek word krisis which meant turning point in a disease, that change which indicates recovery or death. 

It literally meant judgment, the result of a trial, selection  and had come from the word krinein  which meant to separate, decide, judge.

The actual root of it all was a word mankind was using before they could even write or draw on cave walls.  This was the word krei which meant to discriminate, distinguish.

Distinguish means the ability to see the difference.  Often between the false and the true.

In short, crisis is that vitally important turning point where recovery happens.  Or doesn’t.

When it comes to the recovery of a society, it depends on our ability to distinguish the false from the true.  To judge.  To decide.  And make choices.

I’m watching the politics of the situation, and especially the politicians, very closely. On a local, state, country and international level.

Usually words, words and more words obscure their actions, many of which are hidden from our view.

Today their actions have no cover, you can see them clearly.

This creates a turning point.

I think our world will respond the way one of my neighbors did. This is what she chose. She put a little red bucket outside by the street with a note that said if you give her rocks, she will paint rainbows on them for you.

Neighbors have been pouring rocks in on her daily.  You see her results in the photo above.  Throughout the neighborhood you can see these rocks sitting prettily on mailboxes.

The politicians right now are not giving us choices.  How we deal with that is a choice.  A big one.

I believe we have been given rocks. What we do with them is our choice.

I believe in all of our ability to transform society’s current reality into something beautiful.

It’s something we have to do well as individuals. Only then can we come together as a group.

I believe we can.  I believe we will.

Sending you much love,


Bringing out the best

Montclair Neighbors

I live up a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  My neighborhood is informally called, “The Hills” because there are so many.  (You really feel it when you’re a runner.)

At the bottom of the hill is a village.  Not a city or a town.  A village.  We call it, “The Village.”

It’s a place where the shopkeepers own their own shops.  Other than Starbucks (of course there’s one!), Peet’s Coffee and Noah’s Bagels, they’re all creative, independent stores where the owner is behind the counter, remembers your name, continues whatever standing joke you have with them, knows what you like and effortlessly makes 5 minutes rich with the kind of conversation that only happens between old friends.  Sunday mornings the main street is closed and filled with the farmers’ market and farmers who are old friends too.

It’s personal.  It’s also upbeat.

Montclair (the name of this little retreat in the hills away from the real world) was started in the 1920’s by early bohemians.  It was where San Franciscans built summer homes (more like cottages).  The only way to get here from San Francisco was by ferry (no bridges at the time) and it was considered quite a getaway.  The ferry to San Francisco is still my favorite way to get there.  Especially coming back when the sun is setting over the water and the Golden Gate.

The free spirits who founded this place were originally going to call it “Ecstasy” but the horrified conservative vote won and they named it a socially acceptable Montclair.

These people had imagination.  This is our fire house.

Montclair Firehouse

And this is our library.

Montclair Library

Trees are tall (some of mine are 75 feet).  Only a couple streets have sidewalks.

It attracts a certain type of person.  Independent spirits.  People who think for themselves.  Modern, and and at the same time, old-fashioned.  Berkeley is right next door and that lends a certain air of rebel.

What you see above is the headline in our local paper for this week.

I’m part of an online news group for my street.  A neighbor posted that he wanted to organize volunteers who would help anyone on the street who needs help at this time.  He asked for two people to be the points of contact.

He immediately was flooded with an abundance of volunteers.  A couple of days ago he and his 2 daughters came by to drop off this flyer.

Capricorn Volunteers

I am laughing because they now have a long list of volunteers – way more volunteers  than people who need help.  And one of the volunteers is over 70 and another is over 80 – they volunteered to help with anything online.

Those are jasmine in the photo from my neighbor’s yard.  He graciously lets me bring some home because he knows how much I love the smell in my house and mine are just starting.

It’s beautiful when something brings out the best in people and makes it so unmistakably visible.  Their goodness is shining bright enough to fill a neighborhood.

I feel surrounded by incredible beings who really care, who are really there, who respond to life by giving.  Such happiness.

May you too be encircled by people who take your breath away.





Essential Wisteria 2

Right now the world around me is focused only on what is essential. I’m acutely aware of what this is for me, and rather blown away and grateful for how much there is in my life.

I think each of us defines essential our own way.  These are my essentials.

Sophie's Cuppa Tea JohnSophie’s Cuppa Tea in the Village down the hill where I live is still open to sell tea “to go” as well as tea leaves. This is the finest tea shop in the world. John and Xiaobei, the two owners, travel to China every year (except this year), to remote and even isolated villages, where supremely dedicated farmers with ½-acre farms, so small, no pesticides ever, grow the most delicious teas in the world. I have a white tea from a tree that’s 2,000 years old and another from a bush that’s 300 years old. You can taste the ancient wisdom and robust health in each of these teas with every sip. These teas are essential to my mornings.  I start my day swooning with delight.

Running Trail Fall Light

Running is considered essential by many here in California and I agree, I do it every morning.  Filling my lungs with the freshest air from our tree-filled trails and streets.

You won’t find this in the news, but I consider Spring essential and the first day of spring began this week.   Yay!  Celebration!

Essential Jasmine 2Also essential is my neighbor’s abundant jasmine that I pass on my run to become intoxicated with the fragrance that sends me to heaven.  A couple doors down, another neighbor’s wisteria (photo above) also sends out a heady fragrance I consider essential.

My many wonderful neighbors (I have awesome neighbors) who are reaching out to help each other are essential to my well being.

Essential FuschiaMy rich red rhododendrons are blooming and the azaleas are beginning. My fuchsia is celebrating with a riot of color. Oh, are these ever essential!

If you’ve been reading my blogs, you already know I consider my three cats, lovely beings with soft, soft fur, who communicate exceedingly well, and who are extremely affectionate, essential.  My cat, Jazz, comes and washes my face around 3 pm every day.  The best exfoliation I’ve ever had.  Munchkin loves to sit on the computer to make sure I get my priorities straight (petting him).  Zaiba sits on my shoulders, wrapped around my neck as I work.  I find purring essential, and only wish we humans could do it too. Wouldn’t that be great!?Essential Munchkin

Tony Inzana farmer's market 2The extraordinary farmers’ market open every Sunday in my Village is also absolutely essential. Their super fresh, organic, vibrant produce, oranges, almonds and pistachios are absolutely essential.  Also essential is each conversation with the farmers (I love farmers) where they tell me how the fields are doing, what time they picked the kumquats, when they think the asparagus will be coming. These conversations nourish my soul as much, or more, than the delicious soups I make. Essential Soup

I consider Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo heirloom beans totally essential.  Thankfully I can order them online.  Señor Sando has completely spoiled me for any other bean.  Their Ojo de Cabra bean makes the most delicious bean broth in the world and you can eat these beans just straight with their broth.  All their beans taste 1,000 times better than any other beans I’ve ever had.  Here’s an article from a skeptic who didn’t believe Rancho Gordo beans could be that good who took it took it to the test:  https://thetakeout.com/canned-vs-soaking-dried-beans-which-better-rancho-gord-1841421154?utm_campaign=2020%20MAR%204%20%28J2QCTU%29&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Highly%20Engaged%20-%2030%20Days&_ke=eyJrbF9lbWFpbCI6ICJpbmdyaWRAdHJhaW5pbmdzdWNjZXNzLmNvbSIsICJrbF9jb21wYW55X2lkIjogIkpFVWhYTiJ9

Essential CollardAnd, speaking of farmers, one taste of the incredible bursting-with-flavor collard and kale growing on my patio (thanks to a dear friend and co-worker who surprised me by planting them) will tell you they’re essential.

While we’re on the topic of food (I love real food), essential is my Sprouted Steel Cut Oatmeal.  You probably know that steel cut oats are much better than regular oats, but did you know that sprouted oats have 10 times the nutrients of regular oats????  You can taste it – they are delicious!  I load them with cinnamon, brown and golden raisins and goji berries.  I get the One Degree brand (it’s the only organic sprouted steel cut oatmeal I know of) on Amazon (of course I consider Amazon essential!!!!).

Cristina 2

Friends are essential.  Great conversations are essential.  This is Cristina, one of my best friends.  Cristina is one of the smartest people I know.  She speaks 4 languages too.  I love every one of our fabulous conversations.  Cristina, my friends, are essential.

Books are, of course, essential, and I am positively loaded with enough reading (fiction, non-fiction, history) for the next couple years!  I love that saying, “It’s not hoarding if it’s books!”  I have them everywhere!  So many great places to sit and read.  I love communicating with extraordinary people and reading surrounds me and fills my world with some of the best.

Little Worlds

Poetry is essential.  Little Worlds by Louis Alan Swartz is the most uplifting recent book to come along – try to stay depressed, cynical or dismal while you read this – impossible!  Here’s the link for it:  https://hugohousebookstore.com/product/little-worlds/

I’m also acutely aware of the things I consider vital, that even with all the changes, have not diminished at all. My ability to help, my ability to communicate, the incredible team of special, special people I work with (so essential!), my ability to reach you given all this wonderful technology that we have.  All there.  Strong as ever.  All essential.

I consider music absolutely essential. Demonstrating great intelligence, it has been deemed that my favorite radio station, KCSM, is essential. Specifically, I wake up around 5 AM and enjoy the serenity of emerging dawn and then sunrise as I work with a cup of tea, listening to John Hill (who I hope is back soon).  I also greatly look forward to and enjoy when, at 6 AM, Alisa Clancy comes on with her show Morning Cup of Jazz.  And Clint Baker with his Breakfast, Dance and Barbecue show Sunday mornings at 6 am is a never-to-be missed exhilarating experience.  I almost can’t believe a show this good is on so early on Sunday mornings.  KCSM has lots of other fabulous shows including Crazy About the Blues (Friday nights), Rhythm Retrospective and Annals of Jazz (both Sunday evenings).

Maria Muldaur Sisters and BrothersSomeone who has been essential in my life since 1973 is the singer Maria Muldaur.  She first recorded Midnight at the Oasis all that long ago.  Many people have not followed her career and don’t know that she has recorded 41 albums filled with absolutely fabulous music. I’m extremely lucky because she lives in the Bay Area and frequently performs live. So I’ve been listening to her and going to her concerts for over 40 years. She is uplifting, funny, powerful, inspiring. Most of all, she’s a GREAT singer and she’s timeless.  My kind of hero.  Her live concerts are the best. She is essential.

And so, I give you a link to one of her songs, one that’s especially relevant today, called My Sisters and Brothers, written by Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead who sang it many, many times:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzZiY2DuSbo.

And I wish you many, many beautiful essentials in your life too. I would love to hear what they are, so please feel free to write back.




Living in Superlatives

Orange super orange

She was the first person my eyes went to when I walked into the room full of 20 people.  Heck, she would’ve stood out in a room of 1,000.

She was about 70, soft peaches and cream complexion, bright almost-orange hair, vivid orange-red lipstick, jazzy orange-print blouse, rich deep-purple silk skirt, flamboyant suede purple heels.  She was petite, around 5’2”, with a visual impact that filled the room.

Somehow it all worked. She was beautiful.  Stunning.

I was teaching a communications class for an oil company in Houston.  She had flown in from New Orleans to take it.  She was way past the age for retirement, with no intention to retire ever.  The company never wanted to see her go.

Her name was Jeannette.  Her exuberant and totally charming personality matched her dazzling looks.  She especially loved orange.

You know how sometimes, many years later, someone pops into your mind? Jeannette does often in mine.  She left an impression on me that’s forever.

After a couple days working with her, and hardly being able to take my eyes off her, I said to her, “Jeannette, I’ve never seen or met anyone like you. You live in color.  You are dazzling.”

She fixed me with her deep blue eyes, gave me a brilliant smile, and with a rich voice thick with southern drawl, distinctly pronounced, “My dear! I LIVE in superlatives!

You have to imagine it said with a rich southern accent where “dear” is drawn out to 2 syllables and sounds like, “Dee-ah!” and “I” sounds like “Ah!”

It was true.  Jeannette did nothing in half measures. She gave 100% to every conversation, every person.  She was intensely interested in everything and everyone.  She exuded a blazing passion for life, for every little thing.

Jeannette was magnetic.  Always had a gaggle of people around her.  Every age group loved her, young, old and in between.  Wherever in the room you heard laughter, you knew Jeannette was smack in the middle of it.

I’ve never had a student like her and only wish I had 1,000 more.

Shortly after the class, she was romanced by and married another Houston student, a wonderful gentleman her age who fell madly in love and swept her off her feet.  I have no doubt they’ve been happy every day of their lives. I can easily imagine her over morning coffee, loving him exuberantly and making it spectacular.

I don’t remember Jeannette’s last name, so there’s no hope of my getting in touch with her and letting her know how much meeting her has meant to me.  I wish we had stayed in touch.

Living life in superlatives.  Not big. The biggest.  Not good, the best.  The most. The finest. The grandest. The brightest. The happiest. The highest.  Unafraid to reach for the all in life.

That’s what each moment was to her. And because she was contagious, that is what it was for everyone around her.

Jeannette has been a source of great inspiration to me.  Her blazing self and personality busted every limit I ever put on how to behave in society.

What a gift to the world she was. And maybe still is, although it was many years ago.

Thank you, Jeannette, for your blazing exuberance in all things, for walking into my classroom, for creating a bright orange flame that lights up my life and forever will.

And you, dear reader, may superlatives sail into your life.  And maybe a little orange too.



Drunk at the Barnes

Barnes 5 Matisse Moroccan

This fabulous Matisse painting is one of the first things you see when you walk into the Barnes Foundation, home to a feast of over 4,000 incredible works of art.  I was there last week, swooning like a drunken sailor.  I think Matisse had great fun painting this Moroccan man and I had great fun taking it in.

Albert Barnes made a fortune inventing and manufacturing a new antiseptic.  It was a time when the world’s greatest painters were madly churning out new works in Europe and selling cheap to pay the rent. Barnes 2 Barnes

Barnes deeply loved good art and took advantage of his wealth and the artists’ bargain prices, amassing one of the finest collections of art in the world.  We’re talking a staggering 181 Renoirs and 69 Cezannes, not to mention the Van Goghs, Degas, Picassos, Manets, Rousseaus and Toulouse Lautrec.

Barnes had great affinity for African Americans and, in the face of popular prejudice, employed many of them in his factory.

Astoundingly, every day for 2 hours he stopped all production, assembled his entire workforce and, using paintings from his brilliant collection, taught them about art.  He also had them all reading philosophy and engaging in lively, spirited philosophical discussions.

In 1922 he purchased 12 rich acres on the Main Line right outside Philadelphia, a land of old-money mansions.  He built a beautiful home and a gorgeous building to house his fabulous collection, where he offered free art appreciation classes. Barnes 1 Original Building

After his death, and numerous law suits demanding public access to his astounding assemblage of great art, his family was reluctantly forced to open the collection to the public or face severe tax and legal implications.  Keep in mind this is a very beautiful and affluent residential neighborhood, so you can imagine how the neighbors felt about masses of non-residents invading their secluded street.

When I first visited, a law suit had compelled the Barnes to expand its hours to 2 ½ days a week.  The number of visitors was strictly limited and you had to make reservations way in advance.  The family was clearly unhappy about it all and you had to ignore, or in my case sympathize with, their chilly reception when you arrived.  They were most unhelpful if you had any questions.

The city of Philadelphia managed to wrest the collection from it’s intended home in the affluent suburbs and it now resides downtown, making it much easier access for everyone, and way more livable for the neighbors.  The incredible story of the battle to make this happen is documented in the film called, “The Art of the Steal”, one of those movies that’s stranger than fiction, especially because it’s true.

Barnes was an opinionated, pigheaded, stubborn individualist and I’m glad of it. The way he displayed his art is radically different from the way any other museum does it. Barnes 2 Barnes sitting

Most museums put all the Renoirs in one room, the Van Goghs in another, the Medieval art in yet another, etc.

Not Barnes. One wall will have a variety of different artists displaying the same theme so you can compare what they’re communicating and how they’re saying it.

For example, in this room the two main walls have 22 Renoirs and 11 Cezannes.

Barnes 9 Wall 2Barnes 9 Wall 1

This is Cezanne‘s portrait of his wife.

Barnes 6 Cezanne's wife

This is Renoir’s portrait of his mistress.

Barnes 7 Renoir's Mistress

Very different kinds of love.

Here you see Renoir’s Bathers and right above, Cezanne’s.

Barnes 8 Renoir and Cezanne Bathers

It’s not a matter of choosing favorites. That wasn’t Barne’s point. What you want to do is see the similarities and differences and appreciate each for what it is.

As stern as she was, Cezanne painted his wife numerous times, more than any other model.  She was his lifelong partner.  And clearly his painting captures an intense expression of feeling there.

Barnes really mixes it up bringing eclectic pieces together.  He even does the unthinkable and sometimes puts African art right between a Toulouse Lautrec and a Matisse.

Barnes 3 African Art between Matisse and Tolouse Lautrec

He was a big Matisse fan (displaying 59 of his paintings to be exact) and so am I.

Barnes 11 Matisse Woman

Here’s Matisse starting work on a commissioned mural he had initially turned down but then agreed to paint because he was financially strapped.

Barnes 4 Matisse working on Mural

This mural is right across the room from Barnes’ favorite Renoir – a Bathers painting.  Matisse intentionally echoed the rounded form of the bather on the right who is stepping up in Renoir’s painting in his own mural.

Barnes 4 Matisse MuralBarnes 10 Barnes Favorite Renoir Bathers

I don’t know how many visits I’ve made to the Barnes over the years. It draws me to its provocative rooms like a sublime magnet.  The art is magnificent.  Aesthetic euphoria takes over my universe.  A happy, drunken state that reaches deep into my soul and lasts for weeks.

May you find a treasure trove of art that nourishes your soul with aesthetic elation.



Return of the sun

Inspire Sunrise 1

It’s 6:24 a.m., completely dark, the end of the longest night of the year.

It’s the last moments of winter solstice, one of my favorite holidays. I say holiday because I enjoy celebrating it.  I don’t do anything special, I simply find the experience fills me with elation.

It’s traditionally known as the shortest day and longest night, but it’s celebrated as the return of the sun because every day now going forward is going to be longer and longer.  I love the long days of summer, but I also love going into the depths of night and the miracle of coming out again.

I’m an early bird and am crazy about sunrise, the return of the sun each day brings. This morning, this Sunday, it’s raining.  I’m listening to enchanted rain on the roof and a fabulous radio show on KCSM (which you can stream and they also archive on their website if you want to listen any old time).  It’s called Breakfast, Dance and Barbecue.  DJ’ed by Clint Baker, whom I greatly enjoy.  Right now he’s playing a lot of Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton.  A rich and happy way to wake up on a Sunday.

It was completely dark as I started to write this.   And now, with each new moment, great magic is unfolding. The world is appearing.

So gradual, such infinitesimally small changes in light.  Yet each new moment a living work of art completely changing the landscape.  The sun is still far from the horizon but its light is already reaching me and dauntlessly changing my world.

Over the next hour the sun will return, the world around me will appear, will transform from invisible to visible, from shrouded in night to boldly glistening in the rain.

My day will begin.

May the rain in your life be enchanting and the sun make your world bright and bring you the beginnings of a brand new day.