You are Not Who You Think You Are

You are so much more


Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


Upon a Google search, Wikipedia stated “One’s self-concept (also called self-construction, self-identity, self-perspective or self-structure) is a collection of beliefs about oneself. Generally, self-concept embodies the answer to ‘Who am I?’.”

In my self-concept, I look at a self-painted self-portrait of my own ideas of what makes me the person I am, my likes and prejudices, the type of person I have been and who I will be as the days wear on.

It is not a mirror because a mirror reflects what is really there. As a child, they said to me, “you’re too sensitive.” Childhood statements often become internalized and we can find them our self-talk, the words we hear in our thoughts and personal judgments.

I may have been accused of laziness as a child. If I have only washed the laundry, vacuumed the floors, schooled the children for three hours, fed them three meals, and provided for their unique-to-them daily needs, I think, perhaps, I  have not accomplished enough because I sat and read a book (about grammar!) for an hour (or two).

Self-concept paints the portrait of whether I was generous or a good friend and whether I am likely to be so when the opportunities arise again.

It can be less important, as well. As a child, my family listened to country music, so I did as well. In junior high, I hit the rebellious road to listen to B93.1 in all its alternative glory (“alternative to what?” my mother asked).

I thought I was a tomboy after being a girly girl wearing dresses all day. Then I found I really liked doing the feminine thing again. Adolescence was the season to answer to that question: who am I?

Ideally, we settle the question.

Or thus we think.

The question is only settled when we stop living. I was a stay-at-home-mother. Then I was a working mother. I liked designed. I was a life coach.

The world of our little family rocked a bit and I became a medical mom, began to love San Francisco, to feel passionate about art, branding, and business. Goodness, I became a journalist.

And now folks, I ride horses.

That is, twice I rode a horse.

It does not seem to fit. It is the love of a childhood passion in which I read the Saddle Club books, the breed encyclopedia, watched Black Beauty, and rode horses. This great love persisted for two years.

Well, for health and happiness, I took a lesson. It felt strange and childlike to “take a lesson” in anything. A workshop sounds much more grown-up. My 8-year-old is perplexed. Isn’t the lesson for her?

And then I love it. Where in my life does this fit? Where in my concept of who I am now am does running my hand down the neck of this large animal fit? I, who hardly pet our outdoor cats and do not generally hold our chickens, held daily by our little kids, who would rather not be snuggled by your dog.

Are there rules in your self-concept that seem impossible to break because they are the rules?

I don’t like animals.

I love farmhouse style.

I don’t wear sandals or shorts or sleeveless blouses.

I’m not good at drawing.

I’m the serious one.

I’m the silly one.

I’m the faithful friend no matter what.


Our society loves to scratch away the rules.

Wear skirts without pantyhose.

Where black and blue together.

Let your wood furniture be different finishes.

Your reality is what you make it.


There is a natural law and a moral law, and there are some things that, friends and I were apt to say, “are not a salvation issue.”

Yet we make them into rules and laws that govern who we are and what we will try.

Parenting blogs will say not to box our children into stereotypes, but what do we do for ourselves? Rather than dictate the paint, can you look at the self-portrait and think, “what can I discover here?” Like little children, there may yet be untapped potential or unexplored hobbies or atypical interests left to discover.

What will you uncover this week?

You might just find yourself riding horses.




Photo by Muye Ma on Unsplash


“Strength” is on Display at the Mistlin Fine Art Gallery in Complementary Therapies Program

This piece was published in a shortened form in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, October 30, 2018.




“Strength: An Exhibition of Inspirational Art and Writing” at the Mistlin Fine Art Gallery puts on display the potential of post-traumatic growth in Modesto. It comes to display through the Complementary Therapies Program at Memorial Medical Center, a program designed to support cancer survivors and their caregivers.

The program, beginning in 2006 under the direction of Dr. David Adkins, is open any cancer survivors and caregivers of cancer patients regardless of health insurance or hospital affiliation. It offers classes in art, photography, writing, gardening, movement, music, and strength-and-fitness to complement medical treatment for cancer, not replace it. These classes seek to serve and support the emotional and psychological well-being of patients helping them turn a life-threatening potentially debilitating experience into one full of potential, to grow and seize life. They become more than survivors, they are “thrivers.”

In 2004 Memorial Hospital Foundation provided the funds to develop the program. At the time, no one knew entirely what “Complementary therapies” meant. To some, it sounded suspicious, in line with treating a physical condition by purely spiritual or new age means. After offering monthly introductory classes for a year and a half, the class subjects were chosen and from the beginning have been a tremendous success, explained Cheryl Casey, Coordinator of Community Outreach for Memorial Medical Center, Cancer Services.

Dr. Adkins described it, “Art was one of those that took off right from the beginning…You see in the gallery some results, phenomenal artwork. Every piece speaks to the emotions and the process these patients have gone through expressed how they feel helps time to get their word out.”

Much of the program’s strength comes from creating or working in a room surrounded by those connected with the shared and unique experience of cancer. Casey explained, “it offers the freedom to talk about it or not to talk about it. It’s not a support group.”


The hospital partnered with California State University Stanislaus to study the outcomes of the program. They found, through surveys and in-depth interviews, an overall positive outcome defined as patients feeling better, less pain, discomfort, and stress. While positive for patients, they found caregivers were even more dramatically positively affected.

When asked why Dr. Adkins described caregivers as the “unsung heroes” in cancer treatment, taking on the emotional trauma and stress in caring for a loved one in cancer but without support or recognition.


Each program carries a life of its own and is run according to the number of classes contracted with the facilitator and the group’s needs. Casey described “strength-and-fitness is almost like their next step after they get out of therapy.”

The gardening class is currently preparing to plant daffodils, which they will plant and distribute to patients in the spring. There are patients and caregivers who stay with one class and others who sign up for as many as they can. “They’re so overwhelmed by their diagnosis they just need to lose themselves in something, It’s just such a great distraction, something to focus on, something else gets your mind in a better place. It’s hard to heal when you’re anxious or depressed or lonely.”


The group of facilitators grew organically from personal recommendations. Casey said, “Dr. Adkins didn’t care what was after their name (if they had a degree). It was all about the person and being able to trust them with our patients…like we would run these if we ran them ourselves.”

Galen Martin, who lives in Waterford, has facilitated the art group for seven years after the former facilitator moved out of the area. Her family owned Artel Art Supplies and helped provide art tools and supplies discounted or donated for the Complementary Therapies Program. As a facilitator, her goal is to “Facilitate a safe environment for people to be creative and express themselves through some type of art medium or artistic means in ways that other ways say talk or other means doesn’t allow.”

She wants to “Let them be in charge of their healing and in charge of their process and their journey through their treatment, their caregiving…helping them again be in a place where they feel safe and explore the meaning of what they’re going through…reaching it on their own. I’m not the one who gets them there. I help get them started.”

The art class differs from art therapy which works one-on-one with a patient to help them peel back the layers through unstructured art. Instead, Martin teaches her students techniques, learns what their hopes are and guides them in the direction they want to go.

New artists have the option to join a class for beginners. That beginners class created the painting of a lotus flower, made of 42 individuals squares, which will be hung in the oncology unit at the hospital along with other group projects from the show.

Martin is currently pursuing a Masters in Psychology and Counseling Techniques. She sees symbolism as a powerful way for patients to process their emotions through their art. “The lotus flower thrives off of dark murky waters that you wouldn’t think would grow out of that, pull sits strength out of dark murky waters and blossoms into something beautiful and pristine.”

Throughout the exhibit, patients and caregivers answer the question, “Where does my strength come from?”

“I’ve seen the necessity and in my studies, I’ve realized this is something that is missing for not just art, Complementary Therapies in general. Community interaction and involvement is a huge part of the healing process,” Martin said.

“I have seen people come out of a lot of really intense moments in life just from being in the program. ‘The program has saved their lives.’ It seems overreaching but I just asked the person, why is that? What is it that made that happen for you? Everyone has a different reason. It’s not the same. It’s touched people in different ways. For one person, it is the art, the art has saved them, the fact they could focus on something other than what they were going through.”

Her classes are filled with 25-30 students each week and she sees up to 80 people come through the program throughout the year.


After four years of battling cancer, Carrie Esau is cancer free. The Complementary Therapies Program has offered to her life something she never imagined possible, gratitude for the experience of cancer. Acknowledging such a sentiment must sound mad to someone on the outside, she explains what the program did for her. Esau, who lives in the Hughson-Denair area, began with the photography class. “It was a boost to my morale when I was asked to submit some pictures to be framed and hung in the Mistlin Art Gallery in Modesto. I was thrilled then to participate in a reception where there was a band and refreshments, friends and family. The experience was exciting challenging, opening her up to something she never would have participated in. Esau described the reception and experience as “glamorous.”

After that, she decided to try the writing class. “Write a letter to cancer” was the first exercise. “When I look back it was very pregnant and full of all kinds of emotion, the fear, the anger all of the uncertainties.” What could she say? “I’d hiked Half Dome the year before diagnosis, had gone skydiving on my birthday two months before diagnosis. There was shock, anger, fear.”

Three years later, she tried the class again, forgetting what the first night was. In her letter to cancer that time, she found she had “a whole different attitude because of all these positive things that had been going on.”

“The way I would sum up everyone there was a cancer survivor, we didn’t need to talk about health or treatments or how we felt there was an instant understanding, a camaraderie, even if we feel lousy we were still comfortable in those settings…For me it was a place I didn’t have to go get poked looked at no chemo no lab it wasn’t sterile, it was colorful it was expanding my horizons, I was developing some new interest new skills things I hated the cancer but I feel like for me personally, these were some new doors that, even though its Sutter Gould put on, those were things God opened to me to help me realize my life wasn’t just cancer. My life wasn’t over.”

Esau continues to participate. Her work is published in an anthology titled, “Time to Heal,” and her photographs have been used as promotional materials for Harvest of Hope.

“Strength” will be on display at Mistlin Fine Art Gallery in Modesto until November 9. It is made possible by a grant from Memorial Medical Center to the Central California Art Association.

Oak Valley Youth Garden Breaks Ground in Ripon

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch, April 2, 2019


Oak Valley Youth Garden broke ground at their new location Saturday, March 23, behind Studio Joy in Ripon.

In 2016, Sarah Darpinian spotted a photo posted on Instagram by Liz Schuiling of a lush, fairy-looking, garden in Washington State. “What is this magical place?” Darpinian asked.



Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash



The answer unveiled unexpected need she found in the community: a youth garden, run by a master gardener, where children could come for free and do crafts, garden and grow produce to be donated to local charities, connecting with the soil and their food for an educational and enriching experience.

According to Darpinian, she and Schuiling rented a couple of garden beds in Ripon’s Community Garden. For the first meeting, they planned to plant seeds and hoped to see a few local children attend. 70 children came that first Thursday morning. The seed of that first vision of Oak Valley Youth Garden sprung.



Photo by Evie Shaffer on Unsplash



Darpinian explained, “It’s multifaceted: they learn where it comes from, how to grow it, and how to appreciate it. A lot of them haven’t tried swiss chard and kale. Then they say, ‘Oh, this is good and it’s fun to eat healthy. I grow it and I pick it and I share it.’ It’s a good process.”



Photo by Johnny McClung on Unsplash



In 2017, they obtained non-profit status. To meet the demand, they rented additional beds, but after renting 8 beds, with more children coming, it was clear they had outgrown the space at the Community Garden.

When Darpinian and Schuiling heard that Jolene Peters, the owner of Studio Joy on Main Street, was looking to open a garden in the area behind the studio, Darpinian recalled, “we talked to them and realized we had similar goals to be a welcoming open space for anyone and everyone to come.”

The vision grew to include a space where children could run free, to use an outdoor kitchen for cooking demonstrations, a lawn alternative space where local artists can play music, where yoga or Pilates classes can be offered for the general community, possibly even host bridal showers, baby showers, or birthday parties, all culminating in “a warm, welcoming community space,” Darpinian said. She imagines children having picnics there, pizza nights, a place where the community can say, “Let’s go to the garden. It’s Thursday night: pizza night… The sky is the limit!”


With the help of Central Valley Sustainability owner, Cody Simar, designing the space, the waterworks and generating material lists for donations, Darpinian and Shuilling began seeking grants for this near-$35,000 project. Like all non-profits, Darpinian recognizes, progress is “at the mercy of money and volunteers.”

They are currently requesting donations of irrigation parts. After irrigation, they will build the garden boxes. “We can start once we have a couple of boxes and just grow and expand,” Darpinian said. “We hope a year from now we will be up and operational. We have to be realistic as well as optimistic.”

Part of the realism means digging in for a work day clearing the space, mowing knee-high grasses, trimming and removing existing trees.


The garden will serve those in Stanislaus and San Joaquin Counties. Each meeting brought an average of 50 to 60 children, with as many as 85 children attending on their busiest days. Most sessions included a lesson provided by a member from the community such as an entomologist, a farmer, and a nutritionist.

Darpinian’s motivation stems from the many angles the garden reaches out. “Thinking of how much fun my kids and the other kids have had out there [keeps me going]. We had some beautiful days out there where everyone is working together and picking tomatoes and making salsa, doing vegetable tastings, knowing we’re making an impact. I went and dropped off the food at St. Vincent de Paul. I saw the families waiting in line and they were excited to see fresh produce.”

In the two years since they began, the Oak Valley Youth Garden donated 800 pounds of produce to local food pantries. At their new location, they hope to increase that to 1000 pounds a year.


The Oak Valley Youth Garden will grow at 929 W. Main Street. Opportunities to give include donating materials, time and labor, sponsoring a brick ($150) with a tax-deductible donation and visiting their booth at the Farmer’s Market in the Studio Joy parking lot, May 2, May 16, May 30, June 14 and June 28th from 4—7pm.


To find out more, visit their website at, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.