Creative ways to re-connect to what’s important: vision boards and Soul Collage


This is my collage from my first reading of The Artist’s Way ~1998 😉 FILM!

Everyone seems to be in a mood to find their passion and reconnect to their work. At a recent (Zoom) gathering of members of the Columbus Freelance Connection, we had fun discussing vision boards and Soul Collage. These are similar methods to explore what matters to you most through a bit of hands-on creativity.

A vision board is collage of images that mean something to you. Vision boards are typically developed with three main steps that are often preceded by goal setting, or even asking questions [What do I love doing? What do I really want?]. Then, gather some tools: a stack of magazines, poster board, a glue stick or tape. Now, the steps: First, search quickly through magazines and select images (or words) that inspire, delight, or bring a flash of joy. Next, spread all the pictures out on a table or the floor. You may discover themes or even repeated images. Group the pictures (or words) in whatever way seems comfortable to you. Finally, using the poster board, create a simple collage. Overlap images. Have some fun. There is no wrong way to do it.

A simple Google search (“How do you create a vision board?) shows multiple methods. Check out the first two:

Here’s one from Oprah:

Jack Canfield (of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame) offers a checklist:

Victoria gained great insight with a vision board from two years ago. She has it hanging in her office for inspiration. It reminded her of a desire to reconnect to art and nature, and spend more time outside. After creating it, she interviewed with an organization and got a part-time job working for a land trust in Athens, OH. Writing grants for the trust allowed her to connect to the arts community in the region. Melissa used a vision board a few years ago to develop her business name, “Rhymes with Orange.”

Denise told the group about Soul Collage. Similar to a vision board (with a search for images), you actually create a deck of cards instead of a large collage. You then use the cards to determine priorities. She described them as similar to “custom Tarot cards.” The process was developed by Seena B. Frost, who offers workshops to guide people to create their decks. According to the website, the method “develops creativity and intuition, encourages self-discovery, and provides personal guidance.” Certification is even available for people to learn how to guide others to create a Soul Collage.

In the Columbus area, Julie Henderson, LMT, is a certified in Soul Collage. She also provides special coaching for women over 40 and offers day-long Soul Collage workshops (prior to COVID, of course).

Another popular method to reconnecting with what matters is Julia Cameron’s well-known book The Artist’s Way. I think of it as a 12-step program (through 12 chapters) to find your creativity. You sign a contract with yourself, commit to writing in a journal every day, and take yourself out on a weekly “artist’s date.” The interesting exercises include a creating a collage in Chapter 7. She recommends 10 magazines and a time limit. Trust me when I tell you it’s FUN.

All this reminds me that we need more fun in our lives. The past two years of isolation and worry—COVID-19, the political unrest rocking our country, climate disasters, etc., etc.—take a toll on all of us. We need to look for joy and put fun back into our daily lives. Maybe starting with a vision board offers creativity and fun in the moment, as well as a way to connect to a future filled with the important things we care about most.

Opossum delivery

Baby opossums in a crate smallThere are 14 wide-eyed weirdos riding in the back of our SUV. Ron and I are heading to our property in Hocking Hills (Ohio), praying that they’ll like their new home and want to stay and start families.

The second thing I learned about baby opossums: They’re adorable.

The first and most important thing I learned about them: they eat ticks. [NOTE: This is critically important, because every time we hike on our land, I end up with a tick on me. It’s one thing to come home, peel out of my clothes, give the dog a bath, take a shower, and find one during that process. It’s entirely different when I wake up during the night and find one having a party on my stomach. Those are sleepless nights that create lots of additional cleaning and midnight showers.]

In May, I contacted the Ohio Wildlife Center— an organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wild animals. They were delighted to have another volunteer ready to re-home some of their former residents. So, we are on our way to deliver these 14 babies to the woods near a small stream on our land. Two cat carriers contain seven critters each.

An apparent rain shower means the roads are still wet. Steam floats, hovering just above our car whenever when round a curve and dip down, before rising up another hill.

Ron has decided to name each opossum after the Seven Dwarfs. (Or should it be Dwarves?) Sleepy, Grumpy, Bashful, Sneezy, Doc, Happy, and Dopey – I usually can’t remember all seven. That’s what Google is for! The second crate will be Sleepy 2, Grumpy 2, Bashful 2…you get the idea.

The first crate includes a real leader. He sniffs the air as we open the back of the car. He hangs upside down on the door of the crate as Ron carries it to find the perfect location for their release. We have two streams on the property, (we haven’t figured out yet if they’re connected; we definitely need a drone and a better map), but when we get to the area we remember as the “turn” we realize it is completely overgrown. (“You go first,” says Ron. Nope. No way. Such a funny man.)

We head back to the trails that we are paying to keep mowed, and find a spot near the ravine where the second stream is located. As we were instructed by our friends from the OWC, we set out some cat food to give the little guys something to eat as they start out in their new home (and to entice them out of the crate), but we needn’t have worried. “Doc” leads the way. We take a few photos and head back to the car for the second crate.

We open the car and are horrified. The opossums are in a pile in the back. Two of them look dead! Oh no! Did we leave them in the car too long? What are we going to do? And then one of them moves.

Right. They’re scared. THEY’RE PLAYING OPOSSUM. Wow. It’s as if I had forgotten what animals they are.

We place the second crate a few hundred yards away from the first to give all 14 “dwarfs” space to spread out. We open the door and wait. They do not have a leader. They stay put. Obviously, we need to get out of their way. We go back to check on the first batch. The crate is empty! We can’t see any of them!

We’ll go back in a few days to retrieve the crates. We cross our fingers they’ll be dining on ticks—and a little bit of cat food—in the meantime.


What are those tiny birds?

Dug (our dog) loves to explore. He’s mostly hound dog—either beagle or Basset—with a bit of corgi, all nose and not much leg. We walk with him for hours each day. Ron spends the most time doing that. They drive to a parking lot near the bike path and walk trails along the river. I tend to walk in neighborhoods near our house.

One of his favorite spaces to roam is the 40-acre Methodist Children’s Home in Worthington. Bordering High Street, the property includes a nursing home along with the regional office and conference center of the Methodist Church. Behind those are open fields and abandoned dorms, classroom and office buildings, and a chapel. They’re overgrown, falling into decay while the local community (and city council) discuss how the space might be used. I’m hoping for an official park, but there’s a debate between that and retail. (I assume office buildings are off the table now that the coronavirus is showing everyone how to work from home.)

Dug loves it. There’s a city of groundhogs, and he knows their tunnel network. He checks each opening every trip. When he spots a groundhog, the chase is on! He yelps and howls, sprints after them, and pulls me along. On previous trips, I’ve wiped out, face first in the dirt, dropped my phone, lost my hat. For the most part, though, I can hang on, run with him, usually shouting, “Slow! Slow!” He pretends not to hear me. Teenagers.

One 93-degree day last September, I drove him the half-mile to the property. With his thick fur, I wanted to limit his time in the sun. Everything was still. No movement from the ground. We abandoned the groundhog network and crossed the driveway to an old “family and career center” building. We went around to the back and down a slope toward the edge of a ravine, through calf-high grass under 40-foot trees. I gazed up and saw an unusual flock of tiny birds darting through the branches.

I stopped and stared.

Not birds. Cicadas. Huge cicadas. Hundreds of huge cicadas.

A chill ran down my neck, into my back and goosebumps made the hair on my arm stand up. I began to pray, “Please God don’t let one of them land on me. I will crap my pants and collapse, or worse, and I have to take care of Dug.”

I whispered, “Come on, Dug. We have to go. We have to move. Now. Now. Let’s go. Come on, come on, come on.”

He was sniffing and quite unaware of the danger from the sky. I pulled. I was afraid to look up. What if they’re creatures that can sense fear and they land on me? He stopped to sniff. “Now, now, now, now. Go, go, go.” I coaxed and pulled a little harder. He began to move.

We made it around the building, across the driveway and into the open and cicada-free field. My heart pounded so hard I felt dizzy, but we had made it. They didn’t follow us.

And then I thought­–we’re buying 65 acres of woods in Hocking Hills. I am afraid of bugs. This is going to be really interesting.

Pros and Cons

Last June, Ron and I decided to get serious about fulfilling one of our lifelong dreams: owning a cabin in Hocking Hills. We had always thought a place for a weekend getaway would be lovely. I envisioned a couple of acres. Ron envisioned 10 or so.

We had an acquaintance who had land to sell. Although we were in no real financial position to go forward with a major purchase, we drove down to take a look.

We got the grand tour of 130 acres on a Gator. (Sure, it’s listed as a utility vehicle, but it’s really just a four-wheel drive golf cart.) It was a little bit of fun, and a little bit of terror lurching up tree-covered hills over fallen limbs and big rocks. One valley was being prepped for a potential pond fed by natural springs in the area and had been cleared of trees.

The day was hot and cloudy. We toured the first 50 acres, around the pond-valley, and up the hill on the other side. Trees had been cut down to cut paths for hiking and to make the journey easier for the Gator. The acreage is actually zoned agricultural, so land management is required and includes tree harvesting.

And then we heard the thunder.

“Do you mind getting a little wet?” asked Fred, our Gator guide.

“I’m not worried,” I am always optimistic. “Maybe it will go around us.”

Instead, we were deluged–the kind of pouring rain that makes vision impossible. I once heard someone call it, “Looks like all the buckets in the sky are pouring.”

Fred drove the gator down to the road and around the corner to his house, which was about a half mile away. We sloshed in, peeled out of skin-soaked pants, socks and shoes, gratefully accepted towels and T-shirts, and threw our clothes in their dryer.

We discussed what we had seen: 130 acres was 10 times bigger than we ever imagined. Such beauty, though. (I mean, if wooded hills are what you like.)

First, the fears set in. We made lists of pros and cons. Really just cons. I thought I was an optimist, but maybe my fretting makes that a lie.

1. We had no idea how to manage that much land.

2. We live an hour away and can barely keep up with our house.

3. We really couldn’t afford to buy 130 acres without selling our house and moving there.

4. I like the suburb we live in and didn’t want to actually move there. (I like my comforts and the conveniences of nearby shopping.)

5. We have grandchildren–lots of them–and we see them mostly on the weekend.

6. How would we have time to learn about finding a good building site, and arrange for electricity, plumbing, septic tanks, and more that I didn’t even know to worry about yet?

7. And how would we afford the land, plus putting something on it?

8. We would need our own Gator. Another expense that we didn’t know about. And, we assumed, only the beginning of expenses we hadn’t considered.

Sure, it was our lifelong dream. It’s beautiful. But there were so many other ways to spend our money.

We talked for two weeks. Back and forth. It was just too expensive. We told B., the owner, “No. Can’t do it.” And then we were really sad.

But the next week, B. called us back. What if he divided it? He recommended the section along the road, an area we had only seen in the pouring rain. It was just 65 acres (funny how that seemed reasonable by comparison). He’d sell the other side of the hill (with the large pond space) to someone else.

“Come back and see it. You didn’t see much of that side in the rain.” He was right about that.

We debated. The land is zoned as agricultural property (such a great tax savings). This means we’d become tree farmers and have to work with a forestry expert to create a land management plan. The list of things we didn’t know got longer! There was no building, no electricity, no water, nothing. We didn’t know how to get any of that for the property. We felt we were too old and it was too much work. Who would we hire to help us? We didn’t know anybody in that area! And we were outsiders. (I’m from a small town. I know what it’s like. We’d be strangers for the rest of our lives.) The grass along the road needs to be regularly cut. The paths need to be maintained, also.

And frankly, if I’m going to have that much land, I really want a stream. That’s what I always dreamed of–a ravine and a stream. Space to roam about. We thought we should keep looking for a better property. But gosh, B. is such a nice man.

So, to be polite, we drove back down to say no in person. And when we arrived, we got back on the gator for a rain-free tour of the other side of the land.

And discovered: a ravine and small stream that led to the road.

A lifelong dream. We could start out just hiking once or twice a month. Maybe some camping. We don’t have to build right away. We can take our time and get to know what we need to do. And then B. said he could help us out financially. What an opportunity! What a legacy for the kids! If not now, when?

We now own 67 acres of land in Hocking County. The adventure has begun.

What I learned from “Groundhog Day”

Sometimes I think about the meaning of life. Really. It occupies a lot of my time.

Friday – undoubtedly because yesterday was Groundhog Day – I started thinking about the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray. I had to view it more than once before I realized what it meant. (Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen the movie you will be learning some key plot points when you read this.)

Every day can seem exactly like the day before: wake up, get ready for work, sleepwalk through your tasks, deal with annoying people who want something, be disappointed by someone’s response to you. Have dinner. Go to bed. Start over.

And our cynical hero – the weather reporter played by Bill Murray – is (literally) repeating his least favorite workday:  the traditional February 2 spring forecast with Punxsutawney Phil, where he is upstaged by a woodchuck. The day begins with Sonny and Cher on the radio and ends with him trapped by a blizzard he didn’t predict. And as his day repeats, we watch dozens of different scenarios. How many times does the day repeat? Maybe hundreds. He commits crimes. Seduces women by lying to them. Tries to kill himself. And then gradually starts to realize the opportunity to do something better.

With the final repetition, before he wins the girl, Bill gives us a beautiful list for living a fuller life:

Be kind (listen to your friend’s sales pitch)

Be helpful (catch a kid falling from a tree)

Do more (change the flat tire for new friends)

Learn something new (Bill takes piano lessons; learns how to create ice sculptures)

Be creative (see: learn something new)

Be enthusiastic (Bill goes from cynic to participant in the town’s activities for the day)

Keep trying

Which brings me back to the meaning of life: We really don’t know what’s coming. Too often, it’s sad news. Friends and family with illnesses or in accidents. But we have the power to balance out negativity. We can add to the positive forces in the universe and keep growing.

We can try to make the best of the time we have by planning to do all of the things that Bill Murray did. Remember Theodore Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Learn something new: try something you’ve always wanted to do. Watch a video or sign up for a class at a local community center. Check out the library for free sessions.

Be creative: take time for walking and thinking. Great ideas come to those who listen.

Be enthusiastic: keep an open mind and avoid negative sarcasm.

Be kind and helpful: the people you support might have a better day because of you.

Keep trying. Just keep trying. And so will I.

Weekend writers’ retreat

Last weekend I lied to my family and friends. I told them I was going to a writers’ retreat – a simple excuse to decline theater and dinner invitations (always a tempting and fun use of writing time). In fact, I really was invited to attend a writers’ retreat at a bed and breakfast on Lake Erie. The agenda looked great: a beautiful setting, interesting speakers, optional activities like yoga and hiking, plus time for writing; and all that communing with other writers. Sounded perfect.

But then, I thought about: four hours of (wasted time) driving plus the $300 fee. So instead of going, I created an agenda for a writing-focused weekend and TOLD people I was going to a writers’ retreat. It was also a great excuse to skip laundry and really work on my writing, plus spend focused time reading about writing and taking an online course on screenwriting – in lieu of listening to the speakers at the event.

I wrote a list of potential activities and then developed a schedule much like the actual retreat:

Saturday (also used on Sunday):

Morning yoga stretches (Sun Salutation)
Journal time
Light breakfast

Optional activities:
1) bake banana bread (we had some REALLY old bananas …. definitely wouldn’t make it to Sunday) OR
2) accompany my husband Ron and Dug the dog on their morning walk

Reading time: Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron
Vein of Gold assignment:  binge reading
Writing time
Editing time
Post blog entry (here it is!)
Reading: fiction choice: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan  (the Bowling Green State University alumni book club current selection)
Consolidate notes* (see below)
Review next lessons in Master Class: Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
Master Class homework assignment Saturday night: Watch movie – take notes

Other optional choices (didn’t get to either of these):
Play music – piano, clarinet
Review TED Talks on writing and creativity (Does Elizabeth Gilbert have one with Big Magic?)

On Friday night I prepared for the retreat:  Instead of time I would have used packing, I went to the gym for a workout. I planned food to make kitchen duty easy for the weekend, and did a little cooking. I grilled chicken and made a chicken pasta salad, one of my family’s favorite summer dishes and great for lunch on a warm summer day.

Saturday lunch included flirting with my husband. “What brought you to the writers’ retreat?” I asked him. He’s been working on a book since NaNoWriMo, and I knew he was planning to spend the afternoon editing. We had a great conversation as though we didn’t know each other and I learned more about his book than I had known.

Sunday’s schedule was harder to manage. I lost some steam and didn’t feel as motivated. But I definitely plan to set up writers’ retreat weekends once a month from now on.

* Note consolidation: I have dozens of scraps of paper with notes including essay ideas, story topics, character concepts, and quotes overheard and written down – from funny comments that people have made to insightful statements, all of which I intend to use as dialogue some day. I have dumped these into a bin for years, and finally spent several hours putting them into several organizational documents: I have a list in word of Blog and Story ideas. I use OneNote to organize magazine article ideas, character sketches and research topics. Goal planning, long-term projects are all in Evernote. I just recently started using OneNote to try it out and actually watched a lecture about how to use it effectively. And since they bought WunderList (which I love and used to pay for), I thought I’d give it a try to see how OneNote will eventually incorporate the functions of Wunderlist. There are so many choices in how to organize notes for writing and I have found it to be so difficult to choose which one is better.)


Writing every day is hard

I have spent more time reading books ABOUT writing than actually writing. I have spent hours in workshops and classes, attended conferences and meetings – all in the hopes of being instantly inspired with the perfect idea that leads to a flawless first draft.

Every class and every book has two main messages: 1) If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day.  2) The first draft is going to be crap. (NO. Wait. The first draft is going to need to be edited. There! That’s much more positive.)

I think all writers are victims of other writers’ success. When we read a great novel, we are not reviewing the original draft. We only read published works that have been revised, critiqued, edited and re-written.

OF COURSE the story sounds better in my head than on paper! Did I really think it would be that easy?

Well, yes. Yes I did. So when I struggled to describe a scene or create dialogue or explain a character’s motivation, I gave up. Because I expected it to be easy.  And besides that, sometimes the little voice in my head is a bitch: “Real writers don’t struggle to find the right words,” she would whisper. “Real writers get it right the first time.”

But they don’t! Real writers work, and re-work. They write and edit and revise and re-write. Creativity takes time. And patience.

Writing every day is hard – because progress is incremental and I want MONUMENTAL and IMMEDIATE. In the immortal words of Carrie Fisher in Postcards from the Edge: Instant gratification takes too long.



January 21, 2015
by Melissa L. Weber (@Melwriter)
#YourTurnChallenge Day 3

I start each day with such good intentions: Do yoga! Eat yogurt! Drink eight glasses of water! Go to the gym after work! Some days, I do most of it. This week will be better! (I think that every week.)

The past two weeks we’ve been trying to eat vegetarian. My husband took it a step further and tried vegan and minimal gluten – only cheated a little with eggs. “I’m not dogmatic,” he said. “And I need something for breakfast.” No toast though. And I just can’t eat eggs without toast. I don’t know how he does it.

We spent a bit of time in the organic foods section of Kroger. I like their selection. We are trying recipes I’ve been meaning to try for years – several from Moosewood, a vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, New York. I have two of their cookbooks and last week I made Caribbean sweet potato soup, which was delicious, and Quinoa vegetable soup, also good. Fun stuff. Tasty too. And I’ve been pleased with how good I have felt since focusing on eating better. Our kids even gave us cookbooks for Christmas, so the word is out. We got Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck and Cook This, Not That. Haven’t cooked from those yet, although I plan to. Try every cookbook I own during January and February! That’s not exactly a New Year’s resolution or part of my bucket list – just something I’ve been meaning to do for years. I think it came once from a brain dump.

Have you ever done a brain dump? Take a notebook and make a list of everything you want to do: this year, within five years, maybe 10 years. And not just big bucket list things – everything. I keep multiple lists going so I can add to them. Last year, I created a list of “everything I like to do” from read, dance and nap when I’m tired, to bike, drink beer, and play cards – it has about 50 items. I also have a list of “things I care about most.” This includes issues from global warming and women’s rights to wildlife protection and supporting the arts. I’ve got a list for projects around the house (reorganize the pantry, put old photos in scrapbooks – this includes our wedding pictures. We’ve been married for 17 years. That one hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet. But going to Ohio State football games does.) When faced with multiple choices for my time, the priority is always on “things I like to do.”

How do you get inspired to take better care of yourself? How does feeling better inspire creativity?

Planning for NaNoWriMo

The “National Novel Writing Month” is a speed-writing tactic to write a novel in 30 days. It has a fun 20 year history and has inspired thousands – maybe hundreds of thousands – of people to complete a first draft of a novel. The NaNoWriMo website describes “best practices in preparation.” There are dozens of conflicting suggestions: outlining, not outlining, researching, avoiding research until the editing phase, creating detailed character descriptions, and diving in with no preparation at all. It also says, “choose what is best for you.”

I am a “failed NaNoWriMo.” You have to commit to writing about an hour every day for one month. Some days longer. You need to average writing 1,667 words per day for 30 days to reach the 50,000 word goal.

Why would anyone want to put themselves through this? I can think of two good reasons! First and most important, this exercise requires writing every day – the best way to become a better writer. And because of the speed required to make the word count, there is no time to edit while you write; so it’s a great way to focus on the creativity of telling your story. Daphne Gray-Grant, The Publication Coach, offers a succinct list of pros and cons on her website.

I am planning now for 2018 November, the month generally promoted as the time to undertake NaNoWriMo – with 100,000 of your closest friends. If support groups help you achieve more, it’s a great opportunity to commiserate with other people who are attempting to do it too.

NaNoWriMo Preparation, Step 1: Daily writing

For more than 40 years – since I was a kid – I’ve been reading books, taking workshops and classes, attending seminars and conferences, all to learn how to be a better writer. From each instructor I have learned insights, suggestions, traps to avoid, but they all say the same thing: to be a writer you have to write every day.

Writing every day is difficult, but it’s all about muscle memory. Just like music practice – if you want to learn how to play an instrument, you should play every day. All that repetition makes you a musician.

So my first step in preparing for NaNoWriMo is to carve out daily time now – even 15 minutes a day, every day – to exercise creative writing muscles.







What’s important now?

January 25, 2015 by Melissa L. Weber (@Melwriter,

#YourTurnChallenge Day 7

Our Christmas decorations are still up

Today is one month past Christmas and I’m still looking at a lit tree in my living room. Along with lights on the mantle, a collection of snowmen (and snow women!) on a shelf, a few small decorative Christmas trees, and of course the nativity scenes in the hall and the family room.

We buy a live tree each year – I love the scent of pine during the holidays. (As our oldest son pointed out one year, it’s actually a dying tree, which is a little bit depressing.) This year I welcomed the Frazer fir and actually felt a great deal of affection towards it. I usually put the holiday decorations up in early December and put them away around the middle of January. I typically wait until I am tired of them. I enjoy the process of re-packing and labeling boxes. I  enjoy getting our “normal” decorations out, and the clean, tidy look that the house has after they’re put away.

I am fortunate to live with a man who believes that keeping the decorations up helps make the cold, gray Ohio January more bearable. More important still, I am fortunate to live with a partner who recognized my commitment to daily writing is more important than an arbitrary deadline for a household chore.

For the past seven days, I have committed to producing words for the #YourTurnChallenge and my personal blog.

For years, I have tried to live by the credo made known by Lou Holtz, football coach at Notre Dame and now an analyst on ESPN. The “WIN” strategy: “What’s Important Now?”

So instead of four hours re-packing the boxes today, I made a conscious decision to take care of more important things.

My next question: What’s next – now that it’s my turn?