I’m finding out that rain storms are not uncommon in the mountains of Cullowhee, N.C. They usually come in the afternoon and last an hour or so. On my third day here, I took a walk after the rain had stopped. That’s when I looked up and noticed a little cloud nested between the mountains. Somehow, it gave me a deep feeling of comfort and reassurance.
The past few weeks of moving from New York to North Carolina have been an intense time of stress. The physical exertion of packing and unpacking the Uhaul was taxing. My husband and I quickly realized we were not in our 20’s any more. Top that with the endless list of things to do like changing our mailing address, calling the gas company, calling the electric company, closing bank accounts, transferring medical records, and on and on. We were both physically and mentally exhausted.
After a twelve hour drive, we finally arrived at our destination, pretty much spent. The apartment seemed way too small for all our stuff. The carpet guy was still laying carpet in our bedrooms and we had to wait for him to finish as we sat in the middle of a vast number of cardboard boxes. He didn’t finish until late evening and we barely put up our bed before falling into it, semi- conscious.
And our transition didn’t end with the arrival in Cullowhee. We had rented an apartment as a home base from which we could search the area for a place to live permanently. We had struck out into the unknown and didn’t know exactly where we would end up.
So, when I looked up at the sky and saw that cloud nestled between the mountains, my throat tightened and my eyes filled. For a moment, I felt exactly like that little cloud safely nestled in my Father’s arms. It spoke volumes to my heart.
The way ahead is still unknown with unforeseen twists and bumps, I’m sure. But somehow, the future will work out and things will fall into place. In the meantime, I’ll rest in the arms of a God I can trust.
You want to be a writer. You’re bright eyed and bubbly and you say to yourself, “I can do this. I know I can." So, you start out on the journey. You take a writing course. You join a critique group. You buy a daily journal to write down your thought and ideas. You begin.
And then you slowly start to realize that the journey is not as easy as you thought it was going to be.
Writing is subjective. People reading your work are subjective too. The road to success is not a straight one. You have to make your way through a maze of different perspectives and opinions. You have to consider criticisms that are helpful and weed out ones that are not so helpful. In fact, some can be downright counter-productive. You learn how to tell the difference. A strong dose of humility and developing a thick skin go a long way.
It dawns on you that writing is not for the faint of heart. It points out your weaknesses. It challenges your sense of self worth. It frustrates you when you revise your story for the umpteenth time and it’s still not working. And, it terrifies you when you stare at a blank page and wonder when, if ever, that creativity will start flowing again.
Here are some things I’ve discovered about the writing journey:
The great take away is that you come to understand things that go beyond basics and techniques, although those are important. You begin to understand life principles and things about yourself. It’s one thing to “go for it.” It’s another thing to keep going for it.
That’s what separates the wannabe writers from real writers. You have to keep going for it.
I’m taking a mini course through Storyteller Academy. The course is on perspective and point of view, by Dashka Slater.
The course is basically about writing from different perspectives and gives examples of first, second and third person. If you write a sentence in three different POV’s, they will look something like this:
First Person - Unfortunately, I’m poor and I’m buying my prom dress at a thrift store.
Second person - If you’re poor, you’re probably buying your prom dress at a thrift store.
Third person - Poor Monica is buying her prom dress at a thrift store.
For an exercise, we take a sample of our own writing and rewrite the piece using all three voices. Which one feels more natural? Which one was difficult or uncomfortable?
I like Dashka’s style of teaching. She keeps it simple with clear directions. I ended up doing an exercise I’ve never done before and learned from it. Even though I wrote my story in 3rd person, I rewrote it in 1st Person and realized I liked it better from that perspective.
I think I might be attracted to a first person perspective in general. I loved Dashka’s book, Escargot, which gives a snail’s first-hand account on why he should be a favorite pet. First of all, Escargot is French and anything with a French accent is funny in my book. I don’t know why, but there it is.
Another book I loved was I’m My Own Dog, by David Ezra Stein and, of course, Diary Of A Worm, by Doreen Cronin.
In my rather inexperienced opinion, writing in third person feels a little stiff and removed from the reader. Second person is somewhat encumbering, at least for me. Having to include a stranger (the reader) into the entire story can be tricky and tiresome.
But first person allows me to to keep my train of thought and story moving while confiding in my reader. I’m closer to the reader than third person, but not annoyingly too close like second person.
Of course, this is only my opinion at this moment in time and subject to change.
I’m making Christmas cookies in the kitchen and suddenly a song comes on the radio and I’m crying into my cookie dough. It was Alan Jackson’s, Let There Be Christmas.
Last year I was visiting my son, Ben, his wife, Sarah and my granddaughter, Violet, in California. One day we drove to the Safari Park. Christmas lights blinked all over the grounds and Let There Be Christmas played over loud speakers. It was pretty magical.
This year, Ben is deployed on a ship in the Middle East, thousands of miles away. He was supposed to be home in time for Christmas, but his deployment got extended. Covid 19 prevents me from traveling to see Sarah and my sweet Violet this year.
I won’t deny that emotions rose as I listened to that Alan Jackson song. Funny how a song, a picture, or a smell, can spark a memory that hits us hard before we know it.
It’s okay to miss people, especially during the holidays. It’s okay to shed tears. Tears come from a tender place. God says He stores them in a bottle. I believe that. I believe they mean something to Him and that He knows, and understands, and cares.
And then there’s missing people we won’t see again in this lifetime. Both my parents are gone. My mom first and then my dad. The cardinal was always my mom’s favorite bird. Cardinals mate for life. When I see one, I know the other is not far behind. They make me think of both my parents.
The other day I walked through the woods in back of my house. Stopping to watch the stream, I caught a flash of red in my peripheral vision. Yep, a cardinal in all its crimson glory, flying to a nearby branch.
I said aloud, “What are you doing here, Dad? Checking up on me?”
I miss him still. My mom too. But I think about a scripture that says - “Don’t grieve like those who have no hope.”
It doesn’t say don’t grieve. Grieving and death are part of life. But don’t grieve without hope. What’s the hope? That I will see them again.
If you’re fortunate enough to be with loved ones this holiday, don’t take it for granted. Squeeze them tight with great, big, bear hugs. Drag them under the mistletoe even if they protest. Savor the time together.
Celebrate those who are with you. Hold in your heart those who aren’t. Merry Christmas, everybody.
I posted a picture on Facebook last night. It’s a picture is of my daughter’s Christmas tree that I helped her to decorate. Standing out is one pink decoration in a sea of blue, green and silver. It’s a Christmas ball that I painted for her last year.
One of my critique partners, Bonnie, commented on it.
“How lovely... it feels like a valentine to the tree, or a heart pulse of your connection. ❤️”
A heart pulse of your connection... I love that.
My daughter and I have been through a trying time this past year, causing a strain in our relationship. Healing called for a letting go of expectations and hurt, while taking a firm hold of forgiveness.
Relationships can be as fragile as glass and sometimes they crack. It takes patience, commitment and most of all, love, to mend them.
Humans are imperfect - every one of us. But perfection is pretty overrated and it’s not a hill I’m willing to die on. That brings me to some basic questions. Will I love you with all your imperfections, inconsistencies and mistakes? And will you love me with the same?
People are complicated but love is simple. It bears all things, believes all things, hope all things and endures all things. Here’s the kicker: it never fails.
So yeah, the intuition my friend had about the pink Christmas ball was pretty accurate. It stands out, a heart pulse of a deep connection that remains.
This painting Is being donated to the 611 Network. This is an organization that rescues women and children who are victims of sex trafficking. I am part of their artist collective. Our art is auctioned off and the money is directly donated to the rescue. The next auction is coming up soon. Here is a link to stay informed - Auction.
The inspiration for this painting comes from John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Things happen in life. Wars are fought. Loved ones lost. People get terminal illnesses. Relationships get damaged. Abuse occurs. Tragedies tear at the illusion that we are in control. In reality, we are imperfect beings living in an imperfect world.
People suffer traumas of all kinds and magnitudes. Brokenness cries, “Is there no balm of Gilead?”
The cry seems to be met with silence. There are no easy answers.
Yet, when our world cracks and the ground shifts beneath our feet... when nothing looks the same, and the way ahead is dark with monsters lying in wait...
We must remember there is light. Though hidden at times, it still shines.
And when we cannot find the light... the light can find us.
The lyrics to Leonard Cohen's song, Anthem, are both poignant and profound. There is something remarkably courageous and vulnerable about facing tragedy yet still holding onto hope... however small or fragile.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
In the worst scenarios, light still shines through the crack and can find us.
Below are pictures of the painting stages and materials I used. My materials were an 18x24" canvas and oil paints. The colors I used were:
I painted the canvas with an under layer of coral. I knew the finished painting would be quite dark so I wanted a vibrant under layer to keep things from getting too dull looking.
Much of the sky is done with a layer of prussian blue. I continue to paint the light with lemon yellow, titanium white, chrome yellow and coral. I am still blocking in shapes.
The man walking is sketched in. He is deep in thought, head down, not seeing the light ahead.
The sky Is developed more, using payne's gray, ivory black and titanium white.
There is more definition to the sky. The man is painted in. I added some burnt sienna and a door to suggest a building.
Thank you for taking the time to view this post! Please remember the children and if you have a heart to give the link is 611network.org
And what does my heart tell me about my first grandchild, Violet Hope? My heart has a wealth of things to tell me about this one year-old, precious gift from God. When visiting my son and daughter-in-law this past Christmas, we all went to the San Diego Safari Park to see colored lights synchronized to Christmas music. There was a castle there with a moat in front and two pelicans swimming back and forth like crazy looking sentinels.
The night was dark as white, blue and purple lights flashed across the castle to Alan Jackson’s song, ‘Let It Be Christmas.’ I stood on a wooden bridge and held my sweet Violet as she watched the lights, smiling and clapping her hands. And just like that, from out of nowhere, my heart started to swell with a song that had no words. No words were needed. It was just love. Pure love. Tears came to my eyes as I thought of the many things I’m learning, unbidden and unasked, from this little life.
There are many treasures the heart can reveal if we take the time to listen.
Like most monasteries, there is a daily schedule of prayers at the rectory known as the Liturgy Of the Hours. The Liturgy Of the Hours is the official set of prayers "marking the hours of each day and sanctifying the day with prayer". It consists primarily of psalms supplemented by hymns, readings and prayers.
The hours are:
3:30 am Vigils
6:30 am Lauds
12:00 pm Sext
5:30 pm Vespers
7:30 pm Compline
The visitor is free to go to all the prayer hours, some of the prayer hours, or none at all. I have gone to a few at Mount Savior Monastery in Elmira, NY. They are short and sweet. I have to say, I love hearing the brothers chant scripture.
Saturday morning I got up early, said hello to the chickens and billy goats on the property, and then hiked along the Greenway which follows the Genesee River. The Greenway is a half mile from Bethlehem house, if that. It’s a well kept, easy trail with some pretty views. I got back to my room around 10:30 and decided to visit the Abbey gift shop and stay for the noon prayer in the chapel. I bought some Monk coffee roasted by the brothers and some Monk biscotti baked by the brothers. I also picked up a book about Thomas Merton, called In the School Of Prophets.
The chapel was beautiful. There is something about Monastery chapels - a sense of mystery, a reverence, something ancient and good. Modern churches that I’ve been to (both Protestant and Catholic), don’t come near it. There seems to be little focus on contemplation and silence in most western churches.
The mystery is what draws me to the monastery. It provides a place to come apart from all the activity and noise of everyday life. It gives the opportunity to think and to be at a deeper level. There is something to being still, listening and inviting God’s presence.
Here’s a little update on my art studio. All the cosmetic work has been done. The easel and work table are in place. The first thing I wanted to hang on the wall was this artsy, little turtle clock.
I picked up this baby in Monterey, California. My daughter-in-law, Sarah, and I decided to go shopping. She took me to this quirky store that had crazy clocks hanging all over the place. Sarah ended up buying a cool, coffee cup clock, and when I saw this turtle; I knew I was not leaving the shop without it. I’ve always liked turtles.
Did you know that turtles symbolize peace? They are also symbols of the earth, groundedness and patience. Oh, and don’t forget, ancient wisdom. I could use a little of that. Heck, I could use groundedness and patience too.
I love my turtle clock. I love the colors and I love the fish pendulum. In this day and age, where most people check their phones for time, I enjoy the steady motion of a pendulum belonging to a stationary wall clock. Now, I’m hoping it will keep perfect time. But even if it doesn’t, it will stay where it is - a piece of art, symbolizing things that matter to me.
Ceiling, walls, chimney and floor are all painted! Now the fun begins - decorating!
The first thing I wanted to do was hide my washer and dryer. They had to stay in the room because there was no place else for them to go. So, I was able to cover them with a bamboo screen. Out of sight, out of mind!
I ordered a new art table. It has drawers, a place for brushes, a sliding side surface... it is the bomb! The only drawback was that it came unassembled. Fortunately, my husband, once again, helped me out!
I love my studio! It is such a great space! I've even started teaching art classes in it. I will add more little by little as I go along, but what a great way to start out the year! It's a dream come true!
I thought I'd write a few thoughts on art, life and whatever else comes to mind.