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.

“Everything Is Waiting for You”

Last night I participated in a “Write Together” workshop with about 15 beautiful souls. The workshop was organized and hosted by Love Notes founder and coordinator, Jennifer Belthoff. I needed the time to write and think in the community of others, so I am grateful for Jennifer and her willingness and openness to offer the workshop during this challenging time.

After participants shared in response to one of the prompts, Jennifer read a poem by British poet David Whyte. I was not familiar with his work and I’ve had little time to process this poem, but it resonates with me.

Everything Is Waiting for You
David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

Even though pretty much the entire world is going through the Corona Virus crisis together, we are disconnected from much of our normal. This might make us feel isolated and alone, particularly as we grapple–in our individual ways–with the toll this pandemic is taking on humanity.  I appreciate the invitation to tune in to everything [else] that is waiting.


About the image: The postcard above was sent to me by my swap-bot/book-lover friend Geraldine J (Nannydino). It is the work of Australian artist, Loui Jover. Needless to say, I love this piece, and am looking forward to learning more about the artist.

Something Arresting…

“Magnolia Tree” by Christine B.

Earlier this week, while escaping my ice-cold office and collecting warmth in the tree-adorned area just outside, I looked up and noticed a flash of red in the magnolias. The seed pods were exploding with color. In awe, I simply paused and allowed the beauty to wash over me.

My penfriend, Christine, must have been awed by the magnolia’s beauty too. She enclosed with a birthday card the precious gift of a magnolia watercolor that may have been inspired by my spring magnolia post. [The scan above does little justice to her art]. She perfectly captured the creamy white with just a nod at yellow. What appears gray on screen is actually silver, and those silver and green splashes capture and “emote” the experience of being in the actual presence of the tree in bloom.

Sparkly. Tingly. Beautiful.

Pavithra Mehta’s declaration regarding the magnolia warrants repeating, so I’m thankful Christine reminded me of it.

There is something arresting and unearthly about a magnolia tree in flower. Something that dances between divinity and dementia.

This weekend may you pause for a moment and give into the beauty of some thing, some one, some moment; may you allow it to grip you and wash over you, to soak into your skin, permeate your being, and change some part of who you are.


Side Note: I began interacting with Christine, the artist, via Jennifer Belthoff’s Love Notes project. In the few years since we met she has become one of my treasured friends. If you love snail mail, meeting new people, and sharing your light, consider participating in the next round of Love Notes. It begins October 13, so get signed up today: Love Notes 29.

Postcards = Love

Shannan, a Love Notes participant, stopped by my office today.  She traveled all the way from her office on campus to say hello.  That’s right!  One of the participants and I live in the same area and work at the same university. What are the odds? We discovered this just after the October round began.  Furthermore, I had been following her blog and never made the connection between the blogger and the grant writer who helped me with a recent grant proposal. The world is so much smaller than we think, and I’m always surprised by that reality.  Anyway, her stopping by reminded me that I hadn’t written about my October Love Notes!

As you may recall from an October post, Love Notes is hosted by Jennifer Belthoff.  Participants sign up for the swap on her website, and then she assigns partners–notified via email–who correspond with each other for three weeks based on a prompt she provides each Sunday.

My October partner, Martha Slavin, is an artist and writer who resides on the West Coast.  She sent beautifully designed cards with well-considered messages.

"Imagine," art by Martha Slavin

“Imagine,” art by Martha Slavin

In response to the week one prompt, “Imagine,”  Martha wrote:

Imagine

a word that resonates deep

inside you–like

Remember

Kindness

Joy

words that connect us.

For the week two prompt, “Don’t forget to remember…,” Martha sent a community themed postcard that underscored the message she wrote on the back.

"How to Build a Community," Text by members SCW Community. Karen Kerney, watercolor and colored pencils.

“How to Build a Community,” Text by members SCW Community. Karen Kerney, watercolor and colored pencils.

She reminded me of our connection to each other as humans and advised:  “Don’t forget to remember…”

  • that community is what makes us human
  • that it takes at least two to be whole
  • that you can reach out every day to someone who needs you

If you’re interested in the postcard art, you can find more information here: Syracuse Cultural Workers.  It can be purchased in various forms–print, notecard, bookmark, t-shirt.

For the final week’s prompt, “Courage is…,” Martha sent a mixed-media piece she created:

"I See You, Butterfly," artwork by Martha Slavin

“I See You, Butterfly,” artwork by Martha Slavin

She defined courage as:

  • taking the next step
  • seeing with new eyes
  • living with you feelings
  • reaching out to others
  • getting help when you need it

Martha sent an extra piece with the final mailing:

"What Blows in the Wind?" art and text by Martha Slavin

“What Blows in the Wind?” art and text by Martha Slavin

What blows in the wind?

songs. leaves. smoke. dust. memories. seeds. scents. Mary Poppins. rain. sleet. snow. hail. storms. sailboats. birds. hats. thoughts. feathers. doors. whispers. bubbles. petals. curtains. longings.

Who wouldn’t love a poem in which “Mary Poppins” makes an appearance? Notice the mix of abstract and concrete?

Martha also tucked into the envelope her business card which features her artwork (on back):

"Tree of Life," art by Martha Slavin

“Tree of Life,” art by Martha Slavin

A lovely reminder of the life-sustaining contribution of trees.

I also received cards from other Love Notes participants–Christine, Lorelei, and Jacki–but I’ll share those tomorrow (maybe).  For now, take a few extra moments to enjoy Martha’s pretties. You can find more of Martha’s art and writing at: Postcards in the Air.

Save the date:  The next round of Love Notes begins January 2017.

 

Love Notes!

Love Notes begins tomorrow!

Love Notes is a postcard project coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff that “encourages slowing down, getting back to basics, and connecting through handwritten notes sent through the mail.”  Participants sign up for the swap on Jennifer’s website and then she assigns partners–notified via email–who correspond with each other for three weeks based on a prompt she provides each Sunday. The swap is hosted a few times during the year. Although the swap has been going on for some time, I only recently heard about it through Christine B., a penfriend I met through Liberate Your Art 2016.

Postcard writers can respond to the prompt in any way they choose–sentence, paragraph, poem or list.

Angie, my partner for the July swap, lives in Tampa, Florida. She sent three postcards that had an element of “handmade.”  The  first one was the front of a greeting card, too cute to toss, and perfect for her message in response to the prompt, “Begin each day with…:”  Begin each day with hugs, flowers, and friends.

Hugs, Flowers, and New Friends

Hugs, Flowers, and New Friends

Angie’s week two card, art deco fashion, was also appropriately chosen for her response to the prompt, “Yesterday…Today…Tomorrow…” She wrote: “Don’t ever lose your sense of style!  Be brave…Be strong…Be bold…Always!”

Felt hat and purse with triangular decorations, 1928

Felt hat and purse with triangular decorations, 1928

Angie had fun experiementing with her new watercolors. This postcard is from Pepin Press.

And lastly, in response to the prompt, “In my next 30 years…,” Angie wrote, “You get to choose what you spread.”

Spread Kindness by Angie C., Tampa, Florida

Although most participants share their own art and photography, Love Notes may be handmade or storebought.  In fact, participants can send note cards or letters instead of postcards.  The idea is to send a handwritten smile to be found among all the bills and junk that clutter our mailboxes.

Through the Love Notes Facebook group I connected with other participants and exchanged additional postcards.

Joanne from Ottawa (Canada) sent:

With Love from Ottawa

“With Love from Ottawa,” Photo by Joanne.

She penned a Henry David Thoreau quote on the back: “To affect he quality of the day that is the highest of arts.”

Christine B., who regularly shares her photo postcards with Love Notes participants, sent two cards, one featuring purple hydrangeas.  She sent this one “in solidarity” after yet another police shooting of an unarmed African American.

Hydrangeas by Christine B.

“Hydrangeas” by Christine B.

After receiving a photo postcard from me of a tree with birds’ nests, Christine sent a card featuring a snow-embellished tree she shot last winter.  She sent her card with well wishes for the academic year and a quote:  “Courage is fear that said its prayers.”

A reminder that summer's over. Photo by Christine Brooks of Flagstaff, Arizona.

“Winter,” Photo by Christine B. of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Lorelei C., a paper artist from Pennsylvania,  kindly sent two handmade postcards with lyrics from songs–the  catchy Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.” [Click an image for a closer look]

Finally, Deb, an artist from Virginia Beach, Virginia shared her lovely postcard made with ink, a “Make Art” stamp, washi tape, paint, and glitter pen.

love-notes-summer-2016-9

“Make Art,” by Deb D.

Make art.  An elegant “mandate” that we craft and create.  No objections from me!  I love how Deb accented the postcard with a dash of color and some of my favorite washi tape.

I’ve been looking forward to Love Notes since the July swap ended. If you haven’t noticed, I participate in a lot of mail swaps, but what I appreciate about Love Notes is the opportunity to make a real connection with individuals.  Besides, I’m more than ready to give all the “thinking” and “doing” of the last two months a momentary rest and send more pretty out into the world.   Partners have been assigned.  Now, we just wait for the prompt.

If you want to see more Love Notes, check out the Facebook group or search the #lovenotesjb hashtag on Instagram.  Be sure to check back. I’ll blog postcards as they come in!

Happy Weekend!