Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. –Melody Beattie
Day 358

Day 358

If this project were a race, I might like to finish strong, pulling out all the stops, fast pace, head held high, triumphant.

But this project is not a race. It is more like a series of training sessions, a daily discipline of simply showing up and offering what I have to give.

This project will not end with a finish line or a medal or cheers from the crowd.

I feel pride and joy – and relief, too. I will miss it, because it felt so good, because it was hard but always worth the effort.

And so these final days will be my “cool down” phase. My photographs will be restful, graceful, peaceful, and thoughtful.

Maybe no words at all.

Certainly, no weighing of merit.

It will be enough to finish.

Day 357

Day 357

Memory triggers are a powerful phenomenon, often taking us back in time to places and events that were filled with joy or marked by deep sadness.

Making coffee, using the old Farberware percolator, I am reminded of the first days when I really knew something was seriously wrong with my mother. She had always loved her cup of morning coffee, usually accompanied by a Little Debbie donut stick. When she stopped making her own coffee and drove to the local 7-11 or McDonald’s, I figured she liked the social aspect of going out for her coffee. And she did. But there were other reasons for this change of habit.

Through a series of visits, during a snowy time when she couldn’t drive, I came to see that she could not follow the steps to make coffee. She forgot where to put the coffee and the water, how much, and which buttons to press. Hoping to solve the problem, I bought a series of simpler coffee makers for her. We tried a little version of the Faberware percolator, a mini Mr. Coffee, and finally one of the single serving Keurig coffeemakers. I wrote the instructions out in simple language using Post-It notes and called to talk her through the process. We practiced, making pot after pot of coffee.

And then she just stopped drinking coffee all together. She said she didn’t like it anymore, but when a friend or family member stopped by for a visit, they always brought her a cup. And she was happy with the treat.

I can’t look at my own coffee pot without remembering how much Mom has lost. But in just a short while I will roll into Carriage Hill Health Center and walk into Memory Lane where coffee is served to her piping hot each morning.

Day 356

Day 356

I recently read an excellent book on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, Before I Forget by B. Smith and Dan Gasby. This book tops my list of must-reads on the subject. I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone facing this struggle.

I’m reading, Present-over-Perfect, Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, by Shauna Niequist.

I am deeply absorbed in this book, reading a little at a time so as to feel the full impact of the words, taking notes, reading passages aloud to my husband.

I cheated and skipped ahead to look at the last chapter.

The book ends with the poem, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver.

And these are my favorite lines.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
as there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Day 355

Day 355

One of the greatest gifts of this yearlong photography practice has been the joy of everyday adventures. As we drive along the roads of the place we grew up, we know we are home.

We are comfortable here.

We turn down Poor Jack Road. We are looking for Nomini Bay off the Potomac River. We are a little lost and a nice young man in a truck stops to set us straight. With directions geared to landmarks rather than GPS devices, we find our way to river views.

On either side of rolling hills, there are farms and silos and tractors and the beginnings of the planting season set in motion.

Day 354

Day 354

This is not my favorite type of photograph. I am generally not drawn to vivid colors and harsh texture. It kind of hurts my eyes and makes me want to squint. Images such as these are sometimes edited to increase clarity, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Too much of a good thing.

Still, when I walked behind the abandoned building near the coffee shop, I found a virtual tapestry of cascading colors along the corrugated metal. I paused to compose, focus and connect with the elements of the scene. It wasn’t until I pressed my eye to the viewfinder that I saw the full effect – like a surprise that takes your breath away.

When you take longer looks, you’ll expand your definition of beauty as well as the possibilities for your subject matter. You’ll be more open to surprise and fall in love with the world around you. You’ll have more confidence in what you are saying and that will show in your photographs. And, you’ll make fewer photographs, a win-win all around. –Kim Manley Ort
Day 353

Day 353

I have long found that my work is most meaningful to me as an expression of my life and my relationships with the world. Without such relationships, aesthetics alone, while enjoyable to view at times, do not move me to create. In creating I need more than just beauty; I need a story—a good one—and I need to be a character in that story. And my story unfolds here. –Guy Tal

It’s not about the view along the river; it’s about this particular view. I am comfortable in this place where I walk, stop to chat with people and watch fisherman along the riverbank.  I want to immerse myself in this place, to interact with it, to feel at home. In this way, the pictures I make matter.

Day 352

Day 352

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. –Simone Weil

My love language is quality time. Truly, the most kind thing anyone can do for me is to spend time with me. Attention speaks to my heart in a way no gift or card ever could.

My mother's love language is donuts! She is very happy in this picture with a strawberry-filled donut fresh from Paul's Bakery.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Day 351

Day 351

Love is letting go of the perfect picture. –Alain De Botton

I try to photograph my mother often, hoping to set these images of her in my mind forever. She is mostly good-natured and happy to see me or my sisters or other family and friends. She is well-cared for and safe and this room is her little home now. We do all we can to make her space warm and comfortable. Still, the visits often leave me with a deep sense of sadness. The simple truth is that I miss my mother. And having her here and not here at the same time breaks my heart.

The life and struggles of ordinary people inspire me to make realistic pictures like this one. 

Day 350

Day 350

What happens when we’re a beginner, again, and bring our creativity and sensibility to a process, without any of the expectations or self-judgment that saddles the work we do with an audience in mind? What happens when we make simply because we want to, or because it occurred to us, or because it’s our mode of being in the world? –Holly Wren Spaulding
Day 348

Day 348

These days I whine about having to cook – a lot. It’s much more fun to watch someone else cook, eat the delicious meal, and leave the cleaning.

I’m taking a few lunch time cooking classes at The Kitchen at Whittingham in downtown Fredericksburg. Last month the theme was The Lunch Lady and we learned how to make homemade sloppy Joe, French bread pizza, and apple crisp. This month the topic was Things You Never Tried to Do with Tortillas.  We joined Chef Chaz Kilby in the kitchen to make mini tortilla cups with egg and cheese, tortilla French toast, and asparagus cigars with dipping sauce.

Some of the participants helped to cook. I took pictures instead.

Some people offered to pitch-in for clean up. I took more pictures.

Some of the ladies demurely turned down carbs. I put my camera down and ate everything on my plate.

Today was a good day!

Day 347

Day 347

It feels less than honest for me to post a pretty picture and tell a fairy tale.

I am struggling today. Parenting is the most rewarding and most challenging role in my life. I’ve tried to remember what it was like to be a young adult, to take the values I learned as a child and test each one. I keep my mind open and approach him with understanding and acceptance. I pray for his safety. I wait for him to learn on his own, making sure he has the tools to find his way. I try not to step in unless I am really needed. And then I worry what might happen if I do not intercede.

Some days are not joyful, but they are still worthwhile.

Day 345

Day 345

I find it far easier to give something up altogether than to indulge moderately . . .
If I try to be moderate, I exhaust myself debating. –Gretchen Rubin

Years ago, everywhere I turned, someone was hosting a party – Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Stampin’ Up, Longaberger Baskets. I didn’t enjoy these events, always feeling obligated to make a purchase that my budget couldn’t support. Finally, I decided to abstain from such parties. It was just easier to say, “No thanks, I don’t go to parties.” I wasn’t tempted to spend money I didn’t have and more importantly, I began to assert my right to say No without negotiation.

Recently, I’ve devoted a fair amount of energy trying to decide if I should enter my photographs in one or two local juried exhibitions. A friend once said to me “You’ll do anything for a blue ribbon.” She hit a nerve because she was, of course, correct. It’s been my way to seek reassurance from sources outside myself, seldom listening or fully trusting my own voice.

In David duChemin’s book, A Beautiful Anarchy, he discusses the subject of competition and comparison.

Competition encourages us not to look in but look out, to create not first to please ourselves or express some ineffable thing, but to please another. What magic, I wonder, do we attribute to these judges that they can pin a ribbon, a score out of ten, on this work and not that?
Make your art, and allow yourself to be inspired by theirs. Life is too short to worry about how you stack up; it’s not a race. The reward is in the work itself, and the discovery in that work of the person you’re becoming.

From now on my answer will be, “No, thanks. No more juried shows for me.” And with one simple declaration, I’ve eliminated lots of little decisions and reinforced my self-confidence. My work requires no votes to be authentic.

Day 344

Day 344

I love the graceful floral styling and photographs of Swallow and Damsons – organic, natural, untamed, elegant and richly hued. Inspired, I picked up a bouquet of lilies from the local market intending to make a few pictures of my own.

Though I could envision the aesthetic, I could not arrange the flowers or situate them in my home in any way that seemed lovely enough. I was reminded that photo styling is neither my strength nor my joy.  The photographs seemed forced.

Feeling a bit defeated by the discarded blooms, stems and leaves in my kitchen sink, I began to clean up the mess I made. And there was my picture . . . the remnants of the bouquet in the glorious light from the window above the sink. Not exactly what I had pictured, but lovely just the same.  

Day 342

Day 342

Since my mother has Alzheimer’s and her mother had the disease, too, I can’t help but worry about my own future. I wonder if I might have to face this reality.

I forget an appointment. I misplace a file. The multi-tasking I used to be so proud of is a thing of the past, replaced by careful attention to one thing at a time. I am more easily distracted (can’t write a word without complete silence).

Even though my genetics may be against me, there are steps I can take to lower my Alzheimer’s risk – maintain a healthy weight, eat mindfully, exercise regularly, and keep an eye on important health numbers.

I work out regularly with a friend, with instruction and supervision of the personal trainers at Fredericksburg Fitness. This is the most worthwhile investment I’ve ever made. Personal trainers Jennifer, Allison, and Hilary are professional, knowledgeable, caring, and devoted to their clients. Exercise is challenging while being respectful of individual differences. Modifications are encouraged and the whole process is fun. It feels like recess for adults.

Under Jennifer’s leadership, Fredericksburg Fitness aspires to help our community, one person at a time, to be fit for life. Here’s the latest . . .  Pilates reformers. I can’t wait to try these out. In the meantime, I was happy to take a few photographs to show them off, both the reformers and the trainers.

I was nervous! I am anxious when it comes to taking pictures with a specific purpose or expectation. But I’m trying to work outside my comfort zone. Feeling pretty proud of myself today – and grateful for the services of the Fitness Studio.

Day 341

Day 341

I don’t know Daniel J. Neylon. I don’t know where his inspiration came from, whether he painted as a hobby or profession, how he came to art. I only know that that he titled, signed and dated his work.

I don’t know where Daniel was when he painted, Rainy Sunday Afternoon in September 1977, but I know how he felt. I do remember my life in September 1977. I was 17 years-old, just entering my senior year of high school, full of promise and potential and yet clouded by fear and uncertainty.  Daniel’s painting soothes my 17 year-old self.

Daniel’s other painting, Victim of Change, from November 1984 tells me painting was not a passing fad in his life. These two paintings span a period of seven years and reveal his devotion to his color palette, his vision and his craft. It seems by 1984, Daniel was mourning things lost, at a time when I was embracing a new life as a young married professional.

Like Daniel, I have a reverence for places and ways that shape us, a respect for the past while remaining open to the present, a way of seeing beauty even in decay (or perhaps because of it).

I don’t know how or why Daniel’s paintings ended up at the Goodwill, but I am blessed to have found them. They continue to act as conduit for connection which seems a most fitting form of creativity.

Day 340

Day 340