Coping with the Madness of 2020: List It

I woke up this morning with thoughts of an eight-year-old boy, the nephew of one of my kindest friends. He woke up this morning for the first time without his mother’s embrace. She passed yesterday after a very lengthy battle with cancer. Though I didn’t know her or her little boy, I felt myself spiraling for my friend, for her family, and especially for the little one.

As if the out-of-the-ordinary madness of 2020 isn’t enough, unfortunately we also have to deal with dreaded realities like illness and death. The everyday concerns and these hardships  combined with the abnormalities of this year can create a perfect stew of unmanageable anxiety and grief.

So how do I cope when life feels impossible and the emotions are too big to manage?  In addition to prayer (which we’ll save for another day), I make lists.

Lists, you ask? Not a typical task list but a lists of things I can’t control alongside a list of things I can control.

I can’t bring back the little boy’s mom. I can’t stop the hurt or grief, but I can pray and offer support.

I can’t singlehandedly eradicate the coronavirus, but I can do my part to stop the spread and protect my family and myself by wearing masks and avoiding situations in which social distancing is challenged.

I can’t control how the vote goes tomorrow, but I can control how I participate in the democratic process by exercising my hard-won right and responsibility to vote.

I can’t take away the abuse a friend suffered as a child that continues to hurt and traumatize so many decades later, but I can listen, affirm, pray, and hug.

I can’t make people not be racist, but I can educate and choose to operate from a place of love regardless.

When I was a teen, I encountered the “Serenity Prayer” on the front of a church bulletin, and the first part has been a mantra ever since:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference. –Reinhold Niebuhr

The lists help me confront the big scary things in black and white, and then, determine my response to them. More often than not, serenity is the welcomed outcome.


About the Images: The images in this post are the full color versions of the grainy black and white photos in the previous post. I’d mentioned in my latest #treelove post that for Creative Auto shots the camera shoots an original color photo AND processes the “creative photo” at the same time. I don’t like these as much, but this is what happens when I don’t remember where I put the images I’d planned for today’s post. :-/

Beauty and Purpose

Zinnias by Rift Vegan

Today,  I [re]opened a purple envelope filled with beautiful blooms photographed by Rift Vegan, one of my A Thousand Words pals on swap-bot. She sent the flowers a year ago for “Pink and Purple Awareness,” a swap organized to raise awareness and honor victims and survivors of breast cancer and domestic violence.

Here are her photos with her notes:

“Beauty Berry” by Rift Vegan

This lovely plant is actually native to your area, not mine! They plant all kinds of interesting things at the Rhododendron Garden at Hendricks Park–a favorite place to hike!

“Cosmos at the Community Garden” by Rift Vegan

“Rhododendron” by Rift Vegan

This photo was shot early October last year, so Rift wrote:

Prime time for the rhodys is April, but there are outliers that keep the garden in color all year round.

“Asters” by Rift Vegan

I love asters, but they tend to die when I plant them at my community garden plot. It’s been a few years though. It might be time to try again!

“Pretty” by Rift Vegan

I don’t know what this is, but it’s pretty!

As I read Rift’s notes and tidbits of information, I felt like I was taking a walk with her through the gardens. Along with the pictures, she enclosed a much longer note relating her “pink and purple” stories.

Having lost two sisters to breast cancer and a cousin and acquaintances to domestic violence, these issues are dear to my heart. Of course, the problems cannot be solved with flowers. The flowers are simply a beautiful way to honor their strength and remind us of hope.


Update: Thanks to Darren, the ArtyPlantman, I now know the “pretty” flower is called Osteospermum. Of course, the Arty Plantman would know! Thanks, Darren!

#ThursdayTreeLove | Unbothered

“Oak Feet”

The campus trees and I have been reunited! I returned to work August 3 [technically], but it had been too hot to visit them. Yesterday was less oppressive, so I was happy to get outdoors when a colleague needed a favor.  While I was walking back to my office, I noticed how beautifully the oak near my building had spread.

“The Spreading Oak” [iPhone photo]

I had to get back to my office to complete a task before leaving for the day, so I quickly snapped the shot above with my phone and promised to return.

I made good on my promise today.

I worked diligently all morning. It was afternoon before I knew it, so I took a five-minute break to clear my head and energize before tackling another task on the ‘must do today” list. Of course, I headed to the trees.

“Intricate Pattern”

Oh, how I missed them the last five+ months! I didn’t have much time, so I walked the circle of trees nearest my building. I stood still for a moment to take in the scene–from the patterns in tree trunks (above) to the tiny magnolia [?] that took root in the foot of another tree (below).

“Magnolia Rooted”

Then, I turned my attention to the oak. I was simply mesmerized by its majesty and by how much it had thrived in the absence of an abundance of human activity. In fact, all the trees seemed unbothered by pandemics and human foibles.

“Hello, Beautiful”

I was reminded of a reading from Melodie Beattie’s Journey to the Heart. In the passage, she refers to the redwoods of California, but I will take the liberty and ascribe her words to “my” trees:

“A Fragment of the Majestic”

For hundreds of years they have been here, patiently seeing things through. Little ruffled them. They just kept on growing for all those years—steadily, patiently, peacefully, calmly. They have been through enough, seen enough, to know not to worry. Things work out. Change happens. Life continues to evolve.

I didn’t see one tree hurrying or worrying. They have been here long enough to learn life’s lessons well.  –Melody Beattie, Journey to the Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul

“Strong Arms”

My first campus walk since March–a deep, cleansing breath.


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.

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part III: A Masterpiece

I’m back with my final TreeArt photo from a late May visit to Burritt on the Mountain.

A gorgeous tree stump arrested my attention just before we entered the “open-air museum,” as the park is described. It was behind a low fence near the entrance, so I walked around the fence to take a few shots. For my son, who is a stickler for rules, the fence meant “don’t go there.” so I had to be quick.

I was mesmerized by the patterns. It had recently rained, so the dampness gave the stump a smooth, polished texture. Isn’t it beautiful?

I’m convinced the “inside” of a tree is one of nature’s most magnificent masterpieces.


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.

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part II: Shadow and Light

We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates…Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.  –Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, 1933

I don’t know about you, but I really need time to slow down a bit. How are we already at the end of June? I am trying to savor this summer, but it’s almost impossible since I really haven’t begun my summer break yet (meetings and tying up too many loose ends of a crazy COVID semester). I will have to work a lot of tree love into the remaining five weeks if I am to face a new academic year with at least a little sanity.

Anyway, I’m back, as promised, with the second installment of TreeArt. The photos aren’t spectacular, but I I was drawn to these particular shots because of the interplay of shadow and light.

I failed to mention in TreeArt Part I that the photos for this three-part series were shot at Burritt on the Mountain in Huntsville, Alabama.

If you want way more Burritt tree love [and autumn loveliness] you should check out my November 2016 post, Walk to the Cross.

Until next time…


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.

Be Like the Bird | #WordlessWednesday

Be like the bird, who
pausing in his flight
on limb too slight,
feels it give way beneath him
yet sings,
knowing he has wings.

Victor Hugo, Les chants du crépuscule (Songs of Dusk), 1836


About the image: Did you spot the bird? I shot the “birdie-in-tree” a few days ago while checking out the scenery of my aunt’s new home. Even as I captured the image I knew I would [post] process it as a silhouette. The final lines of Hugo’s Songs of Dusk are a perfect fit. Don’t you think?

#ThursdayTreeLove | TreeArt Part I: The Sculptor

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the [wo]man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.  William Blake, Letters from William Blake to Dr. John Trusler (1799)

The guys and I finally had an opportunity to get in a bit of tree therapy a couple of weeks ago. After finding absolutely no parking at one mountain trail, we drove to another and found the parking lot empty. We had the whole trail to ourselves! [We kept our masks on anyway–just in case].

For this outing, I was drawn to the remains of trees, which add a bit of drama and art to the trails.

I didn’t take many shots, but I have nine or ten photos to share. Instead of throwing all in one post, I’m spreading them out over three [consecutive?] #ThursdayTreeLove posts.

Today I’m sharing tree sculptures. Nature does an amazing job of sculpting trees–from the initial “cut” to the shaping.

The one below is freshly “cut.” I wonder what shape it will take.

Apparently it was struck by lightning. Here’s the top:

I’ll be watching for how these transform [even more] over time.

Until next time…


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.

A Little Respite…

Earlier today, I decided to go to Instagram to look at pretty things–flowers, poetry, art, and trees.  What I found was beautiful–many, many posts and responses to racism and social injustice in this country. As I hoped and prayed that the posts serve purposes beyond “looks” and “likes,” I continued to scroll for a bit of loveliness. Sadly, there was little.

Today, on this yet again not-so-#WordlessWednesday, I’m writing to invite you to continue to share the pretty. It is indeed important to speak up and act against racism, social injustice, and violations of human rights and to encourage and hold the conversations–especially since in this particular moment of struggle we may finally birth something new and right. Continue to use social media as a platform to inform, educate, and express outrage, but I implore you to continue to share the other aspects of your life also. We need it. We need respite from the struggle and the trauma. Our lives, though full of pain, are also full of beauty and love.


About the image: I spotted the bright yellow “heart” above as the guys and I exited a nature trail last Friday. It spoke volumes. It speaks volumes.

Gifts from the Earth: Mystery Solved

Two weeks ago I shared five images altered in Photoshop and left readers with the task of guessing the original images. Everyone who played along thought they were flowers. That’s not surprising, since most of the images I share on the blog are flowers. However, they were wrong, wrong, wrong!

Well…not exactly. In fact, they were more than half right. Three of the five images were indeed flowers or blossoms.

Have you been anxiously awaiting the answer?  🙂 Wait no longer! Here are the images in the order presented in the post:

Flowers in front of the Farmer’s Market on campus. Shot last June. I’m trying to remember why I was on campus in the middle of June. ???

Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange [Hardy Orange] in the Huntsville Botanical Gardens. I photographed these a couple of summers ago. That reminds me–I still haven’t shared the zillions of photos my son and I shot that very hot summer day. Maybe, you’ll see them in next week’s Wordless Wednesday…

More flowers near the Farmer’s Market. These were “photoshopped,” of course.

A gourd from the Huntsville Botanical Gardens.

Azaleas from my parents’ neighbors’ garden. These beauties were in full bloom in the middle of February.

So yes, flowers AND no, flowers. But all gifts from our beautiful planet.

Still Dews.

“Vetch and Milk Thistle.” Photographer, Art Wolfe.

As I head into the weekend and to Sabbath rest, I am whispering in my spirit the penultimate verse of John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Soma.”

Many recognize the words from the hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” but do not know they come from the longer poem. What they also may not know is that Whittier–seeing it as showy or unnecessarily dramatic–was not a fan of singing in church; he believed that God should be worshipped in silent meditation.

Worshipping God through song is the gift I can always offer [alone and with other worshippers], so I do not agree with Whittier’s stance. However, there is incredible value in quiet contemplation and meditation, so on that point, he gets no argument from me.

May these last two verses from “Soma” usher you into a period of quiet rest, meditation, and contemplation.

from “Soma”
John Greenleaf Whittier

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
Thy beauty of Thy peace.

Breathe through the hearts of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be numb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!


About the image: The card above came from Karen B, one of my partners for Love Notes 31. The “Vetch and Milk Thistle” scene–from Cappadocia, Turkey–was shot  by photographer-conservationist Art Wolfe.  A portion of the proceeds of the Pomegranate card supports the Sierra Club’s efforts to preserve and protect our planet.