Be An Encourager, Not a Discourager

My column from the Albert Lea Tribune, October 24, 2016

yellow-chair-purposeOver the past few years when I speak at an author event, someone always asks me if I knew I wanted to become a writer when I was in grade school. I usually come up with an off-hand answer because I was never quite sure when the spark of creativity was born in my life. I knew it wasn’t during my elementary school years because I pretty much felt as if I wasn’t very smart or didn’t have much to offer.

It wasn’t until I listened to author Allen Eskens highlight his years in school that the lightbulb came on in my own brain. Listening to his story about his challenges in the school systems, I came to understand I wasn’t alone in my interest or noninterest in formal education in my youth. I’ve always felt guilty about the fact I didn’t live up to my potential, at least that is what my teachers and parents felt. Now I realize it wasn’t so much about my learning ability as the system of learning back in my youth. Finally I feel vindicated and relief knowing the way I learn and my interests were at the root of the problem. In my day one size fit all.

I love to sing. But I quit singing and didn’t go out for chorus in high school because I felt I wasn’t good enough. One year in grade school I would get a C or D in singing and another year I would get an A or B. I was told I had no potential when it came to song. No one bothered to tell me I could improve. And later on in my life I was told by a director I was not good enough for a small church group choir, so I even quit the larger group choir I had joined because I felt I didn’t measure up, even though that director was encouraging. I chose to believe the other one. My joy of singing was gone.

I have always loved painting and creating artwork. Again, I didn’t take art in high school because I was told in grade school I had no talent. And I believed it — after all, didn’t my teachers know best. To be fair, art and musical talent weren’t as valued as today, so to most people it was more important to excel in math and geography and writing and history and english. I excelled in none of them either. I was pretty much a C student in grade school, unless I liked something and then my grade would come up to an A or B. I pretty much felt as if I didn’t have potential, and I was told time and time again I lived in a dream world because I liked to day dream, and I was made to feel that was not appropriate.

I entered high school and I loved the social part of high school but wasn’t enamored with the subjects. I realize now after thinking about Allen’s talk that I was bored. I wasn’t interested in the subjects. Add to the fact I had one class where the teacher had everyone write down what they liked about someone or didn’t like and then put it in a box and each person got their notes. Maybe it made everyone else feel good but I wasn’t one of them, although most of the comments were positive, we always dwell on the negative.

It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I signed up for a speech class. I was discouraged from taking it by others telling me I couldn’t cut it, but it saved my life. I found something I loved along with drama and creative writing in my English class. My grades turned around, and I felt better about the activities I enjoyed. I loved to write and thought about going to school for journalism, but because of my own insecurities I spent some time in college and then I quit and entered the job market.

I realize how much different my life might have been if I would have received encouragement and lived in a different time when the arts were valued. If I wouldn’t have let the outside voices override my inside voices.

I flitted around at different jobs in my adult life while raising my children with my husband, but it wasn’t until I entered a job as a secretary or office manager and ended up a computer technician that I felt perhaps I had a good brain. All of this happened because someone believed in me. When I was offered the secretarial job, I hadn’t worked in that area for 30 years, yet I was offered a job without applying for it. The person said he saw my potential on computers and knew I could re-learn what I had forgotten. After a few years I was trained to become a computer technician, and I loved it. It wasn’t anything that had been on my radar, but because someone believed in me I was given a chance and I found an unusual career for a woman my age.

And then my old friend Cherry re-entered my life and asked me what happened to my writing. She had fully expected I would be an author by now. She believed in me, and it was because of that belief I had enough courage to send my manuscript in and was offered a contract with a publishing company. Another old friend, Charlotte, entered my life a littler later and encouraged me to paint. And now I am painting.

Because someone believed in me it helped wipe out those voices I heard when I was in grade school. I have a brain, but it is wired differently and creativity is my muse. All of us are smart in different ways, and we need to let our children know whatever their learning ability is, if it is different from another’s, it is their life’s journey and it is valued.

I have a granddaughter who is taking cooking and interior design in seventh grade, both things she loves. I have a grandson that is writing a book, but recently someone must have discouraged him because he sent me a text saying he was not going to finish his book because it was childish and he needed to learn more before he could write the book. I have read what he wrote and he should not stop. He should be encouraged, not discouraged.

I might not be the best writer, the best painter, the best singer, but if it gives me joy to do those things I will do them to the best of my ability. Everyone is an artist and  their canvas and talent is uniquely their own, whether it be painting, writing, math, geography or space exploration. If artists quit hearing their voices and only listen to the outside voices of the world today, we might have missed some great people.

I am going to keep encouraging my grandson to write if that is what he wants to do. But if he wants to try something else I will encourage that, too. We encourage our children to try different sports and laud them for it, but finally it is accepted to encourage the arts, too.

In my heart I knew I wanted to be a writer all my life, but I didn’t give myself permission to accept that part of myself because I didn’t want to labeled a dreamer. And now, call me a dreamer, that’s who I am and I am proud of it.

Be an encourager, not a discourager. You might be encouraging the next Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Watercolor Artist Charlotte Laxen

From the show at the Interchange

From the show at the Interchange

When I meet someone with talent I admire I swoon. I have never been a groupie for rock bands but if the word expanded to artists or authors the name would fit.

I am not shy of name dropping about those I have met who are famous in their world such as in my author world. Since at heart I feel as if I have the heart of an artist I have added painting to my groupie world and one of the people I follow is Watercolor Artist Charlotte Warmka Laxen.

I can claim knowing her, since high school in fact. We have maintained a friendship over the years but recently have reconnected and spent more time together.

So today I would like to share the artwork and story of my friend Charlotte in her own words.


Creating has been part of my life since I was a little girl. My love for watercolor began when I took my first class from Gerald Korte at St.Cloud State University where I received my B.S. in Art Education in 1972. My passion for watercolor began after my first trip to France in 1991. I have been blessed over the past years to receive both emerging and career grants from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council with funds appropriated by the McKnight Foundation to help me continue to move forward in my artistic growth and recognition.

Having seriously been painting in watercolor over 24 years, I still continue to find new ways to get excited about the beauty and expressive qualities of this medium! I am presently exploring painting watercolor on canvas!

I generally paint in my studio but also venture outdoors often to paint as well. I began my journey to teach myself “plein aire” (outdoor) painting by painting the “Arboretum Through the Seasons”-an eighteen month period of painting at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum from 2005-2006. This was followed by a show in their Reedy Gallery from Oct-Dec. of 2006 which shared this journey!

The privilege of teaching watercolor painting in Monet’s Gardens in Giverny France, through a school called Art-Study Giverny, was realized both in 2007 and 2009 and I have also painted in many different regions of France over the years. My work is found in private collections in the U.S., France and Australia.

I still find my passion in French themes or from this inspiration at the core of each new subject I choose. Even more importantly to me, the past few years, I have been able to share my personal Christian faith in many God inspired paintings such as Rabboni and the Lion of Judah. (see faith gallery) I love to share God’s amazing provision to encourage others. I was born and raised in rural southern Minnesota, a farmers daughter and the 7th of 8 children. I am the mother of two wonderful adult children and the grandmother of six. I have a deep love for God, people and painting. I have enjoyed sharing my home with people and students from France and other countries.

I was an art teacher part time in the Minnesota school system from 1973-1988 and presently, in addition to painting, I teach private lessons and  group workshops in watercolor. I have a new desire to offer opportunities that will allow art to bring people healing and to a closer walk with God.


On Saturday I attended an Art Exhibit at The Interchange in Albert Lea, Minnesota featuring Charlotte’s work. A couple of weeks ago I took my first watercolor class with Charlotte and visiting her show I could understand better what she does to create her beautiful paintings. So I am a follower not only of her artwork but of the way she chooses to live her life inspiring others. Please take time to visit her website and support her artwork, put one of her masterpieces on your wall or attend one of her classes. I guarantee you will come away inspired.

Vicki, Charlotte, Sue and Sue.

Vicki, Charlotte, Sue and Sue.

Wonderfulicious Weekend Whoopie

Well, it's a start.

Well, it’s a start.

It might seem like a writer’s life should be easy and free of stress because all we do is sit and write everyday, but there is so much more to a writers life and what we do. If we don’t take the time to spread our wings and experience something new it is hard to write, especially if we are not refreshed and replenished.This past weekend my friend Donna, a friend of over twenty-five years, and I decided to have a girl’s weekend and try something new. I would love to share our experiences with you.

Another friend of mine from my high school days by the name of Charlotte Laxen is a watercolor artist. I admire her work and her talent. She was teaching a beginner watercolor class at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum In Chaska Minnesota. Donna and I decided to spread our wings and bring out the inner artist that lives in each of us. Early Saturday morning spring finally arrived in Minnesota, and encouraged by the sunshine, we made the 90 mile trip to the Arboretum. We both were a little nervous because we weren’t sure what to expect.

The setting for the class couldn’t have been more perfect because even in the early spring the grounds were beautiful. Our painting classroom was on the second floor and we could view the arboretum grounds. The class was limited to ten people so it was not intimidating. We quickly bonded and felt at ease with the people in the room and made some friendships that will go on after the class.

We studied the different levels of color on our papers, the different weight of paper, how to use our brushes and experimented with different brush strokes. The classroom was full of laughter and joy. The seven hour class seemed to fly by.  I found another love and realized I have an artist in my soul and it needs to come out. Charlotte also offered inspiration about her life and dreams which inspired all of us going into the future. Now let me clarify, I don’t know that I will ever be good at watercolor but it feeds my soul and that is what is important.

My grandchildren’s mother offered us the use of her home while she was gone. We arrived to find flowers, wine, wine glasses, a welcome note and boxes of chocolates on our pillows. She made us feel very welcome and special.

Of course part of a great weekend is food and we decided  to try places we had never been so we picked Turtle’s Bar and Grill in Shakopee for dinner. I might add at noon we ate at the Arboretum and the food was outstanding. We planned on taking in the movie “Hello My Name Is Doris” with Sally Field after dinner and when we arrived at Turtle’s the place was packed and we didn’t think we would be out in time. We were amazed,not only by our waitress, but by the service. We had our meal within fifteen minutes.

We loved the movie. Sally Field was outstanding. The movie was funny, moving and actually had a good message for what happens in our lives.

The next morning we visited my son and grandchildren and were treated to breakfast and then we continued on to the Spring Arts and Craft Show at Canterbury.  In the three hours we tried some food, oohed and aahed over the artistic people and artwork, which refreshed my creativity and made me want to find a talent and join the craft circuit. Another dream for my life? I ran into my Sisters In Crime friends Jessie Chandler, and Brian Landon and his fiancé.  I need to copy Jessie’s excitement and sales talk. I loved their enthusiasm so much I taped it for a reminder for me.  Of course I bought some of their books.

We couldn’t end our weekend at the Craft Show so we stopped at Mazopiya, a natural foods market in Prior Lake and picked up some healthy food to take home.

Of course our eating had to continue and we stopped in New Prague at the Fishtale Bar and Grill, another place we have never visited. I ordered some soup which name I didn’t know what it meant and couldn’t pronounce, but it was a cream soup with dill and something about a dill pickle and potatoes and green beans in it and it was delicious along with my burger. Donna had the Jambalaya with fish and sausage. Regretfully it was time to travel on home.

However, when we drove into the community of Waseca and past the Dairy Queen we made one more stop. We topped off our weekend with a Chocolate Shake for me and a Chocolate Sundae for Donna. Yes, we probably came home a little heavier and tired but we had a rejuvenating weekend of mind and friendship. In fact we are plotting our next journey into learning something new and trying new places and of course food.

This was our journey and though the way I described it may seem boring, I want to encourage everyone to try something new, take time away to rest and replenish and find that which feeds you. Try something you think you might not like and you may find it is exactly that which nourishes you into tomorrow. You don’t have to be good at it, it just has to feel good to you. You can never go wrong either with a  weekend of laughter and bonding with friends.

My quote from my gratitude journal today: You may be disappointed if you fail but you are doomed if you don’t try. -Beverly Sills