When we made plans to visit the small town of Remington, north of Culpeper, we knew what to expect. Like many of the towns we visit, there would be no fast food chains or big box stores, but there would likely be a post office, a pharmacy, a barber shop, and maybe a diner. We walked along Main Street stopping in Grove's Hardware store. The worker shared the history of the building and took us for a ride on the old wooden elevator platform where we could watch the brick counterweights lower as we rose to the second floor. From way up high, we took in the sweeping view of rural farmland with the Shenandoah mountains on the horizon.
Life is not made up of great sacrifices or accomplishments, but of little things, where smiles and kindness and small obligations are given over and over again, often daily. It is these little things, habits and rituals and routines that preserve the heart and give us comfort.
When I take my photo walk, I often circle through the community garden, and whenever this sweet little girl and her mother are out on the stoop in front of their home, they graciously grant permission for me to take a few pictures. I remember well those days of sidewalk chalk, playing to learn, hugs and afternoon naps.
I always share the pictures.
I always receive more kindness that I give.
I always say a quiet prayer for their safety and another to express my gratitude.
What we do everyday matters more than what we do every once in a while, so I remind myself to protect these little habits.
I am a loyal reader of the blog, knee deep in weeds by Cathy Sly. Cathy lives in Western Washington with her husband and an adorable beagle named Basil. She shares her heart with great sincerity and her art with great generosity. I learn from every post she shares. As in all friendships, we bring out the best in each other.
In Cathy's recent post, she gave herself some advice. Her words were eloquent and heartfelt and genuine, and her wise words seemed like good advice for me as well. I wrote to ask if I might share her words here, thinking perhaps they might mean something to my readers and my friends as well.
Without necessarily setting out to do so, I believe Cathy has crafted a manifesto. I'm inspired because what I read in every line is intention and integrity and these are my core values. Women with cameras are a powerful force.
Thank you, Cathy, for these words of advice.
Don't worry so much, things have a way of working out if you just give it a little time. Pause throughout the day and connect with yourself. Try to label your feelings, something more than good or bad, get down to the nitty gritty and remember you often feel more than one feeling at a time. Don't talk about others, or make assumptions based on your mind's imagination. And above all, mind your own business. Listen to your intuition, that is the only way to build back that trust you lost way back when. Understand that the dark times are going to come, but also know that light will return, so don't panic. Remember the stronger your core; your soul, your values, your beliefs, and the better you know yourself, the faster you will come out of that dark space.
Remember every moment is new, even if it is a repeat of yesterday or last year so pay attention and give it the respect it deserves. Don't worry too much about what others think (here is where that pause could come inhandy). Try not to judge others or yourself and if you do, step back and ask yourself why you feel the need to do so. Eat when you are hungry and think about what it is that will satisfy that hunger and slow down! And remember, it is okay to treat yourself once in a while. Go to the gym because those people make you happy and you always walk out feeling so much better. Take time every day to meditate, even if it is only for a few minutes. You can do a pretty good job of it while walking the dog if you are so inclined.
Don't play games with people. And remember everyone is not seeking your advice or your opinion, especially your adult children. Ask questions and really listen, because everyone needs to be heard. And if someone asks something of you, remember it is okay to say I don't know, or let me think about it, before you answer. When you do respond, speak from your heart with kindness. Talk about love often and give love both to others and yourself. Apologize when you need to. Remember that if you enjoy doing something then it is not a waste of time no matter what others think or say. And also remember that more is not always better. Pick a few amazing things to fill your life with and give them your full attention. For you, trying to do too many awesome things at the same time only leads to you just sitting there, overwhelmed and not doing anything. If something doesn't feel right move on. Limit your exposure to the news, social media and other people's perfect lives. Be grateful and seek joy, every single day.
In life there are these small, seemingly insignificant, almost imperceptible invitations.
Such subtle offerings beckon us to step into the nature of things, to feel both our greatness and our smallness, to listen to the still quiet voice that guides us.
We find ourselves in the beauty of the earth, the wind, and the water.
We find ourselves in long conversations with forever friends who have already promised to forgive us and show the truth of those promises by showing up over and over.
We find ourselves in the darkness of the forest and the lightness of the clouds.
We find ourselves in the beach-side orchard of bittersweet persimmons, as deeply orange as the setting sun.
Who could decline the gift of such invitations as these?
When I look at these photographs, and ones like them, I am swept away by the beauty. Tears come easily because I can scarcely believe I am blessed in this way – to see, to feel, to record, to tell these stories. Scenes of the rural south reconcile me to life’s transiency, to the larger picture, where I occupy only this moment and a few others like them.
You know that ethereal feeling when the hairs on your arms stand up? When the breeze seems to swirl around only you, and for a few seconds colors seem more vibrant and you can visualize the landscape as a photograph? When your heart almost breaks because you know something about yourself and this world without doubt?
I live for this glory.
One of the hallmarks of anxiety is indecision. I choose to view my questioning approach, my careful consideration, my research, my planning and my preparation as positive traits – most of the time. But sometimes all this weighing of pros and cons leaves me in a state of perpetual uneasiness. In truth, I am often motivated by the fear of making a wrong decision, by the potential of regret or hurt, by the need to please or the need to be perfect, all happy companions of anxiety. And when I finally make a decision, I am often ambushed by self-doubt so that I start the questioning all over again. It’s exhausting.
In order to quell such anxiety, I am making an effort to decide once and move on. This is how I came to a recent decision about the role of social media for me. I’ve enjoyed some aspects of Instagram – mostly the community and the creativity. Thankfully, I’ve not been driven by the desire for “likes” or “followers,” but still I found myself in that space every day, often multiple times. I felt the need to post every day and play nicely, commenting and liking the photos of friends, following links to read more, replying, and keeping up with my feed. I wondered what the payoff was for the time I spent on Instagram. And when I really thought about it, I couldn’t come up with a decent reason, mostly it just seemed like something I "should" do. I am not good at moderating my behaviors, tending to be an all-or-none kind of person. And so, as with drinking alcohol, it just seems easier to abstain. I followed the steps to “temporarily disable” my Instagram account, figuring I’d give it a few months and then re-evaluate. It feels good to decide, even if it turns out it was the wrong decision.
The one thing from Instagram I do miss is joining in with ViewFinders and their monthly theme. I adore the work of these talented, caring and creative women. The theme for September is “home,” and I’ve decided to join the fun right here.
I feel at home on the back roads and rural routes of Virginia, pulling over for the occasional goat.
I feel at home visiting my childhood friend in North Carolina, where things are modern and minimalistic.
I feel at home sitting in the living room of my downtown artist friend, where things are quirky and creative and there are cats who pose.
I feel at home in the studio of my writer friend, where things are vintage and homage is paid to history and nature and books.
I feel at home on our screened-in deck that overlooks our own private forest, where there are plants and good books to read, candles and comfy chairs, and evening breezes. And there is homemade pumpkin soup for dinner.
I feel at home again in my own skin where it is good to be me.
Recently, I was digging through my external hard drive searching for a particular picture. I went back several years, looking for the file, recalling the subject but not quite sure of the name I’d assigned to the folder. Along the way, I stopped to open folders with generic names like “Downtown” or “PhotoWalk” hoping the photo might be tucked in some general space. I never did locate the image I had in mind, but I did come across a folder from May 2014, with several interesting images that I apparently felt unworthy of further attention – no stars, labels or ratings – left as RAW files with no edits.
On this go round, I immediately saw potential in the image files and set about making a few simple edits. I couldn’t help thinking of how I’ve improved and matured as an artist so that what once seemed worthless now might be mined as a treasure.
Perhaps our new skills, technology, or artistic maturity can breathe new life into older and often forgotten work.
I’m not naturally curious about what gear other photographers use. This is mostly because cameras, like automobiles, all look pretty much the same to me. As long as the car will move forward when I press on the accelerator, I’m good to go. Likewise, as long as the camera will record the image when I press the shutter release, I’m happy. It took me forever to learn to use my camera; I’m not keen on learning to use another one.
Still I enjoy the “What’s in my bag?” or “My Gear” pages that many photographers include on their websites. It’s a little like being invited into someone’s home where the host offers you a tour. I love seeing the cameras and tools other photographers use to make pictures and how they organize their gear. When a photographer shares a great find – a camera shop, a favorite book, a new lens or tripod – I am grateful for the anecdotes.
As Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, says, “we are both more alike AND more different that we realize.” And so it is, that sometimes I learn from fellow photographers and artists, adopting new habits, and sometimes I find their way just isn’t for me.
I carry my camera in the trunk of my car every day along with a few other essentials, namely these boots. I don’t know how I made out without them before. I wade into water, traipse through ivy and tall weeds, cross over ditches, and slop through mud or areas where I think there might be a snake or a frog or freaky beetles. I don’t know if boots are considered photography gear, but I count them as essentials.
These images were taken on an almost-fall day where clouds danced across the sky creating periods of soft light. As is my habit, I walked the the streets of my city, searching high and low for scenes that call to me, waiting to be photographed.
Growing up in a small town in Virginia, I was surrounded immediately by the Potomac River and just beyond by fields of corn and soybeans. My hometown of Colonial Beach had a population of maybe 3000 folks and there were 30 kids in my graduating class. There was one traffic light in the town, not the red/yellow/green version but a single blinking caution light.
As I young child, I remember traveling to Fredericksburg for shopping, doctor appointments, restaurants and movies. Fredericksburg was definitely "city" to me. Even then I loved downtown, with the spires of churches and department store windows. The Executive Plaza, pictured above, was built in 1974 (when I was 14 years-old), and at 85 feet it is still the tallest building in Fredericksburg. I remember being fascinated with the building's modern architecture and mirrored tiles. To me, this sleek superstructure was an awesome skyscraper, and the first one I'd seen in person.
I stopped to photograph this scene of tiny crab apples along the brick wall of the rescue squad building. Like colorful raindrops scattered along the ground, these little pieces of autumn portend the downfall of vibrant leaves and acorns to follow.
The Shaker’s have a saying that has served as a sort of guiding mantra for me: Every force evolves a form.
Our energy and attention shapes outcomes. For example, a writer who commits to nourishing her love of poetry by reading a single poem every day, first thing, will soon find that her own writing is changed for the better because of this ritual and discipline.
All day long, we have opportunities to give form to our energies and desires. Every force evolves a form.
Likewise a photographer who commits to a daily photo walk will find her work changed for the better.
Holly is right. She speaks of habits.
An unshakable commitment to showing up to work in all its forms, can change one's life in all of the ways one may want to change that life, from making it more beautiful, to providing more purpose, to provoking everyday revolutions in how one engages with one's surroundings.
The rhythm of regular practice trains the body/mind to perform without undo effort or suffering. In this way, we evolve. In this way, we live in accordance with our deepest values and intentions.
Walking reconnects me with nature. Moving slowly and thoughtfully I am reminded of my love for things old, worn, unadorned, and imperfect. The rhythm of footfalls heightens my senses so that I notice and pay attention.
“Will you be my boyfriend again?”
I must have stood before these words, written in chalk on the brick wall, a long while. A simple question, yet one not easily answered.
A plea to be loved?
An act of vulnerability? Or manipulation?
A wish, a hope, a prayer?
A grand gesture?
A desperate measure?
Walking away, I take comfort in knowing that this habit is good for me.
More compassion. Fewer expectations.
Deeper feeling. Wider understanding.
A little history on the Art Attack Project.
Founded by Bill Harris and Gabriel Pons in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Art Attack was originally conceived as a way to build solidarity amongst practicing artists. They recognized that whether you're just starting out or a seasoned veteran, it's always better to be connected to a broader community of creative minds. By occupying public space in an inclusive and constructive manner, Art Attack benefits not only the participants, but also the community at large.
An invitation to join in the fun.
Art Attack is a grassroots event that gets folks out of the studio and into the streets. By collectively making art in public, you get to meet fellow artists, share your creative process, and celebrate your local arts community. It's free to participate and all artists are welcome. Whether you're painting, drawing, sculpting, or whatever—if you can do your thing outside, we want you there!
On this past Saturday, downtown was alive with art.
A gorgeous day with gorgeous art in my hometown.
What an honor to meet so many talented artists, watch them work, and take photographs that celebrate the spirit of the creative process.
In my own way, I was a part of Art Attack, practicing my photography and connecting to my community.
I am finding my tribe.
Despite the vastness of the internet, the world wide web can feel like a lonely place. On my worst days, I wonder where my words and photographs land, and if this work matters at all. But on my best days, days like this one, I get to meet a real someone – a reader, a friend – in person and we walk and talk, laugh and take pictures together just like old friends. Peggy lives in Pennsylvania and reads this journal, and I read her blog, Season to Season, and so we know a little about one another, from glimpses in photographs and reading between the lines.
Peggy noticed from my pictures and stories that I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and as it turns out both of her sisters live in Virginia, too. On her visit here to celebrate their birthday month (all three sisters were born in September), she made time for a photo walk with me.
We ambled along the side streets of downtown, stopping along the way to take a few pictures, sharing our views with each other. Peggy tends to approach a scene from an angle, always looking to lead us into her pictures. I tend to approach most things head on because I am in love with strong graphic shapes and lines these days. I tried it her way and she tried it mine. We had a time limit of an hour or so as I needed to deliver her back to her sisters for the rest of their special day, but it was not nearly long enough. One last stop by the Farmers Market to smell the fresh peaches.
Even though we must fiercely protect our identity, our privacy, and our time, it seems a shame to stay totally anonymous.
It’s my pleasure to meet you.
This series of photographs makes me feel nostalgic, not sad or even bittersweet, more like keenly aware of the passage of time.
From childhood days of swinging carefree, legs pumping back and forth, hair flying, laughing all out . . .
to the promise of a life together, a family, a new beginning . . .
to full bloom, petals wide open, where even decaying edges are truly, deeply beautiful.
It’s an acknowledged fact that parenting young children is a challenging job. During back-to-school season, parents are deluged with emergency contact forms, bus schedules, extracurricular activities, homework, lunch boxes, baths, and bedtimes, and the list goes on. Transitions are often trying times and new school routines can bring tears and anxiety for some children and parents.
Like many parents, I had the notion that once I got passed those school-aged years, the job would become easier. This is not true – at least not in our case. The process of growing up is multifaceted, and young adults live in a swirl of genetics, emotional maturity, intelligence, and peer relationships. College is a kind of halfway place.
My son’s struggles are his story to share when and if he chooses to do so. But my struggles are fair game. The triad of menopause, launching a child to adulthood, and care giving for aging parents is a dangerous combination. With the help of a trusted counselor, I’ve made progress in developing foundational habits and ways of coping with anxiety, so I’m better able to help my son, and my happiness is no longer hijacked by his mood. I’ve accepted that I must let go and give him room to find his own path – with plenty of support, of course.
There is always effort in deciding how much to share in this space. I strive to land somewhere near authenticity without being foolishly transparent and to act with empathy. If you are reading this and you feel overwhelmed by anxiety or worry, you are not alone.
I have a couple of really good books to recommend.
The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques by Margaret Wehrenberg
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
And a couple of suggestions that always help, even when you think nothing will help, even when you cannot see your way to a clearing.
Get adequate sleep. Eat healthful foods. Exercise.
Find something that brings you into the moment, something mindful and meditative, a practice.
The combination of walking and taking pictures has proven to be like medicine for me.
I’ve taken many pictures of tomatoes at our local Farmers Market and eaten more than my fair share this season. Summertime BLT’s with tomato juice dripping from my chin and rolling down my forearms is reason enough to call life good.
But for all my appreciation of tomatoes, both plain and fancy, I’ve never had much luck growing my own. My husband and I have tried numerous times, and ultimately we ended up with the proverbial $64 Dollar Tomato.
This year we took a more relaxed approach and plopped a couple of inexpensive cherry tomato plants in the flower bed. They took off and flourished with little care – water and filtered sun. At first we were just excited that they lived, and then we were thrilled to see dainty yellow flowers, and finally tiny green tomatoes. The twin plants tower high above my head and we’ve staked them with sticks and twine. To keep the squirrels away my husband rigged a little clothesline along the edge of our garden and suspended aluminum pie plates. They twirl in the afternoon breeze, tinkling against one another. In the evening they reflect the lights of cars passing by and I keep thinking we have company pulling in. I am not at all certain the pie plates do anything to deter the squirrels, but it makes my husband happy to think they do – because it was his idea.
Every day we harvest handfuls of cherry red tomatoes and another variety, pear-shaped and yellow. And every day I am happy with our bounty.
It is fortunate for me that my notion of adventure is broad; that my wanderlust is satisfied by close-to-home travels; and that my friends are of the kind and generous nature whereby they share their home, their time, and their love. Our budget is limited and faraway travels are not likely to enter the picture, and yet we are transported by this beautiful undeveloped beach with its pristine sandy shoreline, a worthy rival to any exotic resort.
Spending time with dear friends at their home on the Little Wicomico River, we set out to explore nearby Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve. Even from the driving directions I am happy. There is no mention of Interstate travel or traffic, no tickets to purchase or luggage to pack and check.
From Kilmarnock, go north on VA 200 towards Burgess. Turn right onto VA 606. Turn right at the Shiloh schoolhouse onto VA 605. Follow VA 605 to the preserve.
The signs are good. There are words like wetlands, dunes, upland forests, eagles, osprey and waterfowl.
Our friends describe our destination most aptly. This is a place we go to again and again without ever growing tired of the view. There is always something different to see as the seasons change.
They are right. This place is peaceful and calm and the trail is a walking mediation.