Live Well. Laugh Triple. Love Without Measure.

The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.Tibetan Proverb

We’ve reached the last of our “Live-Laugh-Love” posts. I mentioned earlier this week that I would explain later why the theme is significant to me. “Live, Laugh, Love” was my sister Karlette’s mantra. If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you know that we lost her to breast cancer in 2013. I still miss her terribly and think about her every single day. The theme of the latest Global Art Swap provided an opportunity to honor her memory.

It is significant that I’m posting what I sent for the swap today because today is Karlette’s birthday, and as I struggle to move past deep sadness, I find it necessary to revisit the words I shared with pen friends regarding the significance of the theme to me.

Live-Laugh-Love

Karlette lived as much as she could during her short sojourn on this earth; she loved to laugh and she loved so deeply that she was “everybody’s” best friend. Her middle school students and their parents adored her because she poured so much life, love, and laughter into her students. I learned so much from her and came to so many realizations because of how she handled her many rounds with cancer.

We were designed to LIVE abundantly—to fill life with all the good things we can hold. Yet many of us have trouble with “living” a good life because we allow worries, the past, unforgiveness, and so many annoying trifles to get in the way. Problems–struggles–are inevitable, but we don’t have to make such strife central in our lives. In spite of all the trauma and drama, we can choose joy and squeeze every ounce of the good stuff out of life. When we live in the fullness of joy, those “other things” don’t gain much of our attention and we can embrace the good life.

After my sister’s passing–like many who experience the death of a loved one–grief had me in a slow, tightening grip. Although I knew the process was necessary, I still needed to be present and functional. In an effort to shake myself out of the darkness, I called an aunt–a trained counselor–and she encouraged me to laugh. She told me to simply find some funny television shows or movies and LAUGH out loud.  That was the best advice she could have offered at the time. I had forgotten how to smile. I’d forgotten that the most basic thing that makes us feel alive is laughter. And—the bonus—I felt so connected to my sister because she loved to laugh. My aunt’s advice has come in handy quite frequently over the last four years as I found the grief of losing my sister intertwined with other losses.

Laughter also has a way of bridging gaps and mending broken fences, so take it into those relationships that are strained. Find the humor in what may have created a rift. Try not to take life so seriously and make it a point to laugh often—even at yourself. It is certainly medicine for the soul.

LOVE is the most complex part of the theme.  Love is easy when people are loving and loveable, but the journey to becoming a truly loving human is beautifully painful. We have to learn to love those who are mean, hateful, and abusive and those who don’t love us. It takes a tremendous amount of soul work to love in this way, but the beauty it creates in us and in the world is without measure. Please note that “love” does not equal acceptance or tolerance of abuse in any form.

I recently watched a video on the protests in Charlottesville, VA, filmed to capture the perspective of the white nationalists who organized the event. Though repulsed by the faulty reasoning, the language and attitudes against non-Whites, Jews, and homosexuals, I felt a huge wave of compassion for the protesters. How sad it is to live with such hatred and willingness to harm others! How inhumane to wish to annihilate others or strip them of human rights!

No matter our vast differences, true love knows no bounds. We must do the hard work and learn to love those who hate us. Kahlil Gibran’s “On Love” captures this far better than I can.

The card I originally created (above) is very pink because that was Karlette’s favorite color. I designed it in a few other colors to appeal to the tastes of family members who will be receiving the card soon.

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If you or someone you know is dealing with breast cancer, visit the Karle’s Wings link (above), and a bit of light and joy will wing its way soon…

Close…Closer…Closest

Don’t be misled by the title–I won’t be giving a lesson on comparatives and superlatives today. 😀

Have you ever shot a photograph that thrilled you?  There’s nothing super spectacular about the photo or the scene even, but shooting it gave you all the “good feels?”

That’s how I feel about a few photos I captured with my iPhone late last week.

Mimosa: Close

I’m not sure why this tree claims my attention. There’s something about the combination of pink and green.  Or maybe it’s the fine wisps that form the featherlike blossoms.

I first noticed the trees several years ago in New Orleans, but I only saw them when I was on the road.  The same thing happened here in Northern Alabama.  I never saw them in a place I could or wanted to stop. . . until last week.

I finally found an opportunity to get up close and personal with the tree when I dropped by my son’s school last week. I glanced up and there was the tree sitting behind the building up a hill!

You know what happened next…

Mimosa: Closer

Now, I see these trees practically everywhere I turn, and my heart does a happy dance whenever I see them.

Mimosa: Closest

To be honest, I’m not even certain what this tree is called.  I read conflicting information about it.  A plant identification app on my phone matched my photo with the Albizia julibrissin, but another website identified the tree as Calliandra surinamensis. The University of Florida’s Gardening Solutions site agreed with the app (Go Gators!).

The tree is commonly called a “mimosa” tree and is native to eastern and southwestern Asia, but flourishes (almost) anywhere it’s planted.  According to UF’s Gardening Solutions site, the mimosa tree is considered an invasive tree and is not recommended for gardening.  The plant that it was mistaken for, Calliandra surinamensis, bears similar blossoms, but is more suited for home gardening.

I’ll continue to appreciate this beautiful tree “from a distance,” photograph them when I can, and play around with the photos in  a few apps. 😉

 

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Have you photographed anything recently that simply thrilled you?

Pink Orchids and Karle’s Wings

“March 11.”

“Pink orchids.”

These words played over and over in my mind as I awakened from my slumber this morning.  Today marks four years since we lost Karlette, my younger sister, to breast cancer.  And pink orchids were her favorite flowers.

I’ve been fighting with a photo of pink orchids I shot at the New Orleans Botanical Gardens in January. I want it to commemorate her life. I want it to be beautiful.  I want it to represent her.  I want it to be perfect. It’s far from perfect, but it’s what I have until I get back to New Orleans and capture them again.

Pink Orchid, New Orleans Botanical Gardens

I realize my fretting over the orchids has a lot to do with my trying to cope with March 11, a date that gives me anxiety, although I think about my sister every.single.day.

Before her death, Karlette and I had plans to write the stories of her brutal battles with breast cancer and what we’d hoped would be her victory.  I have the pictures, but without her voice,  I know it will not be the story she wanted told.

Some aspect of her story will be shared eventually, but for now, I’ve decided to honor her memory in another way.

Recently, I had the privilege of writing postcards to breast cancer patients with whom my only acquaintance is that someone they know is in one of the same Facebook groups to which I belong.   I prayed and used my sister’s experience to guide me as I wrote.  I thought about what she would say and how she would encourage women.  It dawned on me that sometimes a small thing such as a postcard or note goes a long way to cheer someone who is struggling with this disease, and honoring Karlette does not require a monumental gesture.

So today, instead of suffering silently this awful loss, I’m reclaiming March 11.  Today, I am launching Karle’s Wings, a postcard ministry aimed at sharing with breast cancer sufferers and survivors beauty, light, and joy–characteristics Karlette embodied.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a postcard from Karle’s Wings, please complete the contact form below. The  information will remain private and will not be shared with anyone beyond the purpose of addressing a postcard, note, or letter. Within days of receiving the request, you, your family member or friend will receive a handwritten, personalized postcard from Karle’s Wings.

Love and light…

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Photo by Tapman Media, New Orleans

Everything Changes.

Everything Changes

Everything Changes

Nine Little Pockets Full of Happy

Few things make me giddier than unexpected mail from a friend or an immediate written reply to a personal letter.  I went on a letter-writing spree late last month.  I expected to hear from no one any time soon.  But within a week of my sending her a letter, my penfriend Beth wrote back. She didn’t send “just” a letter, but a pocket letter.  Now, in case you haven’t heard, pocket letters are the latest snail mail craze.  I’ve done six since I learned about them late winter/early spring.  Two of my colleague-friends and I tried them out on each other first (see their first pocket letters near the end of the post).

Traditionally, pocket letters are put together using nine-pocket trading card protectors.  I make mine with Project Life pocket pages. I prefer the larger “canvas” and the various shapes and sizes to work with.  Besides, I have boxes of PL pages screaming to be used.

Pocket letters have been “popularized” by Janette Lane.  On her blog, she provides instructions, tips, templates, and even a video for putting them together. You can insert into the nine little pockets anything that will fit, but the “letter” is a must for one of the pockets.  Enough chat.  Here’s the pocket letter:

My Very Pink Pocket Letter

My Very Pink Pocket Letter from Beth

 

Pink, sparkly, and cheerful!  And that’s just the front…

The Back of My Pocket Letter from Beth

The Back of My Pocket Letter from Beth

It is typical to stash items in the back of the pocket letter, so Beth tucked lots of fun goodies inside–tiny stickers and embellishments I plan to use in my planners and for making ATCs.  Besides the letter, there are really no strict “requirements,” but I don’t think I’ve seen a pocket letter yet that didn’t contain a factory sealed tea bag.

Here’s a closer look at the items tucked into the pockets:

Fun stuff!

But the best part of the pocket letter is…you guessed it! The letter!  Beth wrote a nice long letter and used stationery recycled from leftover journal pages–something I also do with my leftover journal pages!  I loved all the quotes and insights printed on the pages.

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Interesting side note about the “do not follow” quote: It is usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, not T.S. Eliot.  Investigation time!

The cool thing about pocket letters is that they fold neatly into a business envelope–or in the case of the ones I make, an A7 envelope–and placed in the mail.  I reinforce the edges with strong washi tape or clear packing tape. They usually cost between $1.50-2.00 to mail (USA domestic).

Here are pics of the first pocket letters I received [click an image for a closer look]:

We’ve all improved tremendously since our first pocket letters!

Pocket letters are a fun way to share more than a letter with a friend or relative. Instead of dropping photos, tips, inspirational material, etc. into an envelope with a letter, you can incorporate all of those things into a unique and personalized pocket page.  They take a little more planning than letter-in-envelope, but they make attractive and unexpected gifts.

Try one out today!

 

“Breast Cancer Has No Face”

Today marks two years since my younger sister’s passing due to cancer.  It’s not easier, as some assured me it would be.  Every day I think about her. Every day I fight tears and nail-spitting anger.  Every day I remind myself that this life is not all, that I have a “hope burning in my heart” to be reunited with my sister and other loved ones some day.

Last weekend, I did a bit of organizing and finally emptied some boxes of “nonessentials” from our move two and a half years ago.  As I emptied a box, here and there, I stumbled across something connected to my sister: an essay she wrote and sent for my review before submitting; a recipe for a smoothie she shared because I don’t like eating breakfast; an old journal with the plans we made for the book we were going to write together about her experiences; a prayer written in tears, pleading for her healing.

I found wrapped in lots of tissue the extras of the beautiful sun catchers she made for a women’s group I coordinated.  She’d made a similar one for all of us sisters for Christmas one year and since I liked it so much, she volunteered to make some for the group.

There is always something in a box or in a book or even on my cellphone or saved to my hard drive…these beautiful reminders of her life on earth.

There’s this precious angel saved in a text message.

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She sent this to me the night after she read my blog post that championed her “fighting like a girl” against the cancer monster.  She made the angel for a bulletin board in her middle school classroom, probably for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  In the 10-25-12 text message she wrote, “My angel is missing her halo.” For me the missing halo has become a metaphor for Karlette as she walked this earth.  She was indeed an angel without a halo to many through her many selfless acts.

In her message she also wrote the title of this piece, “Breast Cancer Has No Face”–her socio-political statement about a disease that has no boundaries, no consideration for a person’s name, income, or status, and certainly no cure.

For me, its face is very real and it bears the eyes of my sister.

Everyday Gifts: Good-bye December. Hello 2015.

"Winter Rose Poinsettia"--I'd never seen one before this year.  It's beautiful (and I hear they last longer than "regular" poinsettias)!

“Winter Rose Poinsettia”–I’d never seen one before this year. It’s beautiful (and I hear they last longer than “regular” poinsettias)!

In typical fashion, I spent the last few days reflecting on 2014, particularly the last weeks of the year.  December was unkind in many ways–filled with lots of grays and pale blues and challenges and setbacks and inconsistencies and not-so-pleasant surprises.

But every day there was something that tickled my spirit or brought a smile to my face–silly and proud moments with my little one; a couple of hours with one of my dearest friends at a conference we both happened to attend; the giddy reaction of the adult audience members as my hubby told a story to children; the frog-hop of excitement my son performed when he opened his Christmas gift and found the robot he wanted.

December gave winter rose poinsettias, festive shop windows, the music, lights, and neon glitz of downtown Nashville, teddy bears, and beautiful photographs from friends. [Click an image for a larger view]

It gave a colleagues’ pink frog with green eyes that is now featured on notecards I made for her.

"Living the Pink Life," Cy's Frog

“Living the Pink Life,” Cy’s Frog

December allowed me to see beautiful dolls (on display in an Asian restaurant my hubby and I visited for the first time in December):

December brightened my mailbox with photos from Patty, known as Cakers to you–the colorful silk fibers postcard made for a “Hobbies Deserve Photos Too” swap:

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“A Rainbow of Fibers,” Photo by Patty aka Cakers

And a calming view of the Atlantic Ocean sent in an email while that same someone was spending Christmas vacation in Mexico with her hubby.  I envied her vacation away from the madness, but appreciated her timely gift.

"Cancun for Christmas," Photo by Cakers, December 2014

“Cancun for Christmas,” Photo by Cakers, December 2014

December cheered me with a cuddly teddy bear found in an unexpected place–at an academic conference.

“Bringing You Love,” 2014.  The bear belongs to one of the vendors at a conference I attended. Her boyfriend sent it to keep her company while she was traveling.

December warmed me early one Monday morning when a shuttle driver sang his testimony to a busload of conference attendees as he shuttled us from our hotels to the conference site.   It warmed me again later that day when a country singer serenaded me and even made up a song just for me in an attempt to lure me and a colleague into the saloon where he was performing.

December offered laughter through hilarious ugly sweater modeling and the “Nat King Cole” crooning of a colleague that had the women going wild at the University’s Christmas party.

For these and so much more I am grateful.

I begin the new year looking forward to the gifts hidden in the daily toils, the little things we so often overlook when other matters sap our strength and spirit.  I pray that you, too, will search for and appreciate the tiny, everyday joys that make life bearable and pleasurable.

Happy 2015 to you and yours.

 

 

 

Poetry on Postcards (or, Happy Warmer Days!)

I’m convinced most of the USA has been dreaming of this day–the first day of spring. Many of us have endured a brutal winter, so March 20 means the end of icy and snowy days (is near).

I’m working on a “Poetry on Postcards” swap and decided that I would introduce my partner to a poet she hasn’t read before–Tameka Cage Conley. I am proud to say I know this poet. She completed her undergraduate degree in English at the institution at which I grew up as a professor, scholar, leader, administrator.

Here is one of the postcards I designed for the swap:

"December Rose" and Excerpt from "The Cell Is the Song," by Tameka Cage Conley

“December Rose” and Excerpt from “The Cell Is the Song,” by Tameka Cage Conley

Conley is an extraordinary literary artist (poet, playwright, novelist) on the rise.  You can read the full poem and one other poem, “If Sula Had a Daughter Raised by Nel,” on the Driftless Review site.  Prepare for an experience with words, sound, texture, feeling.

Ironically, the photo was shot on a rainy December day in New Orleans, just outside my parents’ front door.  Is it springy enough to wish you a “Happy Spring?”

“A Few of My Favorite Things”

What do you do with the “leftover,” extra photos cluttering your workspace or filling boxes?  Do you toss them?  Repurpose them?  Give them away?  One of the things I enjoy doing with my extra photos is “destashing” them through Sharp Shooters, a group on swap-bot.  I typically host a “destash” swap quarterly, so Sharp Shooters can “unload” their extras on someone who can use them.  The swaps typically call for “destashing” at least 5-7 different photos and swappers can send the photos “as is” or make notecards, postcards or collages with them before sending them to their partners.

Maggie, “an Australian gal,” sent an amazing package of 30 photos!  She went way beyond expectation and thoughtfully selected photos with a few of my favorite things in mind–water, nature, and the color pink.  These just happen to be some of her favorites as well.  She packaged each set separately in self-made envelopes with a bit of explanation on one side and washi tape on the other.

I bet you can guess from the washi tape colors which set of photos each envelope held.

All the water photos were taken around various beaches in and around Melbourne, Victoria, with the exception of the cute duck. The duck was taken at the lake of the Royal Melbourne Botanical Gardens. Maggie admits being “addicted to the water,” so it’s one of her favorite things to capture on camera.

Most of the nature photos were taken around her neighborhood during the spring and summer.  Some were “staged” shots in her home.

Maggie “loves pink…it’s as simple as that!”  For her, finding pink flowers to photograph is a pleasure, so she sent many beautiful pink flowers. She also included a seahorse skeleton her sister found at the beach many years ago.  The skeleton isn’t pink, but the background is.

I have so many plans for Maggie’s photos!  Some are headed for the “Wall of Inspiration” in my “work” office, and others will find a home in my 2014 Project Life album.

Maggie is a design student and has an Etsy shop where she sells some of her fine art prints and notecards.  If you love her photos and want to see more, check out her store.

For now…enjoy!

Fight Like a Girl!

“My Sister’s Tat”
One of my younger sisters, a four-time breast cancer survivor, had this tattoo done after her first round.

In case you haven’t heard, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM).  “Someman” posted on Facebook that he’s “offering”  free “exams” to women during BCAM.  I found it insulting, creepy and a bit disturbing that he would trivialize such an important matter to get laughs. Breast Cancer–cancer period–is no laughing matter and we must do everything we can to raise awareness and encourage women to examine themselves monthly and have mammograms done annually.   We must also do what we can to help those who are suffering and continue rallying around survivors and co-survivors.  Those are goals of one of the swaps I participated in and of some of the mail I received this month.

The card below completes the “Think Pink” swap I participated in earlier this month (You can see the first card I received in the “Good Mail In…” post).  TeePeeMaiden made this and sent it all the way from Canada.  I love all the layers!  I am honored that she shared this with me since she also made the card for one of her friends who is a breast cancer survivor.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month
Handmade card and envelope art by TeePeeMaiden/Donna B.

The next piece is an Artist Trading Card (ATC).  ATCs are miniature pieces of art (2.5 x 3.5 inches in size) that are usually shared among artists, crafters and collectors.  Even for the “craft-challenged” like me, ATCs can be addictive.  This one, made with paint, a sharpie, ribbon and a little bling, features the theme “Fight Like a Girl.”

“Fight Like a Girl” made by MLRobinson/Journal Junkie

If anyone thinks “fight like a girl’ is an insult or an attack on masculinity, he or she needs to meet my younger sister.  She is now battling cancer for the fifth time in seven years.  She’s dealt with chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy and other radical treatments.  She’s more than a survivor.  She’s a fighter who didn’t run and hide from “the enemy” that assailed her body relentlessly.  She’s a fighter who stared death in the face many times and, by the grace of God, is still here.  She’s an inspiration to anyone who hears her story.  Her very presence motivates me to stand up to my literal and figurative bullies and “fight like a girl”–fearless, relentless, strong and hopeful.