It seems as though the universe is conspiring to send me a message.

From Kim Manley Ort’s course, Celebrate Impermanence, this poem.

Allow
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.  
Danna Faulds

And from my friend and life coach Helen McLaughlin, this note.

"Fear wants me to know that there's a safer way – staying small and not growing or stretching . . . But I have one job in this lifetime, and it's to become the most ME I can possibly be. That's going to involve finding my edge—the place where I'm most uncomfortable—and leaning into it, day after day after day. I've got this."

I look up at the bright red leaves of the Japanese maple tree against the blue sky, and I think “this will make a beautiful picture.” This is the “safe” shot, the one I know I can make work.

And then I look down at the mat of leaves on the ground, wet from early morning showers, in various stages of decay, heaped one upon the other. This is not the “sure shot” but it is the one I am called to make when this practice becomes simply bearing the truth.

Day 284

Day 284

Following the recipe in A Year Between Friends, 3191 Miles Apart, I’ve been making spoon oil, a conditioner for wooden spoons, cutting boards, and bowls.

I’m planning to share little jars of Spoon Oil as Christmas gifts for friends. Last year I made Dictionary Paper Christmas Trees and Five Pointed Origami Stars. Another year I made hand-sewn lavender sachets. And for many years, I made Cider Beetles. Every year I make cut-out sugar cookies.

Making simple gifts like this is a holiday tradition for our family.

Day 283

Day 283

Even on these chilly and overcast days I’m making an effort to get outside and take a walk every day. This morning I walked along the river at the city docks.

I watched an older gentleman feed the seagulls, tossing slices of bread into the air, one after the other. Along came a young mother and her toddler. The little boy gleefully chased the seagulls, running back and forth along the docks, laughing, gesturing, and exclaiming, “Birds!” Trying to keep him safe and away from the dock’s edge, his mother shouted “Stop!” but he carried on, paying her no mind.

I asked if I could take a few pictures of the little boy. He was delighted to show-off and seemed to not mind having his picture taken at all. A few frames and this mother and I connected over our shared joy for the innocence of childhood. I offered to send her the pictures I took. I hope she likes them.

Art is not a skill contest, nor an innovation contest. Art is an honesty contest. If we can be precisely who we are, in the most intimate and candid and courageous way, we will start to connect to the universal. Our job as artists is to become powerfully personal in our work, and if we touch the source, the most central wound, the deepest of wells, then we will actually touch the universal. The work goes from intimately personal to what’s personal to all of us. –Ran Ortner
Day 282

Day 282

Miss Polly is my letter-writing friend. She lives in Portland, Oregon. 

Dear Miss Polly,

You are the magical finder of good things to read and see and ponder.

Thank you for sending me the pages from Terry Tempest Williams, Why I Write.

Reading her words is a great comfort to me. Sometimes people ask me why I take pictures. After all, I do not get paid for this passion. And often I do not take photographs that are of value in the traditional sense – not family portraits, or wedding pictures, or editorial images for publication. And yet, I still take them. I really cannot imagine my life without this way of seeing and being, by grace and grit.

And there were so many lines that applied as well to photography as to writing. But somewhere midstream, I stopped swapping the words, writing and photography, and came to own my voice as a writer, too.

I write as an act of faith. I write as an act of slowness. I write to record what I love in the face of loss. –Terry Tempest Williams

And I make pictures because I believe I can create a path in darkness.

I am thankful for you, Miss Polly, my flower girl, bringer of light, and joyful maker.

Much love, Donna

Day 280

Day 280

Christmas trees + Chickens = Free Entertainment

We spent the afternoon walking through Snead’s Farm, among the Christmas trees, making friends with the goats and sheep and chickens. The chickens parade up and down the rows of trees like they own the place.   

Dave is a “chicken whisperer.” He scratches the ground and clucks and the chickens come running. He pets them and they peck at him. I laid on my stomach to get low for these pictures and the chickens kept getting closer and closer, too close for focus.

Chickens are not cooperative for picture-taking. They clump up, turn away so only their rear ends show, move constantly, and take off in an awkward run-fly when the lens points their way.

I took 99 pictures and there were four decent shots.

Really.

Day 279

Day 279

Last year we didn’t decorate for Christmas. No tree or wreath or lights. We were in the midst of trying to decide how to best care for my mother. Her dementia was clearly making it unsafe for her live alone and we were out of options. On some level, I knew this would likely be her last Christmas at home. It was hard to conjure a feeling of celebration.

This year we’re wading back into Christmas with peace and joy. The enduring blow mold Santa is glowing on the front porch. There are branches of pine and holly sprigs in crocks and watering cans.

We bought a live pine tree, short and stout. When we got it home we discovered it had a definite lean. We tried a variety of tactics to address the problem. Finally, we settled the tree into an old metal wash pan, doing our best to level the tree by sitting it askew in the pan. The problem was that the old metal wash pan did not sit perfectly flat. To correct for the pan wobble, we put the whole works – the crooked tree and the warped pan – in a bushel basket. Then to disguise the situation, I filled the basket with pine cones.  If someone slams a door, stomps their feet, or breathes too hard, that tree is going to topple!

We decorated the tree with tiny white lights, vintage glass ornaments, and old-fashioned icicles. And it truly feels like Christmas is in the air.  

It occurs to me that I need this picture as a gentle reminder that it is okay to be happy even when someone I love is struggling. It is okay to be happy even when everything is not perfect.  

Isn’t that the burden of art – making both the joy and the pain you feel tangible, visible to your eyes, looking back at you? Therapeutic, but very difficult. –Rebecca Lily
Day 278

Day 278

I am fascinated by makers – the beautiful things they make and the tools they use.

I love hand-stitched quilts,
handmade clothes,
hand-thrown pottery,
hand-carved wooden bowls and spoons,
handwritten letters,
hand-knitted scarves,
home-cooked food,
home-baked pies,
and
the list goes on and on of things to love
simply because they are made with compassion and grace.

The things we make matter.

Day 277

Day 277

This grove of tall pine trees along a dirt road in nearby King George County stopped me in my tracks.

Being creative with backlight is still a challenge for me. I kept moving around, tilting the lens and watching where the lens flare went.

It was fun to experiment – to decide what to share, reveal, and show and what to keep, conceal and hide – with and from the world.  

Day 276

Day 276

Good things come in the mail.

"Everyone needs to be cared for at some point in their lives: not just when things are tough, but also in times of celebration and joy. A care package for a loved one can be something grand or something so small you may not even think of it as a care package at all. Your gesture could make someone's day and, more importantly, the person in question will know you are thinking of him or her." –Michelle Macintosh

Thank you to my dear friend Odile who sends packages of carefully chosen small gifts to show that she cares.

Day 274

Day 274

After we dropped Jacob back off at William & Mary, we stopped in Richmond for a late lunch. Richmond is organized into little neighborhoods – Church Hill, Oregon Hill, Jackson Ward, Scott’s Addition, and many more I’ve yet to discover. I am always surprised how each of these areas has its own community with cafes and shops and service businesses all nestled in amongst the homes.

In the Church Hill district, we found Stroops Heroic Hotdogs, the WPA Bakery (Well-made Pastry Alliance), and an adorable shop, Gather, with houseplants, gardening supplies and art.

I spent a half-hour in Gather – talking to gardener and owner Melissa, taking pictures, and shopping. I came out with a new succulent plant, a tiny jade, tucked inside a Chinese food carry-out carton, surrounded by white pebbles. What an ingenious idea! The pebbles kept the pot from tipping over and served as a beautiful ground cover when I potted the plant in my own vintage Roseville Pottery vase at home.

There are just as many opportunities to celebrate life and spread goodwill as we make. I am happy to gather with new friends in new places.

Day 272

Day 272

For most of our 35 years of married life, we’ve had two Thanksgiving dinners on the same day. Since Dave and I are from the same town, we had a mid-day meal with my parents and sisters and their families and an evening meal with Dave’s family. We never had to alternate or choose between families, and it was easier than you might imagine eating two turkey meals in one day. You just had to pace yourself.

This was our first year ever with just our family of four for Thanksgiving, and we established new traditions. I am grateful for sons who will sit down and share not only a meal, but also the stories of their lives. We give thanks for small things like Zach’s pay raise and Jacob’s college experiences. I try to feel grateful for the fact that my mother is safe and well-cared for in Memory Lane, but mostly I still feel sad and scared for her . . . and for me.

Determined to stay away from the impulse shopping of Black Friday and desperate to chase the blues away, I spent the day after Thanksgiving meandering along Route 29, stopping here and there to take pictures, escaping.

And once again, this simple practice saved me.  

Smile. Breathe. Go slowly. –Thich Nhat Hanh
Day 271

Day 271

Dear Autumn,

You are my favorite time of the year.
 
You bring the golden sunlight that lingers on jewel-toned leaves and fills my home with dancing dust.

You make me want to stay outside and explore.

I don’t want November to end. Please don’t go just yet.

Love, Donna

Day 270

Day 270

At Candela Books the docent gave us a little insider information on upcoming shows. The featured photographer for January 2017 will be Richmond's own Susan Worsham with her series of photographs, By The Grace Of God. Intrigued by the title, I immediately researched Susan's work and found her story and photographs, rooted in places of the South, compelling and engaging. I read interviews with Susan and bit by bit came to know her, and I like her already. She said something in one of these interviews that echoes my own thoughts so closely . . . I feel a kinship with her.

I believe in a higher power. I am not someone who goes to church all of the time, or even reads the bible all the time. It’s more of just this feeling inside, when I’m taking photographs. It’s following what’s in my heart. Now that I’m older…… Let me give you an example. I used to be in my car, or even out walking, and see something and say, “ Wow. That’s awesome. I’d love to take a photograph of that.” And I wouldn’t stop. Now it seems like I’m listening to myself more, and I’m stopping and taking the time to follow what just made me really excited. Why extinguish that and keep on driving? Why not go ahead and turn down that road, and then usually when I do, and I take out my camera, and I meet someone, it seems like I was supposed to turn down that road and look at this beautiful thing that happened. –Susan Worsham, A Photo Editor
Day 268

Day 268

This is really hard to share. For nearly every day of my life there has been a voice in my head that says I am fat. No matter what size I wear, how much I weigh, what I eat, how much I exercise, how much love I give or receive, this voice is always there and often it overshadows the good in my life.

One of the most effective ways of counteracting this critical voice is movement. I genuinely love to move and much of my joy in exercise comes from my fitness friends. These are the friends who will walk, hike, bike, and take on most any active adventure. We support each other toward fitness for life. We often meet on Saturday or Sunday at 7am and walk the 3 mile Canal Path/Heritage Trail along the Rappahannock River and then go out for breakfast.

Beth and Diana, I’m grateful for you. You make staying fit and healthy fun. You keep me on track. You make me laugh and help me to change my mindset about my body.

I am me, a constantly changing, always developing, completely malleable and radiant me. I am me, so go start to create the me I want to see and feel. I am not fat. –Lauren Imparato, Retox
Day 267

Day 267

I like the idea of keeping a journal.  I love the feel of the pen in my hand as I write words on lined paper. I love handwriting. Getting my thoughts out of my head and onto the paper is healthy and often a means of great creativity for me.

But I’ve never kept a paper and pen journal for very long. For years I wrote and then tore pages out because my handwriting was sloppy or my thoughts scattered and seemingly senseless. This level of perfectionism is embarrassing to admit. And over time, I came to realize that while I liked the idea of a journal, most of the time this kind of daily writing just felt like one more thing to do, a kind of homework, and I really didn’t want to do it all. Keeping a journal seemed like yet another form of striving, another expectation.

There are exceptions. During times of great stress, I write page after page of feelings without fear or care. And it always feels good. I journal when it is needed – when it helps.

I’m revisiting the idea of daily routines.  We make time for the things we want to do. I make time to exercise and walk every day. I make time for this daily photography/writing practice. I make time to read and correspond with friends by phone or mail. I make time for my husband and he always gets first dibs. I really want to have home-cooked and healthy meals – I just wish someone else would make them for me. (I hope Dave reads this.)

In the spirit of daily routines, I’m going to take one more stab at journaling because I want a means of focusing on positive changes in my life. I’m trying a new morning routine, The Five-Minute Journal and eggs for breakfast.

We become whole by stopping how the mind turns things in the wrong way. –Lauren Imparato, Retox
Day 266

Day 266

With the chilly weather, our Farmers’ Market is winding down.

The changing seasons in Virginia are like a steady and reliable timepiece.

It has taken me years to understand that the offerings of each season are gifts.

And now I appreciate them all.  

Day 265

Day 265