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[sticky post] Gazing into the not-so-distant future [Nov. 27th, 2014|05:22 am]
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Pelican flyover at Corona del Mar

A migration's in the works!

I'm in the process of updating my
website and will be migrating my LiveJournal blog over to WordPress. I started this process a while back and am looking forward to putting a fresh face on everything by year's end, if not sooner. Keep your eye out for the official launch here, and/or by clicking the "follow" button in the menu bar at the top of Joyful Noise.

I don't want to lose any of you in the move, so I'll be posting blog entries here for a while longer (look below this post for the latest). And as always, I'd love to connect with you on
Facebook and Twitter.


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Tidings Of Comfort and Joy [Dec. 17th, 2014|09:34 pm]
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I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.
--Walt Whitman


It was when our mutual friend Katrina Kenison introduced me to Amy VanEchaute's blog, My Path With Stars Bestrewn, that the seeds of a friendship were planted. In a later entry, “While My Pretty One Sleeps," Amy wrote a gorgeous tribute to her beloved Momma, who seemed to me the stuff of fairy tales. At once magical and ephemeral, Amy's Momma reminded me of my sweet Nana—not mirror images, mind you, but similar in all the places where light exists and love makes itself manifest in the world.


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Amy's Momma with Maymer, 1973

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My Nana, early 1970s

Though we are separated by distance—1,900 miles, more or less—my subsequent conversations with Amy brought us closer. Over time, I came to realize just how much we have in common. Our personalities are uniquely our own, but we approach the world with a shared sense of wide-eyed wonderment, are attuned to music about Mother Earth and her creations, and words that whisper to us the wisdom of Transcendentalists, matriarchs, and the Eternal All-knowing.

A few weeks ago, when Amy posted a picture of the Victorian-style wreath she’d created as a Christmastime homage to her mother, I wished aloud for a memorial spot where I could visit Nana. Amy expressed similar regrets about her own grandmother. As fate would have it, “Maymer” is buried in a cemetery less than nine (count 'em, 9!) miles from my house.

Right then I realized that we’d ventured into that serendipitous space where wishes are sometimes granted, the realm of possibility where you don’t dare blink, lest you miss all the fun and magic. “I’ll make her a wreath,” I heard myself say, “I’ll find Maymer’s grave and lay it there for you.”


Get this: I’d never made a wreath for a loved one before, much less a total stranger! So what? My inner voice asked. I answered the challenge by grabbing my car keys and heading to Michaels. Not for me, something purely decorative…I'd pull together thematic elements! The circular shape would speak of unity—the joining of hands across the miles, a warm embrace in absentia. And the sturdy evergreens would represent our grandmothers’ character: strong women who endured hard times without complaint, who embroidered the fanciful into the everyday, and who sowed seeds of grace in every word and deed.

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Behold! To my first-ever homemade bow, I’ve affixed a tiny angel that represents Maymer and Nana: spiritual giants of short stature. In the curve adjacent, I placed creamy white roses, as fair as our grandmothers’ porcelain complexions.

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Here and there, I scattered various gifts of earth and sky. They help illustrate the underlying meaning of this circle: Hope, that thing with feathers; pinecones that represent growth and renewal; a sprig of cedar that symbolizes strength and healing; holly that speaks of loving sacrifice; and twining ivy, to depict the precious memories that cling to the very fabric of our being.


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On these scrolls are written the songs of our heart: "Deep Peace" for Maymer, and “His Eye is on The Sparrow” for Nana. I tied them together with a tussie-mussie of forget-me-nots, tiny blue flowers that grew prolific in Maymer’s garden and inspired Amy’s momma to write this gorgeous haiku:

Like my mother’s eyes
Twinkling from the garden path
Blue forget-me-nots.
©Marjorie Neighbour, 1982


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I then clipped two candles on the upper right corner, humming as I placed them among the greenery:These little lights of ours, I’m gonna let ‘em shine… Sprigs of mistletoe are scattered at the base of the candles, for who deserves bunches of kisses more than a beloved grandmother?


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A chubby bird hovers mid-air, scattering prisms of light whenever the sun hits its feathers. Into its bosom, I tucked a pale pink rose from my backyard garden—a secret treasure of the sort that I suspect Nana and Maymer loved best. Over time the petals will fade and crumble, but as with our most cherished memories, their essence will remain.


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Here’s how my finished wreath looked, lovingly placed as it was near the cedar tree where Maymer rests.

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I discovered nearby yet another wreath, created with bougainvillea flowers by Mother Nature herself! It’s a very unusual arrangement, which makes me wonder if I was meant to stumble upon it in my walk across the grounds.  And just beyond the reach of my camera, a songbird flew from tree to tree, chirping when it landed but never lighting long enough for me to get a clear glimpse of it. Felt more than seen, it was identifiable only through the sweetness of its song. “Like the soul,” Amy suggests to me later.


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Sunset at the cemetery

This wreath is truly a gift of the heart and of this season. It honors the circle of life, a miracle with no beginning or end, and brings tidings of comfort and joy to both the giver and recipient. In the same way that the Winter Solstice turns back the dark by lengthening the days, this gift has swaddled us in warmth and light—new friends who feel as if we’ve known each other forever, pulled by our grandmothers into a wordless embrace that is nothing less than divine.

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Happy Hanukkah! [Dec. 16th, 2014|09:53 am]
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Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness--to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness--to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.

--Allen Ginsberg, Psalm III


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Photograph by Michael Provost. Used with permission.

Happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate the miracle of Light!
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Old Friends and New Traditions [Dec. 11th, 2014|07:39 am]
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Martha Stewart, I’m not, but I can turn out a plate of gingerbread cookies that taste pretty decent. Way better than they look. It was a cherished family tradition, in fact…until, that is, two adorable little boys grew into fine young men that ventured out into the world to build exciting lives for themselves and forge their own traditions. As kids are wont to do.

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I don’t begrudge my boys this birthright. Of course not, don’t be silly! We’re transitioning, too—in fact, this is our first Christmas in our new home! As always, our tree is decorated with family heirlooms, old and newer--delicate ornaments on the highest boughs because Toby's made himself a cave among its lower branches.

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I've also strung twinkling lights along the mantle. Hmmm, where to put my music boxes? I'm still pondering. Oh, and did I tell you? Earlier this week, I baked sugar cookies with my little friend Sara.

I’ve always used Betty Crocker’s recipe, but my sister Sheryll suggested I try this one, instead. Ho ho ho, I'm happy that she did! The cookies were tastier, and the dough was easier to work with. Anyway, let’s not bother ourselves with the how-to’s and what-fors, ingredient lists and steps involved in mixing...you can get all that from the link above, HGTV and the Food Network. We'll just focus on the fun stuff, shall we? To wit: time spent with Sara.

We sandwiched the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and flattened it with a rolling pin until it formed a rectangle, 1/8” thick resembled the State of California—a topographical marvel that included high deserts and low plains, a rugged coastline, and fault lines that ran the length and breadth of the dough.

Next step: choosing the just-right cookie cutters from a motley collection of shapes. Yes, I got all misty-eyed when I retrieved from the cupboard these talismans of special holidays past. Dinosaurs, sharks, guitars, angels, teddy bears, unicorns, Santa Claus, hearts and stars and moons, oh my! And more! Sara untangled the giant heart from the rest and held it to her chest. (“This is for my Mommy.”) Sorry, saguaro cactus and Halloween cat. You didn’t make the cut.

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Again and again, we dipped cookie molds into flour and pressed them into dough, twisting them ever so slightly before separating the shape from the surrounding scraps. Roll, press, return the scraps to the refrigerator for chilling and re-rolling.

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Look! We're getting the hang of it!

Before long, the hardwood floors were dusted with snowy-white flour, and the scent of fresh-baked cookies drifted from the cooling racks into the rest of the house.

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Sara spread a thin thick layer of frosting (canned, I confess--don't hate!), and then let loose with all of her creativity.

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Sugar crystals, pearl candies, edible paint, sparkly red and green sprinkles…apply liberally, give the cookies a shake and then add more, pat everything into place, sprinkle an extra dash of glitter for good measure...no such thing as good enough!

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Hours later, we collapsed on the sofa stood back to admire our handiwork. The kitchen was a mess—sparkles, sprinkles, and crumbs everywhere, but behold, this wondrous plate of cookies! Edible art, a feast for all senses.

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There was a taste test, of course...

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And everyone agreed...

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Best cookies ever!

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Yes, there were imperfections. Some cookies were soft in the middle; others were brittle to the point of being fragile. Dark or pale, broken or flawless, didn't matter. This plate of cookies, this baking day...love made visible, all of it. I can’t think of a better gift this in the whole wide world, can you?

Here’s hoping the sweet memories of this day will hold a place in our mental scrapbooks, long after the very last cookie crumb gets eaten.


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Happy Thanksgiving. 2014 [Nov. 27th, 2014|06:00 am]
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Blessed are they...Blessed are ye...Blessed are we. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Grace note, on Thanksgiving Eve [Nov. 26th, 2014|03:12 pm]
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That moment when a darling little girl in a holiday dress comes rushing toward you, eyes sparkling & arms wide, yelling "Grandma!" And though you've never met, you just smile inside and fall into her trusting embrace.*

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These encounters seem to come out of nowhere, don't they? Oftentimes, when we need them most. I'd just gotten a cortisone shot in my foot (post-surgical healing at a standstill) and was trying to walk off the pain and disappointment. And then -- as if by magic! -- there she was.

*Grandma? I admit to a brief, "Hey, wait a minute..." reaction afterward. But that moment? Totally worth it!
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A balm in Gilead: a writer's thoughts on the Ferguson verdict [Nov. 25th, 2014|06:30 am]
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Photograph by Michael Provost. Posted with permission.

In the pre-dawn quiet, I'm still pondering the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict. It's another divisive moment in our nation's history, and I find myself wondering how we might rise together from these ashes, how we might turn our eyes, hearts and minds toward the common good.

I do miss the days when leaders spoke with eloquence, intelligence and sincerity; when by their actions, they inspired change. But in reality, it all comes down to what we--each one of us--is willing to say and do. I don't claim to have the answers, but in this morning's musings, I came across a passage that inspires me to do what I can, in this present moment: Write.

From Rebecca Solnit's HOPE IN THE DARK:


"The transformation of despair into hope is alchemical work, an artist's work. And what all transformations have in common is that they begin in the imagination.

"To hope is to gamble. It's to bet on the future, on your desires, on the possibility that an open heart and uncertainty are better than gloom and safety. To hope is dangerous, and yet it is the opposite of fear, for to live is to risk. I say all this to you because hope is not like a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. I say this because hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. Hope just means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope."

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An unfortunate series of events and a call for grace [Nov. 21st, 2014|06:42 am]
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Via Salon:

On Wednesday evening, the National Book Foundation held a ceremony to announce the winners of the National Book Award, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the country. Jacqueline Woodson, a black woman, won the award for young people’s literature for “Brown Girl Dreaming.” It was the first award presented that evening, and Woodson’s earnest excitement was contagious. Then Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket books and presenter at the ceremony got onstage and made a troubling misstep.

The outrage was palpable, instantaneous and ongoing. It's a good thing that grace isn't meted out in nonrefillable, thimble-sized portions, because Handler clearly needed to draw himself a good long drink from the well of humble apologies. Some suggested he was a little slow to accept that cup, but he eventually took to Twitter, to apologize and make amends:

My job at last night's National Book Awards #NBAwards was to shine a light on tremendous writers, including Jacqueline Woodson... and not to overshadow their achievements with my own ill-conceived attempts at humor. I clearly failed, and I’m sorry. My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwards were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist. Let’s donate to #WeNeedDiverseBooks to #CelebrateJackie. I’m in for $10,000, and matching your money for 24 hours up to $100,000. -DH

'Ill-conceived" seems to me an understatement. "Monstrously inappropriate" comes closer. But I'm not here to parse his words because here's the thing: Each of us is imperfect, by virtue of the fact that we are human beings--irrespective of color, creed, persuasions, orientations or any number of outward/invisible differences. We suffer self-inflicted wounds & are injured at the hands of those who do us harm. We gain favor; we fall from grace. It's impossible to know anyone else's heart, but we can certainly see and feel the after-effects of one others' words & actions. And so it is that this deeply affecting, ugly incident helps illustrate the lessons we're all learning--not just Daniel Handler, all of us. We're flesh-and-blood creatures, not so much in need of garment-rending and gnashing teeth, so much as grace, freely given and received.

Kudos for the swift, shunning response to a series of "troubling misteps." Applause, too, for the intelligent conversations that are unfolding even now. And through it all, this additional grace note: Readers and writers everywhere are lifting Jacqueline Woodson above the fray, giving the award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming the full credit it's due. It's a soul-stirring, heartwarming memoir. I hope you'll buy a copy for yourself. Maybe also pick up a couple extra books to share.

BrownGirlDreaming

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Nancy Drew reclaims her roadster [Nov. 16th, 2014|07:36 pm]
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Wheeee! Don't mean to scare you, but "just" 7 1/2 weeks after ankle surgery, guess who's in the driver's seat again?

I slid behind the wheel of my roadster after breakfast, and my husband called shotgun. He stashed the crutches in the backseat, and off we went!
We kept it short ("baby steps," remember?), but it was a sparkling autumn morning, just perfect for a Sunday drive. Absent any white-knuckled, passenger-seat braking on his part, I think I passed the confidence test--his and mine.

On the way home, we stopped at one of our favorite beachfront vistas.
We kept it short ("baby steps," remember?), but it was a sparkling autumn morning, just perfect for a Sunday drive.


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Freedom: It feels like ocean breezes and tastes like happy tears.
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Another Homecoming [Nov. 10th, 2014|02:26 pm]
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As someone who spent much of her itinerant childhood criss-crossing the country in the back of a family sedan, always searching for that elusive place called 'home,' I was enthralled by the prairie home that author Daisy Hickman describes in ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place.

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Book cover image via SunnyRoomStudio

"To my prairie heart," she writes, "the terrain I grew up with evokes feelings of pure delight. Untouched and free, the prairie symbolizes the great unknown--past, present and future wrapped in one, a convincing space knowing no boundaries or limits, no worries or demons: a place where my heart resides." Hickman could also be describing any number of beloved landscapes, seas, or skies--for that is the home we come to know when we explore our world with hearts and eyes wide open.

You'll find personal ruminations between the covers of this book, as well as inspirational passages from Hickman's favorite transcendentalists, philosophers, and prairie home companions. And perhaps you'll come away, as I did, understanding more deeply the meaning behind the beloved Zen teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh's words: "'I have arrived, I am home' is the shortest Dharma Talk I have ever given," he said. "It means 'I don't want to run anymore.' You need that insight in order to be truly established in the here and now, and to embrace life with all its wonders."

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Calligraphy by Zen teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh, purchased at my Day of Mindfulness at Deer Park Monastery.

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Throwback Thursday: Billy Graham, 1939 and now [Nov. 7th, 2014|02:55 pm]
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Happy 96th birthday to "America's Preacher," Billy Graham. Can you spot him on this 1939 Florida Bible College yearbook page?

Hint: Billy Graham's in the third row; my father's is the last picture on the page. This is their entire Junior Class.


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Florida Bible Institute (aka Trinity College) yearbook, 1939 Junior Class

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Facebook photo, via Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

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Thankful Thursday: Hope on Wheels [Nov. 6th, 2014|05:46 am]
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I love spontanaity and swirl, and the memories that come of venturing into Unknown Territory. So as you might imagine, being strapped for weeks on end into an ortho boot is starting to wear a bit thin. It's certainly put a damper on my outdoor activities--like one of those parking boots they slap on your front tire for unpaid tickets.

But look, shiny object!
Beach wheelchairs, provided free to State residents by the California Coastal Commission!

Whee, our tax dollars at work!



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And so it was that I was able to spend last Sunday afternoon at Crystal Cove State Park, careening over sand dunes, snapping photographs and splashing through the waves in a bad-ass, fat-tire wheelchair.

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I love bending "You can't..." in the direction of "I will." You, too?

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It was a feast for body, mind and spirit...an afternoon of unbridled joy.


Here, an amazing gift to those of us who hear the ocean beckon but who can't wiggle their toes in wet sand, for however long and whatever reason. It's another of those "impossible things before breakfast," made possible this time by compassionate, community-minded legislators. Yes, oh yes, I'm grateful.
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Butterfly Migration [Nov. 5th, 2014|03:48 pm]
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My backyard is filled with butterflies -- like swirls of churning butter, they are being carried from flower to shrub by the Santa Ana winds.


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Painted Lady on Butterfly Bush


I learned from my friend Amy that these winged beauties are called Painted Ladies and that they're headed for their winter homes in Baja.

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Hovering in a Ficus tree

You can't tell from these pictures, but our Brazilian Sky Flower Vine is blanketed with them!

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So grateful, to see with my very own eyes the miracle of a butterfly migration...

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Reflecting on the Mid-term Elections [Nov. 5th, 2014|05:28 am]
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Remember that upbeat feeling you carried with you into the polling place yesterday, the hopes and dreams that accompanied your ballot when you dropped it into the mail?

Still yours this morning, unless you choose to give them away. Because Democracy doesn't end on election night, and our future isn't wholly decided by individual ballot initiatives and candidates--no matter our own socio-political leanings, no matter the outcomes of the mid-term elections.

Hope isn't conditional. And joy isn't a limited commodity, allotted to a chosen few. So
grab your cup of coffee.  Go stand in front of a mirror. Reflected there: your one, true representative. Now square those shoulders & ask yourself, "What do you want him/her to do next?"


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A Welcome Drink of Water [Nov. 1st, 2014|11:14 am]
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Serendipity: That midnight moment in which you're first awakened from a pleasant dream and find yourself wishing you were a poet because there aren't enough gorgeous words in your vocabulary to help describe the rain that's splashing on the tile roof pattering on the sidewalk and soaking into the parched earth and neither can you find the right rhythm and cadence to help capture the sounds of the wind that's whistling through the chaparral and whooshing through the palms. So you just stand at the open window and drink it all in.

As dark gives way to light, the rainclouds drift from west to east.


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The pre-dawn downpours are replaced by sunshowers, and then sprinkles.

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The birds are chirping, the fresh-washed foliage is sparkling....and the hillsides are once again bathed in sunshine.

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Rain, rain, come again...come again, another day!

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Halloween Costume, #NoFilter [Oct. 31st, 2014|04:06 am]
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Because nothing says Glam Girl quite like cat-eye sunglasses, an ortho boot & tricked-out scooter...

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Kinda strange, this turning the lens on myself. But yeah, that was my first selfie. Most likely, my last.

Well...I did take one other shot.


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Heh, hashtag sartorial splendor. I was going for the serious, sophisticated look--so obviously not my style. See the100% UV Protection sticker on my shades? That, my friends, is how I roll. :)

#Happy Halloween #LaughterIsTheBestRx

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Winging It [Oct. 29th, 2014|07:27 am]
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Sometimes you've gotta back yourself into a new day...

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...or come about it sideways

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instead of meeting it head-on.

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(And sometimes --okay, often--you've gotta reframe a picture gone wrong.)

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Flights of Fancy [Oct. 28th, 2014|06:03 am]
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Meet Sassy. She's a lesser goldfinch, one of the many backyard birds we've come to know and spoil rotten love.

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Keeping an eye on the Nyger feeder

My reading list is equally eclectic. Currently in the queue:

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HARRIET THE SPY, a re-re-rereading of Louise Pitzhugh's classic novel

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ALWAYS RETURNING: The Wisdom of Place (15th anniversary edition, by Daisy A. Hickman)

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UNORTHODOX: The Scandalous Rejection of my Hasidic Roots, by Deborah Feldman

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REVOLUTION, the second of the widely acclaimed 60s trilogy by Deborah Wiles

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WALK TO BEAUTIFUL: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way, a memoir by American singer/songwriter Jimmy Wayne


What's capturing your heart/imagination these days?

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Splendor in the Grass [Oct. 25th, 2014|02:36 pm]
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If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things in nature have a message you understand, Rejoice, for your soul is alive.
--Eleanora Duse


The threshold into my backyard seems impossibly steep. After four weeks of reclining on the couch, leg elevated, I am starting to climb the walls.

I need to dig my feet in the earth again, injury be damned. I need to spend time in my garden. So I practice crabwalking with my crutches, imagine in my mind's eye how it will feel to venture into the great outdoors. "With God as my witness," I tell my Facebook friends, "I'm gonna wiggle my toes in the grass before this weekend's over!"

And guess what?

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I did it!
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In feeling the sun on my face, a weight is lifted from my shoulders. I am not my present circumstances; I am fully present in this moment.
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My zoom lens is my ally. It brings into my field of vision the tiniest of ants. Can you see it, too, nestled into that faded but still beautiful rose petal?
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My Hawaiian Blue eyes are winking...a random sprinkling of Felicia Daisies make my heart sing.
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"Someone needs to refill the birdbath," this goldfinch seems to say. I'll relay her message to my husband. =:)

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I'm not yet able to shift my weight from one foot to the other. And besides, the ground isn't level. But my knee scooter helps me venture further, helps keep me from toppling over.  And look! Here's a patch of lisianthus, standing tall.

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Jane Goodall once said, " I absolutely believe in a greater spiritual power, far greater than I am, from which I have derived strength in moments of sadness or fear. That's what I believe, and the presence of that spiritual power is very, very strong in the forest." I agree with her, and I believe it's found equally in stands of palm trees and chapparel-covered hillsides.

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I find joy in this tangle of Wendy's Wish, Indigo Spires and Black and Blue Salvia. And something else...

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Hope, the thing with feathers...

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The View From My Window [Oct. 21st, 2014|02:46 pm]
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I like to look out the window. I have spent freely so much of my time doing this, and sometimes it strikes me how little I know of the various things other people can do. I can’t play bridge. I don’t play tennis. All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for. But what there is time for is looking out the window.
-- Alice Munro

Still recovering from ankle tendon surgery, which means I'm spending a good deal of time sprawled on the sofa like an overturned beetle, boot-clad, bandaged leg above my heart. #Metamorphosis, anyone? It's a lengthy recovery process, and I won't bore you with the details. But I'm grateful for the lessons available to me in this period of enforced stillness.

Mindfulness. A deeper appreciation for my physical body, inclusive of all its abilities and limitations. Peace in the moment, and joy in every hobbling step.

It'll be a while before I'm able to return to some of my favorite activities: gardening, hiking, dipping my toes in the ocean and  (vroom vroom) taking my Nancy Drew roadster for a spin. But hey, I have a wicked-fast knee scooter, so go me!! And my camera's got a fantastic zoom lens, which helps bring my garden indoors.

I captured these photos through a window screen, balancing teetering on my scooter all the while.

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Mule deer! In the wilds of Orange County, who knew?!?

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Grace. Beauty. The element of surprise.

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These, the gifts that come of shifting my gaze. Going inward. Looking out my window.


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