This blog introduces you to my special brand of BIKE. I show you how to find your Best self, access your Inner strength, tune in to your Killer instincts, and use your Expressive voice. It's inspiring, spiritual, quirky, and it's all in your head. It's about ATTITUDE, not exercise, though that might be a side benefit.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Five lessons from the WordCount Blogathon

Having just completed a Blogathon that was initiated by Michelle Rafter, I am reminded of the Blogathon I initiated last January with a group of speakers I associate with here in Phoenix. I've organized three such events in the past three years, and I'll do it again if they want to participate, as I highly value the experience. There are so many reasons why.

In January, I was asked to write a guest post for a friend related to the last event I'd planned. She wanted to know about guest posting. So I wrote about how you can do it successfully. After this latest event, I think it's time to consider how blogging relates to my BIKE philosophy and how a blogathon can help enhance your overall blogging efforts. So here are my blogging BIKE lessons, one letter at a time:

Best self
_When I'm at my best, I'm a helper--both to me and to others. That being said, I think blogging allows a person the opportunity to see first-hand what your best self looks like. Are you open to exploring other people's blogs and commenting on their individual posts? If so, they will generally return the favor. You can gain many new readers through this kind of exploration. Participating in a blogathon can help make it easier, as it brings the bloggers to you. You don't have to spend a lot of time doing long and drawn out Google searches. Even if these bloggers aren't in your target market, they may help you find others who are. It pays to be generous. That's who you are when you are at your best.

Inner strength

_Blogging requires a tenacity that may not be everyone's normal mode of operation. If it's not yours, a blogathon can help you develop that will power. It takes staying power to blog for 30 days straight, or more. You have to be willing to show up, even if you're tired or cranky or uninspired. If you can rely on your inner strength to guide you, blogging regularly can cure all of those ills. The more you blog, the more ideas you have, the more eager you are to post, the less bored you will be with your blog. Your audience will recognize that in the content you bring to them. When you see for yourself what you are capable of, you will want to repeat the success.

Killer instinct

_Honing in on what really matters to you as a writer of your own blog can be discovered much more easily when you blog regularly. Perhaps you can remember when you first started out. You had no clear understanding or vision of what you wanted to accomplish with your blog. Maybe you had an idea, but it wasn't fully fleshed out; you were just becoming aware of the possibility. As you added more posts to your online collection, you began to see a pattern. Your vision gained clarity, and your instincts kicked in. You could actually plan ahead and maybe even pre-write some posts. It makes sense that the more you pay attention to an activity, the more comfortable you'll feel with it, and the more you will want to participate in it. A blogathon can be the impetus you need to develop your finely tuned, or killer, instincts. Trust that they will help you hone your skills and develop the acute insight that makes you the writer you really are.

Expressive voice
_A blogathon is also the perfect method to develop your voice. Once you have your topic, realize you can show up regularly, and trust that what you have to say matters to someone, you'll begin to see your voice emerge. You now become willing to share your message. You can see it's a worthwhile endeavor, that someone beside yourself gets satisfaction from your words and might even want to participate in this endeavor with you. Your readers begin asking you to share posts or exchange dialogue. Ah-ha! You see? You are making a difference. It's time to reach out.

You can now see for yourself, blogging is a group effort. Hopefully, my BIKE philosophy has clarified this for you. We are in this together. Of all the lessons learned in a blogathon, I believe that is the one that will have the most impact.

What inspires you now?

We've just spent an entire month together, thinking about what inspires us. We've covered such things as:

_The more than 100 bloggers who showed up for the Blogathon this year



_Quotes with meaningful messages

_Plants in your garden and/or nature

_Other people's advice

_Long walks near water

_Mothers who have overcome parenting challenges

_Your artistic self

_Signs that direct you where you need to go or to do what you need to do


_A spiritual journey

_Haiku and other poetic verse

_A messy desk, office or home

_Playful behavior

_[fill in the blank with your own ideas]

The point of this exercise was to focus for the month on a single topic: inspiration. By doing that, it should be clear to you that inspiration is everywhere you look. If you open your eyes, if you are prepared to see, if you are ready for the big reveal, it will appear. Inspiration is there for the asking. It is there for the taking. It is there when you need it. All you have to do is be a willing participant.

Are you?

On your own in the months ahead, make it a point to track how often you notice that which inspires you. I bet you'll be able to double this list in no time.

And now that the Blogathon has ended, I hope you plan on returning to visit me regularly at BIKE WITH JACKIE. I'll be here. Maybe not every day. But I'll be here every week, thinking of ways to inspire you to action, thinking of ways to help you connect with your true self--the one who is aware of what it takes to be your Best self, use your Inner strength, listen and respond to your Killer instincts, and speak up for yourself with your Expressive voice. On this BIKE journey, we focus on moving forward, and you're always invited to join the ride. Come any time.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Inspired to remember

This is just a simple reminder:

Take some time this Memorial Day Weekend to remember your loved ones who are no longer with you. Whether it be because of war, a sudden death or other loss, take time to contemplate the good that person (or persons) brought into your life.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Inspired by visuals

I'm a person who likes and benefits from visuals.

I didn't do my best in school if the learning environment involved only lectures. I needed handouts. I needed movies. I needed books and reading assignments. I needed interaction. And I always had to write things down if I were expected to remember anything taught in class. I've not changed much.

It's probably why I collect so many things. I have thousands of matchbook covers, about the same number of books, and I love to play cards (solitaire and other games) so have amassed quite a collection of playing cards over the years, with different kinds of imagery on them. Visuals remind me of things, of places I've been, of people I've met, of things I want to do, of things I've accomplished.

In fact, I keep a string of racing numbers tacked on my office wall to remind me that I can run and have run several races, and if I want to, I can do it again. These are not huge races. I've never even come close to winning one of them. But, since 2004, I have run in more than a dozen 5ks, and to me, this is an achievement. If you knew how terribly unathletic I was in my younger years, you would know what I mean. Me? Run a mile (let alone more than one)? Out of the question!

To mark this achievement, I've brought home most of the numbers that had once been pinned on my t-shirt. They are made of the same kind of paper as a FedEx mailer and are pretty durable. Instinctively, I decided to pin each of the numbers together, create a string of them, and hang them on my office wall--to use as a visual.

After I started riding my bike in 2002, I learned I had endurance. I didn't and have never had much speed, but I developed endurance. And I like to be reminded of that. Aside from my actual bike and all the bike memorabilia I now collect, this is another visual that reminds me of what I'm really made of deep inside so that I know that I can reach the finish line in other things as well.

Do you use visuals to mark your achievements? Do you use visuals for other reasons? If so, in what way? Share with us how it's helped you reach a goal.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Silly inspirations

I had dinner with a friend last night, and she invited a coworker to join us. A silly discussion ensued, which left me showing them I can do the Elvis lip curl, that I am ambidextrous--they gave me a napkin to prove it, so I wrote my name with both my left and right hands--and that the guy who was with us spontaneously breaks out in song at work. He prefers Broadway show tunes. Fun, right?

Maybe. But some adults can't do silly. Not at all. If you're one of them, I encourage you to rethink your stance. Here's why:

I'm a huge fan of silly. I often find myself making up songs and singing them out loud. I like it when people will join me. And I still expect to master riding the unicycle I keep in my office for inspiration. I also would love to learn how to juggle all three of the balls I keep in my Basket O' Fun. So far, I can only juggle two. And would you believe? People still think that's impressive. It's really not. But let's keep that hush-hush. I don't want to spoil their enthusiasm.

If you were ever wondering what to do with all those trade show giveaways you pick up at conventions, how about doing what I do? Create a Basket O' Fun (mentioned earlier). In mine, you'll find goofy pens and pencils, juggling balls and bags, decks of cards, a hat that lights up if the battery's working, and other toy-like items. If it makes sound, can be played with, or can be used to distract a distressed mind, I keep it in that basket and use it as needed. You can put whatever you want in yours. Maybe you like puzzles and word games. It doesn't matter. You define your Basket O' Fun; it's whatever you think it is.

But silly's not just for the office. On a recent trip with my boyfriend, I offered a suggestion on what we could do to make the trip more interesting. He was coming with me on a research trip. I was looking for quirky Arizona sites, and it happened to be on Valentine's Day weekend. So I suggested we could not come home without first finding the other person a quirky gift.

He wound up finding me an ink pen that was carved out of wood. No big deal, right? Well, this one included a shark top and a band of rattlesnake skin below (pictured with other pen/pencil above). The two have nothing whatsoever to do with the other. Very quirky. So he won the gift exchange hands-down. My gift was lame in comparison. We got a good laugh out of the whole hunting expedition, and it did make the trip more memorable.

If you think about it, being silly is just a way to release pent-up energy. It's a way to de-stress. And it's usually not hurtful to others, though I admit embarrassing family members with my silliness at times.

For your sake, why not see if you can get in touch with your silly side today. It's the child inside of you. Sometimes that little girl or guy just needs to get out and breathe again. So go ahead and try it. Learn how to juggle. Play hopscotch with the kids. Make up a silly poem with words that rhyme only with your first name. After you've done the silly deed, let us know how it goes.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Piles of inspiration

I'm not sure if you can see this or not, but I actually titled, or labeled, this photo Piles To Go Before I Sleep. It seems appropriate, given that this was but one of the piles in my house that's inspired me to clean.

Actually, writing about what inspires me this month really got the organizational juices flowing. I've been thinking about doing this since I completed my travel guide a year ago. It was then when I began piling things up and having no time to put them away. Eventually, the piles took over, and I tried really hard to ignore them. But I found myself just moving to other rooms to get away from them. And guess what? The piles followed me.

They became so hard to miss that I finally had to do something about them.

So I rearranged them.

I don't use that term lightly. I know my bad habit well. My guess is they'll return soon enough--in a different shape and form, with different colors (based on whatever material gets piled wherever the new piles show up). But for now, I've taken them off the furniture, off the floor, off my kitchen table, off the coffee table, off the...Yeah, you get it.

They really have been everywhere--and they were cluttering my thoughts. Not stopping me from writing, mind you, but cluttering the space in my brain that needs room to think about other projects. With piles on the brain, I haven't been working as efficiently as I know I can.

So off they went--into some nifty banker's boxes I found that were still empty, several large plastic bins I've had waiting specifically for this use, and other storage containers.

I've tried to spin my bad habit as being a collector of ephemera. But most people can see right through that.

"Oh, you keep trash?" they might say.

I ignore such insults to my magazines, books, brochures, business cards, fliers, and other wonderful things made of paper. I am a collector, I tell you.

What I'm not is an organizer. If I were, these piles would have a place to go, and I'd know exactly when and where to put them there.

When I daydream about the space, it looks like an entire wall of cubbyholes. Not shoebox-size but the sizes of manuscript boxes, maybe a little wider and deeper. Just enough space to toss in different projects I might be working on, including all the research that goes with them. There are hundreds of these cubby holes on my dream wall--most of them filled, others empty, waiting for new projects.

And all are labeled and alphabetized.

But this is a daydream, and my cubbyhole wall does not exist. In fact, I couldn't afford it. Instead, I have bins and cardboard boxes and baskets and such. And they're now stacked inside my office closet, along a wall, and on top of the shelving unit I do have. The piles have been put away, and I feel good about that.

When I consider how this relates to my BIKE philosophy, I would say it's definitely about being your Best self. It's about taking care of your mental health, feeling good about your surroundings, and realizing that you can do more with less.

I really hope the last part is true, because I just dumped out two large stacks of newspaper clippings. Clippings I'd been saving for good reasons. Good reasons I can no longer remember.

If you have a clutter-clearing experience you'd like to share, jot it down in the comment box.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Inspired by color

Playing with color
Looking for inspiration
between the pages

(Another haiku to let you know I'm reviewing a book today by a woman I want to interview for my blog before the month is up. She's a color expert, and I just found the books on my doorstep last night. So excited to spend the morning with yellows, reds, greens, blues and other hues! What is it about color that inspires? I'm about to find out.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inspired by the labyrinth

A few years ago, I wrote a story about the spiritual side of Sedona. It was during my research that I first discovered the labyrinth. I'd never walked one before. I didn't do it that time, either. But the image stayed with me. It would not be part of this story.

Once I returned home, I immediately started searching for more information. I wanted to know what these labyrinths were all about. I wanted to walk a labyrinth. I wanted to study the design. I became somewhat obsessed. I pitched a few stories but nothing ever sold.

To do this day, I've only walked one once (See my picture above), and I only did it briefly, during an interview. It was not the meditative experience it's supposed to be.

So my quest continues. I am inspired by the idea, by the potential opportunity to connect with myself in a different way, by the whole spiritual nature of the design. And I'm fascinated that there is an industry that involves people who build them. I'll start pitching more stories about this soon, because I can't get it out of my head and probably won't until I sell a story or two.

If you've ever walked a labyrinth and would be willing to share your story of what happened during and after, I'd love to read it right here. If you've ever experienced some kind of need for a spiritual quest, I'd love to know about that as well. Post your comments below.

If you'd like to learn more about the labyrinth, I find The Labyrinth Society to be a useful start.

Maybe we'll run into each other on the path some day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Haiku Day: Inspiration in a poem

Thanks to Twitter, Michelle Rafter, our blogathon cheerleader, says haiku has made a comeback. After all the hard work we've been doing for the WordCount Blogathon this month, she says it's time for a break. So today is Haiku Day!

If you haven't written one in a while, don't remember writing them from your elementary school days, or aren't even sure what they are, here's the quick refresher Michelle provided:

Haiku is a three-line poem encapsulating one thought in approximately 17 syllables broken down as follows: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. Her example:

First sip of coffee
Recharges my batteries
Now the words will come.

For more inspiration, visit The Haiku Foundation and read through the poems in its archives. If you're any good at this, you could win a $25 prize from, which publishes the poems regularly.

Meanwhile, here's my take on the poetic form:

Water everywhere
Flooding my ugly backyard
Hoping grass turns green

Can I prompt you into trying your hand at the haiku game? If so, post yours below.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Signs" of inspiration

Whenever I'm inspired by something, I generally take a photograph of it. That's the beauty of having phones these days that come with cameras. You hardly ever have to worry about being unprepared. You can almost always capture the image to use later. For bloggers, this is a God-send.

So when this light (pictured above) came on inside the dash of my SUV this morning on my way home from a coffee house visit, I was motivated to take a picture.

The "sign" says "empty"--a sure sign of things to come if I don't refuel my tank. But what else can it mean? A friend called while I had paused at a Stop Sign around the corner from my house, ready to shoot. I told her what I was doing, that I'd call her right back. When I did, we had a funny discussion about the meaning of the word and/or idioms and phrases associated with the word.

She, in fact, suggested I ask you what the photo makes you think of. Here are a few of her immediate thoughts:

_Running on empty
_Out of gas (not having to do with cars)

A few of mine:

_A glass half empty/half full
_Empty calories
_Empty nest
_Empty phrases

Empty. It's a small word with many meanings. What does this visual, or the word, make you think of today? Do you have a tank that needs filling? If so, what are you doing about it?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Inspiration schinsperation

Okay, I figured it was time. Time to confess.

Wait for it...

Believe it or not...I am not always inspired.

It's true.

I am not always inspired to do the right thing, say the right thing, be the right thing, have the right things, care about everything, enjoy everything, laugh all the time, yada, yada, yada.

What a relief to get that out!

Just so you know, I definitely have my days where I want to do nothing more than complain. Only I've learned to stay away from people on those days. If you call me, you'll probably wish you hadn't when you hang up afterward.

And I have my days where I don't care if the dishes are washed, the laundry is folded, the toilet is flushed, the lawn is mowed, or the bills are paid. I don't care. On those days, I simply do not care. And everything else can wait.

What I might prefer to do on those days is sit on my couch with a bag of chips and a bottle of chilled Sauvignon Blanc and watch really dumb TV, TV you'd probably never be caught dead in dirty underwear watching. I'm talking things like whatever's on Disney Channel (I don't have kids at home; there's no excuse for me doing this), reruns of reruns of reruns of "Little House on the Prairie," and...don't hate me for this...Nancy Grace. Hey, I can't help it. I want to know when they're going to convict Casey Anthony.

And you know what else? I don't exercise every day. When I was writing my book, weeks went by without me so much as thinking about my bicycle. And right now, I'm in walking/hiking mode. But the weather's getting warmer around here, and I'm getting older, and I don't always want to go outside to get my exercise. It's too hot out there! So I have my days when I don't. I just don't. I'm not motivated. I'm not inspired. So I just find something else to do.

I guess my point is that sometimes we need the lack of inspiration to remind us what being inspired feels like. At least that's the story I tell myself.

When you're having your down days, where nothing seems to lift you up, how do you manage to get through the day? Share your tips. We've all been there, done that. And we're all ears.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Question of the Day: What are you doing to get inspired?

A comment by one of my visitors yesterday suggested she was lacking in inspiration, or at least the inspiration from which imagination flows.

For creative types, we know we need that in order to do our work. Without imagination, our work would be one-dimensional at best. It might lack stories. It might lack symbolism. It might lack analogies. And our audience might not quite connect to the message. The use of our imagination helps us connect with others in a more meaningful way. So if you're feeling less imaginative than you know you can be, it's important to try things to liven it back up.

I suggested she do what I'm doing and blog for a month about what inspires her. Since I've been focused on blogging about inspiration, I've noticed I am more connected to the world around me. This particular focus has opened my heart, mind and soul to see things in a more colorful way. I've been reconnecting with a deeper sense of my creative side.

And my imagination is running full blast, flowing into various areas of my life. Not only has it helped me come up with new ideas to pitch to editors, but it's also led to new ideas about what to make for dinner and how to spend my free time.

Like any muse, imagination needs to be nurtured. If you're finding yourself less than imaginative these days, or if you've been lacking the inspiration you need to complete a project or develop new ones, think about what you're doing to fuel your creative side. Take proactive steps to rev it up. Whichever is most convenient, try one of these four exercises:

_GO TO A MUSEUM, focus on one exhibit. Then write a poem or short essay about the best work of art you see. Be sure to take a small notepad with you, because you want to do the writing right there where you can capture your sharpest observations.

_TAKE A WALK ON THE BEACH and collect shells or sea glass. Find as many as you can, then arrange them in a mosaic pattern in the sand.

_BUY CONSTRUCTION PAPER and cut your favorite colors into strips. Use the strips to make a basket weave pattern on the kitchen table.

_READ YOUR FAVORITE CHILDREN'S BOOK silently. Then read it out loud. Then record yourself reading aloud a second time, act the story out orally, using different voices for each character. Then play it back to hear how you sound.

Can you think of a fifth exercise that might be fun to try another time? What does that say about your imagination?

(The above photo was taken by Jackie Dishner; it represents a pile of #mailart inspired by Twitter users last year while they were planning their first Twitter Art Show.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Doodles of inspiration

Do you doodle?

I'm a doodler. I doodle spirals and geometric shapes and lots and lots of circles. I've noticed that I do it to relax, listen and focus.

I should have known there was a psychology involved. Experts say it's a subconscious act and can be very revealing. Did you know, for example, that doodling at the top of the page shows confidence? And probably that you have a lot of ideas going on inside your head. If you're at a meeting and place your doodles, for instance, near the title of a handout, it might mean you think you have more to say on the subject than the speaker up front.

Interesting enough, it's more common to doodle on the left-hand side of the page. But for those who doodle on the right, that might mean you're a lefty (I'm talking handedness), or that you have some hidden thoughts to share.

If you draw chains, I learned, you could be feeling locked in or boxed in. A relationship, maybe? Your job? I'd pay attention to those scribbles. There's obviously stress involved.

Drawing circles, on the other hand, could indicate you've finally figured things out, or that you are looking for that which will bring things together--balance. Drawing geometrical figures means you have a logical, analytical mind, according to Dr. Robert Burns, a Seattle-based psychologist who studied doodles and used them to diagnose his clinical patients. He says the patterns you draw over time can reveal a lot about your psyche.

The book, pictured above, The Doodle Diary, gives you a fun way to look at your own subconscious scribbles. But if you searched Google to learn the meaning of your own doodles, you'll most likely get several interpretations. So while I do find the psychology interesting, I wonder how relevant it really is. With several interpretations to pick from, how does one know which is the correct one?

Oh, but then there's Doodle Day. It gives more meaning to the silliness. Seriously, National Doodle Day takes place on February 11, 2011. Mark your calendar. It began in the United Kingdom in the 2004 as a way to raise funds and create awareness about epilepsy and neurofibromatosis--two disorders that lead to seizures of the brain. They gather celebrity doodles and auction them off for charity, but would you call this a doodle? To me, that's more like art--and my doodles have never looked that good.

How about you?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Huffington Post reports on who inspires the world?

Since my blog focuses this month on inspiration, when I read a similar headline as the one above, I was drawn in immediately. Of course! I wanted to know who Huffington Post thinks inspires the world.

Could it LOL.

My reach, apparently, isn't far enough. But I follow many of the people on the list, including @Marcome, @LoriMoreno and @Eleesha.

If you wrote a similar list, who would you include on yours? Who in your circle of influence inspires you and why? Better yet, in what ways do you inspire others?

(Photo taken above by Jackie Dishner at Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine in Hereford, Arizona)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guest Post: Kathy Murray writes about the voices of inspiration

Today's post comes to us from Kathleen Murray, a former Midwest girl, now living in Virginia. Her life and work has taken her all over the U.S., and overseas in London and Beijing. She's worked as a CPA, a magazine and newspaper reporter, an editor, journalism instructor, Chinese language assistant and a volunteer probation officer. She makes her living as a writer now, has recently been the "crazy sports mom," and also spends time as a volunteer, helping ex-offenders find employment. She blogs at OUT AND EMPLOYED, which is where I'm at today. Kathy's with us in my stead to share her thoughts on how she sees the Expressive voice as an inspiration, though, she says, it's not always hers that's doing the talking:

I’m so excited to be guest blogger here at BIKE WITH JACKIE. I love Jackie’s message about becoming your Best self by tapping into your Inner strength, listening to your own Killer instinct and especially learning to use your Expressive voice.

Although I have ongoing work to do in all four areas, I decided to focus on the last one because, as a writer, it’s basically the source of my livelihood. Without a voice, you don’t get too far in this business. And even if you have a good one, if you don’t trust it, there are so many things that can knock you off course, or shut you down – the vagaries of publishing, bad editors, constricting writing requirements, blog trolls, cruel comments, unflattering feedback, the distraction of social media, what’s in, what’s out…you name it.

I’ve probably fallen victim to all of these at one time or another. But my biggest inhibitions have come from within. That little weasel of self-doubt can be relentless. Over time, however, I’ve found a way around this that’s almost sure fire. When I’m looking for inspiration, I seek out other voices.

And no, not the crazy ones in my head, saying, Drop the act and back away from the keyboard, your writing stinks. I’m talking about other people’s voices – conversations from lives that may have nothing to do with mine, but everything to do with what’s going on in the wider world.

Now some people do this naturally. They’re always out and about talking to anyone about anything. If you’re one of these folks, I envy you, truly. My tendency is to hole up alone with my laptop and try to figure it out myself. But I’ve learned over time that getting out of my head and into someone else’s is often the antidote to the worst of writing slumps – as well as life slumps, in general. And the more different the person is from me, the better.

I suppose some of this is due to my roots as a newspaper reporter, where at least in the old days, if you didn’t have someone talking to you, you didn’t have a story. But it really came to light when I lived overseas. Despite all the generalizations about pampered expats, you can’t live comfortably in another country unless you get out and learn about the natives – even in London, where they speak the same language. So I threw myself out there and tried to get everyone’s story: my quirky British neighbors; the homeless Oxford grad who spoke the Queen’s English but slept in a church graveyard; a family of gypsies who lived in trailers near our house and ran the bank holiday fun fairs; and a Bosnian nanny who fled her country when her boyfriend was killed in the war. She brought that conflict home to me in a way nothing else did when she said, “Sarajevo was a modern city, just like here, we were multicultural, we hosted the Olympics, we were college-educated, and look what happened to us.”

In China, the language barrier made it more challenging initially. But even after I’d learned to speak Mandarin, there were plenty of other listening skills I needed to hone in order to really understand the people I met. For one, I had to get much better at reading body language or cultural cues, such as, the fact that the Chinese woman talking with me was laughing didn’t mean I was funny. Rather, it meant I had embarrassed her. But once I caught on, the material kept coming.

My work in both places reflected these efforts. I completed the draft of one novel and started another. I felt my writing was more honest, alive. Now I suppose you can say, "Well, of course you did, you were living in foreign countries where everything seems exotic." And in Beijing, a trip to buy groceries was an adventure. I thought that too for awhile. Especially after I returned to the U.S. and found myself uninspired. I wrote a couple of essays I never sold on topics like spoiled rich kids begging for money outside the local supermarket so they could send their sports teams to tournaments. And my fiction writing stalled as well. To make money I agreed to co-author an accounting book with my father, which not only took me back to a profession I’d loathed but also made me remember why, in excruciatingly dull detail.


When I saw the ad asking for volunteers to teach at the local jail, I hesitated at first. I’d worked as a volunteer probation officer twice before, but back then I hadn’t had kids. Not to mention my writing life, my supposed profession, seemed to be going nowhere. But there was a part of me that was curious, a part of me that remembered how much I’d enjoyed working with this population before, and a part of me that was, frankly, so desperate to escape my own worries that even sitting in a jail sounded appealing.

That was more than two years ago. I realized almost at once that I’d made the right decision. I enjoy working with the offenders, most of whom deeply regret their mistakes and long to start over. At times I feel that some of what I’m doing might be helpful, though I realize I’m getting so much more from the people I “teach” than I’m giving them. I remember one week in particular where I was frustrated by some neighborhood goings on – something about my middle son’s academics, overbearing parents and the cutthroat competition in Northern Virginia, blah, blah, blah. I went to teach my class. Afterwards, one of the women, a two-time felon, was lamenting how worried she was about her daughter. The girl was 11, my son’s age, and the girl was trying to get in trouble so she could get sent to jail to be with her mother.

“You know what she asked me on the phone,” the woman said to me, "She said, 'Ma, what’s the difference between a ‘ho and a prostitute?' I told her that a prostitute is someone who has sex with lots of guys because she gets paid, while a ‘ho just does it because she likes sex. I told my daughter, 'Baby, you ain’t gonna be neither.' But with me in here, what can I do?”

It was eye-opening and humbling and heartbreaking. It was also something I would never have learned reading. Or trolling the internet. Or even talking with my friends. I could only have learned it by pushing outside my comfort zone and experiencing another person’s point of view. I had to feel it to write it. That’s what inspired me to start my blog OUT AND EMPLOYED. That’s what inspired me to take up one of my novel drafts again.

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise, his main character Amory Blaine has led a life of debauched self-absorption. When he realizes this, he laments, “All I know is me.”

I’ve never wanted to be saying the same thing. I’d rather my writing reflect some of the people I’ve met and connected with along the way. I want my life to reflect that as well. But to do that means listening to the world outside. In order to keep my Expressive voice, I’ve learned I have to use it - asking questions, stretching myself and connecting with other people’s lives.

How about you?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Meet Kathy Murray, tomorrow's guest blogger

The WordCount Blogathon Guest Blogger Day is tomorrow. And for this year's event, we decided to add a Q/A interview the day before. It'll allow us to fully introduce you to our guest blogger, and give you a sneak preview of what's ahead.

Tomorrow, here at BIKE WITH JACKIE, you'll be hearing from the inspiring Kathy Murray. She blogs over at OUTANDEMPLOYED, where her focus is to help ex-offenders re-enter the workforce. We thought, because we both reach out to women and people in transition, we would be able to swap posts and provide another viewpoint for you to think about on your road to recovery--no matter what the recovery is. Remember, I've said before, truly, we are all in some form of recovery at some point in our lives.

But first, here are few things you might want to know about Kathy before she shares her thoughts with you tomorrow:

_Can you tell my readers a bit about your background and how it relates to the thoughts expressed and discussed here at BIKE WITH JACKIE?

Hmm….how much time do you have? No really, like a lot of writers, I guess I’ve had a pretty varied background... I grew up a shy, rather sheltered kid in a small town in the Midwest, but I’ve been fortunate to live all over the U.S. and overseas in London and Beijing, which has been life-changing. I’ve done stints as CPA, a magazine and newspaper reporter, an editor, journalism instructor, Chinese language assistant, a volunteer probation officer and most recently as a crazy sports mom (I’m in recovery now, hopefully).

Right now, I do mostly business writing for work, and spend my free time working on my blog OUTANDEMPLOYED, which grew out of a course I teach ex-offenders at the local jail in Fairfax, VA. Like the students I teach, I consider myself a work in progress. I think that’s one of the reasons BIKE WITH JACKIE resonates with me. So little of my life has turned out the way I expected. And yet, I’m excited about where I am and really grateful for all the experiences, good and bad. Along the way, I’ve become better at accepting that my BEST SELF isn’t about being perfect and relying on my INNER SRENGTH, but listening to my KILLER INSTINCT and trusting my EXPRESSIVE VOICE are daily challenges. Good thing you say this is a lifelong process.

_We discussed this on the phone briefly where you told me that you became involved in the volunteer work that you do with ex-offenders (as as well as offenders inside the jailhouse) because you were looking for a way to get outside of your comfort zone. Can you address any fears you might have had going into this work and how you addressed them?
Yes, I’d recently moved back to the U.S. after nearly 9 years overseas, where I got used to being around people who didn’t think like I did. It really made me stretch. I mean, in China, just doing the basics like buying food at the grocery store was an adventure.

Then suddenly I found myself back in a lovely but fairly homogenous suburb. I don’t want to give the impression that I decided to work with offenders out of boredom, it’s just that I needed to find a way to challenge myself again. I’m not a big organizer, so helping out the PTA wasn’t doing it.

I guess my initial fear – or maybe my husband’s was, couldn’t you find a safer way to get out of your comfort zone? I had worked with offenders as a volunteer probation officer in the past, but that was really before I had kids. Going back into a jail again spooked me at first, with the guards and all those clanging doors. But once I went into the classroom and started getting to know my students, that changed. My bigger concern became, how can I best help them? From that point on it’s really been a matter of asking the right questions and really listening. Even after working with offenders in the past, I still had some misconceptions about who would be in jail, which needed to be corrected. I’ve met people there who could have been my college roommates. They have advanced degrees, seemingly perfect lives, but still made a mistake.

_You mentioned that the other volunteers you work with have generally come from the system themselves, meaning, they've had a son or daughter who's served time in jail who then moved beyond their troubled and youthful days. This work became these mothers' calling. How did you arrive here?
That’s always a challenging question and one I’m not sure I’ve found the answer to yet. Or maybe I don’t want to know it. An editor I worked with early in my career on a fraud story, once said to me, “C’mon, you think like a criminal, you can figure this out.” I’m sure it was a throwaway line designed to inspire me, but I’ve always been haunted by it. No one in my immediate family has ever been arrested or in prison, thankfully, but I am descended from a long line of Black Irish stock, so I’m sure if you go back far enough with all that drinking and angst….I guess the bottom line – and this has become even more true as I’ve gotten to know more offenders – is that I can relate to people who cross the line and make huge mistakes. And I really like to hope they can find their way back. That we all can, I guess.

_We also discussed on the phone that you look for a common ground with those you might be working with inside the jailhouse, something aside from the fact that they are serving a sentence together. What is it that you've discovered? What are the other commonalities, and what can the general population learn from them?
Again, as I said in my answer to your previous question, we all screw up at one point or another in our lives. Offenders have made huge, sometimes irreparable, life-destroying mistakes that have landed them behind bars. But they’re human and like all of us struggle with frailties and weaknesses – and maybe more than most of us, with addictions, mental and emotional illnesses and really horrible upbringings. And yet, people are people, and in every session I get someone who turns out to be the leader, somebody who’s the peacemaker, the complainer, the talker, and those few who will only tell their stories privately, but when they do reveal incredible talents and strengths. If I didn’t meet most of them in jail, I wouldn’t know they’d ever broken the law.

_Can you tell my readers a bit about your blog and what your readers take away from your posts?
Sure. Right now OUTANDEMPLOYED is a couple of things, since I’m really still developing the blog. For ex-offenders who read it, I’m hoping first of all, that I’m giving them good information. I also hope they take away a sense that they’re not alone and that they can start their lives over if they’re committed to it. For other readers, I’m hoping that they maybe gain more of a sense that there’s no such thing as typical ex-offender and that most people who have committed a crime regret it deeply. Like anyone who’s made a mistake, they want to know how to make it right, serve out their punishment and move on.

_Since we're focusing on INSPIRATION this month here at BIKE WITH JACKIE, you'll be blogging about that topic for me as my guest blogger tomorrow. Can you give us a little sneak preview about what you'll have to say to my readers?
I’m going to concentrate on the EXPRESSIVE VOICE part of your equation. On what inspires my voice and my writing, and, by extension, how I live my best life. Ironically, it’s actually other people’s voices – the more different from mine the better. Whether I'm trying to understand people in a different culture like China, or in very different circumstances such as my students serving sentences – hearing someone else, or listening well pulls me out of my own head into – for lack of a better way of explaining it – the feeling, or heart place. Seeing the world from another person's point of view forces me to find that common connection. That always results in being not only more expressive, but more authentic and human. As writers working alone, I think we all run the risk sometimes of falling in love with the words and ideas in our heads and then getting stuck when what comes out doesn’t seem to work. I think this can also affect how we live our lives in general. It can be so easy to get caught up in our own stuff, when the antidote, the inspiration we're looking for, is outside of us with everyone else.

Thank you, Kathy. I look forward to sharing your thoughts tomorrow and hope that my readers will gain something new from your insights. See you then.

By the way, you'll find my Q/A today with Kathy Murray at OUTANDEMPLOYED. Check it out. If you have any questions for Kathy, be sure to come back tomorrow when she'll be checking in to answer them.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Inspired to improve

No one and nothing remains static. It's time to change things up a bit here.

I've been playing around with the right-hand side gadgets this weekend. I added contact information, moved a few things around, and now I've just posted a poll at the top. I'm inspired to improve.

The poll asks you to tell me how I can improve this blog. If the poll doesn't allow you to give more than one answer, take the poll again with your next choice. I really want to know what I'm doing that works and what changes I might need to make. Would you take a few seconds and answer my question?

Your responses to my poll (over there on the right) will help me make sure I'm providing content that serves you well.

Thank you!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gayle Nobel: Inspiring Mom

Yesterday, I spent time in a coffee shop interviewing Gayle Nobel, a Phoenix neighbor and author of the new book, BREATHE: 52 Oxygen-Rich Tools for Loving and Living Well with Autism. Wait! Before you click away from this page, thinking, "I don't live with autism. What's this got to do with me?", consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

_An average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have some form of autism.

_Most of these children are boys.

_An estimated 730,000 children up to the age of 21 now live with autism.

_The median age of diagnosis comes around age 4 or 5, but most children have shown developmental symptoms before age 3.

With those numbers being what they are, it's likely you may already know a child who has autism, and Nobel's new book should be a successful one for her target market--parents of children with autism. She and her husband Neil have a son, Kyle, who was diagnosed by age 1. He is now 26, so the couple has been living with autism for 25 years. Nobel draws from her own life experience and life lessons to help other families survive and thrive through what can be very trying and often heartbreaking times.

The couple also has two daughters (Rachel and Leah) who are not autistic. In her new book, she relates stories about how they fit into the picture as well. As you probably can understand, it's not easy to find balance when you're "living with autism" but that doesn't stop her from trying. So her book goes beyond the autistic family's needs; it's about every family's needs. The tools she shares in BREATHE can work for anyone experiencing an unexpected life challenge. To be frank, don't we all have them in some form or another?

That's why I wanted to bring her words of wisdom here. Nobel's oxygen-rich tools and the story that led her to them has involved heartache, pain and even despair, feelings similar to what led me to my special brand of BIKE. The author, whose first book (It's All About Attitude) was co-authored with Kathy Almeida through their independent publishing company, offers in this second book 52 topic-centered and inspirational stories with exercises at the end of each chapter that will have you breathing easily through your own daily challenges. She doesn't claim to fix them, but she does steer you toward a more peaceful and loving acceptance of them.

Of all 52, one of my favorite stories from Noble's book takes place in the grocery store where she's shopping with her son Kyle. From his outwardly appearance and his 6-foot-tall frame, he looks like a man. But from the inside he's really still a small child, and Nobel says the grocery store is a land of temptation for her big boy who likes paper:

"His self-stimulating activity of choice is to flap and crinkle a crisp piece of paper until it is limp. Flapping is a stress relief, and sometimes entertainment. Over the years it has become a very strong habit. He is drawn to paper when he feels uncertain, or stressed, or in need of some sensory input. Come to think of it, he is drawn to paper when paper is around. And, in the store, coupons are sticking out all over the aisles, just asking to be grabbed. Sale tags abound. Kyle is like a kid in a candy shop; he can't keep his hands, or his attention, away from these paper magnets.

So, last week, price tags called out to Kyle. He would stop every few feet and reach to grab one. I would gently remind him the paper must stay on the shelf. A few times, he snatched one before I could preempt the strike. This, then, became an opportunity to help him practice returning the paper to its spot.

As time went on, the dynamic evolved. Kyle began to pause in front of tags and point to them. This was his way of asking for one. When I told him he couldn't have one, he was able to move on without grabbing. Pointing soon evolved to looking longingly at the tags...By the end of our time at the store, Kyle had shifted from impulsive to mindful. He was able to slow down, think, and control his actions."

The story starts out mentioning her dad's warning about not always having to do things the hard way. While walking through a grocery market with an autistic son who seems to be misbehaving might seem like the hard way to shop, for Nobel the opposite is true. It proved to be a lesson-building experience, giving the "hard way" some merit.

Noble also discusses another topic I found interesting: those "magnificent moments" we all experience in life. Hers, in particular, involves a rare moment--actual eye contact with Kyle. The emotional connection occurs during one of his music therapy classes. Nobel says she relished it enough to write it down as soon as she returned home. That way, she's now able to return to that moment on those less magnificent days. Her oxygen-rich tool at the end of this chapter then calls for the reader to do the same. Interestingly enough, it's something I call on you to do frequently here as well: Write it down. Record your celebrations in a gratitude journal so you can treat yourself with this same experience another time. It certainly makes sense to me why I like this woman.

In the interview below are a few reasons why you might like her, too:

What was the biggest challenge you faced while writing BREATHE?
My biggest challenge was the writing itself. Sitting down and keeping the momentum going. It's so easy to have a million other things infringe on that.

How did you come up with the idea for the oxygen-rich tools?

They actually started out as a gimmick. I was at a conference, a tradeshow with my first book. We had a table with our books to sell. And I wanted something to give away. So I developed cards with prizes written on them that you'd grab out of a fishbowl. One of those cards offered free daily inspirational tools for one week. When someone drew the card out of the bowl, I had to then come up with the inspirational tools...That was the start of this book.

And what was your original point of the book?

It was basically to answer the question: How do I get from here to there? Here being, "Oh, my God, I have this kid with autism, and it's miserable sometimes." There being, "How can I shift my attitude?" In fact, "Attitude in Action" was one of the original titles I considered. But Andrea Beaulieu, my editor, noticed that I had a lot about breathing in the book, so the actual title evolved that way.

How long did it take you to write?
I wrote it based on things I noticed in the journey with my son. I wrote down whatever I was inspired to write, and the whole process took about two and a half years.

Since breathing exercises are an important tool you include in the book, and you use yoga exercises where applicable, share with my readers another reason it's so important to you:
It started in the emergency room. Kyle had been in a car accident, and he'd broken a finger. We were at the hospital, waiting. I noticed Kyle was being very quiet. And then he started making this breathing sound. He was humming, calming himself. He plays a lot with his breath anyway. He can make a lot of sounds with his breath, and he can hold his breath for a very long time. But this time, I think he was calming his anxiety, quieting the rage, maybe even dulling the pain. Even the emergency room physician noticed, saying how zen the room felt when he walked in. And it really did. The breathing created a peaceful environment.

In the book, it seems like you have this gift to be able to try new things, if you think it'll work, to calm your son, or to shift an attitude. How did you get there?
Keeping in mind that my mother was the parent of an autistic child--My brother was autistic--parents with autistic children get really, really worn down. You try all these medicines, treatments, therapies, and your child still isn't fixed. He's not getting better. You just get worn down from all of that. So I learned early on that I had a choice. I could be miserable like my mother was, or I could be joyful. And I was also impacted early on by the words of another father I knew whose son was autistic. He said (paraphrased), "I never want to look at my son and see tragedy. I want to see him as a gift." His words stayed with me. I wanted that. Kyle was 3 at the time. And from that moment on, I started working on my attitude.

If you would, share with us your three most important pieces of advice readers can find in your book:
When I speak, I share these tips, and the theme is about taking care of yourself:

1) Exercise -- I think it changes your physiology, and a shift in attitude takes place that doesn't without regular exercise.

2) Gratitude -- That message is sprinkled throughout the book, but make it an intention.

3) Breathe, of course! -- It allows you to be less reactive.

And here's one more:

4) Reach Out -- Ask for help. Build a network of support so you won't be in this alone.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Click on this link to get your own copy of
BREATHE: 52 Oxygen-Rich Tools for Loving and Living Well with Autism, and other products created by Gayle Nobel with the help of her family and friends (t-shirts, posters, notecards). If you do, tell her I sent you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Early morning walks inspire deep thoughts

I wonder if Jack Handy ever wrote any of his "Deep Thoughts" while taking an early morning walk along a canal bank like the one pictured above.

I've uncovered several of my own along a canal bank. In fact, I frequent this particular spot pictured above. Called the Arizona Canal, it runs about 25 miles from one end to the other (from Scottsdale to Glendale), thus, providing a great running, hiking, jogging, walking and bike riding route for people who live, work and visit Phoenix. It also makes a great place to ponder.

Along the way, you'll see trees, desert vegetation, the water, an historic resort, elegant homes, and a landmark rock formation with spiritual qualities. Called the Praying Monk, I watch for it and always pause to take in those qualities.

I prefer to ride or walk alone along the canal, so I can savor the time to think. But sometimes my daughter joins me, and we experience the healing qualities of water together. And on Saturdays, you'll find me there with friends. They run it. I walk it, winding up with a six-mile exercise-filled morning. Sometimes, when I'm in my best shape, I can run four. But generally I walk the six. We all meet at a nearby coffee house for breakfast afterward. It's a pleasant way to begin a weekend.

Despite the enjoyment I feel when I'm with other people, I definitely prefer my time alone out there along side of the water. It's a calm and relaxing place. Ducks swim along with me, baby chicks following behind this time of year. Birds fly over me in the trees. Bikers and runners pass me by. Occasionally, I'll see entire families. We exchange friendly hellos. Especially when I'm out there by myself, I'm inspired by all of these sounds and sights. Ideas come to me. Answers to questions I'd been having are revealed. I've even recited entire speeches in my head, if I have an upcoming presentation.

The canal provides a quiet place to consider the challenges of the day. When I get back home, I write everything I can remember down in my journal. Some of it I use right away. But most of what I jot down I save for a later purpose. I look forward to this time. If I could go daily, I would.

Do you have a spot near water where you go to spend time alone with your thoughts? If there's nothing like this near you, how could you create such a healing space for yourself?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Advice that inspires

My guess is you've all had someone in your life who's offered advice. Some worked, some didn't, and some stayed with you. That "some" for me came from Bob Early, a former editor of Arizona Highways and the guy who really tuned me in to travel writing in 1999.

In his previous life, he was the city editor at the Arizona Republic and was involved with the investigative team that worked to uncover who killed Don Bolles. (Did you know there might be a movie about this?)

Bob Early gave me several good tips in a class I took that he used to teach at Arizona State University-West Campus. And I still use or think about at least three of them to this day. Now I pass on all three to you. If you're a writer of some sort, you'll understand:

1) If you send out five pitches a week, you'll always have work.

2) Always carry a small notepad in your pocket or purse to capture the great lines you hear, the great ideas you have, or the funny stories that happen.

3) Your writing comes alive if you remove the "to be" verbs.

Hope some of this inspires you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Your everyday inspirations

Are you aware of your everyday inspirations? They don't necessarily call you to do anything specific. They are the everyday images, the textures, the colors or the sounds in your everyday life that just speak to you in some way. Perhaps they leave you with a good feeling, put a smile on your face, or remind you of someone or something.

I live in a neighborhood surrounded by palm trees of various kinds, big thorny mesquites, scattered palo verdes, jacarandas, and other trees that attract the birds. Hummingbirds, song birds, mockingbirds, finches, and birds I'd need to pull out the Audubon guide to name--they're all out there.

At night, you can even hear the owls and see the bats whirring by overhead. If I'm out for a walk in the early evening, the owl's call kind of spooks me. You never can tell which tree they're in, as the sound seems to echo from far away. I always imagine he'll fly out of one of those trees and wonk me on the head with his large talons.

I wake up in the morning and go to sleep to at night to many, long-lasting bird calls of various sounds. When I'm really listening, I can hear very specific sounds. One type of bird I noticed I'm not hearing this year had a unique call I really liked. It sounded like they were saying back and forth to each other: "Rick-ee! RickeeRickeeRickee!" It's funny what you miss when it's gone.

Is there a bird call unique to your neighborhood? Or one that you once noticed but now do not? Noticing the everyday things that surround you, such as the sound a bird makes, provides training ground for creating awareness within. It's about becoming aware of what you like or don't like, what matters to you and what does not, or what inspires you.

AWARENESS HOMEWORK: Make a list of 5-10 things in your everyday life that pleases you. The only requirement is that all items on the list must come from the natural environment. Post one or two of them here if you like. What this will do for you is bring your attention to that which brings you joy. Once you're aware of this, you begin to seek it out. A joy-filled life is one that overcomes obstacles with grace and ease, like the Great Blue Heron in my photograph above.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The elephant plant inspires me

I know it seems like a silly thing to be excited about, but I was thrilled when I discovered the plant I cannot kill.

Called the elephant plant, it's a succulent that can survive long periods of drought, and it doesn't seem to require any special diet and bugs don't seem to eat it, either. Given my reckless spirit when it comes to anything green and living in my backyard, desert or otherwise, any plant that intends to go on living back there, needs to have a hardy soul like that.

The elephant plant definitely does.

I've tried other plants. I initially thought I'd have a colorful and flowering patio, but a lack of automatic watering system kept getting in my way. It was an obstacle I knew I could overcome without spending too much money. In other words, I didn't want to add an automatic watering system.

So I kept buying different kinds of plants. I'd search through books and copies of Sunset magazine to find out which plants should be able to withstand my neglect. I'd walk through the aisles of plants at Home Depot. I'd even ask the sales clerks at nurseries, "What should I buy that will survive the worst drought?"

I had ice plants with purple blooms in hanging baskets, but they didn't last. I had cactus plants, but they shriveled up on me. I even tried aloe vera. My mother used to grow that all the time. It always seemed to multiply at her house. At mine, it just wilted. Of course, hers were in the ground. I wanted mine in pots.

Then, I noticed that one of the plants I'd purchased still seemed to have some life in it. I'd forgotten about it for the longest time. I hadn't watered it. I didn't even remember what it was and had left it for dead.

But it wasn't.

With just a speck of green on its branches, I suspected I'd found the plant for me. So I watered it and left town. When I returned to see that it had survived half an Arizona summer without any further waterings, I knew I really did have my perfect plant. That was in 2007, the year I was on vacation from mid-June until some time in August. I was so impressed this guy could withstand the hottest time of the year. Another plant given to me by a friend, a floral something-or-other that I left indoors that same summer, did not; it suffered what I suspect was a quick death.

But the elephant plant? He held on.

Once I watered it again, his leaves perked up, color returned to what should have been a lifeless form, and new buds appeared.

And that is precisely why I went out immediately and purchased several more--along with new pots and potting soil. Now, my entire patio is decorated with the plant that will not die. I love it! I can be as forgetful and negligent as I truly am around plants, and this guy doesn't seem to mind.

I am inspired by its hardiness, its inability to give up and its willingness to put up with me. This is the plant God made specifically for traveling journalists like me, and I am forever thankful for discovering it. It's made my patio a place I can actually enjoy now. And I really like the look of uniformity. If I want color, I buy a colored pot. If I want more texture, I buy garden art. And if I want some kind of fragrance, I wear purfume. Obstacle no more. My patio is now an opportunity to see beyond the sameness.

If you have a plant that seems to suit you and your lifestyle well, what is it? What's your story behind the plant that inspires you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

10 blogs that inspire me

Today, on the 10th day of WordCount's May 2010 Blogathon, if they want to do this, the one hundred (plus) participants in the event are scheduled to write about the same or similar thing: 5 or 10 blogs we can't live without, the 5 or 10 blogs we really like, or, in my case--to follow my theme--the 10 blogs that INSPIRE me. Here's my list, not in any particular order. What's yours?

1) For interesting author interviews: Writers Inner Journey

2) For the humorous lesson/reading of the day: Blog Salad

3) For practical how-to's and interesting discussion about the business of freelancing: WordCount

4) To learn about books I'd likely miss related to travel, if I didn't stop in here: A Traveler's Library

5) To support my writing buddies on the travel blog we write together: Travel & Adventure in Arizona

6) For good advice about relationships (it's for girlfriends, but the wisdom can go beyond that): The Friendship Blog

7) For spiritual guidance from a new friend: Heart Choices

8) Because I like the ride the Phoenix light rail and this guy writes funny posts related to it, and I think humor is something to seek out: Light Rail Blogger

9) For all the tech news a writer can use to maintain a blog: Sree's blog for journalists

10) Yours! If you hang out here long enough and post comments, I'll visit your blog regularly and do the same. I call it the play-it-forward movement, and it works well in the blogosphere, and I like to play like that.

Curious to see what the other participants are writing about if they chose this topic? Visit WordCount and click on the links. Or stay here, and click on the participants' list on the right-hand side of the page, underneath the green Blogathon badge.

I hope to see you return again and again. After all, it's the readers like you who inspire me to consider: what can I offer today that might benefit you? If you have any ideas, let me know.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

These are my babies--and an "adopted" one, taken a few years ago during my daughter's engagement party. It's great to be a mom, not just today, but every single day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Signs and words of inspiration

How many times in any given year do you hear a quote that sticks in your mind? Maybe you write it down, like I do, or record it in a journal, which I also might do. And I bet there's been many times when someone told you a story that sounded so interesting, so funny or so (fill-in-the-blank) that you couldn't wait to repeat it.

That happened to me yesterday morning on the car ride home from my friend's house where I was having coffee. Tuning in to the "Beth & Friends" morning show on 99.9 KEZ radio (Miss you Bill Austin!), I didn't turn the radio on in time to catch the start of the conversation. But I caught what I thought was the important line:

"If you have to know the 'something,' you have to know the pain."

The guest speaker, Fred Rawlins, a regular on the show, was addressing a concern the caller had with her boyfriend. Rawlins, a psychic, was telling this particular caller that if she didn't feel right about her man, if there was something that caused her concern, she should pay attention to that. Her intuition is reminding her to be cautious. He told her that it really shouldn't matter what that 'something' is..."If you have to know the 'something,' you have to know the pain."

Now, I'm not normally a fan of psychics, but I understood his warning. His words impressed me. They made sense to me.

Who knows if the caller will heed the expert's words, but it reminded me of my own mistake with not paying attention to my intuition in times past. I refer to this here as your Killer instincts. They hone in directly on what you need to notice--for your own protection. But in my past life, I did not pay attention to the warning signs, though they were there. I didn't trust my instincts so ignored them. I second-guessed myself constantly. And I did, indeed, have to know what that "something" was. I wanted proof why my boyfriend at the time wasn't good for me. I would eventually find out after I married him, but I would have to go through a lot of pain to get there, the same kind of pain this psychic mentions.

I'm curious, then, what your story is with regard to the "somethings" in your lives. Have you been able to recognize the warnings and move on, or have you been like me, needing to know what it was--and then paying for it later?

This expert's words of inspiration in a single quote sends an important message: you don't have to know everything. You just have to trust your instincts when they speak to you. I prefer knowing I am able to trust myself to know the truth now--even, and especially, if the truth is not spelled out clearly. I don't have to have all the answers up front. I can pay attention to the warning signs. I can see them clearly. I listen to what they're trying to tell me and act accordingly.

How about you? I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments about this, especially since this is the first time I've ever heard the warning stated so simply. "If you have to know the 'something,' you have to know the pain."

I vote for simply paying attention to the warning signs. I vote for saving yourself from the pain. How about you?

Friday, May 7, 2010

What inspires an interior designer?

I sometimes, as often as I can, write about interior design, art, construction, architecture, and other forms of design, including that which appears in nature. I studied these things on a limited spectrum in college, and my first job after graduation led me to editing a construction magazine. I spent a lot of time talking about design, engineering and buildings with the experts. It was fascinating work that stays with me to this day whenever I see a project I once wrote about in my hometown.

It's a background that led me to admire what I see when I'm out in the world: color, texture, fabrics, woods, metals, renderings, floorplans, glass walls, a building's facade, furniture, and so much more. I often photograph such things, just to have it. You never know when or where or for what a photograph might be useful. Such imagery can inspire new ideas to write about, think about, or file away for another time. Maybe in a previous life I was an artist. I'm a big doodler in this one. Or maybe I was supposed to be a botanist, except I'm lacking that green thumb. So I take photographs of organic things with the right texture or color, and admire them that way. Can any of you relate?

I think it's about being an observer, and that's also part of the BIKE philosophy discussed here. To be aware, I think, is to live, and to live to is observe.

That being said, if you've ever wondered what inspires an interior designer, meet Katja van der Loo, originally from the Netherlands, now living in New Jersey. A public relations consultant sent her link to me today, thinking I might want to write about her. Of course, curious, I clicked. I expected to find her portfolio, which I did. Impressive. But I didn't expect to find photos like these--her inspirations. Are you inspired by anything she's photographed:

_a repeating image?
_an animal in the wild?
_a doorway or entrance, or simply, doors?
_a home's landscape?
_a building, a very large building, in the distance?
_foreign architecture?
_someone you meet in a faraway land?
_the texture of a flower?
_a family of animals, or maybe their spots?

If any of these things have ever inspired something within you, what was it? Did you do anything about it? I find that the best inspirational moments lead to an action that will take you some place you might not have discovered otherwise. What are your thoughts about this?

(Photo of the London Plane Tree was taken at Battery Park on Liberty Island, New York City, by Jackie Dishner, April 2010)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

An inspirational message

How's this for an inspirational message?

They came from my son and his family today, along with this note.

Obviously, I'm in love with them. They inspire me.

They inspire me to tell all of you to plan for a wonderful Mother's Day celebration with your families this Sunday.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Let humor inspire you

If you know me personally, you know I like to laugh.

I'm not at all like this cantankerous old cowboy on the left. Psst. He's not real. So it would be quite the feat to get him to laugh. Nonetheless, I know you know people like him, people like the English palace guards in Buckingham. They won't crack a smile about anything, no matter how absurd you might act in front of them.

I prefer to hang out with people who have a sense of humor about life. Some people who meet me for the first time, and who come in contact with my laugh right away, have called my laugh infectious. I lean toward the loud side, though, because I believe in belly laughs. I know it's not for everyone.

Once, when I had the opportunity to attend a taping of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, friends found out and asked me to be sure to laugh on set. They said they wanted to see if they could hear me on national TV. They said they'd recognize my laugh if they could hear it.

Of course, as I sat there in the dark studio, on folding chairs with my group, not 50 feet away from the famous talk show host, I envisioned my friends sitting in a room together, giving each other the high-five whenever they heard my laugh. Maybe they would have made a game of it, I thought, taking swigs of beer every time they heard a cackle. Unfortunately, I must not be loud enough--they didn't hear me, after all. But it sure made me laugh a lot to sit there and try. This, in addition to what Jon Stewart was saying behind his desk on the set.

My point is that laughter, laughing, being able to see the funny side of things is a positive trait, and I'm glad to have it. I find the whole idea of laughter and what makes people laugh inspiring. If you do, too, but don't find yourself laughing enough, here are a few ways you can welcome humor into your life and let it inspire you:

_Sign up for one of those joke-a-day sites
. They'll send them in your e-mail box. You can read them when you have time, or you can make it a part of your daily routine. If you're having a bad day, you can read one to cheer you up. You can pass them on to your friends if something you read is particularly humorous.

_Listen for subtle humor in a casual conversation
. It happens daily. In our everyday dealings with people, we sometimes say or do stupid things. We misspeak, we say words backwards, we trip over nothing. It's unexpected and catches you off guard. Even if it's not belly-laugh worthy, subtle humor is sure to leave a smile on your face and a quicker pace in our walk.

_Go to your favorite independent store and read greeting cards
. Even when you're not sending one, how many times have you found yourself standing in front of the greeting card display at the drug store or Hallmark store, reading the funny ones. It's a great way to pass the time if you're waiting on a prescription or something. My favorite are hoops & yoyo. They're so utterly annoying and so, so fun to give to others.

_Tell a joke to your friends, even if it's not all that funny
. That might be the funny part about it.

_Watch for oddball road signs, and take a picture with your phone/camera
. Then share them with your friends and family. If you want it to be better than just watching the humorous headlines with Jay Leno, make a big production out of it and create a slide show. If you're really ambitious and creative, you could post it to your YouTube channel.

_Open one of those funny notes sent to you via e-mail and read it
, even when you have no intention of forwarding it on to your 20 best friends (who has 20 best friends, anyway?).

_Hang out with your funny friends. That way, if your witty side stays home, you can rely on others to crack open the humor.

_Skip the dramatic movie and go to a comedy club. Even if there's that overpriced two-drink-minimum charge, the comedians at a professional club are going to give you a good show and a few good laughs--in person. It's better than watching a flat screen, easier on your stomach than eating the gallon-tub of buttery popcorn, and you'll have a greater appreciation for the person who is obviously more funny than you are--he's getting paid.

_Make note of the funny things you hear in public
. Write them down so you can remember them later. If you're a writer reading this, you should be doing this already. I get a lot of story ideas when I let the humor inspire me.

What about you? Do you have a joke to share with us here at BIKE WITH JACKIE? Can you share with us what happened the last time humor inspired you?

(Photo above taken by Jackie Dishner at Greer Lodge in Greer, Ariz.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Inspired by Lady Liberty

After I can't remember how many trips to New York City, I finally managed to squeeze in a visit to see the Statue of Liberty--in the rain.

Despite the cold spring temperatures, and the umbrellas getting in the way of my view, I discovered she's a lovely sight when you first catch glimpse of her on the ferry boat over to Liberty Island. Up close, you can't help but be inspired by her size, her color, her message:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

Emma Lazarus' famous poem, written for Lady Liberty has special meaning to me now, as I contemplate what's happening with immigration here in Arizona where I live.

We don't have a liberty island here, but we've been a land of liberty for thousands of illegal immigrants who, over the years, have crossed the border into Arizona south from Mexico. Some wonder: why don't they just do it right and get the green card and apply for citizenship. The answer to that is simple: it's not that easy. It can take years for a person to earn his citizenship. It costs money, and there are no guarantees. It can be a crap shoot.

If we're to remain a land for the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free, I should hope we could find some kind of compromise with this new immigration law that seems to accept racial profiling as a way to punish illegal immigrants, particularly those who sneak in from the south.

But imagine if you were one of these illegals, someone from Mexico, in fact...

Maybe it took you years to save up for the trip north. But it was your dream. You wanted a better life for your family. You wanted your young daughter to go to school. You wanted your wife to have a home with running water. So you saved to make that happen. And you saved again when, after the first time you paid the coyote, he took your money and ran.

This next time, you used a more reliable source to find a reliable coyote (if there is such a thing), and you paid him. Still, in the back of your mind, you could do nothing more than hope and pray he would carry you across the border safely, seeing as you were crowded into the trunk of an old beater car.

You for sure prayed he didn't drop you off in the middle of the Arizona desert, with no food and not enough water to last longer than a day. You heard so many stories about this happening. You could only pray it didn't happen to you--or you would surely die. And you didn't want to leave your family that way. Ay dios mio!

Once you made it over, you hoped you wouldn't get caught and sent back immediately. You hoped, if you did get dropped off in the desert that someone might take pity on you and feed you, give you water at least. You'd heard of people like this. When a child squeezed in next to you began to cry, you thought of your own children. You wondered if they were okay.

It's not a free ride to cross the border into Estados Unidos. It's expensive and dangerous. You never know when your driver might get stopped, and if he does get stopped, will he know what to do. And what if you get mixed up with the drug smugglers? You don't want any part of that. You just want a job, a job that will allow you to save money to send back to your family. You have relatives in Phoenix who will let you live with them. Only if you can get there safely.

But then this new immigration law surfaced, and your family told you not to come right now. It's not safe, they told you.

As it if ever was. And you'd already paid for the trip. You still wanted to give it a try. You had hope...

I grew up in an Arizona border town. Stories like these have changed very little since my high school years. I grew up poor and can understand the desire to live a better life. I do not relate to the yearning for freedom, because, being an American, I've always experienced it. I've known nothing else.

So on my trip to New York, and on that ferry boat ride to see the famous statue that has represented freedom to immigrants from all over the world, I was taken back to the days of my youth when I went to school with suspected illegals. They kept to themselves, or to their own culture. And I went to school with foreign exchange students who were there legally. Neither of them spoke English very well, but to me, no one was any different than the other. We were all there to learn.

And learn I did.

I learned that freedom has different meanings, and I probably take it for granted. For others, it's something to obtain. It's that sense of yearning for something better. It is the ability to stand up for yourself without fear of retribution. It is the right to have a job that pays a decent wage so you can actually feed your family. It is so much more than just a statue on an off-shore island.

Still, I am inspired by Lady Liberty. I choose to believe in what she represents. I choose to think that we can accept all people in this country, because that is the basis of our very existence here in America.

Something does need to be done about immigration. I agree with that. But I am not inspired by the punitive action this law seems to demonstrate. I am inspired by the people out there who understand and will not forget the true meaning behind behind Lady Liberty's message:

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."

I am inspired by the warmth of those words. I am inspired by the embrace. What about you?