Practice can mean a couple of things.
You can practice something to get better, or you make something your practice to do something. You make it your habit. It's how you apply your time.
As in - it is my practice to take a walk every day.
Doctors have a "practice." That doesn't mean that they're still working the kinks out. They make medicine their practice. They apply their medical knowledge and skills to healing others.
Lawyers practice the law. They apply their legal expertise to a particular area of the law in service to others.
To be good at anything you have to make it your practice to do that thing. It has to be a habit. It's not just practicing as in rehearsing for a game, but the practice is the game.
I played golf a few weeks ago with my friends Jan and Brian in Arizona. I hadn't played a lot this year.
Because I hadn't played much, I wasn't very confident. I'd miss a lot of shots I should have made. I duffed way more shots than I should have.
I know when I play more, I play more confidently, and I play better.
It's quite stressful trying to hit over a water hazard when you have no clue where the ball's going to end up. Stress will give you the yips, or you could miss the ball entirely. But if you play a lot, and you've hit tons of shots over the water, you expect it to work.
I did have a great time. However, if I had made it my practice to go to play golf every day (or even a couple of times a week, or at least go to the driving range), I would have played much better.
I want to get better at drawing and writing, so I have built a practice of showing up to write and draw every week.
You see, I love making things. Publishing them here gives me the incentive.
I'm grateful you read, and I maybe get something out of it sometimes too.
I want to make you smile, I want to make you think, and sometimes, I only want to divert your attention from all the yuckiness out there and make your day better.
I want to make it my practice to make your life just a touch better from time to time.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
I've been following this guy on Instagram and I love his work. He specialized in multimedia portraits. His name is George Papadakis.
His portraits of athletes are very popular. The portrait he's standing next to here is of a pole vaulter called Sandi Morris.
Here is a portrait he did of Tiger Woods.
These are places you can find her on the internet.
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I'm not always crabby. Maybe it seems that way sometimes.
Last weekend I saw these little, teeny, tiny Fiddler Crabs on the beach. Most of them were no larger than a thumbnail. They don't get big at all.
They're called Fiddler Crabs because have one dominant claw that can remind you of a violin. They use that claw for digging, and a waving mating ritual — the crab with the most prominent claw and the best wave wins. It means they will be great providers. Then can dig the best and safest burrows. A perfect place to raise their young.
Their big ole claw is their Valentine card!
Every species has its rituals. Rams butt heads, giraffes bang heads, frogs croak, and have you ever seen a peacock. Now, that's a display.
I suppose we humans have Valentines Day. But we're far more sophisticated than that, aren't we?
We're so far beyond comparing claws.
This year I'll think of you fondly on Valentine's Day. I hope you have all the love you need in your life and more.
Rick, I remember you with love on your birthday. Happy Birthday Rick!
I'll remember all those I love, and I wish them well.
I've never been very good at sending cards. I'm still not very good at it at all.
If you ever thought I shunned you on Valentines Day because you didn't get a card, I'm sorry. I apologize unreservedly.
This week, I'll send lovin' vibes out your way.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
I was introduced to this week's artist's work about six months ago by Clint Goodwin, one of my weekly readers. Clint is an award-winning author who writes historic fiction looking through the eyes of a cavalry horse. Very creative.
This week's artist is Caroline Towning. She is a great equine artist based out of London.
Originally from Yorkshire (near Harrogate), she's been around horses all her life. She said she was taught to ride even before she could talk properly.
She went on to University in Hertfordshire where she studied Digital Art, then went on to work at an animation studio. She worked long hours and there was a lot of pressure. Finally, she got a bit burned out.
In 2015 she decided to follow her dream and become a full-time artist and painter. She bought an easel and paints and got started.
She paints portraits and horses and wants you to feel the horse's breath on your neck. Actually, she says she wants you to feel like the horse is in the room with you.
I think she's got something there. I'm happy to present her to you today.
Here are the places you can find her on the internet.
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Go out and make some art!
This little drawing kinda says it all about today. A surly peacock. Why do they always look angry?
Let me tell you that living on an island like St. Thomas isn't all butterflies, flowers, sand, seas, and rum punch.
Practical things need to be done. Sometimes that involves other people. Today it was the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
If you engage with any government agency, anywhere, you need to have patience.
When you're dealing with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles on St Thomas, you need to store up bucketloads of patience, a smidgen of perseverance, and a hip-flask full of whiskey (or rum) before you stand in line.
Here's what the Virgin Islands BMV says its vision is:
"Our vision is to establish a model of Bureau of Motor Vehicles administration that is comparable to any jurisdiction."
Well, that's high falutin.
Okay - let me compare the VI Bureau of Motor Vehicles with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).
I've recently had the honor of using the "services" in both places, so I think I have a pretty good perspective.
First, because the ADOT website is clear, I knew I would need an emissions test, I went down to the ADOT - Emissions Testing Facility. I pulled into the line and waited my turn. I think there were about three cars in front of me.
When I got to the testing station, a youngish guy asked me to take a seat while he put the car through its paces. I sat for about five minutes as the machines whirred. I watched the flashing lights, graphs, and readouts of the magical electronic evaluation system do their job. I paid about seventeen dollars and walked away with my certificate of squeaky cleanness.
I then drove about 1/4 mile to the BMV office. I walked through the door and went to a well-signed table that said, "Information." I went to that table, and a friendly person said, "Sir, you need to stand in the green line," as they pointed to a green line on the floor.
"Ah, thank you very much," I said. I can understand green, and I know what a line is. Perfect.
I waited in the green line for about 10-15 minutes. The line was pretty long, but they seemed to be working through customers systematically and efficiently.
When it was my turn, I sat in front of a young lady who helped me through the process of transferring the title of my father's car into my name and registering the vehicle. The whole process, start to finish, including vehicle emissions testing and travel time, took between thirty and forty minutes tops.
I walked out with a brand new title and registration with time left over for a beer.
St Thomas on the other hand was, shall I say, a little bit different.
We've done this several times before, so I thought we had it covered.
We took the old jalopy up over the hill from Magens Bay, through Charlotte Amalie and down to the Department of motor vehicles. We got there about 11:30, and I proudly pulled into the inspection area. The guy didn't even turn around. I could have run him over.
He eventually came to the car window and asked for the registration document.
Okay, I didn't understand him first. It sounded something like "I've got cotton balls in my mouth because I'm trying out for the Marlon Brando's role in The Godfather. So I probably can't articulate the words necessary to communicate. Please interpret my mumbles as - pass me the registration, my good man."
How we discovered it was the registration he wanted is beyond me. We just handed him every scrap of paper we had on hand, and he pointed at the right one.
Then he walked to the front of the car and said - "Turn on the lights, OK, Left Signal, OK, Right Signal, OK, Horn, Beep, OK." Enough with the front of the car, he went to the rear of the car and said, "Brakes, OK, Left Signal, OK, Right Signal, OK, Reverse, OK.." He stamped his seal of approval on the registration and gave us a slip of paper.
Then, again, he did his best Marlon Brando impression and told us to back across town to a building by "The Fort." I knew where "The Fort" was but had no clue what he was talking about. I was afraid to ask for more directions because I didn't want him to make me an offer I couldn't refuse.
The stamped piece of paper in hand, we hared off back across town, for what purpose we were still not sure, to that non-descript government building near "The Fort." We still didn't know why we were going, but we went anyway.
There was some debate as to whether it was before or after "The Fort" and in what proximity it was to "The Fort." So we headed instinctively to someplace close to the Police Department.
Andrea said, in her determined authoritative voice, "I've got this."
She stoically wandered into the government building, and was immediately x-rayed and had her phone confiscated. I'm sure, just when she thought she would never see the light of day again, she emerged unscathed, bewildered, but proudly clutching the now twice stamped document. We took our pirates treasure, loaded up the Jeep, and made our way back across town.
She discovered, only by chance, they had to check if there were any warrants, violations, or funny pictures of us on the internet.
When we got back across town to the BMV there are no instructions as to what to do or where to go; people were just milling around aimlessly. We had to ask one of the customers what the first steps were. I couldn't see the process/directions posted anywhere. Finally, we co-milled around with people who looked like they were all going in one direction. It was like that Apple Commercial in 1984.
It took about ten minutes to turn the paperwork into an incomprehensible void. It could have been from a science fiction movie. The woman at the counter logged our information into her mysterious master log book and gave us a number.
Our number was 109. Then we heard a disembodied voice say, "Number 87, come to window number three." Yup - we're in for the long haul.
I have to say; there was no rhyme or reason for the order they were calling numbers. By the time we thought they would be coming to number 109 they jumped and called number 110, then 111, then 108, and again called number 87. There is no way to tell how long we'd have to wait.
It was close to 2:20 pm before we heard our magic number. They closed at 2:30 pm today.
We had a small party before lodging ourselves firmly in front of window number #2. We were able to get away with paying only $180 for the entertainment we enjoyed at the VI BMV today.
I would say this BMV is the most inefficient and shoddily run organization on the island, but I fear there are a lot of places here that fit that bill.
On the bright side
I always enjoy visiting Old San Juan. It has a beautiful historical Spanish Caribbean feel.
There are plenty of wonderful places to visit in the old town. We've visited Castillo San Cristóbal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (old colonial fortresses on the north coast) several times.
There is something about sitting down for a cold Magna beer just down the street from Parque de las Palomas after several hours of wandering the streets of San Juan that can send me into an otherworldly state of mind.
I love to wander the streets of the old city looking for local art. I love local art that has a soul. I don't like things that look like sweatshop knockoffs from a third world country.
If you enter the city from the centuries-old Puerta de San Juan, you will find yourself wandering, like many weary travelers, up Caleta de San Juan towards the Cathedral.
Just before the Cathedral Plaza, when the church is coming into plain view, look to your left. You will find a small shop on the left-hand side called Tres Mujeres at 63 Caleta de San Juan.
This little shop is a cooperative run by, and you might guess if you spoke Spanish, Three Women.
This little shop displays the talent of three local women: Ceramics is the department of Yelin Vivoni, Enid Silvestry is in charge of textiles, and the paintings are brought to you by Dafne Elvira.
The artists themselves staff the shop so you're bound to meet up with one of them when you're there. This week we were able to chat for a little while with Enid Silvestry.
I really enjoyed looking through their shop. If you every get to Old San Juan wander up from the Old Gate and take a peak in their shop.
Go out and make some art!
A polar vortex has invaded and seems to be turning everybody in the northern hemisphere into popsicles.
And I'm petitioning for warmth for everybody. Not in a bad world-ending Global Warming kind of a way but a kind please give 'em all a break way.
I hate the cold. I really, really hate the cold. When I heard about this frozen invader, I counted my blessings.
In England, the arctic blast shut airports, snaffled roads, and brought commuters to a standstill.
Wisconsin, I heard from Holly, is colder than Antarctica (okay - it is summer in Antartica but still...)
A snow plow driver died in Germany when his vehicle fell into an icy river.
In Moscow, it's always mind-numbingly cold in the dead of winter, I've seen the movies.
Things are looking up though.
This weekend promises some warmer air will be pushing its way northward.
And, of course, on Saturday, it's Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil has our meteorologic future in his grubby little paws.
February 2nd is when Americans set their hopes for warmth on a poor relation to beavers and squirrels. Groundhogs / Woodchucks (same thing) don't even have a cool tail like a beaver or a squirrel.
Remember the tongue-twister, "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
No, Well, nowhere in that little ditty does it mention the weather.
Groundhog Day is just like all human celebrations. It's time to make merry and send cards to each other. Oh - sorry, that's Valentines Day. Or maybe it's Christmas.
Nevertheless, we all like a little celebration every once in a while, don't we? I do.
So, let's celebrate anyway, spring never comes along soon enough. And people have to conjure up some hope to get through the rest of the winter.
It doesn't matter if Phil says sees his shadow or doesn't see his shadow, officially, winter won't come to a close until March 20th at the Spring Equinox. That's at least six weeks away.
But bring on the buck-toothed prognosticator:
Have at it, Phil of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. I'm anxiously waiting on your prediction. Give everybody some hope, will ya?!
Until next week, I wish you warmth and peace too.
This week I bring you, Timmy Ham. Sloth used to be his "tag" name, but Sloth is now a thriving art business.
He has commissions from large companies like Logitech. He seems to always be on the move and creating something.
Part of his artwork is digital, and part of it is physical. I like how he bridges the divide. His style is all his own. He began as a graffiti artist and still does a lot of his work with spray cans.
His company produces t-shirts, caps and other merchandise (merch as he calls it). I love a lot of the innovative things he does to get noticed.
He sometimes does free art drops in and around the Phoenix area. A free art drop is where he'll put some piece of art wrapped in a parking lot or some other public area. He'll tweet the location so people can come and pick it up. I think it's a fun concept.
He'll do larger than life murals or produce an original work on a pair of Van's for you.
He has been a prolific YouTuber and has a large following.
I like his art and his drive. He's a young guy on a mission.
See him at these places on the internet:
Flowers remind me of a peaceful existence. They are at one with nature. I drew a little abstract flower this week to remind myself what peace there is all around us if we only notice.
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” King James Bible, Matthew 6:28-29
I needed the reminder because I spent the better part of an hour and a half yesterday on the phone. It wasn't productive phone time. It was a useless interaction with several automated attendants that caused my blood to boil.
I'm sure this is nothing new to you. Each of us has, at one time or another, submitted ourselves to the ignominy of the automated phone attendant.
Your Call Is Important To Us
Whenever I hear, "Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line, and your call will be answered in the order it was received." I picture myself being put in the hopper of a meat grinder until I come out the other end as the mushy remnants of what I used to be - a strong, confident soul. I know, without a doubt, that my call is NOT important to them and that I have become sausage.
I'm a number in a queue. I've become a statistic in a clickity-clack number-crunching system that depends on my compliance. As Pink Floyd would have said "Another Brick In The Wall."
Please Listen Carefully
Who's kidding whom, when they say, "Please listen carefully to the menu because our options have changed." Bullshit, your options haven't changed since Galileo was jailed for telling people the earth was round and rotated around the sun.
So, why are they lying to me? Oh yeah, they don't want me to hit zero to get to an operator/a helper/a real person. That would cost them money.
Please Anwer A Few Questions
There is the point at which they pile insult onto injury. After prompting me to enter my account information, my security pin, the name of my first pet, my mother's maiden name, a bottle of scotch, and the color of the underwear I'm sporting today, they have the gall to ask for the information again when I get on the phone with a representative. It's like the first interaction never took place.
The Next Available Professional
Companies say they're using an automated attendant to better route your call to the next "professional" who can best serve their bottom line, oops. I mean to serve you. What they're saying is, "To better serve you, please tell us how we can help:
I Apologize For Your Wait
If you finally get the "next professional" on the line, they've been trained to defuse your irritation and their disinterest with feigned minion-like profuse apologies for your wait, though it was probably because they relieved themselves in the bathroom while you were waiting. The representative answers with such self-effacing kowtowing that's just embarrassing enough to assuage your anger. You might even feel like apologizing for putting them in the unenviable position of lying prostrate at your feet. Me I'd rather kick 'em.
The Service Cost Center
Your call is NOT important to them. Your call has become a disturbance; it has become a bother, a nuisance, your request is now a line item in an income statement to show investors how efficient they are. Most companies count customer support as a cost to be slashed rather than a service that can be provided to bolster loyalty.
Unusually High Call Volume
"Unusually high call volume," my ass. Okay, when you're experiencing unusually high call volume every day for three and a half weeks in a row, can we still call it unusual?
It's time to start calling it what it is: bad management, ignorance, and disinterest.
Proper Customer Support
A long time ago I worked in customer support, on the telephone for eight hours a day, for the better part of five years. I learned a bit about customer service during that time. I learned about talk-time and ASA (Average Speed of Answer).
It was crucial we took each customer request seriously, and to make sure we answered each call quickly and to the best of our ability. We were measured on how well we resolved the issue rather than how long we spent on the phone. When ASA went up, we hired more people. When questions went unanswered, there was additional training.
That was proper customer service.
I have concluded, without a doubt, and you can quote me here:
"Automated Attendants are tools of the devil designed to impersonalize, denigrate, create confusion, promote inefficiency, and dash the unsuspecting human heart against the rocky shores of incompetence and disinterest. They allow a company to disguise their apathy and tell the most blatant lies. "
There, I've said it.
I feel much better now.
Until next week, I wish you peace.
Last weekend we spent some time on Magen's Bay Beach. It's been rated one of the top ten beaches in the world.
The reason I bring it up is we found a budding little artist on the beach. He was a bit young for me to plaster a photo of him on the internet. So, we'll let him be anonymous. I think he was about 10 years old. Let's call him Young Jake. I like the name, Young Jake.
This prolific little sand artist was impressive. At about ten years old I was still drawing stick figures, and my sandcastles looked like the buckets they came from - maybe.
Here is some of the work Young Jake left on the beach.
I love that he was out in the open making work for everybody to see and enjoy.
I'll bet he just thought he was playing. He worked diligently on his creations and always kept his attention on the task.
I think this kid might have a great future in the art world.
Sorry, he has no web locations.
Go out and make some art!