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Dream Home (in which I also revisit Sharon, CT) [May. 1st, 2014|07:46 am]
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When my in-laws were forced for health reasons to leave their beloved home in Connecticut, I'd shipped several boxes of their belongings to California. "We'll sort through all of it, at some point," I told my skeptical husband. "It might be important to us some day, who knows?"

He sighed, as he is wont to do when he sees things differently but realizes the inevitable. Corrugated boxes and storage bins--their treasures landed in the garage alongside ours, all of it waiting to be sorted.

Turns out, "some day" didn't arrive until just yesterday, when I was packing for our own move. Toss, discard, save, ad infinitum. I was making good progress until I stumbled across the stuff I'd pulled from the squadron of steelcase filing cabinets my father-in-law kept in his basement. Here, piles and piles of manila folders--tabs worn soft and wrinkled, stuffed to the gills with pictures, correspondences and the like. I put the "Patent" folders aside, the Camera Club and Philatelic Society materials, too. But I couldn't resist a quick peek in the file marked "House Building Costs."

Hand-written receipts, scrawled agreements and ledgers…and hey, lookie here! Two packets of photos!

What with all these busy days and sleepless nights, leading up to our Big Move, I don't have time to write a lengthy post. It might not be beautifully crafted, grammatically correct or coherent, but if you'll indulge me, I thought I might share some things that came to mind when I was sorting through these treasures.

Note to all the young'uns: Before digital photography, "photo retailers" put negatives and printed images into envelopes like this one. Can you identify the year in which this set of photos was processed?

Here, my mother-in-law, Gabrielle Shore, is staking claim to their hillside home-to-be in Sharon, Connecticut. My in-laws discovered the perfect site for their "dream home" that same weekend. It was love at first sight, but oh no! The banks weren't open, and they didn't have their checkbook with them. "I have a quarter in my handbag," Gabrielle recalled telling their realtor.  "Would the seller take that as a downpayment?"

A dream home is built on a solid foundation, on a parcel that makes your heart sing. Location, location, location--and light, lots of light.

The architecture of a dream home requires a lot of imagination, not to mention specificity.

To translate your dreams into reality, you need a cadre of helpers. Skilled contractors, for instance, who are at once knowledgeable and reliable. Friends and loved ones, too, to help share your excitement, off-load some of the stress, and otherwise help keep you centered.

I think it's important (essential, maybe) to set aside space in your new nest for beautiful, handcrafted objects. See also: hobbies. Form and function should have a hand-in-glove relationship! (Here, Sid's pride and joy: a dedicated photography darkroom. Note the stark contrast between stainless steel and cedar. It's not to my taste, but that's beside the point, am I right?)

It all comes together, eventually, and you'll appreciate it more for having experienced any delays or setbacks.

I'm going to mail that file (and these photographs) to the new owners. They love the property as much as my in-laws did, and that makes me happier than I can say. More soon about our own move…I'd love to spill the details now (with pictures!), but I've got to get packing!
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Samara Faith takes wing [Mar. 19th, 2014|07:37 am]
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Hope's tiny nest is lashed to a Pidocarpus tree in my backyard, way above eye-level. My little neighbor-friend Sara has a better view, because her house was built on higher ground. So with her mommy's permission, I climbed a step stool and angled my camera over our shared fence.

I stayed for a good long while on the 22nd day, in part because I knew we'd entered the final countdown. But it's also true that I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity (the privilege!) of absorbing the hatchling's miraculous transformation from egg to full grown hummingbird. It wasn't long for the nest, and I knew it.


By this point, it's quite possible that Hope is preparing another nest, in anticipation of a second brood. Even so, she brought food to her nearly grown hatchling, several times a day. Between meals, her baby used its long, thin tongue to grab a quick bite for itself.


It was a warm, sunny day, and the nest was soft. No surprise, the baby bird got sleepy.


Oh hey, are you still here?

In this light, you can see for yourself that the hummingbird hatchling is nearly grown. It's got iridescent green feathers, just like Hope, and is about 1-1/2 inches long. Much tinier than it appears in these pictures! Oh, and have you heard? Its name is Samara Faith!


Sunshine warmed the nest, but bathed as it was, in a pool of light, the hatchling was vulnerable to predators. Thank goodness, Hope instinctively knew where and how to camouflage her brood.  For most of the day, the nest was cloaked in shade. That, plus variegated foliage, did the trick.


Heavy winds and rains have battered the nest. It's ragged now, and tilted downward. Even so, it's proven itself a reliable shelter for the just-right amount of time.

While I was watching, short wind gusts made the branches sway and bounce. When that happened, the hatchling tucked itself deep into the tufted nest and wind-surfed.

Oh hey…do you see what those tiny wings are doing?


The baby hummingbird seemed just as surprised by that wing display as I was.

Truth is, for several days now, the hatchling has been clutching the bottom of the nest with its feet and test-piloting those tiny wings. I think all those strength exercises are paying off!


A few hours after posting this picture to Facebook, I visited the nest again, in hopes of taking one last measurement before our naming contest. Maybe the hatchling was nudged forward by a breeze, or maybe it caught wind of this paparazzo. But in any case, its wings whirred, and off it went, helicoptering over my head as confident as could be!

I don't know who was more surprised--Samara Faith or me. But I stood quiet for the longest time, blinking back the wetness that threatened to spill down my cheeks. I was sad, of course, but also very happy.

Samara Faith beat the odds.
Hope, realized. Faith, made manifest. How fortunate I was, to bear witness to such a miracle!

Hope will stick close by for at least a few days, teaching Samara Faith how and where to forage for food. I'm keeping fresh nectar at the ready...


I visited the nest once more that afternoon, to take the measure of it.

Soft yet strong, this nest supported Hope. It withstood heavy winds, rain and hail, and provided safe harbor for her tiny brood until one of the hatchlings eventually fledged. Tiny as it may be, and humble, the importance of a nest can't be overstated. Isn't that a rule, written down somewhere? If not, it should be.

Missed the previous posts about Hope and her hatchlings? Here you go: Hope's Hatchlings, Part One; Hope's Hatchlings: Part Two: Hope's Hatchlings: Part Three (and a naming contest); and Hope's hatchling gets a name.
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Hope's hatchling gets a name [Mar. 18th, 2014|07:42 am]
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At around 23 days after hatching, a baby hummingbird fledges, never again to return to its nest. Given how attached I'd grown to this tiny miracle, I decided we should grace Hope's hatchling with a suitable name--a talisman of goodwill that would carry it through the skies. And so it was that I announced a naming contest last Friday, on this blog.

Each of the submitted names was beautiful in its own way…all of them, befitting such a beautiful creature. Danny Boy, Samara, Faith, Emerald, Flitterbaby, Flit, Jewel, Whimsy

My neighbor-friend Sara helped me choose the winning entry.

She decorated a basket, filled with colorful plumage. Each paper feather represented one of the contest entries.


Sara decided we should choose the hatchling's name at the base of the tree where Hope had built her nest. And so, we did.


She closed her eyes and drew a name from the basket.


Samara it is! And after reading Barb Etlin's explanation, I think that name is perfect!

Samara, a Hebrew and Latin female name. The Latin name means "helicopter seed of an elm or maple tree," which reminds me of the helicopter-like wing beating of a hummingbird. The Hebrew meaning is "guardian, protected by God, or night talk." ~Barb Etlin

As contest winner, Barb will receive a copy of Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas. Many thanks to author Jeanette Larson, who donated a copy of this beautiful book as a prize.

Cover w title

But wait, we're not finished here, yet!

As you no doubt know, little girls reserve the right to mull things over, alter course or change their mind. All of the above, whenever.


Two people submitted Faith as a possibility: Margaret Buffie and Charline Profiri. Turns out, Sara loved it, too. So much so, that she decided it should be Samara's middle name!

And so it is.

Meet Samara Faith. Isn't she (or he) a beauty?

Day 22. On my next blog (posted later today)--Samara Faith fledges!

Missed the previous posts about Hope and her hatchlings? Here you go: Hope's Hatchlings, Part One, Hope's Hatchlings: Part Two, and Hope's Hatchlings: Part Three (and a naming contest).
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Hope's Hatchlings: Part Three (and a naming contest) [Mar. 14th, 2014|06:40 am]
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Taking the measure of things, from the day we started this journey...


Day 17. Basking in the afternoon sun. Meanwhile, Hope is sipping nectar from the citrus blossoms, on the other side of my backyard. Do you see the shimmery green, peeking out from the hatchling's folded wings? Before long, he'll be covered with iridescent feathers! He should fledge within a week, plus or minus a couple of days.


Day 18. The Santa Ana winds are blowing, so the hummingbird hatchling is hunkered down in the nest. So many fewer pinfeathers than yesterday--lots of fluffy feathers in their place! Fun fact: The nest is built, in part, of extremely strong, very stretchy spider silk, so the nest expands as the nestling grows. When it appears to be outgrowing the nest, it's almost ready to fledge.


Day 19. Check out those wings!! It's as if they sprouted overnight. The sun was warm & bright this afternoon, which made picture-taking a bit of a challenge. It blanketed the hatchling's back, radiating light, and before long, those dark little peepers drifted shut.

NAMING CONTEST! Hope's hatchling will likely fledge next Tuesday,  23 days after breaking free of its shell. With that in mind, I'm hosting a naming contest.

Naming Contest Rules:

1) Drop your entry into the comments section, below. Alternatively, leave your suggestion on the link I post to my Facebook page.
2)  All entries must be received by 11:00 a.m. (Pacific) on Sunday, 3/16
3)  My neighbor-friend Sara will help me select the winning entry
4)  In the event of duplicate submissions, we will draw the winner's name from a hat (metaphorically speaking).
5)  I'll announce the hatchlings name on Monday, 3/17.
6) The prize? Amazing! Author Jeanette Larson is donating a copy of her beautiful book, HUMMINGBIRDS: Facts and Folklore from the Americas, to the winner. Exquisite illustrations, fun and informative text…this is one of those books that quickly assumes a prominent position on your bookshelf or coffee table.

At some point early next week, the hummingbird hatchling will wing its way into the world, graced with a befitting name. I'll post more pictures in the meantime. Stay tuned...

Missed the previous posts about Hope and her hatchlings? Here you go: Hope's Hatchlings, Part One and Hope's Hatchlings: Part Two.
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Hope's Hatchlings: Part Two [Mar. 14th, 2014|05:50 am]
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(Missed the previous days' entries? Here's the link. )

Day 9. "It's Nature's way," I am told. And it's statistically true that only 50% of hummingbird hatchlings grow iridescent wings and fledge. But numbers count for nothing, when you're trying to reconcile wishes with reality...reality being that one of the baby hummingbirds fell from the nest this morning. I don't know the how or why, but it was already dead when I found it.


Day 11. At this point, the hatchling is covered with pinfeathers, so Hope broods less often, even at night. To avoid attracting the attention of predators, she steers clear of the nest, save for the few seconds it takes to feed her hatchling. Feeding intervals vary, from less than ten minutes to more than an hour and a half.


Day 12. Look in the upper left corner: you can see one of the hatchling's tiny wings!

The nest is slanted, thanks to the heavy winds and rains, but it's not going anyway. That's because hummingbirds lash their nests to nearby branches with spider silk, which is at once flexible and super-strong. Hope brooded last night, and again today. I think she's trying to keep her hatchling warm while the nest dries.


Day 14. Hope allowed me a couple of pictures before she buzzed past my head, clicking and helicoptering her tiny wings.


As you can see from this second picture, the hatchling's pinfeather casings are breaking open now, and the beak is much darker. Before long, we'll see its iridescent feathers. Hope's baby must surely have a neck ache by now, what with staying in that position for lo, these many days. But I'm pretty sure it has something to do with balancing itself on a downward-tilted nest.


Day 15. Hope's hatchling has all its pinfeathers now, and is beginning to sprout real feathers. It lies motionless for much of the time, so as not to attract predators, but it raises its beak whenever it senses Hope is near.

Within the confines of its nest, the hatchling strengthens its flying muscles. It does this by gripping the floor with its feet and flapping its wings. Random fact: from the time they first hatch, baby hummingbirds do everything they can to drop their waste over the side of the nest (FYI, in case you hadn't already noticed).


Day 16. Look! The hummingbird hatchling's got tiny tail feathers! This picture also shows the downward slant of the nest--quite the balancing act, no? Time to fledge: 7 days and counting…

Missed the first set of pictures? Go back to Hope's Hatchlings, Part One

Want to see more? Hope's Hatchling's, Part Three (and a naming contest)
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Hope's Hatchlings: Part One [Mar. 14th, 2014|04:49 am]
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When we last saw Hope, our Mama Hummingbird, she was sitting on two eggs. So much has happened since then, much of which I've posted to Facebook. But I'll reprise the highlights on my blog, so that we can enjoy them all over again.

Hope leaves the nest for short periods, to forage for nectar and insects.


2/24 It's hardly recognizable as a baby hummingbird, but ta da! The first hatchling made his grand appearance today. (The second hummingbird pecked his shell open that same afternoon.)


Within just a couple of days, Hope's baby hummingbirds have almost doubled in size. Their beaks are slightly darker (barely visible at the 4:00 and 8:00 positions), and they're growing fuzzy little pinfeathers. At this stage, they’re very much a work in progress…


Day 3. Hope braces herself on the edge of the nest—it’s a windy afternoon, but her hatchlings are hungry!


Hope's hummingbird hatchlings are 4 days old! She feeds them a slurry of nectar & insects about every 20 minutes. In this blustery rainstorm, however, she's hunkered down on the nest more than usual.  (I set up my camera shots when Hope's away from the nest, gathering food. And because I try to hurry, the pictures aren't always--well, picture perfect.)


Day 6. The nest is soaked clear through, but Hope and her brood weathered a violent storm that rolled in overnight.  Heavy rains and hail. Thunder, lightning, and howling winds. I fretted for hours on end, hoping against long odds that they'd make it. you can see here, they did! No worse for the wear, it seems, other than the fact that they're a bit wet. And quite obviously, very hungry.

Want to know what happens next? Follow these links: Hope's Hatchlings, Part Two and Hope's Hatchlings, Part Three (and a naming contest).
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Thankful Thursday: A joyful noise [Feb. 27th, 2014|08:57 am]
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The call went out on Facebook on Tuesday morning:

“Anyone know of someone that would like to perform a song for the Dalai Lama today or tomorrow while one stage with him?? We have some time that freed up.”

Here, a long-ignored yearning, knocking again at the door to my heart.

I stared at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink in the empty comment box below it.

My first response was absolutely sincere, but it ignored completely my inner whisperings:

“Sharing with my vocal coach, Stacy Pendleton. She'd be perfect, and would no doubt choose a beautifully suited piece for the Dalai Lama's visit.”

My hands hovered over the keyboard, a safe harbor in which I’ve oftentimes reconciled Present Reality with Distant Memories.

You can do it! You’ve got years of singing experience behind you. Plus, voice lessons.

Yes, but it’s a scary thing. My heart’s pounding in my chest, my hands are trembling, and…and…feel my palms! They’re already sweating.

Yes, and yes. But. It’s a remote possibility, so what’s the harm in asking?

The battle was swift and fairly painless, and in the end…Courage for the win! I whispered a prayer, rolled up my sleeves, and typed my way past the unspeakable memory that kept its tentacles wrapped around my singing voice, for lo these many years.*

“I would be thrilleddeeply honored!to participate in some way, if you decide to include a choir of voices.”

(*Some of you know that story already, which I won't reprise in this post. I offer you, instead, a picture of my earliest vocal ensemble. Apropos, seeing as how it's also Throwback Thursday.)

That's me, wedged in the middle, with the faraway look in my eyes!

For much of that day, my stomach was doing backward flips and cartwheels, which so often happens when I find myself on that cutting edge/bleeding edge of Something Big.

What’s your experience? the event facilitators asked me, What can you bring to the table?

"I performed with my sisters at my father's revival meetings, traveled with choirs and ensembles, took private lessons...It's a dream of mine, to sing at a special event such as this.” I left out the part about having lost my singing voice for a very long time, because—as it occurred to me laterit no longer mattered.

For several shining moments (hours, really), I visited the realm of Possibility. I crossed my fingers, paced the floor, contemplated the deeper significance of what I'd signed on for. Alone in the anteroom between Now and Future, I texted my voice teacher, and I posted this note to Facebook:

prayer flags at Land of Medicine Buddha

It's a small chance, but not outside the realm of possibility. A dream realized, not memoir-related but close. If you're so inclined, please help me send good vibes into the world, in hopes it comes to pass. If not now, then when the time is right. (Sorry to be opaque about this, but I don't want to jinx/jeopardize my chances.)

The responses were swift, and so affirming. Here again, I had a big ol’ lump in my throat, but in my heart, I was singing!

In the end, they chose someone who’d already been cleared by Secret Service. Makes sense, seeing as how the event organizers didn’t know me from Eve. Too, it was very short notice, and I don’t have a wide repertoire at the ready. And come to think of it, I’m more of a backup singer than a soloist, anyway.

I’m sure the person they chose did an amazing job, and that His Holiness was blessed by her musical performance. But I volunteered, too, and that was a gift in itself. No, I wasn't selected, but I offered up my singing voice to serve the greater good, and that’s the main thing. And that I’ve reclaimed my ability to make a joyful noise—that’s the best feeling, ever.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Image via Sean Lourdes, of The Lourdes Foundation
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VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT: Thoughts on Writing and Life [Feb. 20th, 2014|10:12 pm]
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I first came to know Jeannine Atkins when she posted her blog entries to LiveJournal, the little corner of the blogosphere that I call home. Her writing style (her way of being) resonated with me then, as now: she has a poet's sensitivity and an artist's eye. She is a story-teller at heart, with a soul-deep appreciation for all that life has to offer.

It was in 2010 that BORROWED NAMES first arrived in bookstores--a gorgeous book that threads together the lives and accomplishments of three extraordinary women and their daughters. I think I bought a copy for just about everyone I knew. It's that good. And my friends are worth it.

Put this on your wish list for Mother's Day!

Jeannine's long since moved her blog over to Wordpress, and she's added yet another publishing credit to her name.



If you haven't yet read this book, may I suggest it to you now? It's been a constant source of inspiration for me, as I work my way through the arduous (but no less rewarding) job of revising my current manuscript, CAN I GET A WITNESS? And good news: we'll use it as a springboard for discussion at our Writing and Yoga (with chocolate!) retreat in June!

mentioned it in earlier blog posts, but seeing as how I just posted a review to Amazon, I thought I'd also share those thoughts with you, here:

VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT offers a wealth of fresh perspectives on what it means to be a writer, as told from the vantage point of a beloved author and trusted friend. Within each section, Jeannine Atkins invites readers to explore various aspects of the creative process, until we see for ourselves the illuminated space in which voices emerge, ideas flourish, and authenticity reigns supreme.

Here, a writer’s retreat, as inviting as they come. Divided into short, two- or three-page chapters, VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT is easily read in a single sitting. I savored brief passages over breakfast, and found myself meditating on their layered meanings throughout the day. With regret, I turned the final page. But by that time, I’d learned to see my old patterns with fresh eyes, and could create for myself a new path forward. Gone, the clouded vision, knowledge gaps and blind spots. In their place, a welcoming candle, and a full-spectrum, panoramic view of the road ahead.

This is the first book published by Stone Door Press. You can browse the sample pages, and/or purchase it on Amazon.
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Thankful Thursday (part 2): Splashes of Sunshine [Feb. 20th, 2014|09:26 am]
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Color me embarrassed: I posted a Thankful Thursday blog on Wednesday! Oh well…not a day goes by without my being grateful for something. :)

Overall, things are looking much brighter this year than last. I have a new grandson, almost a month old today. The roses I pruned back in early January are already leafing out, and my camellias and azaleas are in full bloom. A few weeks ago, the mockingbirds returned. They--along with the other songbirds in our neighborhood--serenade us all day long.

I joined a salon ("The Interestings)" and helped establish a new writing group. Lucky me: I'm flanked by women who are witty, bright, experienced and insightful. I appreciate the unique gifts that each person brings to the table, and am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to theirs.

So yeah, things are looking up.

Speaking of which, I discovered these splashes of yellow in my backyard yesterday. Would've missed them altogether, had I not turned my face (my camera) toward the sun. A chubby yellow songbird, so cute he'll melt your heart. And the juiciest, sweetest grapefruit you've ever eaten.

Fresh grapefruit, ripe for the picking

 American Goldfinch, playing peek-a-boo in our backyard pepper tree

Hurray for blue skies and a sunny outlook!
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Thankful Thursday: Hope [Feb. 19th, 2014|04:39 am]
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Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. Hummingbirds open our eyes to the wonder of the world and inspire us to open our hearts to loved ones and friends. Like a hummingbird, we aspire to hover and to savor each moment as it passes, embrace all that life has to offer and to celebrate the joy of everyday. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.  -- PAPYRUS

I'm grateful today for Hope, the mama hummingbird who's bringing to my backyard garden these little glimpses of heaven. She carries light on her gossamer wings, quilts earth and sky together with her long, slender beak.
Two tiny eggs, one hidden from view

Protective mama (Hope and me, both)
Want to know what happened to Hope and her brood, from this point forward? Follow the links to Hope's Hatchlings, Part One, Hope's Hatchlings, Part Two, and Hope's Hatchling's, Part Three (and a naming contest).
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Backyard Buddies [Feb. 17th, 2014|05:04 am]
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Most of you have already met my little friend Sara. If not, please allow me the privilege of introducing her now.

She's a fairy princess...


a pastry sous chef...


A prima ballerina, book lover, nature girl...


and Nancy Drew-in-training. We have so much fun together, my little neighbor friend and I!

Example: We wandered into my backyard yesterday afternoon, with plans to water the fairy garden we created a short while back. Sara got side-tracked by some roly-poly seed pods, scattered on the ground. One thing led to another, and…oh, look!* Look up, Sara! Do you see what I see, on the edge of that branch?


A Mama Hummingbird, nesting in my backyard podocarpus tree, as pretty as you please!

(*Look = a wondrous word. Can I get a witness?)

We stood quietly together, watched Mama play sentry. She turned her head to and fro, no doubt aware of our presence.

But hummingbirds don't scare easily, especially when they've come to know you as the one who refills the nectar in their feeder.

I snapped some pictures, and when she flew off to get some sustenance...


...I zoomed the lens a little closer. Voilà, two tic-tac sized eggs, tucked inside her nest!


Some of you might remember the backyard hummingbirds I documented a few years ago, from first discovery to fledge. It'll be SO FUN to do something similar with my little pal, Sara!

Now that you've met my backyard buddies, I'll let you in on another little secret. I decided just this morning to give Mama Hummingbird a name! Hope, the thing with feathers… It suits her, don't you think? 
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Happy Valentine's Day! [Feb. 14th, 2014|09:09 am]
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Hearts, "unsheathed from winter"

I found fresh strawberries, plump and juicy, at a local farmer's fruit stand. The quoted phrase is loosely based on Witter Byner's Fruit Poem.
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Candles in the Window Retreat: Prize Winner [Jan. 14th, 2014|06:35 am]
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You spread the good word via Facebook and Twitter, and you commented on our prize giveaway post. You're a rock star in our book, regardless. But guess what? We dropped all entries into the proverbial hat, and you won!

Star generator via Redkid,net
Congratulations, Julia! You can redeem your $25.00 discount when you register.

Thanks again to everyone who entered. We're so looking forward to meeting you in June!  We'll be hosting other Retreat-related giveaways in the meantime, so keep an eye on our Faculty members' blogs and Facebook pages. (Cool prizes include Jeannine Atkins' Views From A Window Seat, EarthHoney Chocolate, and The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, oh my!)

P.S. Don't forget: Early Bird Registration ends on Valentine's Day. Check out the sweet deals we're offering those who register early.
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Candles in the Window Retreat: A prize drawing [Jan. 7th, 2014|05:25 am]
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When the day is devoted to writing, time moves as slowly as the sun. In an unbroken afternoon, my characters relax and tell the kind of tales you get when there are no buses to catch, no phones that might ring, when they know they’ve got my attention. They stutter less and speak whole sentences at a time.
“Retreat,” in VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT, by Jeannine Atkins

Retreat-Header 2-2

Winter’s upon us, but good news: Our 2014 Writing and Yoga Retreat (with chocolate!) is just a few short months away. And what better place to experience “an unbroken afternoon” than Land of Medicine Buddha, in sunny California? Tucked among the redwood trees of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the retreat center is two hours south of San Francisco, and just a few short miles from the beach.

CANDLES IN THE WINDOW: A Writing and Yoga Retreat (with Chocolate!) spans the weekend of June 6 - 8, but the memories we’ll create will last a lot longer, guaranteed. So will the stories we’ll write with VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT author, Jeannine Atkins. Also on the agenda: gentle yoga classes, a contemplative photography walk, meditation hikes and how-to sessions, and a chocolate-infused writing activity on Saturday night. Want to know more? If you haven’t yet visited our Retreat website and Facebook page, please do!

Our Early Bird Registration discount ends on Valentine’s Day, but to sweeten the pot even further, we’re offering an additional $25.00 price reduction to one lucky winner.

Entering is easy. 1. Leave a comment on this blog entry. Be sure it includes your name and a way for us to reach you.  
2. Click “Maybe” or “Going” on our CANDLES IN THE WINDOW Facebook page. 3. Share this blog link with your Twitter followers and Facebook friends.  Do one or all three—each option gives you another shot at the prize.

All entries must be completed by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on January 13th. The lucky winner will be selected in a random drawing on January 14th and will be informed via this blog and Facebook.

P.S. Becky Levine’s offering a signed copy of Jeannine Atkins’s lovely book to one lucky winner. We’ll explore VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT at our Writing and Yoga retreat, so once you’ve entered our drawing, so be sure you drop your name into the hat on Becky’s blog, too!
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Labyrinth Builders [Jan. 5th, 2014|08:00 am]
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Never mind that he's apparently unaware of the differences between mazes and labyrinths. HB (Huntington Beach) MazeMan is an "ephemeral artist." He's also very much an entrepreneur, and by that I mean: he creates experiential art on public beaches, while tourists drop donations into a tip bucket nearby.


Like lots of other folks, these out-of-towners thought his handiwork was a-mazing. The ocean swirled at their feet while they set up a tripod, the better to capture their kids at play in MazeMan's labyrinths.


His designs caught the attention of this little girl, too. But watch--she's got some artistry of her own in mind.


Children ran through MazeMan's labyrinths with joyful abandon. They posed reluctantly for hovercraft parents. But the little girl in the purple shirt stood apart from all of them, etching her own set of squiggly lines in the sand.


Every once in a while, the other kids looked over their shoulders, to see what the girl in the purple shirt was up to. If she noticed them watching, she wasn't at all distracted.


The sun drifted lower in the sky, and the tides receded. Families came and went, but the little girl just kept on drawing.


 She stopped for a short moment--maybe to admire her handiwork. I thought she was finished at this point, but it wasn't long before she started up again.


"Welcome!" she wrote, in these hastily drawn letters. And whooosh--before I finished snapping this picture, the little girl was gone.


To each, his or her own path.

Most certainly, the artistry is different, but I noticed, too, the difference in approaches. The little girl began at heart of her labyrinth, whereas the Maze Builder wrote "Start" at the outermost edge…just a few footsteps away from the tip bucket I mentioned earlier.
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Happy New Year! [Jan. 1st, 2014|09:24 pm]
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Anna's Hummingbird at sunset, on the first night of 2014

She was guarding the nest she'd built in an aloe vera plant, on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Click, click, click! I heard her warning calls, long before I saw her. But as we approached, she settled into this watchful, elegant post. How cool--how magical--is that? Call me woo-woo if you will, but I'm seeing this as a harbinger of good things to come.
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All signs point to…2014 [Dec. 31st, 2013|08:07 am]
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2014 is just hours away, can you believe it? Last year had more than its share of ups and downs, but the New Year looks promising already. For instance: We're anticipating something wonderful on the home front!  I'm thrilled beyond words and...sworn to secrecy, at least for now. I'm really good at staying mum, so don't try to pry it out of me. But when the time is right, cue the trumpets and party hats! You'll hear all about it, I assure you.

First things first, though. It's time to ring in the new year!

Here at Joyful Noise, we're very fond of traditions. Hence, the annual pre-New Year's Eve party, where we gather around the orbital oracle, aka Magic 8-Ball, and ask our most pressing questions about the future. Everyone's invited; come as you are, and bring your friends!

Ready to shake things up a bit? The Magic 8-Ball is ready, whenever you are! The rules, they are simple:

  1. DO address the Magic 8-Ball with all due respect ("Oh Magic 8-Ball..." or something similar).

  2. DO ask Yes/No questions. (No long-winded questions/answers, sorry! That's not how the Magic 8-Ball rolls.)

  3. DO concentrate as you click on the "post comment" button.

  4. DO ask as many questions as you'd like, but enter them as separate comments.

  5. DON'T be deterred if the Magic 8-Ball tells you to ASK AGAIN LATER. Persist & prevail!

  6. While you're waiting for the Magic 8-Ball's 2014 predictions, take a quick glance in the rear view mirror. What did you ask the Magic 8-Ball on New Year's Eve 2012, and how accurate were its answers?

  7. DON'T take the Magic 8-Ball's answers too seriously. It's a party game, not gospel truth.

What's in the cards for us this coming year? You ask, the 8-Ball answers...

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Keeping a Journal, via Jeannine Atkins [Dec. 23rd, 2013|11:03 am]
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Just as a runner isn't wise to skip stretching hamstrings that were stretched yesterday, writers need to warm up every morning, waking up the connections between our eyes, hands, and words.
--Jeannine Atkins

I like the ease that comes of setting my own schedule, within or outside the typical workforce hours. I also appreciate the quiet satisfaction that comes of my own, heads-down efforts, whether or not they yield immediate results. But while writing is a solitary endeavor, I'm really a kumbaya girl at heart. So I like knowing that the view from my office window isn't all that different from that of other writers.

This theme is portrayed beautifully in Jeannine Atkins' VIEWS FROM A WINDOW SEAT: Thoughts on Writing And Life. I'll review the entire book later, likely after the busy holiday season is behind us. Meantime, I'd like to share a couple of passages from the chapter called Keeping a Journal.

"I start most mornings at the same kitchen window or on the porch," Jeannine says, "where I often ease into work by recording what I see.


Me, too! I stand at my kitchen window before my own writing sessions, steaming mug of vanilla-hazelnut coffee in hand. As my eyes flit from one garden patch to another, my mind drifts from one idea to the next. Goldfinches gather at the feeder, late-blooming camellias tilt their faces toward the sun. I am at once comforted and stimulated by their presence. Where do I want to take my writing today, I ask myself, and what (who) will I take with me? A click of the shutter, a quick scrawl in my journalI record, with all senses, the answers available to me in that moment.

[While] no one may read what we write, Jeannine continues, a journal brimming with woes and their analysis can be useful if it clears the mind to let us return to something with more grit or polish. Putting complaints or concerns on the page sweeps them from my mind, so I'm better able to focus on the work at hand.


I get that, I really do! In fact, this is the journal page I created yesterday, as warm-up for my time at the computer. It comes of standing at my kitchen window for a long while, gathering ideas and letting go. (Soften your gaze, please, 'cause while I've got major love for art supplies, Technique and I are total strangers.)

I planted a sunflower, bright and cheerful, and surrounded her with nurturing thoughts. The image itself is a very loose interpretation of something I saw on Pinterest a while back. I drew it freehand and then added text, off the top of my head. Oopsies are part of the process, I kept reminding myself--put down that eraser and keep going! Growth: that's what came to mind as I painted, stamped, scribbled, and glitter-glued the images and text. Funny, isn't it, how certain themes sometimes burst through the topsoil, as if they'd been planted there on purpose?

This journal page is pinned to a certain point in time, so please don't view it as a representative sample. It's sunny again today, and warm. But the Santa Ana winds might kick up overnight, wreaking havoc in their wake.

One thing I know for sure: journaling helps me find clarity in the moment, and calm. Gifts for any writer, maybe more so for memoirists like me. More importantly (and in Jeannine's words again), journaling helps us "commune with ourselves, in a given moment, as honestly as we ca
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A gift beyond measure [Dec. 6th, 2013|12:32 pm]
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I used a point-and-shoot camera for the longest time, and still do. But when I got frustrated by its limitations, a cherished friend offered me a higher-end camera from his personal collection. In doing so, he opened for me the gates to a whole new world.  There’s no way I can adequately express my gratitude for Peter Laird’s generous gift, but I'd like to give it a try.


By its very definition, “photography” is “to write or draw with light.” I'm one who's drawn to light, as a rule, and I tend to notice things other people don't. But my new camera invites me to look even closer. I'm learning to twist the lens just so, in a way that brings near the things I might otherwise have overlooked: sharp edges and rounded corners, bold patterns and rough textures, saturated and sun-bleached colors.




I'm learning to release any preconceived notions about capturing a “perfect” shot, and to focus instead on the light...


...not only in my creative endeavors, but in every aspect of my life.


It comes more naturally to me in some areas than others, but I'm doing my level best to remember Leonard Cohen's admonition:

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The side benefits are many, including but not limited to the lightness of being --the unmitigated joy--that comes of slinging a camera over my shoulder, and plunging headlong into unexplored territory.


Old habits die hard, and I'm sorely tempted to point out (and to apologize for) any and all mistakes, most of which aren't due to camera malfunctions. Errors reveal themselves on the screen, even though I filtered out the obvious ones before posting.  But even in their unedited state, these pictures manage to tell a story. My story, in all its imperfect glory.

It's a messy thing, this bearing witness.


Given enough time (and oodles of practice) my photography skills have improved. Technologies advanced at a more rapid pace, to the point where I eventually decided to add another type of camera to my collection. So here I am again, at the threshold of new discoveries. It’s scary and frustrating, to learn the new settings and whatnots. But I’m reminding myself anew that photography—writing and even life itself—is not about perfection. It’s about staying awake and keeping ourselves open. It's about putting one foot in front of the other, confident in the belief that light has the power to pierce any shadows. When viewed through this lens, it's impossible for me to overstate my appreciation for Peter's camera, accompanied as it was by so many important lessons. It's a gift more valuable than I could ever quantify.
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Trash to Treasure: The Art of Revising [Nov. 22nd, 2013|08:30 am]
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If you follow me on Facebook, you saw a brief post about this repurposing project a while back. But I’m posting it again on LiveJournal, along with some further thoughts about the ways in which creative side trips can serve as mirrors (and fuel) for my writing project.

Disclaimer: The fine artists among us are free to leave the room now.  Please steer clear of the zoom feature, if you stay. I’m not an expert upcycler by any means; my creative urges far outstrip my skills. But for the as-yet-unitiated, I’m offer up some things I learned along the way.

I’d recently painted my bedroom furniture--heavy oak pieces, circa 1980s. Brightly colored plastics were all the rage back then, but situated as mine was on the freshly painted dresser, well! I saw my Caboodle for the eyesore it was. I needed wanted a new jewelry box, stat. I couldn’t find one that I liked, so I got this crazy idea pored through the upcycled jewelry boxes on Pinterest. Trash to treasures. Relics, resurrected. Inspired by page after page of magical transformations, I headed to Goodwill to see what I could find.



I wish I’d taken a better ‘before’ picture, but trust me: This former silverware storage box was a moldering, dinged-up mess, inside and out.  It was half-price day for all blue-stickered items, though, so I laid $6.00 on the counter and took her home.

Some people are happiest when they can fly by the seat of their pants. I’m that way in many regards, but when it comes to writing and artwork, I like to lay the groundwork first. It’s time consuming, but it makes for a smoother process in the long run.


First I gathered all the supplies I thought I'd need. Read the instructions for each, not once but twice. It was only then that I started in on the box. I buffed out the scratches, removed the mildewed lining, sprayed everything down with a vinegar-and-baking-soda mixture, and left the box in the sun to dry.

The moldering smell of old jewelry cloth was vanquished. But as you can see, the beautiful vintage hardware got buried under the first coat of paint. That, and the sickly yellow varnish started to seep through the white.


Truth be told, I was more than a little disheartened. It looked so shabby at this point--not at all like the vintage-inspired image I'd pictured it in my mind's eye beforehand.

Note to self: Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your unfinished project to the high-gloss, professional images on Pinterest!

I was keenly aware of the rough-hewn elements, of the places where my work was more sloppy than refined. The caddy-whompus drawer linings, for instance, and the insect that met its demise in the second coat of paint. So out came the sandpaper, the ruler, and a second type of glue.

I despaired of ever finishing.
It’s not unlike writing a book, is it? You rewrite a passage again and again, and then once more, convinced all the while that your readers aren’t going to see things in the same way that you do, now or ever. But in the end, dogged determination won out. That, and the realization that I didn't need to please anyone but myself.

It was at this point that my imagination waltzed in on red-soled stilettoes. The box is too plain, she said. It needs some bedazzlements, don't you think? What if, for example, you gussied up the box lid with some of your favorite sheet music? Oh, and did you know that gemstones look even more lovely, draped across a bed of soft velvet? And: The pitted brass plate looks awful, but a tortoiseshell button (courtesy of Nana’s prized collection) could dress up that hardware something fierce. ..


When the project was completed—when I could at long last stand back to admire the results of my efforts—I experienced a soul-deep sense of satisfaction. Not because the jewelry box is perfect, mind you. It’s not. But I’d proved to myself that I could do it, Art projects rarely turn out the way you first imagined them, but I experienced the magic of creation. I worked with my hands and witnessed the transformations firsthand. With that sense of accomplishment at the forefront of my mind,  I'm working through this next round of edits for CAN I GET A WITNESS?
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