Getting Back On Track After A Long Hiatus

"Seeing," from my Artist's Journal

“Seeing,” an image from an old journal of mine

For the last three years, I’ve been working on a memoir that I knew, if nothing else, would be the basis of healing a life I sometimes thought was terribly broken. In doing so I left my visual work in painting and collage on the sidelines so that I could concentrate on the writing.

The journals that I’ve been keeping for years became an important part of the writing process that pulled up old memories. As I wrote about my relationship with my mother, and went back into those notebooks I was surprised by the visual journal entries I had made and had an itch to do more of these colorful entries.

But the words I needed for my book flew thick and fast and I had little time to pull out the paint, the glue sticks, and the stack of old magazines and other stuff I needed to work with. Some of those things were still packed away from our move in 2010. It seemed too complicated to go looking for them.

When my memoir went to my copy editor, I decided to start painting again. But the thought of smearing paint on a large canvas was daunting. I was so out of practice, I had no idea where to start.

With the thought of a small visual journal on my mind I began puttering around, looking for the perfect notebook, opening up old jars of acrylic paint that were mostly dried up, and saving bits of interesting pieces of paper.

I began cutting out words and images from worn out books, magazines and junk mail. I bought new paint, retrieved the old hand stamps I’d carved eons ago, with their dried up ink pads. I found a variety of sketch pads that I liked and added some new pens of various colors. I cleared off a good sized section of my work table that was covered with stacks of papers that needed filing and moved the boxes of encaustic paints I’d been working with prior to deciding to write a book, over to the side.

I put out the new paint, the sketchpads, the scissors, and glue sticks. For weeks I just stared at it all, wondering which sketch pad to use and where to start. Suddenly I didn’t like the paint colors I’d bought and whenever I was struck with an idea that got me excited, something came up that needed my attention. Of course those enticing images in my head were swept away in the tide of work I thought I had to attend to before I could allow myself to play.

Desperate and needing help to get started, I signed up for Lisa Sonora’s, on-line video workshop, Dreaming on Paper. Because I am an artist I felt shame for not being able to get going on my own. In my head a smart-ass voice kept asking, “What happened? Did you forget how to make art, dumbhead? That’ll teach you to go off and write a stupid book!”

Turning my practical, structured, and sometimes intolerant left brain switch to off, I watched Lisa’s first video, put on some classical guitar music, sat down at my work table and began. Oh how freeing it was to just smear paint around on the pages of a sketch pad … and get this, at Lisa’s suggestion, I started in the middle of the pad, rather than at the beginning. I began flipping through a few magazines lying around and tore out words that resonated with me. They seemed to come out of nowhere, and the first ones fell together by themselves: Where My Heart Is. From there it was a piece of cake without all the rich, fattening calories. I let it sit for a few days, went back to it and played around some more. I started using my hand stamps and writing whatever came to mind.

And guess what? There it was!

IMG_1548 (1)

It is not be the most beautiful or astonishing piece of art I’ve ever put together, but I’m getting back on track. Lisa Sonora’s video series is artful, helpful, and inspiring. Hopefully, I’ll turn this work into a practice giving words and images their due together in journal form.

Have you ever put work aside that you had difficulty getting back to later? What did you do to begin again?

Taking Time To Stand And Stare

Max asleep on my shoulder.

Max asleep on my shoulder.

On July 1st the developmental edit of my memoir was done. Now I’ll take time to reread it once again, make minor changes if necessary, and then send it off for a copyedit.

I loved working with my editor, Annie Tucker, and will miss our phone conversations every other week. I’ve learned a lot from her, but life moves on and we will be in touch again during the final edit. If I ever write another book, it’ll be Annie I’ll look to for the editing. I remember how overwhelmed I felt last summer as I kept revising without the help of an editor. It was not fun and I spent more time being stressed out and worrying that I’d never be done.

As a reward for moving to the next level, I’m going to give myself a little summer break. But I won’t be lying around on the beach doing nothing. While slowing my pace, I’ll still be at work. Tomorrow my new computer will arrive and I’ll take some time to get to know her. To be honest with you, computers scare the heck out of me. I’m not good at technology and feel I need more time to figure things out than others. But I have a great teacher who’ll be helping me out whenever I run into trouble.

I also hope to get some blog posts written ahead of time and to work on a surprise that I’m planning to launch in the fall. I’ll do some reading, rest, and watch the hummingbirds flit through my garden.

This will be my last post until July 28th.

I hope you are all having a wonderful summer. Don’t forget to take some time out to relax.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have not time to stand and stare.
William Henry Davies

Morning Meditation


When I was asked the other day, if I’m still meditating, I had to admit that I haven’t sat on my cushion in months. That’s more of a winter thing and though on rainy days I might still sit, walking in the early morning before the day heats up and the humidity level gets overwhelming has taken its place.

It’s Sunday morning around seven. I’m out the door before there are many cars on the road. The neighborhood is still asleep except for one or two people walking their dogs. The bird song is the first thing that hits me. This spring we’ve had a Wood Thrush in the area, singing his heart out in search of a mate. I presume he’s found her and is off somewhere preparing a nest, since I haven’t heard him for about a week. I miss his fluid song, similar to the sound of a mountain brook. It consistently brings my stress level down and I imagine myself floating peacefully somewhere in the ether.

Even without bird feeders our yard is filled with a huge variety of birds, as are the tree-lined streets in this part of town. This morning there are Robins, Cardinals, Cat Birds, Blue Jays, Chickadees, Wrens, and a Woodpecker drumming in the distance. The only incongruity that interrupts the joyous symphony of winged creatures is a wailing siren going about the business of humanity.

The temperature is about 75 degrees. I’t muggy and the air is still. I take my sunglasses off and on as I move into shade and then into light so bright I can’t see without them. I begin counting my steps, loose track, and begin again.

When I’m meditating on my cushion, I focus on my breath … the in, the out, and the space in between. Out here that’s difficult. Having fallen last year because I wasn’t paying attention on one of my walks, I want to stay aware of where my feet are, how I lift them, and put them down. Counting helps to keep me somewhat focused until my mind again wanders.

Ten minutes in, my shirt is getting damp and my breathing is a bit more labored as I go up a hill. I’ve got a bit of a twinge in my lower back and my feet are hot, encased in athletic shoes. This is how it is walking in the summer. I allow myself to really feel it, then push away the thought of quitting and going back to my air-conditioned home. I refocus on my steps.

As I walk down fraternity row, there are actually roses blooming in one the frat house yards. When the University is in session, there are usually beer cans, liquor bottles, and discarded packaging from fast-food establishments littering every inch of ground. I like the summer look better.

As a runner brushes by me on the narrow sidewalk, I turn the corner onto a small, one-way lane where older homes stand under a magnificently dense canopy of trees. It’s always cooler here. On  this street are two gardens that I adore. Walking by slowly, they always make me smile. I want to stop and sit on the bench in the one on my left, surrounded by a graying picket fence. There are winding paths through thick beds of ferns and other shade loving plants. But I don’t even dare to stop and take a photo. I’m a private person and I assume everyone else is too.

The garden directly across the street is about the size of a postage stamp. The Ancient brick home was probably built around the turn of twentieth century, but its worn well and looks welcoming and cozy. Its short walkway to the front door, is covered with a multitude of potted plants. There is Coleus in dark maroon, with pink and lime green highlights, variegated hostas, ferns, and other plants with colorful leaves that I can’t identify. If I were to move to a smaller house without much of a yard, I’d choose this one or one like it, tucked away on a quiet street.

In my delight of seeing the gardens, I’ve again lost count of my steps. I almost tripped a few steps ago. My toes sometimes drag rather than lift off the ground. I begin again, trying to stay on count, allowing everything else fall away.

This is a quiet segment of time here. The UVA students are gone, elementary and high schools are still in session, and the tourists haven’t yet arrived. I love the bit of sleepiness the city exudes for the moment. But it won’t last long. Soon summer school will be in session and in early August students will begin returning to continue their year long studies.

Forty minutes later, on my way back down the hill toward home, I wave to a neighbor out weeding his garden. Though I’m tired, sweaty, and hot, my head is clear of the tension and worry I started the day with. I’m ready to begin the work of surviving the twists and turns of today. Will there be surprises? Boredom? New discoveries? Disappointments?

This is my morning ritual. On days when I don’t have time and need to rush from one thing to the next, I get lost in the chaos. Is this walking a meditation equal to sitting on my cushion? I think so. It’s a time for noticing, for asking questions, for being relaxed, and finding the light in my heart.

Are you a meditator? Do you have a morning ritual that you consider meditation even though you aren’t sitting on a cushion watching your thoughts pass by?

A Lesson From My Garden

“The Only way to make sense out of change it to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
Alan Watts

The day I bought my house. March 23, 2010

The day I bought my house. March 23, 2010

When we moved into our home back in 2010, the gardens were minimal. In the back yard, there were 6 small garden plots set into a large patio of concrete pavers. In three of the plots were freshly planted Crepe Myrtles about fifteen feet tall. They have lovely white flowers in the summer.

April 25, 2015

April 25, 2015

Another held a red Japanese maple, and another a river birch, both about the same height as the other trees. None of them were tall enough to provide us with shade, so we added an awning to the back of the house.

I planted shrubs and flowers that needed full sun in order for them to grow and blossom. I continued to do so until last summer when I realized those sun loving plants weren’t doing so well. Over the past five years, the trees have grown so large that now our once sunny patio is a beautifully shaded garden that now has to be redesigned. And the awning? We use it on sunny days in the spring and fall when there are no leaves on the trees.

IMG_1446I began making a few changes last year when I replanted the bed where that marvelous, Japanese maple stands with shade loving plants. I moved Hellebores from the front of the house to the base of the tree, and added several kinds of ferns, hostas, and coral bells (heuchera), some with purple leaves, others with lime green leaves with reddish pink highlights. Pale blue, shade loving phlox are set off in one corner. It was gorgeous last summer, and this spring it’s back and popping with color. The plants are larger and fill the space nicely.

IMG_1457In the one bed without a tree,and receives sun most of the day, we planted strawberries. It was pretty thin last June but I did manage to pick about a dozen or so sweet, juicy berries that taste so much better than those bought in the store. And they’re organic. Over the winter those plants sent out runners in all directions and we now have a full strawberry patch. If their white flowers are a sign, they’ll fill my larder with a large crop of berries with which I may have to make some jam. That is, if I can get to them before the squirrels and birds do.

IMG_1449A few years ago, we put a raised bed in a sunny corner where I grew tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet peppers. But with several amazing farmer’s markets in the area, I can get all of the fresh summer vegetables I need without the extra work. I’ve turned it into an herb garden. In it I plant basil, parsley, sage, rosemary, chives, cilantro, and dill. Several types of thyme and oregano are tucked into a rock garden that runs below the old stone wall that separates my yard from the neighbors. It’s an area that gets both sun and shade, and most plants tend to do well there.

IMG_1450The rest of the beds are still a work in progress and this spring I’ve already begun to pull plants up, and move them to sunnier locations. In their stead I’ve planted some new hellebores in colors I didn’t already have. I also planted more heuchera, and as the season progresses and new plants continue to arrive in area nurseries, I’ll be adding more ferns, hostas, and whatever else strikes my fancy and loves shade.

heuchera or coral bells

heuchera or coral bells

During my social media sabbatical I never did get far on the weekly visual journal that I’d longed to start. Though I began filling in background for one page, I never finished it. I’ve carried my frustration into the spring, but now my longing to make visual art is sated, as I’m creating and painting my garden with plants. Gardens are constantly changing. Next year I will likely need to thin things out and continue to move my happy plants around a bit more.

I hope that the seeds, bulbs, and  roots you plant in your garden will flourish and fill your days with grace.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Winston Churchill

I’m Ba-ack!

The first Hellebores of 2015, taken on March 9th.

The first Hellebores of 2015, taken on March 9th.

During the writing retreat I took with four friends back in February, Shirley and Kathy talked about taking a Lenten sabbatical from all things “Social Media.” Envious, I told myself, “They both are already published writers with terrific, heart-grabbing books. They can afford to do that. They have great followings and six to eight weeks of being in absentia, wouldn’t hurt their sales, ratings, or any other business issue.”

Feeling a tad burned out by all of the things I do on a daily basis, including revising my memoir, keeping up with my blog, email, Facebook, Twitter, and my daily household duties such as cooking and keeping the house tidy, I wished I could go on sabbatical, too.

A week later.

A week later.

Facebook and Twitter, two places I’ve been told are absolutely necessary to participate in to build a platform were taking up too much of my time. I  threatened to quit both on a daily basis. They annoyed me. Whenever I’d start checking Twitter and Facebook trying to find something of interest to post about, Iwould get hooked, read everything but what I needed to read, and then feel as though I’d wasted an entire day. And while I’ve always loved working on this blog, I was tired and running out of ideas. I needed time to figure out where I was going with it. I yearned for time to just stare into space. I wanted more time to read for pleasure. I had a yen to get out my paints, brushes, and splatter glowing colors on a huge piece of canvas, as well as myself.

Same Hellebores on March 14th.

Same Hellebores 2 weeks later.

So, on the evening before I published that last blog post, I made the snap decision to join my friends on sabbatical. I asked myself, “Why not?” I was tired of waking in the night to use the bathroom, and not being able to go back to sleep because I’d start worrying how to get good reviews for the book I hadn’t even finished yet.  I’d try various breathing techniques to calm the knots in my stomach and then get up again to take a pill to remedy the headache that was worsening. For someone with an anxiety disorder, I was not taking care to keep myself from overwhelm and the inevitable panic attacks that can result.

I reasoned that if I took back the time I spent on social media, including my blog, I’d have more time to revise my memoir. I chose not to worry about my “platform,” or what the experienced big boys and girls were saying about what I had to do in order to be a successful author. I was getting more and more anxious about how I was going to get my book published and then spend the rest of my dotage being a saleswoman. I declared, “ Enough already!”

I had big plans for all the extra time I’d have. I’d allow myself to daydream, providing myself with new creative ideas, and time to just relax. I’d take at least an hour every day to read for fun. I’d get back into a daily stretching routine and help my body to get over it’s aches and pains. I’d take brisk walks and go for the 10,000 steps I knew I needed to take every day in order to stay fit. And in order to fill that yearning to start doing some visual art, I decided to keep a weekly visual journal in order to give myself some play time.

It all started out beautifully. I started ripping things out of magazines, got out the glue and markers, and started putting together my first journal page. I walked every day, and spent time stretching my stiff parts. I read, experimented with some new recipes in the kitchen, and took naps when I felt I needed to. I started feeling better immediately and was grateful that I’d chosen to quit the self abuse and just take some time off to get my head back together again.

Chinese Magnolia, April 1st.

Japanese Magnolia, April 1st.

So here I am, back on my blog and taking time to peek at and comment on Facebook and Twitter. I’m happy to be back, rested and wiser for the experience. Next week, I’ll fill you in on what I learned and how it all turned out.

In the meantime, I’m posting some photos of what spring has looked like here. I hope you enjoy them and come back next week for more.