Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Snowy Morning on the Deck

My parents didn't come back to Alberta for Christmas this year so I painted them a view from their deck at home. I thought they may get too warm in California and need a cooler view. I was wrong. It is actually much colder than usual down here. 

A very Merry Christmas and Happy Anniversary to my Mom & Dad. I'm glad I was able to come visit you in Cathedral City even if it is colder than I'd hoped.

And a Happy New Year to all!

Hand-Made Christmas Card Series 2014

This year I painted a series of small watercolors to slip into Christmas Cards for my family. Now that most of them have been delivered, I'll share them with everyone else. 

Assorted Cards with paintings from Shari Monner's 2014 Hand-Painted Christmas Card Series,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Magnolia for Mommy

My Mom loves flowers! So during my first spring in London, Ontario I sent her many pictures of the magnolias in bloom. She and Dad actually came out to see me later that spring and she made sure to catch the end of magnolia season. Each spring since, I've taken a walk to take pictures of magnolias to send to her. I painted this piece, Magnolia for Mommy, from one of those pictures.

Watercolor painting of a pink and purple magnolia by Shari Monner,

Wishing my Mom a Very Happy Birthday!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vary Niche Beginnings: Ideas About Evolution

As a philosopher of biology I can be quite particular about words and concepts with biological definitions and many of these words have their own (painfully different) common uses. Vary Niche is a project of passion for me because it hurts me to hear the term "niche" misused in personal and business dialog. The idea of finding or carving out our own niche is used with impunity but doesn't make any sense if you understand "niche" in the context of evolution as biologists currently understand it.
Niche is the interrelation between a species and any living or non-living factors affecting it. Text over photo of a marsh taken by Danny Booth at Point Pelee, Ontario.

To be fair, "niche" enjoyed 300 years of common use before biologists took it up and made it their own.  It was taken up by biologists as a term for an organism's habitat or place in its environment. This original biological version and the common uses of "niche" share the "hollow in a static background" notion. In one common use, a niche is a hole in a wall in which decorative items like statues can be placed. In the business world, a niche is a hollow in the market that can be filled with a business or product. Under this view, changing a niche is discussed in very permanent terms... as "carving" as if out of stone. All of these uses of niche make a niche seem very rigid, unchanging, or difficult to change. Additionally, these ideas make the niche seem importantly separate from its occupant.

More recent uses of "niche" in biology reflect the importance of change, feedback, and vitality in biological systems. The new biological notion of a "niche" is the interrelation of an organism or species with both living and non-living aspects of its surroundings. It is neither rigid nor separate. The regular activities of organisms change their niche and such accumulated modifications can feed back to affect the organisms. A niche is dynamic, easily changed, and interactive.

So in business and personal life, we do NOT carve out or find our niche, we endlessly construct and change it. Since our daily activities change our niche and feed back to affect us, whether we like it or not, getting the niche we want requires close attention to our actions and their consequences.

Vary Niche is about composing my own niche through awareness of how my daily actions change my environment. I hope following my journey will help others compose their own niche.

To my fellow philosophers and biologists: I apologize if my (over)extension of the notion of niche construction into the realm of business and self-help hurts your sensibilities. I will strive to be strictly accurate as much as possible while I share my understanding of the world with our less-biology-obsessed conspecifics.


Monday, December 8, 2014

What is it like to be a GAD?

In July of this year I was (finally) diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Since then I've been learning more about how much of my experience of the world around me would differ if my physiology responded "normally" to it. I've also been thinking more about the ever-so-human tendency to try to understand what someone is going through by relating it to personal experience. I have tried many times over the past months to explain what it is like to have Generalized Anxiety Disorder...and am starting to feel like I'm trying to explain what it is like to be a bat!
A comic strip of a skeleton talking to a bat. Skeleton: So, what is it like to be a bat?; Bat: Well, I really can't explain.; Skeleton: Is that because mental states can't be described objectively, because it is incoherent to speak of what subjective experiences are objectively like, since they can only be described as they appear from a particular point of view?; Bat: Nope. It's, you know, 'cuz I'm a bat. I mostly think about mosquitoes.

Please Note: While this post topic was born of frustration, it is not my intention to reprimand or blame any of my friends or family for their responses...I chose to be open from day one about my diagnosis so we're learning together and that is just fine! This is more an outlet for me to "talk" through what I have learned thus far.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

From Anxious to Better!

"Better! Every time someone asks, I get better and better!" Text over photo of Sunflower taken by Danny Booth in Amsterdam August 2009.My study of evolutionary process has taught me that every action of an organism--from breathing to the disposal of coffee cup lids--has an accumulated effect on that organism’s environment. With enough repetition these actions can feed-back to change the selection pressures acting on the organism (and other members of its species or ecosystem). Similarly, the daily actions of an individual like myself have accumulated effects that change the pressures of daily life.

This became particularly salient to me when I realized that my usual answer to “how are you doing?” was “anxious.” I was just being honest with myself and others…which freed me from the internal dialogue about the judgement they might make about me if they remained ignorant of my struggles. friends, family, and colleagues became increasingly less comfortable around me. Many of them started to worry that some of their own actions might contribute to my anxiety and since none of them are psychiatrists, they didn't know what to do. I noticed this discomfort and took action to save them from it...I stayed home or took special care to avoid people I knew on any rare outing. This only increased my anxiety, of course. The feedback loop I created with my “anxious” answer to a frequently used conversation starter made me more and more anxious.  Honesty aside...I needed to break this loop! So I composed a new one...

How am I today? “Better!” I am still being honest and still cope daily with generalized anxiety disorder, but now I’m better and better every time someone asks!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent Calendars! Fun for adults too...

Assorted candy, buttons, and mini books wrapped up and placed in a refillable snowman advent calendar.
My partner, Danny, loves gifts. He especially loves finding or making the perfect gift for those on his list.

I love giving gifts as well, and there is no greater joy than finding that perfect gift for someone I care about... but as an anxious person, I am seldom convinced that I've found the right gift. So I tend to worry about it starting in August.

Since Danny has yet to agree to any "no gift" options, over the last few years I've used a refillable advent calendar to take some of the pressure off. I still get him a larger gift each year but since I've given him 24 other gifts by the time he gets it, I am less worried when he opens the final gift of the season.

Anxiety aside, I remember how excited my sister and I were to check our calendar every morning in December.

Plus, putting together an Advent Calendar for someone (even if they aren't a kid) can be great fun. This year I grabbed some discount Halloween candy, separated a couple 4-packs of mini buttons, and separated an 8 pack of fun mini-notebooks. I wrap all the items, and fill the calendar. The books don't fit so they sit numbered on the bookcase beside the Calendar.

Bonus: this tall snowman calendar is half my Holiday decorations and easily replaces one of our pictures on the wall (I keep it simple since we both go home for the Holidays each year).

Happy December!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Small Actions Accumulate into Big Changes

My first step in using the evolutionary process of niche construction as a guide for active change in
my own life is to think about my actions in terms of their accumulated effects on my environment and how these changes feed back to affect me.

Small Actions Accumulate to Create Immense Change (text over photo of waterfall: Troll Falls, Alberta taken by Shari Monner)
A familiar example of accumulated effects is recycling (or not recycling). While a single plastic lid placed in a recycle bin instead of a garbage bin may not do a whole lot to reduce the size of our landfills, each decision contributes. I personally forget my awesome, sparkly, reusable mug about once a week and end up using a disposable coffee cup instead. If I put all 52 of those recyclable plastic lids in the garbage, I’ve increased my contribution to my local land-fills by quite a lot each year. If, on the other hand, I take the extra couple seconds to separate the components of my weekly memory laps and put the lid in the recycle bin, I am decreasing my contribution to my local land-fills by that same amount. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Nail Art Tutorial: Inverted Flower & Leaf Design

Finger Nail Art Design: Black & White Flower & Leaves on Fuschia Background
Fabric with some large pink flowers and some large uncolored flowersThis Nail Art Design was inspired by one of my favorite dresses, many of the flowers on the dress are black & white while a few are bright fuschia. You could really use any bright color as the background for the flower but I chose Janel by Julep because it most closely matched the pink on my dress. 

Please do try this at home and tell me how it went! 

In addition to your usual base coat, top coat, & favorite clean up products, you will need: three nail colors, dotting tools, and toothpicks.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nail Art Tutorial: Snake Skin

Finger Nail Art by Vary Niche dot com: Complete Design for a Snake Skin Look
Once upon a time I had a pet python named Persephone. I loved her very much but when I moved to London, Ontario for school, I had to give her up. Persephone is now (as far as I know, still) at the University of Calgary, helping teach Veterinary Students to care for exotic pets like snakes. I miss her often and once in a while I try a new snake skin nail art design in her honor.

Here is an attempt with all iridescent colors.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My First Watercolor Painting!

I finally did my first full watercolor painting! Aside from whatever I might have done as a child, I had otherwise only taken a single watercolor class and learned the basics by adding color to a pre-sketched leaf.

I purchased a small watercolor set and pad of watercolor paper before I went to my family reunion in Northern Alberta but didn't have a chance to paint amid the visiting and playing with my nieces and nephews. After the reunion, I spent a few days in Calgary before heading home. On my first full day in the Calgary area, my partner and his family went on a hike around the Upper Kananaskis Lake. Since I haven't flexed my hiking muscles in a while and still wanted to get some painting in, I drove out with them and brought my paint gear along. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ten Items for your Watercolor Painting Kit

I just built a Watercolor Painting Kit to travel with and thought I would share what I learned to help anyone else who wants to start painting with watercolor on the go. I spent about $50 because I already had brushes, a pencil & eraser, and a utility knife.

A list of items to include in a watercolor painting kit. Read the blog post for descriptions of the items and links to find them.

1. Paper Block ($6 - $20)

This lovely little invention keeps your watercolor paper flat while you paint to minimize warping of the paper. I chose a 6' x 12' one with 15 sheets bound on two edges but there are a variety of sizes and some are bound on four edges. When you are done your piece, just slice it off with the utility knife.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

An Evening of Art

Lately I have been reconnecting with my artistic side. In May I discovered that the Art Gallery of Lambeth offers evening lessons during which I could learn techniques from classic to fun-and-messy. But the best part...they supply everything I need and clean up afterward so I just show up, learn, have fun, and walk out with my very own rendition of the painting.

I had so much fun that I thought I'd share it with the world.

In addition to their regular evening & weekend events they offer party packages. Get about 6 friends together, pick your painting, and celebrate! Or...arrange the same for your kids.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nail Art Tutorial: Spring Blossoms

Spring Blossoms Nail Art Design by Vary Niche dot com: Pink and White Blossoms on a branch painted across fingernails with a teal background.
I don't know if it was the long winter or the brief spring but I feel like I've had this design bottled up for a long time. I've always loved Van Gogh's Branches with Almond Blossoms and flowers seem to be the thing to do with Julep's new nail art tools, So I thought I'd break out my own striping brush and dotting tools to make some pretty spring blossoms...

This should look just as beautiful on short nails as it does on longer nails (and may actually look better on shorter nails) because the design runs across the nails to produce one continuous image rather than up the length of each individual nail.

Have fun and please feel free to post your versions of it in the comments.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Currently I'm... catching up!

Currently I'm...

Reading...many Biology and Philosophy papers and books for my Prospectus Course.
Playing...Androminion (a phone app version of Dominion) between papers.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Nail Art Tutorial: Travel Mani

Greetings from Windsor, Ontario!  I'm here (a 2.5 hour drive away from home) to meet with a new member of my Passion Parties Team. I also needed to get my nails done before my weekend of conferences (The Women's Lifestyle Show in London as well as The Mompreneur Conference are this weekend). So...I did a road-manicure on my drive to Windsor! No, I don't deserve a distracted driving ticket...I just made strategic rest stops between coats. And I'm kind of in love with how it turned out...
Fingernail art: Charcoal Grey with sparkly pink tiger stripes on the thumb and ring finger.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Currently I'm... Refreshed and Excited!

Well, since I feel like I'm in a new place in my life, its a new year, and there is a lot of excitement in Passion Parties about our New Valentine's Brochure, New Consultant Kits, & our new Passion Parties websites, this seems like a great time to do this exercise again...

Currently I'm...

Reading...several Philosophy Prospectuses (PhD research proposals) in an attempt to determine how I ought to structure my own now that I'm finished with the exam stage of my PhD and have moved on to the research stage.