Favorite Moments of 2021

This year showed us–no matter how much chaos is around us–life continues. The year was brutal. Countless losses, “too many funerals,” constant change, and far too much heartache. But, as I’ve pointed out on many occasions, there’s also been good. As we close out 2021, I’m reflecting as I did last year, on some of my favorite moments of the year–in no particular order.

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Clinton Row Color Walk

Street Art. Roaming with my guys anywhere is always a good moment, but when we roamed through downtown Huntsville and found the Clinton Row Art Walk, I was pleased as punch. I shared some of the photos here, but eventually, I’ll share others.

College Language Association (CLA) Annual Conference. This was the first fully virtual academic conference I’d attended. By the time it rolled around [in April], I was oh-so-tired of Zoom, but the conference provided such a rewarding, interactive experience that it didn’t feel virtual at all. I laughed, lauded, and learned.

Joe Wheeler State Park. This work retreat, thankfully, was more retreat than work. I wrote a little about it in Between Water and Trees. I rode the high of all that outdoors for quite some time.

Summer Road Trips! After sheltering-in-place for 16 months, the guys and I hit the road to visit our folks. We went to New Orleans to visit my parents and to Millers Creek, North Carolina to visit Hubby’s parents. Both trips were too short, but it was oh so good to lay eyes on our parents [and siblings] and make sure they’re okay.

English Garden. My in-laws have an amazing English-style garden. When we visited, I stole away often to spend time in the garden. The butterflies loved the garden too, and I have the photos to prove it. 😉

“A Garden Visitor.”

Thanksgiving Road Trip! By November, the benefits of the summer escapes had worn off and we were itching to get out of the bubble of Northern Alabama for just a moment. We took another short road trip to Atlanta to visit my sister and niece for Thanksgiving. Bonus! We also spent a little time with a bunch of nieces and nephews and one of my sisters-in-law! We won’t make mention of the macaroni and cheese that I was compelled to make with the “wrong kind” of pasta and cheese! :-/ [Everyone else thought it was good, but it was not my signature mac and cheese!].

Working with Lilith. I had the privilege of editing a book for one of the most pleasant individuals I’ve ever worked with. She has an incredible story. We were acquainted before, but through this endeavor, our friendship has been developing. Although we indeed completed the work, our meetings to review the edits were more like tea with a friend than work.

Dean. Among last year’s “favorite moments,” I listed that I had accepted the role of department chair. Who knew that less than a year later, I’d drop the chair to accept another role—Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences? I seriously resisted at first until I realized I had no logical explanations for not accepting the role. Of course, I am having a blast!

Tell It Slant. The Emily Dickinson Museum’s Tell It Slant Poetry Festival was everything my writing soul needed and more. I went to seminars, workshops, readings, and Q&A’s. I became acquainted with new poets, acquired new art and books, and most importantly, experimented with new writing techniques. I am certainly looking forward to next year’s event!

Tree Love for 30-Day Creative Gathering

30-Days Creative Gathering. Sheila Delgado’s Creative Challenge was the mental and creative break I needed daily throughout the month of September! This gift to myself offered so much joy!

World Watercolor Month:  Thankfully, my friend Sheila introduced me to this month-long art party. It was fun finding ways to transform my photography into “watercolor” art. If you’re interested, you can find the three #worldwatercolormonth posts by clicking the link.

Time with My Bestie. My bestie came into town to drop off her youngest daughter for college. After the very last minute, her daughter–bound for a university in California–switched course and chose our alma mater (where I now work). So in these “Corona Times” I got to see my bestie! She even bought a sparkling [non-alcoholic] beverage to toast my new role.

Write Together. Jennifer Belthoff’s “Write Together” sessions were among my favorite moments this year and last year. I don’t always get a chance to participate, but the “time out” for gathering, contemplating, and writing is always well-spent.

Birthday Fun. Despite getting horribly sick halfway through my birthday, that was actually one of the best days of the year. As part of my birthday festivities, the guys and I headed to Scott’s Orchard. Of course, anytime outdoors with my camera and my guys, surrounded by trees, is a perfect day!

A Moment with Dr. Garland. It’s always wonderful when the virtual world collides with the “real world,” so when my blogging friend K.E. Garland showed up as a presenter at the Mellon conference, I was thrilled. We run in similar academic circles, so our encounter “in real life” was just a matter of time. I invited her to present at my university, and we had a moment to connect after her awesome workshop which offered many wonderful tips for surviving the pandemic as an academician. I love her candor and her energy.

Tea Time!

Prayer Circle. Just before the academic year began, my colleague Kayla invited a very small group of women to her home for brunch and prayer over the year. After conversation and a good meal, we talked about our intentions and each prayed over the various facets of the university and the academic year. I recalled the good energy of our Prayer Circle when we hit rough spots in the semester.

Books & Tea. The Women’s Ministries Coordinators at my church organized a series of book talks on Chrystal Evans Hurst’s She’s Still There. The weekly virtual talks were soul-stirring, affirming, inspirational, and fun. The talks culminated with a three-day Women’s Empowerment Weekend and an in-person event featuring Hurst. For that event, we dressed in our best and headed to the church, the first in-person event held at our church since the pandemic began. Of course, we had to present negative COVID-19 test results, wear masks, and practice social distancing.

“Max Your Talent” Mini Women’s Retreat. This regional event, held a couple of weeks ago, was just what I needed as I headed into the Christmas holiday. It reinforced my understanding of my purpose, my humanity, and my identity in Christ.

Sunflower Encounters.  One of my friends recently marveled that “the sunflowers always seem to find [me].” I think she might be right. I typically have sunflower encounters in unexpected places and moments–like the mini sunflower field my guys found at the beginning of the school year. I shared some of the blooms in “The Gift of Sunflowers.”

Sunflowers from Hubby, Beginning to Wilt

Sneaky Sunflowers. I was in the middle of a meeting when my hubby attempted to sneak into my office with a glorious bouquet of sunflowers. He even purchased a vase and filled it with water. The blooms brought so much light and joy to the office and we won’t mention the hundreds of photos I shot as I attempted to recreate some of my favorite Van Gogh pieces with a camera.

Sunflower gifts. My family and friends enjoy surprising me with sunflower gifts, and this year was no different. You’ve seen the sunflower art and the sunflower gift basket from Kelli, but there were other gifts. My [former] student Raven sent a personalized acrylic nameplate for my desk with my new title. Of course, it was embellished with sunflower art. My son gave me a beautiful hand-designed sunflower keepsake box–my new fav! And there were so many more!

Van Gogh Immersive Experience. This! Oh, so much joy! I will talk about it in another post when I have time to manage my photo selection—and when I can avoid “spoiling” the experience for those who have not been yet. I’ll just say this: I waited and waited and waited for the Van Gogh Experience to reach my area. When it finally did, I purchased tickets right away. It did not disappoint!

There were many, many more moments of this year, and these “few” moments show that if we’re paying attention, in spite of a pandemic, we can still find so much good. I hope you this carry with you into 2022.

Happy 2022!

christmas. merry. | a poem and a song

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I come this evening bearing two Christmas gifts for you–“merry,” a poem by Ullie-Kaye, and “This Christmas,” a song by Luther Vandross.

merry.

so let us be merry then.
it is written in the stars
after all, that we sing.
and if we do not know the
words, to hum. and if we do
not know the melody, to close
our eyes and feel the music
beating in our lungs.
and should we be too tired
to feel. should our hearts be
stained with sadness, find
the silence. hunt for peace.
free ourselves from the notion
that we must always be okay.
then save our hallelujahs,
for another day.

ullie-kaye [Trust me. Click the link.]


You’re welcome. 😀

Merry Christmas!

Joy in the Small

“Find Joy,” Monica C for Global heART Exchange

Hello there! I am dropping in with a quick reminder for the weekend:

Find joy in the small things.

Life isn’t meant to be grand all the time, and it isn’t wise to spend our moments seeking or waiting for the grander ones.

Participate fully in the small.

There is always joy in the small moments–the way the sun paints the sky just before evening falls, crisp fall leaves crunch-crunch-crunching beneath our feet, a child’s infectious laughter, warm hugs, holding hands while walking and talking through the woods, an unexpected visit or call from a friend, a cozy fireplace, an afternoon nap.

Each day holds many opportunities for joy. Don’t let the “ordinariness” of the opportunities cause you to miss them. In fact, look for them. Joy is certainly there.


About the Image: The “Find Joy” handmade postcard above features the work of Monica C. She was one of my “receive from” partners in the September Global heART swap. Her postcard arrived on a gloomy day, the only piece of mail in my lonely post office box. The card was made with chalk pastels, ink, and a whole lot of joy. Thank you, Monica!

November Chaos | A Moment with the Willow

Anxiety to Joy

We are halfway through November, and I’m finally making my first post of the month! Gasp!

I had this month’s posts planned since September, but after I realized how chaotic this month would be, I “aborted” the mission–to daily share a piece of art I created in September for Sheila’s Creative Gathering. I will share those pieces as the “Spirit moves” and let November be what it will be. [Many prayers, hugs, and hearts for Sheila who is seriously ill and in the hospital].

Today, I am moved to share one of the 10 “abstract” photo art pieces I created for the Gathering. It captures my time with one of the weeping willows at the Unity Pond on campus. However, it is the Bible verse I paired with the photo that compels me to share–a verse of scripture I meditate on frequently and one I often repeat to others as they grapple with anxiety and stress these days.

When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought me joy. —Psalm 94:19

We have been dealing with a bit “too much” over the last 19-20 months. In the early months, we realized and appreciated our need for the slowing down the pandemic required. Now, instead of seeing this time as an opportunity to do things differently and better, we are trying to force an old norm that no longer serves us. I’m convinced that besides the loss and trauma of this moment, much of our sense of overwhelm and anxiety comes from our rush to normal—exacerbated by our not taking time to sit with and process our grief.

It seems everyone I encounter these days is overwhelmed, exhausted, and anxious. I have this horrible sense that if we don’t pause or slow down, we’re headed for an even bigger crisis.

Perhaps, you’re feeling all those things too.

I hope a moment with the willow and these words remind you there is relief. Thankfully, in God’s presence we can find comfort, peace, and joy, even when life makes it difficult to pause or slow down.

May you carry that with you.

Fractals | Morning Frax

This morning I awakened at my usual 5:00 a.m. with a bit of anxiety. I couldn’t pinpoint any major stressors, so I figured the culprit was the many tiny things on my mind—the lengthy task list, school (un)readiness, deadlines, projects up in the air.

Deep breaths. Journal. Prayer. Still anxious.

Then, the words of Psalm 94:18-19 came to mind, and I knew I had to meditate and pray those very words. I doodled flowers, wrote the words beside them, and colored everything a cheerful red and yellow in my doodle journal.

A few hours later, to kill time (while waiting at the doctor’s office), I “fraxed” the [photo of the] doodle and words. The result–with scripture added:

Psalm 94 Fractal

May it provide what your soul needs today.

Weekend Joy and the Clinton Row Colorwalk

A smile relieves a heart that grieves. Remember what I said. –The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

So far this long weekend has been exactly what I needed. When I left work Thursday, I’d planned to take the four-day weekend seriously re: self-care and joy breaks. I had some “unfinished business,” so I worked till noon Friday and I haven’t thought about work since then.

I have been just as serious about my 10 days of joy.

Yesterday, I held my first full “brain dump” session in a long time and ended up with a three-page list of all the things that have been nipping at my soul. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very “joyful.” And it isn’t. In fact, without context, the list is sad, stressful, anxious, but the JOY is in how I felt after writing the list! I have been carrying too much stuff internally, and when I don’t deal with it or even take a moment to acknowledge it, all that soul-gunk spills out in not-so-nice ways. So…taking an hour or so Sunday morning to detoxify my soul was beneficial in many ways.

I’m not sure I would have been able to even approach that list if the guys and I hadn’t taken time out for creativity Saturday afternoon. We grabbed our cameras, headed downtown, donned our masks, and took a two-hour photo walk. The weather was perfect—cloudy, cool, and breezy.

I noted the typical street scenes—musicians playing, private conversations, storefronts, architecture, diners—but, because I am nearly obsessed with street art, the Clinton Row Colorwalk was my favorite joy moment of the walk!

The Clinton Row Colorwalk is an alley filled with murals painted by Huntsville (Alabama) artists.

Mick Jagger with Frame

Needless to say, every single piece of work thrilled me, but the quote written along the frame of the Mick Jagger portrait transformed the art into a powerful statement:

I pray that looking beyond this day we can all work together to overcome the hatred and division and start to heal the pain and suffering that everybody is feeling in this country.

Here’s a collage of “sneak peaks” of some the other pieces:

To see the full pieces, see my Flickr album here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Album and for more information about the art and some of the artists’ processes, check out the Facebook page here > Clinton Row Colorwalk Community.

What is today’s joy break? I’ll be spending time with family safely celebrating my baby cousin’s kindergarten graduation!

Joy all around!

A Moment with Eric Carle

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar story is about hope. You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future. –Eric Carle

Beloved children’s book author and illustrator, Eric Carle, passed away May 23 at 91 years of age, but I learned of his passing just this morning. I spent today’s joy break revisiting Carle’s books and illustrations and thinking about moments I spent with my little one reading and rereading his books. I even listened to the recording of my son “reading” Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1967) that I mentioned in a 2018 post (linked below).

It’s sad that we lost Carle, but it heartens me to know that he will live on and on through his works and in the memories of generations who were mesmerized by his colorful books.

If you’d like just a little more of Eric Carle, here are two more posts which feature Carle’s work:

Take a moment to (re)visit Carle’s work this weekend and have joy!

#ThursdayTreeLove | Golden Flame Tree

Golden Flame Tree-2

Since today is Thursday, I bring you a bit of tree love for today’s joy break. I’m not usually on campus this time of the year, so I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the transformations of trees I usually only see late summer through early spring.

While taking a short walk to escape the computer screen and the general madness of the day, I couldn’t help but notice the tiny bright yellow blossoms of the Koelreuteria paniculata. The tree, appropriately called the golden flame tree, is certainly a beauty, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next. 

For now, the flaming yellow flowers against the dark green offer enough joy for the day. 

Golden Flame Tree-1

If you’d like to learn more about the tree, here’s an article from Dave’s Garden: Golden Rain Tree: Friend or Foe.


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

100 Things That Bring Me Joy

Joy

Hello, my bloggy friends! I hope you didn’t miss me too much during my break.

While I was on “blog vacation,” I realized I didn’t need a break from my blog at all. I needed a break from some other things in life. In fact, work has been all-consuming. A few days ago, I was speaking with my colleague Ramona about our desperate need for seven consecutive days of not thinking about work. She replied that we need 10 days of doing the things that give us joy.

Wow! That’s a beautiful thought.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the whole world slowed down and took 10 days for joy? I know…I know…not realistic at all.

There was a time not so long ago when I made a point to do something “joyful” every day. These days…that’s a struggle, so the occasional afternoon nap is the best I can do. Lately, however, I’ve been wondering why it’s so difficult to muster the energy for things that bring joy. There’s still a month standing between me and an actual vacation, so I figured to save my sanity I must make a conscientious effort to take a joy break each day.

To jumpstart my return to joy, I pulled out the very long list, “100 ‘Things’ That Bring Me Joy,” I wrote seven years ago. I made some minor updates, and I’m sharing it with you as the first post of “10 Days of Joy.”

The list is pretty long, so you might want to grab a cup of your favorite warm beverage before you get started. 😉

First on my list are the basics, the foundation, so to speak.  Nothing else would matter without these entities and individuals who bring not only joy but meaning and purpose to my life:

  • God the Father in whose will I try to walk, who knows me intimately but still loves me, who pursues me relentlessly
  • God the Son who sacrificed His life for me and who loves me like no other
  • God the Holy Spirit who chides me when I’m heading in the wrong direction, who comforts me, and makes sense of my woe and pain
  • My hubby to whom I’ve been married for almost 27 years, who shares this world and this lifetime with me
  • My now 15-year-old son who from the time he was born has been teaching me what true joy looks like and how to focus on what really matters
  • My parents who have been supporting me all my life, for the love and loyalty evident in their 63-year marriage, for their integrity, and perseverance
  • My sisters who are my forever and dearest friends. Each is a reminder of different aspects of my personality and character; looking at all of them at once is like holding up a mirror. We miss Karlette and Lori like crazy, but their hearts still beat in us
  • My brothers, who stand strong and firm and exhibit the positive values of manhood taught to them by my father
  • My close friends—my angels on earth. They each add something unique to my life and they have held me up and sat in dark corners with me more times than I can count

Then, there are the little whispers…the things that leave impressions and carry a touch of joy that sustains me and keeps me pushing through the day(s)—

  • God’s love enveloping me
  • Random daily hugs from my not-so-little one
  • The dawning of new knowledge on my students’ faces
  • An unexpected compliment on a day when I don’t look or feel my best
  • Good times with colleagues. We actually like each other 🙂
  • Hearing one of my favorite hymns beautifully sung: “It is Well With My Soul” or “Come Thou Fount” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (I’ll stop before this becomes its own list)
  • Doing something for others without recognition or reward
  • Meeting someone with a beautiful spirit
  • Rainy days with a good book
  • Beautiful words/quotes
  • Baby smiles and giggles
  • Stumbling upon breath-taking beauty in nature

Of course, the natural world offers so many moments of joy.

  • Cloud formations
  • The ocean because of its vastness, beauty, and the salty air surrounding it
  • Bodies of water in general…something so peaceful about them and they seem to make me a little giddy
  • A mountainous landscape—mountains add such majesty to a place
  • The view from my office @ work because of all the gorgeous trees
  • Beautiful, colorful flowers! If you check out my Instagram page, you’ll see that I can’t resist snapping photos of them!
  • The view from my home office because of the beautiful clouds and the visits from my feathered friends.
  • TREES!
  • A cool and breezy summer day—rare here in the South, but it happens
  • Autumn for all that autumn means: cooler temperatures, changing colors, pumpkin everything, beautiful clothes and sweaters (Not sure this should be under nature)
  • The moon!
  • Falling leaves
  • Red leaves
  • Spotting a deer, rabbit or other animal in its natural habitat
  • SUNFLOWERS!
  • Morning dew
  • The pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof
  • Frolicking squirrels
  • Spring revival, especially the short but sweet awakening of cherry blossoms and dogwoods
  • Birdsongs in the early morning
  • Butterflies fluttering from flower to flower
  • Long walks/hikes in nature
  • Sunrises and sunsets
  • Found hearts!
  • My favorite colors in nature—purple, red, and pink

Then, there are those things that help my spirit recall joy

  • Quiet mornings of prayer and meditation
  • Meaningful conversation
  • A good church service (good music, connection, and cerebral sermons)
  • A good day’s work
  • Singing my heart out
  • Listening to good music with meaningful lyrics
  • Writing in my journal
  • Poetry—reading it and writing it
  • Reading my favorite scriptures
  • Getting so absorbed in well-written fiction that I can’t put the book down till I finish
  • My son’s reading list–an opportunity to revisit great literature, read something I missed, or catch the newer writers
  • Looking through old photos and photo albums
  • A finished blog post  🙂
  • Museums
  • Children’s art
  • Illustrations in children’s books
  • Making lists
  • A finished “to do” list—a very rare thing indeed!
  • A spotless and well-organized house
  • A piping hot cup of herbal tea
  • A guilt-free afternoon nap
  • A boxful of Bath and Body Works products
  • Tree walks
  • Good falafels
  • Publix brand Chocolate Almond ice cream

The things others do (or did) for me…

  • My son’s poems, stories, and essays. He’s been telling stories and writing all his life and doesn’t yet realize he is indeed a writer
  • My hubby taking care of things around the house that I normally take care of
  • Little surprises from my hubby
  • My son’s artwork
  • Gifts from my sisters, especially those with a “sister” theme
  • Teddy Bear bookends my mom gave me years ago. There’s a story behind the bookends and that makes them extra special.
  • Teddy Bear gifts—including Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington
  • Bookstore gift cards
  • Gift boxes from my bestie
  • Sunflower mail!
  • The “sister spirit” sun-catchers my sister Karlette made

Sometimes, just looking at pretty, artsy things brings me joy, especially when I can use those things to do something for others:

  • Colorful stickers
  • Nice pens–ink or gel and Sharpies of all kinds!
  • Craft scissors
  • Craft punches, including corner rounders (they make everything elegant)
  • ATC blanks, sketchpads, and art journals
  • Rubber or acrylic stamps
  • Postcards
  • Photo apps
  • Pretty stationery, journals, and notebooks
  • Fine art, including photography
  • Handmade envelopes and cards
  • Washi tape!
  • Scrapbook materials, including Project Life and digital/printables
  • A good mail day, especially unexpected letters from friends
  • Apple products (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop—all things Apple)
  • Martha Stewart Scorer and Envelope Maker
  • Cricut—cutting is so relaxing!
  • My camera, of course!

My social media indulgences:

  • Pics and Posts!
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Flickr

Revisiting this list (of slightly more than 100) certainly offered today’s joy moment. I’m going to make a concerted effort to take time for joy each day–beyond morning prayer and meditation. Would you like to join me in taking (at least) a 5- or 10-minute joy break every day for the next 10 days?

Let’s see the difference joy makes!

Student Post 6: Joie de Vivre

Joie de Vivre

#blackboyjoy

We can learn so much from children. They are unbothered by the expectations and scrutiny of others, so they freely demonstrate the joy of life. In today’s student post our quiet, mild-mannered A’na of The Banana Hut reflects on a childhood moment of joy and muses over what happened to that overtly expressive child: Joie de Vivre.


About the Image: The photo above captures my son (a decade or so ago) in a moment of pure joy as he played in a pile of freshly raked leaves.