#ThursdayTreeLove | Foggy Morn

The color of winter is in the imagination.  –Terri Guillemets?

We interrupt Sunflower Month for our first #ThursdayTreeLove post of the year.

I returned to campus yesterday, and of course, I escaped the office for brief moments and visited the trees. I took photos, but it was the two foggy morning shots I managed to get on the drive in that stole my heart.

The fog was so dense that only the car directly ahead was visible. It wasn’t great for driving, but I loved how the fog covered familiar scenes in a way that I can only describe as otherworldly.

It’s a little difficult photographing from a moving car, so I missed some of the more powerful scenes, such as the sun’s rays projecting from a dense group of trees and the eerie light it cast on open fields. No matter. I am pleased with these two and the others are etched in my memory.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Good Light.

If you see someone who has good light, thank them for it. It will help them keep the light on. —Jaiya John, Daughter Drink This Water


About the Image: In honor of my hubby’s birthday (today), I’m sharing one of the sunflowers he grew for me. He has good light. 😉

You can find more of Jaiya John’s words by visiting his website (linked above) or his Instagram page.

All the Feel(ing)s

The Strawberry Blonde

“Are you happy?”

“In all honesty? No. But I am curious – I am curious in my sadness, and I am curious in my joy. I am everseeking, everfeeling. I am in awe of the beautiful moments life gives us, and I am in awe of the difficult ones. I am transfixed by grief, by growth. It is all so stunning, so rich, and I will never convince myself that I cannot be somber, cannot be hurt, cannot be overjoyed. I want to feel it all – I don’t want to cover it up or numb it. So no, I am not happy. I am open, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Bianca Sparacino, Seeds Planted in Concrete

Have you ever been asked “Are you happy?” and wondered how you should answer. To answer with an emphatic “Yes!” is almost dishonest, and to answer “No” places you and the inquirer in an awkward moment.

Obviously, we can’t be happy all the time. However, we place a lot of expectation on that one fleeting emotion, or a lot of pressure on ourselves for not feeling “up” most of the time–as if something’s wrong with us if we experience sadness, frustration, or even ingratitude. Of course, we want to stay in neither of those places for too long. Sometimes, though, we just have to lean in, sit with a particular feeling, and not rush it along because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

There’s a lot going on these days [read: months], and we’re feeling all kinds of things–fear, sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, even joy. Instead of running from our feelings, we can allow ourselves to feel all the feelings and to even be “curious” in them.


About the Image: The sunflower featured in the photo above is a hybrid sunflower called “Strawberry Blonde.” It was one of the beauties I captured at Scott’s Orchard on the gorgeous October day when I found Moulin Rouge.

Beauty and the Triumph of Truth

Artwork by Lori-Anne C.

Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man[kind], the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth. –Menachem Begin

Despite the disappointment and sadness in my heart today, I am dropping in to bring you flowers. If you are a United States citizen, you need to turn away from the television, put down your phone, and spend a moment with the pretty.


About the Image: The featured art is the work of my Love Notes friend, Lori-Anne C. She makes some of the most exquisite sunflower art. You can see more of her beauties here: Envelope Full of Sunflowers and You’re Entitled to You. Like the other two, the piece above was sent in celebration of women. The purple tulip and sunflower are especially special to me, since they’re symbolic of my relationship with my sister (also named Lori Ann), whose favorite flower was the purple tulip.

Sunflower Love

The kind of Shalom we’re trying to give to people around us requires us to take an active interest in their physical and spiritual well-being. –Lisa Jo-Baker, Never Unfriended

Welcome to Sunflower Month on Pics and Posts!

Since I’m usually a bit overwhelmed with “the beginning of the semester” and unfinished business from the previous semester, I considered taking a blog break this month to focus on all the getting-things-going-in-January stuff.  Then, I remembered, my blog is a happy place, and I need it to escape the madness whenever I can.

So here I am escaping for a moment. I won’t post every day (obviously), but with the exception of the two #ThursdayTreeLove posts, I will share lots of sunflower love this month. Why? Because, as one of my friends pointed out when I questioned whether a sunflower month would be too much, “we need the bright and beautiful right now. ”

As for the gorgeous image above, it was crafted by Kim B, one of my Love Notes friends. I met her when she reached out to me as my sister Lori was nearing her last days. Kim wanted to offer hope and encouragement to both of us and she did just that. I shared her sunflower, which she “grew from a tiny seed,” on Instagram a few months ago, but it came to mind immediately when my hubby told me that instead of focusing on “one little word,” this year, his prayer is that he loves as God loves.

I swoon.

Can you imagine the exponential potential of his interactions with individuals he comes across? How many lives can be charged with even one encounter?

To tune in to others and offer love, unrestrained and without strings, is the best gift we can offer the world.

I am joining him in this prayer. Won’t you?

New Year: A Dialogue

“Cheers to the New Year.” Photo by Rebecca R.

Happy New Year, Friends!

Although I said I would, I changed my mind about sharing a Neruda poem this evening. Instead, I decided to drop in with a dialogue poem by late 19th/early 20th century poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. The dialogue speaks to this particular moment of transition. After the maddening year that’s just ended, some of us might be a little wary about our march into 2021. But the year awaits with all its gifts.

New Year: A Dialogue
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Mortal
“The night is cold, the hour is late, the world is bleak and drear;
Who is it knocking at my door?”

The New Year
“I am Good Cheer.”

Mortal
“Your voice is strange; I know you not; in shadows dark I grope.
What seek you here?”

The New Year
“Friend, let me in; my name is Hope.”

Mortal
“And mine is Failure; you but mock the life you seek to bless. Pass on.”

The New Year
“Nay, open wide the door; I am Success.”

Mortal
“But I am ill and spent with pain; too late has come your wealth. I cannot use it.”

The New Year
“Listen, friend; I am Good Health.”

Mortal
“Now, wide I fling my door. Come in, and your fair statements prove.”

The New Year
“But you must open, too, your heart, for I am Love.”

May you find in this year good cheer, hope, success, good health, and, of course, love.


About the image: The macro photo of a leaf with raindrops (or dew?) came from my friend, Rebecca R. She captured it during an autumn walk and sent it with best wishes for the new year.

#ThursdayTreeLove | A Trip to Tuscany

I missed #ThursdayTreeLove last week. :-/ Thankfully, December gave us five Thursdays this year, because I could not miss celebrating Parul Thakur’s 100th #ThursdayTreeLove post! I started participating with #TTL 45–2.5 years and approximately 55 #ThursdayTreeLoves ago–but Parul’s been rocking tree love consistently for four years!

Number 100 deserves something special, so I am taking you on a brief trip to Tuscany with photographs by Steven Rothfeld from a 2007 engagement calendar, Under the Tuscan Sun.

While attempting a major declutter of my home office, I ran across the calendar, which features excerpts and recipes from Frances Mayes’s booksUnder the Tuscan Sun, Bella Tuscany, In Tuscany, and Bringing Tuscany Home. Instead of tossing it as I probably should have, I decided to use some of the images in journals and letters. All of the images are beautiful, but I was really mesmerized by photos that included the Mediterranean Cypress.

Please enjoy a bit of eye-candy from Tuscany with Pablo Neruda’s poem, “Keeping Quiet.” The poem has nothing to do with trees or Tuscany, but it does offer a bit contemplation for entering the new year.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

Photo by Stephen Rothfeld

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

I was torn between this poem and another by Neruda, so I’ll share the other poem tomorrow. Until then, though the blast of fireworks and the countdown to midnight vie for your attention, be sure to tune inward and take a moment for quiet reflection.


I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.

Favorite Moments of 2020

My blogging friend, Akilah of The Englishist, recently posted her favorite moments of 2020. I’m “stealing” her idea because I think we all need a reminder that despite the icky, crazy of this year, there is also a lot of good. Plus, as you know, I love making lists.

So here are some of my favorite moments of the year of (mostly) sheltering-in-place and almost running out of toilet paper.

Trip to New Orleans. Along with my dad’s three sisters, the guys and I visited New Orleans and returned to ‘Bama just before the Coronavirus outbreak. It was a desperately needed trip for all of us. I am so glad we were able to see my parents and some of my siblings before the pandemic forced us all to stay put. I am missing them like crazy, so I’d probably be out of my mind if we hadn’t taken that short trip.

Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project. As you read in an earlier post, I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook to Brooklyn Arts Library. Here’s the link to my mini sketchbook of doodles and quotes if you’re interested: #facethesun: Sunflower and Her Friends.

Try not to judge me too harshly. I’m so not a sketch artist. I didn’t realize I should have only doodled on the front of the pages. I’m definitely going to participate again, with a full-size book and my photography—the art medium with which I’m most comfortable.

Book Talk. Literally two days before the University decided to transition to online learning because of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of coordinating a panel discussion on the book, When Saints Sing the Blues for Wednesday night services at the University church. It was well-attended and well-received. I enjoyed listening to the stories of each of the panelists and speaking with attendees afterwards.

Lettering with the Creator of Cuteness.  Thanks to the gift of time due to the pandemic, I joined Creative Hand Lettering and Doodling with Lindsay. For the first couple of months (or so), I watched Lindsay’s informative and humorous live videos, practiced lettering, and downloaded her free Corona coloring pages and other goodies. The photograph to the left features one of my first projects. The assignment was to use “tinker toy” lettering with a line from a song. This was the perfect creative outlet for our “Corona times.” I don’t have much time to view Lindsay live, but a friend gave me a gift of the workbook, Creative Hand Letter with Lindsay, so I practice whenever I get a chance.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff, who coordinates Love Notes, also hosts Write Together, Art Journaling, and other classes. I joined Write Together one evening, and it was such a healing, soul-filling experience that I rode the high for weeks. Life got in the way for a few weeks and when I found time again, I felt a little weird about joining after having missed so much. If Jennifer continues to host next year, I hope to join at least twice a month.

Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt. My son’s (middle school) teachers assigned a “pandemic-style” scavenger hunt for the students. They had to find a list of items in their own neighborhoods. We had fun running (and driving) up and down the street looking for the items, and of course, I took advantage and captured some roses.

Eighth Grade Graduation. My not-so-little one “graduated” from 8th grade! So many things were canceled for the students, but the school administrators decided to hold a scaled-down graduation program with social distancing measures in place. It was held in July–almost two months after the planned date–but we were all so happy for this moment of celebration and to see other people! 🙂 My son, as class president, delivered an excellent speech. This was a proud Mommy (and Daddy) moment.

Spectrum Publication. One of my blog posts was reprinted in Spectrum Magazine (online).

The Chair. I accepted the role of Chair of the Department of English and Foreign Languages. This isn’t exactly a moment, but a shift. I’d served as department chair at another university for several years. I’d also served in other administrative capacities, but even though I enjoy administrative work, I’d made a decision not to go down that road again (for many sound reasons). God had other plans and He let me know very clearly in a moment that can only be described as an epiphany. I don’t know [yet] why He called me to this task, but I promised to walk in obedience, so here I am.

Three Sundays with David Whyte. David Whyte, one of my favorite poets, hosts poetry seminars via Zoom, typically three Sundays in a month. I participated in three–The Courage in Poetry (April); Just Beyond Yourself (May); and Half a Shade Braver (September). In each session, he shared poetic wisdom, stories about his travels, anecdotes about his friend John O’Donohue, his own poetry and the poetry of others. The sessions were life-changing, and I wrote so much poetry as a result.

A Moment with Raven. One of my former students, Raven, came into town to visit family, and she took a moment out to visit me! We met just outside campus at the Farmer’s Market. It did my heart good to see her and know she is doing well! Of course, I tried to get her to leave California and come and work with me, but she makes more than we can pay her. :-/

Sunflowers in My Backyard. My guys planted sunflowers right outside my office window. I watched them grow from seedlings to 6-7 feet tall. They brought so much joy to my days. The sunflower pictured here was the first to bloom. I have many, many more to share, but it’s so difficult to choose!

Moulin Rouge. You read about my encounter with the Moulin Rouge sunflower in an earlier post. This might be one of my top ten favorite moments of the decade.

Sunflowers in My Mailbox. Sunflowers in my mailbox always create a “favorite” moment, and my friends have kept me and my mailbox happy with sunflowers. In addition to the lovely cards and postcards, I received a number of sunflower packages–a boxful of sunflower goodies from my bestie, a personalized sunflower Starbucks cup from my “niece,” Christian, sunflower stickers from Raven, a package full of sunflower postcards from Debbie T, and a beautiful sunflower teapot from Christine B, two of my Love Notes friends.

Christmas Card Lane. I shared the Christmas Card Lane experience a couple of days ago. I needed that strong dose of Christmas joy.

When the year started, we had grand plans, but before many of those plans could be executed, without much warning, everything changed. Instantly. For everyone. In the entire world. As the days rolled on, things got stranger and more complicated and more twisted, and here we are at the end of all that crazy. And I am grateful for these favorite moments and for the many, many beautiful, everyday moments of 2020–(almost) nightly movie nights with my guys, Zoom calls with family, long walks, putting up lights and balloons for birthdays, trying new vegan recipes, opening a mailbox full of happy mail, drive-by visits with relatives and friends, singing and praying with my guys, listening to them play various instruments, and church services in pajamas.

I’m not sure what next year will hold, but “I know Who holds the future.” Therefore, I am looking forward to new moments–ordinary, extraordinary, and beautiful.

A Detour and a Christmas Treat

Detours seem inconvenient, but sometimes they lead us to beautiful destinations. Such was the case yesterday when the guys and I were on our way to my aunts’ homes to do drive-by Christmas visits. A stopped train and a long line of traffic compelled us to take another route.

We worked our way around through Church Street in the historic part of Madison, Alabama and found it transformed to Christmas Card Lane. Each home had on display a giant “card” [created by local artists] in recognition of the holiday season. Some cards were traditional, some were whimsical, and, of course, some were biblical . Some even featured local themes.

The whole block celebrated the festive spirit of the season and boosted the holiday cheer.

I captured 26 “cards” as we drove slowly down the street. Here are our favorites:

My son’s favorite:

“Merry Christmas in Sweet Home Alabama”

My hubby’s favorite:

Christmas in the style of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote

My favorite favorite is above, but here’s another favorite.

“No Place Like Gnome for the Holidays”

I’m running low on WordPress space, but you can see all 26 cards in my Flickr album: Christmas Card Lane.

I hope the holiday spirit is still with you!

May You Have Peace…

My Love Notes friend, Suzette R., created and sent the gorgeous collage above and I can’t resist sharing it with the blogosphere.

She appropriately added Casting Crowns’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” The song is based on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Christmas Bells,” which I shared on the blog six years ago.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men
 
And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men
 
But the bells are ringing (peace on earth)
Like a choir singing (peace on earth)
Does anybody hear them? (peace on earth)
 
Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does he sleep 
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men
 
And the bells they’re ringing  
Like a choir they’re singing 
And with our hearts we’ll hear them 
 
Do you hear the bells they’re ringing?
The life the angels singing 
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Like Wadsworth’s poem, the song decries the hate and hurt that mock the “song of peace on earth, good will to men.” It is appropriate for the bizarre year we’ve had in which all the chaos seem to scoff at our attempts to live in peace and harmony. But just as Wadsworth’s poem ends in hope, so, too, does the song.

If we tune our hearts to the bells, to the true meaning of Christmas, we will tune our hearts to hope, love, and yes, peace.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Christmas!