Carole Brecht recently published her first book: The Artistry of Caregiving: Letters to Inspire Your Caregiver Journey. I met Carole through social media just about a year ago. Prior to publishing the book, Carole created an active online Facebook community called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation (formerly known as The Sandwich Woman). The posts are always uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational, and it’s impossible not to feel drawn to such a positive place on the Internet.
She also has a presence on Instagram, Twitter, a blog and her Tangled Art Boutique online store that her sister, Jan Steinle, and her own together. There's a Caregiver gallery of 60+ designs and the store houses a total of 160+ designs with a variety of gift lines, including tote bags, cell phone cases and greeting cards. A fun place to shop with all the customization features.
When Carole’s book was published, I knew it was going to be a wonderful and engaging read. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! One of the lovely things that Carole does in her online community is to encourage all of us to recognize ourselves as Caregivers. Whether we are caring for an aging loved one, a young child, or simply being present for a friend or neighbor in need, we all have opportunities to care for others and we all need support and encouragement in that caregiving role.
Throughout the book, Carole seamlessly shares stories from her personal caregiving experience with letters of inspiration and her Caregiver Zentangle designs, an art form she has found to be relaxing and healing. These are a few of her favorites:
I’m thrilled that Carole agreed to be interviewed for my blog and I’m excited to introduce you to her!
ES: Carole, congratulations on publishing your first book! What has the publishing experience been like for you?
CB: Thank you Ellen! As a new author, I found the process challenging, especially because my book is a book of pictures and text. I had a large learning curve, but it was a labor of love.
ES: What inspired you to write The Artistry of Caregiving? What did you hope readers would take away from your story?
CB: I was my mom's Caregiver for several years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2010 and my dad was still working. (He didn't retire until he was 85 yrs old) I had just closed my art gallery in Pittsburgh, PA and intended to get another job. My parents needed me at the time so I put my job hunting on the back burner. During the time of caring for my mother, I experienced great sadness, isolation, the sense of being alone and I became withdrawn. These feelings are not uncommon for those that take on the Caregiver role. By the end of my mom's life I was compelled to write a book for those that were caring for a loved one. I thought - if I am going down this slippery slope of emotions, there must be millions around the world that are too. All I could think about was helping someone to not feel alone, but very much supported, affirmed and understood. I didn't write a tell all book. I didn't write a book about a particular disease. I wrote a book of inspiration with a unique format to support those navigating the emotional journey of Caregiving, for all ages.
ES: I’d love to know more about your writing process. How long did it take you to write your book? What was the process like for you?
CB: I started in September 2014, two months before my mom died. She passed on November 23, 2014. She was my best friend and we were so close. The love I have for my parents runs deep. They have always been my best cheerleaders and have been so kind and generous over the years. I stepped up as the daughter to help them. I was out of work, I had the time and it seemed the right thing to do. I didn't know the word Caregiver until the end of my journey. Caregiving was not my career path. I completed my paperback edition in July of this year and the Kindle version launched in April. It was an intense process because I have 40 pictures in my book, 35 of them are Zentangles created by me. Most of them are affirmations for Caregivers, one of my favorite sources of inspiration. It was no small feat to get everything in place exactly the way I dreamed it would be. I wrote the book I would've liked to have had during those years caring for mom. To this day, I am now caring for my dad throughout the workweek. Looking back, it was quite a long journey, but well worth it. I had a calling to help others and there was no stopping me. It became all consuming the last year, trying to meet deadlines and understanding the process as I went along. I didn't have my ducks in a row. I just jumped in and learned as I went.
ES: Throughout the book, you encourage Caregivers to care for themselves as well. One way you recommend doing this is by taking time to be creative. How was making time for creativity helpful for you as a caregiver?
CB: I'm an artist by trade and hadn't created original art in many years. I was too busy raising my 4 children. I discovered Zentangle at the end of my mom's life, a few months before she died. I fell in love with it immediately! I am an abstract artist and it was a perfect fit for me. Anybody can draw a Zentangle. You don't have to have a formal background to draw lines and create patterns. Once I started making them, I was appreciating not only the beautiful creation, but also the Zen aspect to it. This form of art requires focus, patience and peace of mind to stay the course. All those benefits spilled over into other areas of my life, including Caregiving. After a long day, it was a great way for me to unwind. Being in a creative mode seems to bring joy to many, so I encourage you to find something you can do on your own, anytime of day or night, to work on when the mood hits.
ES: I love that you included your Caregiver Zentangles in the book. For readers who might not be familiar, can you describe Zentangle Inspired Art?
CB: Zentangle® is an easy-to-learn, relaxing, and fun way to create beautiful images by drawing structured patterns. Everything you need to create beautiful Zentangle art can fit into your pocket. This easy-to-learn method of relaxed focus can be done almost anywhere, alone or in groups, without any special abilities or costly equipment. No previous artistic instruction required - if you think you have no artistic talent & can't even draw a stick figure, you can do Zentangle! To learn more, logon to: www.zentangle.com
ES: In addition to writing The Artistry of Caregiving, you created an Internet community for Caregivers called SanGenWoman: The Heart of the Sandwich Generation. What do you hope that visitors to SanGenWoman will gain from the community?
B: Like my book, I created a community that I would've liked to have been a part of during my years of caring for my mom. I'd like to think people will find peace, inspiration, affirmation, community and connection. My timelines are a mix of Zentangle Inspired Art that affirm and support Caregivers, created by my sister and myself. There are all different kinds of posts to engage, enlighten, educate and I hope bring calm to the reader's life. SanGenWoman on facebook is nearing 4,000 in number and is represented by 45 countries. The need for global support is great! My Instagram and Twitter feeds are topping 2,400 and my blog turned 10,000 page views a couple months ago. This all came from an idea to write a book in September 2014. I never gave social media a thought, but was advised it would be a good thing to do so when my book came out I'd have an audience in place. That was one of the best pieces of advice I was given at the beginning of my book writing journey. I was dealing with serious grief after mom died, but put aside my own heartache because my desire to help others was so much greater than my sorrow. You could say my grief inspired me to get the ball rolling. I had tunnel vision and all I could think about was helping another navigate the emotional journey of Caregiving. My social media is not just about Caregiving though. There are a plethora of topics I cover, including the art world. I want to reach a broad audience and there are many people that are not involved in Caregiving. I like to keep that in mind as I post.
ES: Both in your writing and in your online community, you’ve created such an encouraging and uplifting space for Caregivers and San Gens. How can readers connect with you on social media and around the web?
CB: Thank you so much Ellen, that is my goal. Here is my contact information. Please come visit often and let me know if you have a topic you'd like me to post about.
ES: Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today, Carole! It was a pleasure to read your book and to talk with you, too!
CB: Ellen, it's been great getting to know you. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to meet your audience! You are a source of inspiration to me and I'm so glad we've connected!