Signs of the Season

My day changed, when my shopping buddy for the afternoon ended up not feeling well. I’m sending healing thoughts to grandson Oliver and I hope that we get to go on his shopping trip tomorrow. Late in the day I headed out to do a little shopping on my own, with the Inspiration Starter I had drawn out of the jar in my pocket.

I selected this slip of paper:

I’m not sure what my intention was when I wrote that starter out in July. However today that piece of paper tucked into my pocket made me very mindful of my surroundings and the signs of the season, which were everywhere.

I was very intentional in the photos that I took. Here are some of the highlights.

The store parking lots were full this afternoon. But these gorgeous lamp posts towered above the cars, the crowds, the busyness. And as the already overcast day became darker, they offered welcome pools of light.

I decided to skip this stop, since I only needed a couple of small gift bags. You can imagine why!

Traffic was steady and heavier than normal for the time of day. Which caused me to sit through this stop light, after I didn’t go to Walmart. I didn’t mind the delay. In fact, being at that red light created a significant opportunity for me.

Unfortunately, homeless people on busy street corners are a sign of the season as well. Joplin, like other cities, has too many people who are in need. We have shelters and wonderful programs that offer assistance. And yet, I saw several people sitting in the chilly drizzle, holding up signs. This man’s sign was lettered with the words: HOMELESS AND DISABLED.

I often feel torn about how to help. I’ve given money, and looked the other way, handed out gift cards, and hurried on through the light rather than stop. It is difficult to know whether every person holding up a sign has legitimate hardships.

Today, being mindful, being so close to Christmas, feeling great compassion in my heart, it didn’t matter whether this man’s needs were legitimate, or not. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t drive on.

I tapped my horn lightly to get his attention and held up the cash that I had. He walked with difficulty to my car, where the window was lowered. I apologized for honking at him. He said it was okay. After we exchanged a few words, I handed him the cash. And at the exact same time, we both said, “God bless you.” The man dropped his head and bent low, then looked up with tears in his eyes. I immediately had the same response. I can’t explain what happened. But for a moment, we connected, soul to soul. I wished him well, and a warm place to sleep, as the light changed to green. He called out ” thank you, thank you”. I cried as I drove away.

On my way to pick up dinner, I enjoyed Christmas lights…from the joyfully ridiculous dancing Santa in a hula skirt watched over by the gigantic soldier…to gorgeous homes that looked like Christmas card covers.

Santa apparently dines at Cracker Barrel and wears overalls before his big night. And discount prices on Christmas items told their own stories about the approaching holiday.

Tonight, I am working on final Christmas projects and preparing to wrap gifts. As I work, one of my favorite movies, Love Actually, is playing on my laptop. I have two films that I watch every year at this time. This is one of them. As many times as I’ve seen it, there is always something new, some fresh aha. Why? Because I am not the same person who watched it the year before.

I am sipping hot rose hips tea, and enjoying the complex and interconnected stories that are unfolding in the film. Some make me smile. Others make me tear up. A few of the stories break my heart open. Alan Rickman is in this movie, and seeing him is bittersweet. I am reminded of the crucial role he has played in my year, inspiring me with his words.

The signs of the season, they are everywhere. How those signs are interpreted and the stories they tell depend on the heart and mind of the viewer. I am very grateful for that slip of paper that pushed my awareness to a higher level today and helped me to see in a bigger way. This is the season of love and peace, loss and sacrifice, joy and hope. I am so glad there is hope.

Fall Finery

Sometimes it is the simple things in life that bring great joy, like a drive on a beautiful fall afternoon. Although autumn arrived precisely on time, by the calendar, the trees have been very slow to signal the change of the seasons. As October drew to a close, I began to think that the trees were going to just drop their leaves, without a flash of color first.

Cooler temperatures and a bit of rain at last provided the necessary catalyst. Yesterday I noticed golds and oranges and reds showing up. Today I had the opportunity to drive south into Arkansas, and appreciate fall’s finery.

It is difficult to adequately capture the beauty that I drank in today. The world was aflame with color. Where just a week ago there were dull greens and dry browns, today there were vibrant yellows, splashes of deep crimson and every shade of rusty orange possible.

The older I get, the more I cherish fall. The crisp cool air is welcomed after the heat and humidity of summer. And the earthy hues of autumn rival the explosion of color from spring’s flowers. I like wearing my boots and jackets and hoodies. And this season is my favorite for decorating my house. From here, I transition right into holiday decor.

While in Arkansas, Greg and I stopped at Crumpet’s Tea House. This was a delightful first and the perfect mid afternoon destination. We arrived about half an hour before closing, but I had time to savor a small pot of pomegranate and berry herbal tea. I will stop by again earlier in the day next time, and try their lunch.

On the drive back to Joplin, we paused in several places to capture the beauty of the day. Because I love water so much, there was often a creek or river flowing nearby. We got a close up look at the crane above, who was calmly fishing for his dinner.

I didn’t walk through nature today, however, I drove through it, I experienced the wonder of the season, and the result was the same. I felt such peace, such gratitude for this time of year. In autumn, every leaf does indeed become a flower, to paraphrase Albert Camus. What a gorgeous bouquet I visually gathered today.

Black & White Photo Challenge Completed

I completed the seven day photo challenge today. The instructions were simple: post seven black & white photos of my life, over seven days. No people were to be included in the pic, and no explanation was to accompany it. Each day, someone new was challenged to play along.

The challenge was easy to do, and yet for me it was intriguing and thought provoking.

I quickly understood omitting people from the photos. We all tend to fill our pics with our family members and our friends, or capture selfies in front of iconic locations. There’s nothing wrong with doing those things. The game becomes a challenge as we seek to capture moments that represent our lives, without the people in them that can define who we are…parent, grandparent, spouse, significant other, child, friend, boss, worker. It was challenging, and liberating, to find ways to creatively express my life, without people in my photos, and without explanatory captions beneath them.

I enjoyed and appreciated rising to such a challenge!

Here are the seven photos I posted, plus a bonus pic added so I could challenge additional people. Honoring the game rules, I will not caption them or explain them.

And the bonus photo:

No explanations for my photos, however I can say that these black & white photos tell stories about my life, and where I am, currently, on my journey. This week I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of capturing moments devoid of color. The eyes are allowed to explore the photo, and interpret the story, without being distracted by colors or focusing in on the most vivid object.

I found a quote that captures this experience perfectly, although I could not find the source. It is included below, at the end of my post.

A movie brings its own spin to a story. Reading allows the imagination to create the characters and the scenes, providing room for a multitude of interpretations. There’s room in my life for books and movies, and their different ways of telling stories. And there is room in my creative life to broaden my photo taking skills. I intend to make use of more black & white photography.

Black & White Photography Challenge

I have seen a couple of my friends playing this new game on Facebook. For seven days, you post one black and white photo each day that is representative of your life. The instructions are that no people are to be in the photos, and no words of explanation are to accompany the pics.

Each day, you tag another person to play the game as well.

I don’t participate in very many Facebook games like this. However, this one intrigued me. I like the beauty and simplicity of posting one photo a day, without comments or explanation. And I like that the photos are supposed to be snapshots of my life.

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true. As a blogger, I take a lot of photos each day, as they are an important part of my story or message. I’ve never let them tell the whole story, though, without using words.

My long time friend Becky tagged me last night, to play the black & white photo challenge. I accepted. The fun part, the interesting part, will be to capture photos that tell the bits and pieces of my life. I’m excited to play and bring that awareness into my daily journey.

Below is my Day 1 photo. No comment. No explanation. I’ll post again on Day 7, and share all seven black & white photos.

Nature’s Scavenger Hunt

With a high in the 80s today, and abundant sunshine, I felt inspired to get outside this afternoon. What came to mind was a sort of nature scavenger hunt, a search for evidence that spring is on the way. I envisioned myself walking along the river in Wildcat Park, capturing signs of springs with my iPhone camera. 

It was an inviting idea that drew my interest. 

Except it didn’t happen. Work kept me busy today, as I took care of clients and uploaded documents, answered phone calls and met with buyers. Coming home as the sun hung low in the western sky, I considered not accepting the invitation to go on a walking scavenger hunt. It would be too dark by the time I reached the river. 

I felt I had two choices:

Switch to a different adventure, such as using my cooking experience at lunch time today for tonight’s creative blog, even though I had posted that recipe in my health blog. 

Or…stay closer to home and walk in my neighborhood, collecting photographic evidence of spring. 

Nature's Scavenger Hunt
I was physically tired. However, standing at the window, enchanted by a spectacular sunset, it didn’t take long to don a lightweight hoodie and grab my phone on the way out the door. It was too beautiful an evening to pass on this invitation. 

Nature's Scavenger Hunt
Here are the clues I collected as I wandered my neighborhood, my long hair stirring in a balmy southerly breeze, my senses alert…

Nature's Scavenger HuntI started my walk in my own backyard, where creeping phlox, transplanted from Leta Moore’s flowerbeds, is thriving and beginning to bloom. 

Nature's Scavenger HuntIrises are creating spiky fans in the garden as well. 

Nature's Scavenger HuntAlthough this Missouri wildflower is considered by most to be a weed, Henbit is one of the first plants to announce spring’s arrival. 

Nature's Scavenger HuntThe robin is a sure sign that warmer weather is approaching. 

Nature's Scavenger Hunt These cheerful jonquils not only herald spring, they are a testament to survival. They are the only remaining evidence that a house once stood on a now vacant lot. 

Nature's Scavenger HuntOrnamental trees in bloom, like this pear tree, made me smile. 

Nature's Scavenger HuntForsythia bushes are in full, riotous bloom. 

The sky was darkening as I turned toward home. I was so glad I heeded the call to walk this evening. No river gurgled nearby, but concrete streets hinted at journeys and destinations unknown as they disappeared on the horizon. My neighborhood is bereft of mature trees, due to the 2011 tornado. But young trees are growing, thriving, and breaking up the landscape again. 

Rather than spying deer or squirrels, I caught sight of birds and cats and inquisitive dogs who watched me stroll by from their fenced yards. Mossy boulders were replaced with jagged chunks of concrete, uprooted after the storm, and left clustered in empty lots. 

Beauty abounded. And everywhere I looked, there was evidence that we are going to have an early spring. The temperatures will dip again, surely, but today offered a promise that winter is almost over. 

Nature's Scavenger Hunt
I was scanning the block ahead, to see if there was anything of interest to check out, when a brightly colored shrub caught my eye. I was reminded of the story of Moses and the burning bush. This bush was aflame as well, and like Moses, I had to get closer. 

The Japanese Flowering Quince stood alone in the corner of an empty yard. The house is gone. But oh, this shrub, full of coral colored blossoms, towered above me. The artistic child within squealed with delight as I stood beneath the sheltering branches of the quince bush. I was reminded of one of my hiding places as a child, a huge flowering bush that I crawled beneath, whenever I craved solitude. 

This. This quince was what my soul was looking for this evening…beauty, resilience, a promise. The sun slipped below the horizon as I lingered within the embrace of craggy branches alive with hundreds of blooms. I felt refreshed and full of quiet joy. It was time to go home. 

I had found what I was looking for. Spring is coming. The earth and I, we are being reborn. 

Nature's Scavenger Hunt
Nature's Scavenger Hunt

Capturing My Day in Photos

True to the forecast, today was a rainy day. And even better, it was a rainy Sunday. Being the 4th of July weekend, I’m sure not everyone was as excited as I was with the prospect of enjoying a long peaceful, restful day at home.

I like rainy days, especially when I have no where that I have to be. The possibilities for today were delicious and endless. As I reached into my glass pitcher, I was aware of three remaining slips of paper. Two contained outdoor activities. One would not be affected by the weather. I wasn’t at all concerned about what I would draw, not after the extraordinary month of creative activities that I’ve had, with their accompanying deeper messages. 

I selected this one:

Capture my day in photos. 

I was delighted to engage in this activity, on this quiet, soul care Sunday. Here is my day, captured in photos, with minimal explanation. 

The theme for the day. 

Beyond the canopy of the covered front deck, the rain fell. The plants in containers on the deck still needed watering. 

Marco loves to watch me water the plants. 

The perfect rainy day activity…taking a nap. 

Time to stroll in the garden, in between rain showers. 

Sparkler Cleome

Many people don’t realize that hostas flower. They are gorgeous this year. 

The next rain shower was minutes away. 

This amazing book is changing my life. More about it in a future blog post. 

From the BBC Doctor Who Coloring Book. 

Those were some of the highlights of my day. When I wrote out this creative activity, I envisioned photo-documenting a busy day. However, this day was the perfect one to capture. Following the arrow of desire, I realized keeping my iPhone camera ready, snapping pics, brought my awareness acutely into the present moment. I noticed more. Such as the little visitor behind the plant I photographed, seeking shelter from the rain. 

As I read chapter four in Walking in This World, I came upon an exercise for the day. It was this same activity…capturing a day…although Julia suggested sketching the moments rather than photographing them. I wish I had thought of that! The wonder, though, of finding that I was already engaging in the task she assigned in a chapter I had not read yet assured me that I am deeply in the flow. The connections, the synchronicities, the surprises are all signs that I am taking the right journey, for me. 

In writing about capturing the day in sketches, Julia says, “So much of the adventure of the life we lead rushes past us in a blur. Velocity is the culprit. Velocity and pressure. A sketch…or a photo…freezes time. It is an instantaneous form of meditation focusing us on the worth of every passing moment.”  I added the words “or a photo”.

I was well on my way to discovering the truth of Julia’s words by the time I read them. It was a beautiful day, measured in moments. I’m grateful I captured some of them, freezing them in time. 

Journey 264: Guest Blogger Oliver Czahor

Today’s blog post is courtesy of  my grandson, Oliver. While Joey and I were looking over his portfolio of drawings, in preparation for his guest blog post, Oliver was busy snapping pics, of whatever caught his interest. I love giving a child a camera and turning him or her loose to capture their world. The results never fail to amaze and inspire me.

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Watermelon growing in the backyard garden.

Oliver is 7 years old, soon to be 8, and a 2nd grader. He enjoys jumping on the trampoline, riding his bike and scooter, and climbing and performing amazing stunts. He has a mischievous smile, that always makes me smile in return, and an easy going charm. There is more to Oliver than meets the eye. His independence and casual air compensate for the fact that he is the younger brother, and the middle child, in his blended family. He is figuring out who he is, as Oliver. He told me he didn’t have any creative ability….and then proceeded to create a wonderful drawing, complete with a clever paper frame. (Yaya failed to get a pic of this marvelous piece of art.) However, when I offered him my camera, and turned him loose, he proved that he does, indeed, have quite an eye for artistic expression.

Here are Oliver’s photos:

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Carl, who is much loved…and chased after. Carl is deaf…but we all talk to him anyway.

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And Choco, the family’s pug. I love Oliver’s slightly out of focus pic. It seems to sum up Choco well, capturing those liquid brown eyes.

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More goodness from the garden….green tomatoes ripening on the vine. Great composition here.

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This is a Toad House that the kids built in the backyard. Oliver took pics of it and then, explaining to me how they had dug out a hole and then built this structure over it, carefully removed a portion of the roof so we could peek inside. We all yelled and jumped when a fat brown toad INSIDE THE TOAD HOUSE, hopped and then hid himself. I laughed at the expression on Oliver’s face….imagine….a toad actually in the Toad House. Ollie gently put the roof back into place and took a pic through the little door by lying on his belly.

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Mr. Toad, who appeared to love his house, and showed his appreciation for the roof being restored by coming out of hiding. Oliver might have a future as a nature photographer.

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Although Oliver might call these last two photos “mistakes”, they are actually my favorite pics from that day. I don’t know how he created these effects….but I love the look.

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My favorite photo. It is mysterious, and full of light and beauty and grace….just like Oliver, just like all of us.

I appreciate Oliver’s work, which shows how artistic and creative he is, and his willingness to share his photos via my blog. I believe, as these children grow older, that I’ll occasionally hand them a camera, just to see what their current perspective of the world is. Their views are always fresh, always fascinating, deeply beautiful and stirring. And, we all  have fun. We are not only growing and learning about ourselves and each other, we are creating memories and stories. I’ll never forget the toad in the Toad House and Oliver’s look of surprise! I don’t think he will either.

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Day 78: Visit PhotoSpiva 2014 Exhibit


Today’s first, visiting the PhotoSpiva 2014 Exhibit, was interesting! Located in the George A. Spiva Center for the Arts, in downtown Joplin, the competition is an annual event. This was the 38th edition of PhotoSpiva and yet it was the first time I’ve attended! Each year I’ve thought about going. This year, I was intentional, and delighted to experience this well known event as a first.

I was surprised to learn that 176 photographers, nationwide, submitted 1,014 entries in the competition. Photographer and educator Dornith Doherty, from Denton, Texas, selected 82 images to create an exhibition of photographic excellence. The photographers who submitted their work are both amateurs and professionals. Ms. Doherty pored through the submissions online, selecting the ones that would appear in the exhibit. She arrived in Joplin on March 13 to determine which photographs won and shared $2000 in cash prizes.

Like viewing any kind of art, viewing photography is subjective. I moved slowly through the gallery and studied each of the 82 photos. I didn’t attempt to analyze so much as I allowed the pictures to speak to me. Some told stories….sad stories, stories of decay and the inevitability of entropy and death. Some captured joy or humor and made me smile. Several spoke to my mystical side. One such photograph had a title that seems to be a tagline for my life, “Some things just can’t be explained”.

A few of the entries made me tilt my head, much like a dog who is trying to figure something out. All of the photos represented a person behind the camera. Seeing their photos gave me a glimpse into their world, their reality. Looking at their works, I literally saw what they saw.

My favorite photograph was quite popular, apparently. It won the People’s Choice Award. Titled “Floating Girl”, it is the image in the picture above, accompanying this blog. The photographer is Victor Chalfant from Fayetteville, AR. I love the photo! The light is exquisite and the image simple, beautiful and captivating. The first place winner submitted a photo of historic Brooklyn. The image certainly told a story and the longer I looked at the photograph the more I saw.

I enjoyed my time at the exhibit and I have a deep appreciation for the talented photographers. They inspire me to pick up a camera and capture my world. Another great first for this year would be a photography class and perhaps entering a contest myself. Regardless, I’m glad I didn’t let another year pass without making it to this wonderful exhibit.