What Are You Planting?

What Are You Planting?

Dear friend,

The other day I got the chance to plant some sunflowers and zinnias in a raised bed at The Company. I was only outside for about forty-five minutes, but the satisfying feeling of washing dirt from under my nails and a job well done was unmistakable.

When you’re outside getting fresh air, working on a project that you know will have measurable growth in the coming days, you get to participate in the work of God’s creation. The first thing God did for Adam after He made him, was plant a garden (Genesis 2:8, 15).

Getting dirty and gardening are a simple pleasure that humanity was made for.

You get vitamin D from sunshine, fresh air and exercise.

You get to be close to creation.

But I hated getting dirty!

When I was little, my parents could barely get me outside. They like to tell me that when I was a baby and they would set me down outside, I would curl my feet away from the grass and dirt. I always freaked out whenever there were bugs around (the horror when one landed on me!), and I hated getting dirty.

Thankfully, as I grew older I’ve learned to appreciate being outside, getting dirty, and being uncomfortable. I definitely still don’t enjoy the feeling of dried dirt stuck to my fingers. But it makes washing my hands way more satisfying than an average day.

I still hate being around bugs. But I appreciate the way they interact with the environment and many of them help plants grow (like worms, ladybugs, and bees.)

That is one of the reasons I grow most of my plants indoors. I do like a good outdoor garden (hence the planting of sunflowers.) But growing plants any time of year that are self-contained in pots that I can scatter to any surface relatively near a window, is way easier for me. And seeing my spider-plant make little babies makes me happy.

But I’ve got a brown thumb!

Try a kind of plant you haven’t before. You likely haven’t found the kind of gardening that is right for you. Like I just mentioned, growing plants indoors has been most successful for me.

But for my mom, she prefers the outdoors.

In fact, for the longest time, my mom tried to grow a vegetable garden. Rabbits, bugs, and moles would ravage through it and the little bit of produce just wasn’t worth the time she spent in it. She also just didn’t really enjoy growing vegetables.

But guess what?

My mom has phenomenal landscaping all over her yard. Last year she started a long-stem flower garden and absolutely loved growing it. She was so proud when she brought in her first bouquet of the year.

If you’ve failed miserably before, try something new. It’s not the end of the world when a plant dies. You’ve just got to try again. There are tons of options like succulents, houseplants, porch gardening, flower gardens, and vegetable gardens.

What kind of planting are you going to try?

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

The Ultimate Source of Creativity

The Ultimate Source of Creativity

Dear friend,

I am in a time of life that makes me uncertain about many things.

It’s a hazard of being a young adult. (Alli Prince has a great article on how to survive being a young adult.)

Heck, it’s a hazard of being human.

“Don’t know what I’m going to do after high school.”

“Don’t know what job I’ll get after college.”

“Don’t know where to settle down.”

Don’t know.

For me, it’s “don’t know if I’ll be creative enough.”

The book

I’ve been reading Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge for school and something he says in chapter four stood out to me.

“Some people put their best energies into creative thinking… Instead of focusing on being creative, focus on being obedient.” (p. 15)

Sorge goes on to say that it is more productive to sit and listen to what God has to say than try to come up with a solution or plan ourselves. I don’t know the future. A plan that I make today could become completely obsolete by tomorrow. Only God knows the future, so shouldn’t I leave the planning to him?

Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Photo by Rob

(In other words, some people trust in their own strength or success.)

“But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11)

The source

This also means I can trust God with my creativity.

God is infinitely creative. I mean, He created your brain. We still don’t know entirely just how brains work.

If He created my brain, God knows exactly what inspiration will help me when I’m working on a project. He knows what blog post I should write each week. God knows what picture I need to draw or paint. He knows what story I need to tell.

God knows.

So, I can trust Him to give me the perfect amount of creativity exactly when I need it.

That gives me so much relief. It takes the pressure off of me, and helps me relax knowing God has a plan and perfect timing.

What project do you need God’s inspiration for? Ask Him for creativity. He’s got it in spades and loves to give gifts abundantly (Jeremiah 29:11).

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

A Writing Contest?

A Writing Contest?

Dear friend,

Fiction is frequently a source of inspiration to me (especially considering I’m training to become a professional author.) Writing stories helps you see inspiration in the lives of strangers, in games you play with friends, in the what-ifs of the endings of other stories, in the gurgling of the sink as the dishwater drains.

My first book was a fanfiction of my favorite series when I was eight, Bruce Coville’s The Unicorn Chronicles. It was probably a total of half a page of writing, but I drew pictures to go with it and my mom bound it. I was so proud of that book.

The next story I wrote was inspired by a game my cousin and I played with her little stuffed monkey. It was a children’s picture book about a monkey superhero. I worked on a novel and several short stories throughout my teen years.

Once, I took a chance on one of those short stories (a retelling of the Bluebeard fairytale) and submitted it to a contest.

Did I make it? Absolutely not.

Was I disappointed? Absolutely.

Thankfully, I didn’t give up. I kept writing. I even moved to Ohio for an apprenticeship at The Company, which has helped me improve significantly.

Contests are great motivators.

The Company is putting on a short story contest this spring and it’s free to enter! (So there’s no risk in entering.)

Maybe you’re hoping to get published. Perhaps you are looking for an excuse to write a story. Or maybe you’re just looking for some practice with a due date.

Whatever the case may be, you should enter the contest.

The theme is “buried”. The story doesn’t have to have the word in it, just the concept. Perhaps you like pirates and buried treasure, burying seeds for a garden in the spring, or looking for buried information in a pile of books.

The cool thing about this contest? I’m one of the judges!

If you’ve never entered a writing contest or completed a project, this is a great first step to accomplish your writing dreams. It’s a small project and easily completed. The short story only needs to have under 1,500 words. You even have two whole months to finish it (enter by July 1, 2024.)

For more information about the rules and how to enter visit The Company’s article here.

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

Do Your Best

Do Your Best

Dear friend,

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “Do your best.” It’s a good phrase. A simple phrase.

It sounds straightforward.

However, I think we misunderstand it or add extra meaning to it.

Sometimes I’ve thought “Do your best” means doing the best.

Doing your best is a good thing. However, if you become obsessed with perfection because you think you have to do the best instead of doing your best, it becomes an unhealthy interpretation of the phrase.

High expectations

I often get overwhelmed with things I didn’t get done.

I get caught up in the things I “should” be able to. Then I get frustrated with myself when I don’t finish those tasks. Or I even feel ashamed when I don’t get done the things I’m expecting to.

Not everyone can do everything. This seems obvious, as everyone has different skill sets.

You wouldn’t ask a ten-year-old to drive the family van on vacation. Or ask a person in a wheelchair to go up (or down) a flight of stairs.

Something I’ve learned from interacting with people with disabilities is that your “best” today will likely be different from your “best” tomorrow or yesterday. The reason I’ve learned this from people with disabilities is that it just shows itself more prominently. (This video explains dynamic disabilities here.)

But it applies to normally functioning people, too. You do your best each day. Take advantage of the really good days. Be patient with yourself on bad ones.

Photo by Pixabay

What does God expect?

I was thinking about what God expects from us versus what we expect from ourselves. God just wants to have a relationship with us. When he asks us to do something, it might be hard but he promises to be there with us. And he’s going to be doing the heavy lifting.

It makes me think of Gideon in the Bible. In Judges 6 and 7, God found Gideon hiding from a Midianite raid and told him to go save Israel from Midian. Gideon questioned why God would choose him, as he was the youngest son of the weakest clan. God replied that He had a plan and He would be with Gideon.

Long story short, Gideon found 32,000 men willing to fight the Midianites. God told Gideon there were too many men. So Gideon sent home 22,000 men. This happened again until there were only three hundred men left.

Gideon and the three hundred men snuck up on the Midian camp and scared them by blowing trumpets, smashing jars, and waving torches. The Midianites were so scared they turned on each other, killing each other and fleeing into the night.

What to do about it

It’s a pretty bizarre story. And it only could have happened because God was with Gideon and Gideon obeyed what God asked of him.

At first, Gideon tried to live up to what he thought God wanted from him. But God didn’t want 32,000 men. He only wanted 300. And He didn’t even need them all to fight, just make a little noise.

Next time you find yourself frustrated at something you “should” be able to do. Take a breath. Be patient with yourself, and ask God what he thinks you be doing.

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

Handy Hands

Handy Hands

Dear friend,

I use my hands a lot. They help me draw, write, and play guitar (among other things). I recently discovered that I have hypermobility syndrome. This means I have become fascinated with hands and how they work.

I’d love to share with you what I’ve learned.

Hands are pretty amazing.

Hands help you pick things up, move things, open things. And they have a phenomenal sense of touch.

Photo Of Person’s Open Hands · Free Stock Photo (pexels.com)

There are 27 bones in the adult human hand, which means it is the part of the body with the largest number of bones.

The three bones in four of your fingers and two in the thumb are called the philanges. The philanges connect the five long bones in your palm called metacarpal bones to eight bones at the base of your plam. These are the carpal bones.

The carpal bones fit snugly together and slide against each other to create a cushion. They, along with the muscles around them, also protect the carpal tunnel. The carpal tunnel houses the nerves and tendons that run to your fingers.

Fun fact: there are no muscles in your fingers, just in the palm of your hand. The tendons that run through the carpal tunnel from your arm to your fingers are what allow you to move your fingers around.

When hands don’t work right

The term “carpal tunnel” may sound familiar. It is often used as the abbreviated term for “carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Carpal tunnel syndrome is “when something irritates or puts extra pressure on the median nerve that runs through your carpal tunnel. The median nerve helps you move your forearm and gives feeling to most of your fingers and hands. If it’s damaged or pressed against the walls of your carpal tunnel, it can send extra or incorrect feelings to your hand and wrist.” (Cleveland Clinic)

Arthritis

Another common malfunction in hands is arthritis. There are many forms of arthritis but the main three are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is often known as “wear and tear” arthritis because it causes the cartilage padding between joints to wear away.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack the lining of the joints creating swelling and pain in those areas.

Psoriatic arthritis affects both skin and joints, causing swelling in both.

Double-joints

Okay, okay. So I mentioned that I recently discovered I have joint hypermobility syndrome. What that means is that my joints are super flexible because the ligaments are loose or weak. You likely have heard the term “double-jointed.” People who have hypermobile joints frequently are double-jointed.

Sometimes this can be a cool party trick. But frequently, hypermobility can cause pain and swelling in those joints and make it easier for me to injure myself. Things I can do to help is making sure I do exercises with my hands and wearing splints to keep my joints in place.

Anyway, hands are pretty cool. Be nice to them. Appreciate the way God designed them.

What do you like to do with your hands?

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

3 Ways to Make Cool Photos

Dear friend,

My first camera was one of those Fujifilm disposable cameras that my parents got us kids when we went on a family vacation. Most of those photos turned out pretty bad. I was proud of the fact that I had a camera that I could take pictures with.

My dad got me my next camera when I was about eight. It was a miniature camera.

I’ll give you three guesses as to how fast I lost it. I will say, it was super cute and I was bummed when I misplaced it.

Finally, when I was in middle school, my parents gave me a little digital camera. It was blue and silver.

Around the same time, my mom had me take a kids’ photography class for a week in the summer. I had fun with it, but I didn’t do much with what I learned until I was seventeen.

When I was seventeen, I took a year-long college-level graphic design class. In that class, we had a few photography-based projects that I enjoyed.

It inspired me to pull out my camera more often than just the odd vacation. That year, my mom gave me her old Canon DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera which was much more powerful than the little digital camera I had up to then. I spent several hours playing with settings and taking pictures of things around the yard to figure out how to get things to look good.

The autumn after I graduated high school, my family and I went on a trip out west to see Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. It was on that trip that I really got to know my camera. There were so many interesting things to see with so many variables that I got to experiment with.

There were many interesting textures that made great macro photography opportunities. I took panoramic photos of stunning scenery. And my family was a great way for me to get fantastic candid pictures.

The first camera was made in 1816 by French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce. Since then, people have been fascinated by photography. It’s no wonder. Pictures tell stories and record history. Read more about the importance of photography in my article from last week.

The most important thing about photography is that you have a camera. When you first start out, you can even use your phone camera. If you decide that you want to get a better camera after a little while, see if you can borrow a friend or family member’s camera to see how you like it.

Here are some principles of photography that you can play around with.

1. Viewpoint

Or you may have heard it called “perspective.” When you take a picture of an object or person, your first instinct may be to take it face on and center in the image. Instead, try taking the picture from below, above, or from either side of (or even behind) it.  

2. Rule of thirds

Imagine a tick-tack-toe board overtop of the image you want to take. Line up the interesting parts of the picture to those imaginary intersecting lines. The human eye loves odd numbers, so aligning the object of an image with one of those thirds lines makes the photo far more interesting.

3. Pay attention to negative space

Negative space is the space not taken up by objects in the image. Also called white space, this negative space should take up approximately one-third or two-thirds of the image.

And the most important thing…

Have fun! This is your hobby. Make it fun. If there’s something you want to try, what’s stopping you?

Once the simple principles begin to come naturally to you, there are plenty of articles that talk about other good photography, like this one by Hartford Photography. The more you learn and experiment, the more you’ll find inspiration for your photography.

Well, what are you waiting for?

Go take some pictures!

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

Would You Picture That?

Would You Picture That?

Dear friend,

When I was a kid, my mom was constantly taking pictures of us, especially on trips and vacations. I admit I sometimes got annoyed by it. Why she couldn’t just enjoy the moment without always taking pictures of it?

Then I got my own camera and I understood.

Me and my brother at a children’s museum in a giant bubble, at age six.

What’s the story?

There’s something inexplicable about capturing a moment in time that will never be captured again.

Recently, a photographer friend said photography captures the things and moments only you see.

Pictures preserve memories.

Remember going through your grandma’s old photo albums? Or the first time you saw your dad’s baby photo? What about a picture of your mom in her prom dress?

These are all moments in history that would be lost to time without photography.

Photos also tell stories. Take that picture of your dad as a baby, for example.

Was he crying and upset? Did he laugh at something behind the camera? Was he ready for a nap and staring into space?

What story does the picture below tell?

This is a picture that I took of my friend on a girls’ weekend. We spent an extended weekend visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We both love taking pictures and it was a lovely October day.

It’s a creative point of view.

Like drawing, photography helps you look at the world differently. It helps you see inspiration in everything.

According to this Eksposure article, when you see the world from a different perspective it also increases your ability to enjoy it.

Photography grows your creativity. It fosters curiosity about the world around you. This article about creativity and photography by Steve Gosling from the School of Xcellence is fascinating.

How hard can it be?

Taking pictures isn’t difficult. Most phones, even dumb ones, have a camera built in. It takes very little effort to take a picture. Start with one.

Pose the fruit in the bowl on your table. Set it in front of a window. How does that look?

Sneak a picture of a friend or family member doing something mundane.

Try different angles. Bird’s eye view. Get one up close. Take a picture very far away.

What story are you trying to tell?

Next week I’ll post an article on basic principles of photography to get you started.

Get out there and take a picture.

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

What In The World?

What In The World?

Dear friend,

In my freshman year of high school, my end-of-the-year history project was to replicate an antique map. I chose a map of Iceland. I will admit to many moments of frustration, but I absolutely loved that project. It took me four months to finish. As it turns out, cartography is incredibly time-consuming and very detail-oriented.

History of cartography

Maps have been used for thousands of years, beginning with maps of the night sky and localized maps. These were used for organizing societies around agricultural seasons.

According to this environmental website, “Surveying permitted the building of huge monuments, to plot how much land people owned and charge them tax.”

Maps have been used to show the predominance of religions. They were also used by many countries as propaganda to show political power, even as recently as World War II. It wasn’t until the 14th century A.D. that nautical charts were compiled for navigation.

The earliest known world map is the Imago Mundi. It is a circular Babylonian map on a clay tablet that portrays the Mesopotamian world of the ancient Middle East. The tablet dates back to just under three thousand years ago.

The first paper maps were done by the ancient Greeks. The Chinese were the first to utilize a grid system in mapping which increased the geographical accuracy of their maps significantly.

Photo by Ylanite Koppens

Do you love maps?

In order to thrive in a job like cartography, you should, first of all, love maps. You should also be detail-oriented and organized. The job requires analytical reasoning and technological skills for programs like GIS (geographic information system). If you are both an art and math enthusiast then cartography would be a great job for you to learn.

If you are interested in becoming a cartographer Indeed and bestcollegesonline.org have a list of things to do to become a cartographer. You can pursue a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a related field, like geography, computer science, or surveying.

If going to college is not your cup of tea (Noah Matthews an inspiring article on non-traditional education), there are certifications available like this one. The next step would be getting an initial license, gaining experience (like finding an internship or entry-level job), and then getting your final license.

If you are interested in learning about mapmaking but want to start smaller, there are plenty of resources to get started.

Check out atlases from the library and study them. Sketch your own maps. Or copy a pretty map like I did in high school. There are also plenty of websites that can connect you to the cartography community such as Map of the Week, The Map Room, and Something About Maps.

What are you waiting for?

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

Have You Read Any Books Lately?

Have You Read Any Books Lately?

Dear friend,

One of my favorite things to do when I need some inspiration is go to the library. I did this the other day, in fact. My favorite is getting a book from the new books shelf. I got a book about the past 100 years of Disney’s character designs and how to draw them. Then I did a bit of sketching.

The library itself isn’t what’s inspiring to me. It’s the books. The library just has an inordinate amount of them for free.

Both novels and nonfiction are great ways to find inspiration.

Nonfiction is more direct in its teaching method. Fiction is a little more subtle. Nonfiction books are a great way to learn practical skills and history. Novels are great for learning concepts and inspiring creativity.

By reading (or listening to) books you get to experience things you would otherwise never get to experience. You get to travel to places and times you’ve never been. Some of those don’t even exist. Yet through books, you get to experience it.

Watching a character change in just a couple hundred pages can inspire change in ourselves. In one book I read, a character made herself forget certain things that happened to her because they made her afraid. It made me realize that I was doing the same thing.

If it’s been a while since you last read for fun, knowing where to start is intimidating. A study done over the past twenty-five years discovered that 10%-15% fewer kids read regularly for fun. I can only imagine the drop in adults reading for fun over the past couple of decades.

Photo by Element5 Digital

You just haven’t found the right book yet.

One place to start is by doing what I like to do. Go to the library’s new books section and borrow a book that looks interesting. Read through it and get another. Don’t feel pressure to finish it if it ends up not being enjoyable.

This article by Stephy at The Creative Muggle has some good recommendations on how to get comfortable with reading.

Experiment. Read book summaries and read stuff that sounds interesting to you. Just don’t get stuck in one genre.

If you liked daydreaming as a child, books by Diana Wynn Jones or The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis are great places to start.

If you like doing things with your hands, find a new craft book. There are tons of books on origami, sewing, painting, carpentry, and car repairs to get you started. Find something that you’ve never tried before and read about it.

If you are into history, classics or historical fiction like To Kill a Mocking Bird, Girl with the Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and Facing Death by G. A. Henty are good places to start.

There are plenty of other lists of books I could recommend to you, but the best thing is for you to go out and explore the possibilities. It’s an adventure you can have in the safety of your home.

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

Drawing Inspiration

Drawing Inspiration

Dear friend,

I don’t know about you, but I hear a lot of people say, “I can’t draw.”

I’m pretty sure they’re talking about realistic pencil drawings, complete with the shading and background. But even if they don’t mean that kind of drawing (just look at Pablo Picasso’s drawings), I would have to disagree.

Anybody can draw

You don’t even need functioning hands to draw. I mean, have you seen Joni Eareckson Tada’s work? And she’s a quadriplegic.

A lot of people believe they can’t draw because our society has taught us to appreciate art from afar and discouraged us from participating in it firsthand. Only about a hundred fifty years ago drawing was taught as an essential skill for a woman to be considered accomplished.

Growing up, I loved drawing. I am so thankful my parents encouraged my interest in the arts. Something my mom did to encourage this was using a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards as part of my homeschool curriculum in high school. The book taught me how to draw realistically and drastically improved my ability.

Ink on Paper German Shepherd Drawing Quote

It also taught me how to look at the world with an artistic eye and really see the world.

Drawing and creating do help us have fun in the otherwise monotonous routines of jobs, but they also rewire our brains to see.

Betty Edwards has some wonderful things to say about psychology and drawing on her website.

The thing about drawing is that anyone can do it. People just aren’t taught the principles of drawing. They aren’t given the opportunity to practice when they are young. When they’re adults they are convinced that they won’t ever be able to draw because they are bad at it right now.

For one thing, whoever said that you should stop doing something because you are bad at it is an ignoramus. For another, Betty has examples of the improvements of her students in one week and they are astounding. Most of her students are adults who believed they couldn’t draw.

Let’s draw right now

Take out a piece of paper. It can be printer paper, sketchbook paper, or lined notebook paper. Get out a pencil.

Now, what is in front of you right now? A pen, a lamp, a tv, a trashcan. It doesn’t matter what it is, pick an object. Forget everything you know about that object. I want you to draw the outline of that object.

No details. No shading. Just follow the outline of the object.

Here’s the catch: you aren’t allowed to look at your hand or the paper. Keep your eyes on the object.

Are you done?

Does it look bad? Good. Sign and date it and stick it on your fridge. You just drew a picture of something from real life. Good job!

Still interested in drawing? There are plenty of beginner drawing videos in addition to drawing exercises on Betty Edwards’ website.

Sincerely,

R. J. Catlin

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