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Four Easy (Not Really) Lessons

I’ve officially been on sabbatical for two weeks (out of the eight weeks I’m taking), and I can already tell you that time off, while extremely important for self care (and for getting things done, like packing up this house and moving our home elsewhere), is also a valuable learning tool.  What could one possibly learn from an unpaid vacation?  Read on, Dear Friend….

Lesson #1: Prioritize Your Priorities

The primary purpose of this sabbatical is to pack, move, and then unpack and settle in.  So what does one do when one is not actively engaged in packing, moving, or unpacking? Those first few days of my “time off”, I had zero clue what to do with myself!  I even went so far as to look at sites on what to do when one retires, all of which had three things in common:

  • They all suggested taking up a hobby.
  • They all suggested taking up a sport.
  • They all suggested getting a part-time job.

Which left me wondering: if you’re so bored now that you’ve retired that you need to develop a hobby, take up a sport, and gain a part-time job, then why the hell did you retire in the first place?  This got me thinking a lot about my own priorities, and about priorities in general.  

Most people have a list somewhere in the back of their brain (or, perhaps, if they’re lucky, in the front of their brain) of the things that are the most important in their life.  Now, these may be things that are truly important–things without which life becomes bland and/or unlivable–or these may be things that are peripherally important–things that are necessary to facilitate the truly important things.  My experience of abject boredom during that first week of my sabbatical made me take a long, hard look at my own priorities, and sort through and differentiate the truly important from the peripherally important.

So what is truly important?  In the interest of not boring you to tears with the details of “my little life”, let’s answer that question in an “across the board” fashion:

  • Peace
  • Love
  • Happiness/Fulfillment

Yes, I know that might sound trite, but I have found it to be an ultimate truth.  The hippies in the 1960s got it right: so long as you have peace in your life (a life free of drama llamas, including yourself!), love in your life (whether from a beloved, or from family and friends), and you are happy and fulfilled (able to do things that make you smile and laugh, as well as feed your passions), pretty much anything could happen in “your little life”, and you’d still come out relatively unscathed on the other side of whatever happened!

Boredom, at its deepest core, is a feeling of emptiness: it’s that thing we feel when we’ve lost sight of our priorities, and forget for a moment to simply enjoy the peacefeel the love, and focus on happiness/fulfillment.

Lesson #2: Plenty Is As Plenty Does

We live in a society where the word plenty somehow automatically equates in our minds with monetary wealth, but when it’s all said and done, ultimately, money is one of those priorities which is peripherally important.  Money is a thing which may help facilitate those three things that are truly important, but it doesn’t lie at the core of any of them.  Plenty, on the other hand, often does.

Plenty is actually defined as “a large or sufficient amount or quantity; more than enough”.  

I ached over the need to take this sabbatical, because I was afraid it would interfere with my previous definition of plenty: i.e., plenty of money to pay my bills, help out around the house, and purchase the furniture and things we’re going to need in our new home.  What I have found over the course of the past two weeks is that I have exactly the same amount of that particular definition of plenty, whether I’m working my tail off every day or not.  Meanwhile, when I’m not working my tail off, the really important plenty has increased three-fold: I may not have plenty of money, but I do have plenty of peacelove, and happiness/fulfillment!

The bottom line is: plenty is as plenty does.  When you sit around focusing on money as the definition of plenty, all you ultimately wind up with is realizing precisely how poor, financially, you actually are.  In the process, you also end up killing peacepushing away love, and feeling sad/unfulfilled.  However, when you focus on the really important plenty, you find yourself doing plenty:  enjoying peace breeds more peace; recognizing love breeds more love; focusing on happiness/fulfillment breeds more happiness/fulfillment!

Lesson #3:  Don’t Complain, Explain.

To complain is to explore a situation by focusing on the most dissatisfying or annoying parts of that situation, whereas to explain is to explore that same situation by focusing on the most relevant and meaningful parts of it.  Complaining shatters peace (it is the ultimate drama llama bait!), annoys love (it pushes people away), and denies happiness/fulfillment. On the other hand, explaining can actually bring about peace, foster love (as it encourages people to listen and then attempt to meet genuine needs), and lead to happiness/fulfillment.

The entire process of selling a house, packing your belongings, finding a new home, and then moving your stuff and unpacking it into said new home sucks.  I’m not talking a little amount of suckage, like “wow, rainy days really suck”, I’m talking major, industrial vacuum cleaner level suckage, like “you stubbed your toe on the couch so hard you’re now bleeding? Man, that sucks!”  The whole thing is a bigtime complain vs. explain opportunity.

I’m not gonna lie: I spent most of the period just prior to taking this sabbatical complaining.  I complained about the lack of sleep I was getting, due to early call-times by our real estate agent for showings, as well as other issues.  I complained about the size of the yard at every home we looked at.  I complained about having to put my much-loved stuff in storage.  I complained about having to take the cat out of the house in ninety degree heat on short notice.  I complained about how the entire business of having to keep the house spotless for showings while also having to pack impacted my work schedule. I complained, and complained, and complained.  Consequently, there wasn’t a moment of peace to be had: I officially became a drama llama.  I drove my Beloved bugnuts, which had some serious ramifications in the love department.  I was constantly unhappy and unfulfilled, and pretty much on a mission to get everybody else on the unhappy/unfulfilled bandwagon.

And then something wonderful happened: I stopped complaining and started explaining.  I’m still not getting enough rest, but in two more weeks, we’ll be in our new home, and I can sleep whenever I please (between unpacking and homemaking, of course).  The yard at the new house isn’t exactly huge, but you know what? It has an actual tree, and less yard just means less to mow!  I am presently staring at blank walls and mountains of boxes, true, but all the stuff that’s already in storage is probably safer for the move than the stuff presently sitting in boxes in my office, so now I wish I had packed it all from the get-go! We may have had to take the cat out of the house on short notice, but guess what? We made new friends!  Finally, in keeping the house spotless for showings, I discovered there are more fulfilling forms of work than my work-work: making Suzanne smile is the most rewarding thing in my corner of the universe!  Guess what? Now I have peace, and I realize just how deeply I’m surrounded by love, and I’m as happy and fulfilled as the loudly purring cat who is presently asleep in my lap!

Lesson #4:  Your Stuff Should Tell A Story

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks (and the months prior) deciding which things to throw away, and which things to actually wrap lovingly in bubble wrap and put in boxes.  As a borderline hoarder (who is in love with a chronic purger), that has been a really tough process for me.  As an artist, I have a desperate need to be surrounded by pretty things. That has made putting things in boxes very tough.  I also tend to attach memories to things (more on that in a moment), so throwing things out is very hard for me.  As the boxes have mounted to fill our entire storage space, and now my office as well, I find myself wishing I had learned the previous three lessons sooner than now….

Because if I had, I would’ve realized: your stuff should tell your story.  If it doesn’t actively tell your story, or if it doesn’t help you tell that story, then you don’t actually need it in your life.  When I say it should tell your story, I don’t just mean that your stuff should somehow be symbolic of your actual autobiography. What I mean is way deeper than that: it should tell the story of what you wish and want your life to be.  It should represent a deep expression of those truly important priorities we talked about in lesson onepeacelove, and happiness/fulfillment.

This theory came into play a lot when I was cleaning out my desk.  Obviously, my desk is where I do all of my day-to-day work for Iaconagraphy.  It is also where I keep all of my important documents (like Michelle’s birth certificate), my myriad notebooks for online gaming, and all of my snack food.  Betwixt and between all of that, there are also a thousand dead lighters, a vast collection of character-shaped erasers, and various other flotsam and jetsam from my life (such as saved movie tickets and things “I might scrap one day”).  In short, apart from those important documents, there was a lot of crap in my desk!  There were legit six boxes of cookies in my snack drawer!  Six boxes!  

As I was going through all of that stuff, it occurred to me that the vast majority of it was autobiographical, but patently did not tell the story that I want or wish to tell.  It was autobiographical in that yes, I really like cookies, I smoke a lot (I have to, to maintain the necessary intake of coal tar to keep our disabling psoriasis on at least an even keel), I like quirky things, and I really enjoy scrapbooking.  But the story that all that stuff told was not the story I want or wish for: instead, it was a story of getting fat, being annoyed (because there are few things more annoying in life than a dead lighter), putting my own quirkiness in a drawer or on a shelf, and never having time to do the things I really enjoy.  So the cookies went to that great cookie graveyard in the sky, and the lighters joined them in the trash bag.  I kept the erasers as a reminder to stop putting those quirky parts of me in a drawer or on a shelf, and I resolved to actually scrap the things “I might scrap one day” as soon as we’re settled in our new home.

Everything I pack now is weighed against the question: does this tell my story as I wish or want my life to be?  I have a feeling this new lease on life is going to lead to a lot of throwing things away during my unpacking process!

So what dowish or want my life to be? What’s my story?  Once upon a time, there was a guy who had to die to learn how to live.  He loved the ocean, he loved a beautiful, brilliant woman (who loved him in return), and he also had the love of good friends and extended family.  And one day, he realized the ocean wasn’t someplace you go; it’s a feeling.  So he decided to surround himself, and the beautiful, brilliant woman he loved, with that feeling every day.  He realized the call of the gulls as you lie on the beach is really friends talking to friends, so he decided to be a seagull, and finally embraced his wings.  He discovered that cleaning and homemaking and creating beauty all around him gave him the peace he craved, so he decided to do those things all the time, instead of the things he had been doing, which made him perpetually cranky and constantly reminded him that he was financially poor, making him very, very sad.  He finally understood just how loved he was, and he basked in that, the way sunbathers bask in the sun.  And the dead man who learned how to live and his beautiful, brilliant woman, and his good friends and extended family lived happily ever after, and they were all fulfilled.

What’s your story?

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On Our Radar: Paper Dolls

So, we’ve been looking around at other people’s blogs, since we presently find ourselves in a bit of a blog-slump (mostly because we keep getting “squirreled” by further opportunities to make great art, plus, all we wanna do is glue glue glue–and if that just planted a really strange ear worm for you, join the club!).  And we’ve noticed that the way most folks seem to stay out of a slump is by having monthly features. That way, on the first week of the month, you know you’re publishing this specific theme, and on the third week of the month, you know you’re going with that one. Thought we’d give that a shot, so welcome to our first On Our Radar blog post, which we hope will become part of our regular monthly repertoire!


Paper dolls.  Maybe you played with them yourself as a child, or maybe you had a sibling that was paper doll-obsessed.  Either way, the latest trends in paper-crafting are turning them into far more than just a child’s plaything: they’re becoming a very grown-up art form, and they are officially on our radar!

The latest issue of Somerset Studio Magazine features pages upon pages of grown-up, artsy paper dolls that are enough to make even the most blase person drool a bit.  I’ll confess that I just discovered this lovely gem from Stampington and Company; I’ll likewise confess that paper dolls were already on my radar, even before I picked up the latest issue at Michael’s yesterday.  Finding this was just kismet!

I have been planning to unleash some very special paper dolls on you guys for about a week now. (Granted, our work on our Pixel Scrapper Blog Train entry for August has slightly curtailed their creation, but they’re in the brain, rattling around, just dying to get out!)  Obviously, paper toys are where I’m at right now, in addition to papers and ephemera for paper-crafting/scrapping/smashing.  Discovering all of the beautiful other uses for paper dolls in the latest issue of that magazine was eye-opening (dare I say eye-popping!), so now I am on a mission to get these “ladies” (and all of their “stuff”) available to you for some very artsy adult play.

I say “ladies”, because they’re actually a bit more than that. In fact, they’re the cat’s meow! Allow me to introduce you to Miss Kitty Kaville:


I have spent my morning creating the original Siamese Cat textures for Miss Kitty on both Victoria 4 and Genesis:

Miss Kitty Kaville is a Siamese from the North Shore (Massachusetts) with a legendary past: cats have nine lives, you know!  I’m hoping to provide her with a pair of companions by the end of the day: Miss Abra Catabra (from Salem, MA) and Mr. Kili Freyason.  They will be featured not only as paper doll sets for play and paper-crafting, but I also have coloring books in the works, as well as Smashidoris, scrapbook kits, and a host of other fun stuff!  Miss Kitty will make her instant printable download debut in tomorrow’s (7/22/2016) Inspirations Newsletter, so if you aren’t on the list, get there, and don’t miss!

So, what can one do with paper dolls besides play with them? Check out my newsletter tomorrow to find out! Hopefully this will put paper dolls on your radar, too!




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Summer Reads: Carnavale

What’s summer without a few good books?  Whether stretched out on the beach or curled up on the couch with a tall glass of something yummy, one of the truest joys of summer is being able to catch up on all of that reading you might have missed over the winter.  In the interest of that, we’ve decided to feature excerpts from some of my fiction pieces here on the blog.  I hope you will not only enjoy, but want to see what happens next enough to visit the links provided at the end of the excerpts. Enjoy!



by Michelle Iacona

Published by Michelle Iacona at Smashwords

Copyright 2012 Michelle Iacona, inclusive of cover art.

Winner of the Bunn-McClelland Chapbook Award, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, 1993

20th Anniversary Definitive Smashwords Edition


His desk was a cluttered pile of leaves, strewn helter-skelter as if by a hurricane wind. Roman Baines pilfered through them, searching for something, although at this particular moment in time, he had forgotten what. The clatter of footsteps from the hall was welcome–a rescue from the storm here on his desk. A rather shaggy head and shoulders peered into his office and smiled a ragged-but-all-American smile.

“There’s a call for you, Roman,” he said. “It’s about books.”

Roman rose and crossed to the door, heading to the press office.

“I’ve never spoken with this person before. They sound nuts,” the younger man said.

“Have we ever had a call from anyone who wasn’t?” Roman asked, his mustache turning upwards in a smile.

He stepped into the office, picked up the phone, and smiled over at the young man.

“Yes? This is Roman Baines.”

“Yes. Hello, Mr. Baines,” the voice on the other end of the line said softly. “You sell books?”

“Yes, of course,” Baines replied.

“Bring me some books, Mr. Baines,” the voice said, crackling.

“May I ask which ones you would prefer?”

“Just bring the books!” The voice unhinged itself momentarily, then, calming, added: “Your assistant, Mr. Byrd, has the address. I need your promise of personal delivery.”

“Might I ask why?” Roman asked.

Stop asking so many questions, Mr. Baines. Give me your word.”

Yes,” Roman answered carefully. “I give you my word. Personal delivery.”

The line went dead. Roman replaced the phone on its receiver.

That, Jay, must be the weirdest call I have ever received. I don’t know whether to laugh this person off, or worry for our safety. At any rate, I’m certainly curious. And I’m afraid I’m about to become a very dead cat.”

“Are we actually going to deliver the books?”

Roman scowled at him for a moment, his mind in turmoil. Then he nodded slowly.

“Yes, Jay, we are. They gave you an address?”

Jay nodded: “Out in the boondocks.”

Well, tell Marty to clear her afternoon tomorrow. The bigger troupe we are, the better.”

Chapter One

Martina Gianelli sat on the brass daybed in her dorm room, huddled over a notebook, scribbling madly. The story pressed against the front of her mind, desperate to escape into her fingers, and she let it, freeing it in a flow of purple ink on the blue lines of the page.

She had not begun in this room. She had begun in another, before the ceiling caved in, soaking her room in pillars of water from the burst water pipes above the flimsy tiles above. Luckily, she had been home for lunch between her busy schedule of classes, and she and the maintenance-folk had been able to salvage most of her clothes, and knicknacks and–more important than anything else–her papers: her mountains upon mountains of papers; failed tales and term papers in a kaleidoscope of blue and white and pink paper and purple scrawl.

Now she lived here, alone, in the bowels of Pate Hall, which was usually reserved for esteemed guests to the College, rather than students. Living alone wasn’t such a bad thing–no scream of loud radios in the morning; no slamming doors in the middle of the night. Except, occasionally there were slamming doors in the middle of the night, only, she was the only one there.

A knock on the door snapped her head up from her work and made her jump a good six inches, the line of her pen skipping across the page in a jagged line.

“Who’s there?” She asked, slamming down her notebook, and coming to her feet.

“It’s Jay,” a muffled voice came from the other side of the door. “Roman needs us.”

She scuffed her feet into her fuzzy purple slippers, and stomped to the door, opening it, and ushering him in.

“Needs us for what?” She asked.

“He got this really weird call,” Jay replied. “Some crazy person out in the boonies wants us to bring them some books–they don’t care which ones.”

Marty raised one graceful eyebrow.

“Yeah,” Jay said, nodding. “That’s what I said, too.”

“Well, if nothing else, I guess it’ll be an adventure,” Marty concluded, reaching for her black motorcycle boots and exchanging her slippers for them. She grabbed a black cardigan as well, tossing it on as she headed for the door. “Are you coming?”

“I’ve got a choice?”

Chapter Two

As evening fell, the three crowded into Roman’s white Yugo, armed only with books and the lonely light of a cigar. The sky was a piercing blue, drawn together with gray lines of cloud. The sunset held promises of rain.

Driving seemed to last forever. Two hours passed, running like molasses down the road with them. The sun began to paint the gray clouds purple and orange until the rain began to fall in sheets.

The wipers barely worked, rubbing the windshield with the unruly sound of rubber on glass. Roman grated his teeth on his cigar, eagerly concentrating on the rain-strewn road ahead. It was getting harder and harder for him to see. They seemed to be lost in the rain.

There should be a dirt road somewhere up here on the left,” Jay said, leaning forward from the backseat.

Yeah, but who can see?” Roman growled around his cigar.

Through the rain, all of the landscape looked the same–cotton fields and tobacco and dried-out corn, all in rows of snowy gold and gray. And every field seemed to have a road winding through it, its end cloaked somewhere in the distance with mist and rain.

Maybe that’s it,” Marty piped up from her silence in the passenger seat.

Coming up on their left was a dirt road a bit wider than the others. It didn’t seem well-traveled. Any ruts in the road were quickly washed away by the driving rain. This choice seemed as good as any, so Roman pulled the Yugo into the red clay mud.

“So how goes the magnum opus?” Roman asked Martina.

She shrugged.

“Answers come in words,” Roman quipped; “As do opuses.”

“Opi?” Jay piped up from the backseat.

Roman shook his head; chuckled.

“I was writing when Jay knocked, actually,” Martina said, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. “But–“

“But?” Roman urged.

She shrugged again, then, correcting herself, continued: “Sometimes it’s like it’s desperate to escape. Other times, it’s like I need to beat it with a whip and maybe a baseball bat.”

Roman laughed. “Novels are strange creatures.”

“Well, the beatings will continue until morale improves,” Marty replied.

In the backseat, Jay chuckled softly.

The road seemed to twist and turn forever in the gray pillars of rain. They passed a few trailers, their lights warm in the cold, surrounded by the carcasses of cars and tractors. A dog barked in the distance, the only voice in the rain. The Yugo skidded on the clay, bathing its sides in a red-orange spray. Ahead, the road split in two around a huge sycamore.

Now what?” Roman asked.

It doesn’t say,” Jay answered.

Marty reached over and locked her door.

Outside, the wind began to pick up.

I suppose we could go back to one of those trailers and ask directions,” Roman said hesitantly.

I’ll go,” Jay ventured.

We’ll be waiting,” Roman replied.

Marty tightened her grip on the armrest of her door. Something inside her roiled. Something was bad–she didn’t know what, but it blew in as Jay opened the door. She was reminded of the midnight doorslams in her solitude in Pate, and the hunkered female shadow she often saw outside her window.

Jay’s leg only got halfway out the door before teeth gnashed at his ankle. He jerked back into the Yugo, slamming the door. The car rocked as a huge dog clawed hungrily at the back window.

Marty released a small shout.

Jay locked his door. He was taking no chances.

Well, I guess that gets rid of that idea,” Roman said.

It was Jay’s turn to ask: “Now what?”

Marty sat silent, staring into the rain.

I guess we’ll drive until we see a house.” Roman said, “We’re bound to find something eventually. If nothing else, we’ll get further away from that dog.”

They rode for a time in silence, then Jay asked: “Why are we doing this, exactly? I mean, that person on the other end of the line sounded like an escapee from Dorothea Dix.”

“I don’t know,” Roman answered honestly; “I felt compelled.”

“Compelled?” Marty asked.

Roman nodded. “I’m a poet first, and a book-peddlar second. Something about that call struck the former chord, rather than the latter.”

Martina somehow understood this cryptic reply, but Jay clearly didn’t.

“You know I served for a time in Iceland,” Roman replied, and Jay nodded. He had heard these stories before, referenced in classrooms and over brandy in the quiet glow of Roman’s home; “Something in that call reminded me of the traditions of the Hidden.”

Marty couldn’t keep herself from a small shudder.

“The Huldufolk,” Roman continued. “Light and Dark, they live in the trees and the rivers, the lakes and the streams. As the tradition evolved, the people of Iceland came to believe that the Light lived closer to the old gods, and to God Himself, worshipping in churches built in caves and clefts of the rock. But the Dark–they lived underground.”

“What about that phone call could possibly have reminded you of that?” Jay asked, still not understanding.

Roman smiled. “It’s possible to learn magick from the Huldufolk–how to influence the unconsciousness of others psychologically. Sounds rather like poetry, does it not?”

“Poet is priest,” Marty quoted, and Roman nodded.

“They’re quite seductive–the Huldufolk,” he continued; “Though if you don’t do as they wish, they will turn against you. And even if you do accept what they offer–learn the magicks which they represent–there is a great risk of becoming insane.”

“I reiterate,” Jay put in, his face clouded with a strange sort of worry; “Why are we doing this, exactly?”

Roman laughed. “Because sometimes sanity is highly overrated; especially when compared with a potential gift of magick.”

Ahead, a house loomed in the darkness. It was Victorian; skeletal white gingerbread in the rain and mist. Lights burned in all the windows, but no shadows moved in them.

That must be it, Roman,” Jay said from the backseat, his voice full of every ounce of the growing fear he now felt: “They said it was big.”

A chill ran down Marty’s spine.

Wind blew the dead vines of last spring’s wisteria across the windows of the house like a veil. Roman pulled the Yugo into the crude driveway. The rain turned into a soft pepper and the wind died to a whisper.

I hope they don’t have a dog,” Roman said, attempting humor. No one laughed.

The ground was soft beneath their feet and squished as they walked. Red mud welled like blood in the yard, flowing across the dying grass. They crushed leaves as they crossed to the door, loud against the silence of rain and wind. Roman was the first up the concrete steps to the screen door. Jay and Marty followed him, weighed down by loads of books. Roman rapped on the door three times, but there was no reply from within.

Now what?” Jay asked yet again.

Yeah, can we go back to the car now?” Marty joined him, praying feverishly that there would come an affirmative answer. The pit of dread in her belly had grown from a soft whisper to a raging scream, and she had no idea why. It was just a house in the rain, after all, wasn’t it?

Wait. I’ll try again,” Roman said.

He knocked a bit too hard, and the door creaked open.

Maybe if I called them. Surely someone is here,” Roman said. “They really wanted those books!”

Martina and Jay exchanged a wordlessly wary glance.

“Hello? Hello?” Roman shouted into the cavernous shadow of the house. “You called about books? We have them here….”

Roman’s calls were answered by a loud meow and the skitter of paws on linoleum as a large calico cat entered the room. She loped towards them and rubbed up against the door as if inviting them in. Roman stepped into the house. Surprised, Marty and Jay followed.

Well, they’re cat people. They can’t be that bad,” Roman growled as the rain was swallowed by the closing of the door.

The interior of the house was aglow with candles and warmth. The calico led them from room to room, almost dancing, her step was so light. Everywhere, there was pine and white walls laced with a mellow, comforting scent of cinnamon and smoke. They traveled in a circle through the house, finding themselves finally in the kitchen. Across from them, a gold refrigerator, which was suddenly the center of the cat’s attention.

Marty and Jay set down their heavy loads of books. Roman had insisted on bringing at least one copy of nearly everything the Press had ever published.

Outside, the wind whipped the eaves.

Hungry?” Roman asked the cat.

The cat meowed in reply.

Roman approached the refrigerator. There was a note addressed to him posted on it. He peered over his shoulder at Marty and Jay with a bemused smile and pulled the note from the fridge:

Yes, Mr. Baines. This is the right house. Thank you for coming. Follow Amber….”

As if on cue, the cat meowed again. This time her voice was as raspy as the wind gathering in the leaves outside.

Roman looked down at their feline escort: “I assume you’re Amber?” He asked the cat, and she mewed once more. “We’re supposed to follow the cat,” Roman said, smiling.

Follow the cat to the rest of this story, and see what happens next!