Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: A Labor of Love

“People all over the world honor their workers in a variety of ways. In the U.S., we honor those who labor by setting aside the first Monday of September as Labor Day. But world-wide, people pour themselves into their work — paid or unpaid — with commitment, ingenuity, and a sincere desire to make a difference. For them, work has become more than just work. It has become a LABOR OF LOVE.”
Rusha Sams, Oh the Places We See 

This week’s Lens-Artists photo theme is timely and beautifully illustrated and described by the guest host, Rusha Sams

Along with my two sisters, I am committing myself for the weekend and for the indefinite future to the care of my mother, who is now in hospice at home with lung cancer. I just arrived in town yesterday and am adjusting to the situation both physically and emotionally. So far, my proudest contribution is that I made her laugh. While raising her hospital bed, I said, “Second floor, ladies’ lingerie…” – an oldie that she used herself many times in the elevator at the senior living home she left last year. 

This blog post is dedicated to all the care-givers who labor in love to give support, succor, comfort, life-saving intervention, and all other forms of ongoing assistance to humans of every age and stage of life. I am appreciative, impressed, and inspired as I witness the process of caring change the lives of people I know intimately. In my own family, I picture loved ones involved in labors of childcare, massage, elder care, estate care, feeding, clothing, housing, and so many other acts as well as in the gracious receiving of care. I’ve seen and experienced the transformation of family relationships in the give-and-take of caring. A task done in love transcends the merely useful dimension and becomes a life-giving act for both initiator and recipient.

May your labors spread love both inwardly and outwardly, enriching your own life as you enrich others’ lives. Namaste!

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Everyday Objectives

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ― Annie Dillard

I moved to Oregon from Wisconsin in order to be closer to my adult children, in order to spend more time with them, in order to make the special occasion of a family gathering into a more frequent habit – not to make it less special, but to make it more accessible. 

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yesterday, we celebrated my birthday and a host of other August birthdays in our extended circle of family and friends. There were 15 people on the Zoom call with six of us present at my new place. 

If every day you see people you love who love you back, if every day you have food to eat, then I should think that each of your days would give you occasion to be grateful. 

“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”
― Lao Tzu

Still life is still life. I am grateful for food and tools and objects of beauty. I am amazed at how these things can be used to create meaning and purpose and alleviate suffering. My heart is mindful of many who are suffering in the pandemic, the wildfires, the process of aging, the loneliness of separation. I wish them comfort; I send them love. 

Special thanks to Patti, our host for this week’s challenge

 

 

Alice Through My Lens

(Reblogging from 2012. Today would be Alice’s 61st birthday, but she will be forever 20 years old.)

Blue eyes.  That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters.  She had our father’s eyes.   She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her.  But that took a while.  Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life.  I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps.  I adored her.  She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends.  She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular.  Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school.  We all were, and she was very sensitive to it.  When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk.  He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull.  The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed. 

She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest.  I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight.  She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion.  She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej.  By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters.  She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”.  She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me.  I was thrilled!

Alice and Mike in Los Gatos, summer 1979

We spent that summer at home together in CaliforniaI introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband.   She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer.  She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion.  The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility.  We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed.  She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me.  Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado.  Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night.  We never made it.

Nebraska is flat and boring.  We’d been driving for 6 hours.  I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph.  Alice over-corrected, and we flipped.  She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open windowHer fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes.  She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.

Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun.  Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form.  I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time. 

Three of four sisters, Christmas 1978

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Cropping

For this week’s Lens-Artists’ challenge, Patti schools us on cropping images. This is a challenge of technique, and she suggests that cropping can be used to:

1. Simplify the shot by getting rid of distractions.

2. Improve the shot by focusing on the best part of the composition.

3. Change the meaning of the image by emphasizing certain aspects.

4. Create an abstract.

My first reaction to this challenge was a sort of disappointment. So many of the recent challenge themes have been very emotional: Home…Distance…Going Back. Creating those posts was therapeutic for me. How do I take this technique and use it to allow myself the emotional therapy I need this morning? (And yes, I need emotionally therapeutic activity this morning!!)

So, that’s a challenge.

Here’s a photo I took in November when I was out on a solo walk at a wildlife refuge nearby:What was I feeling that afternoon as I strolled through the refuge, alone with my thoughts?

I remember that I was looking for the familiar solace of a natural view, something focused on the journey forward, with hope in the distance. I also remember that I was feeling quite alone. Then again, in creating this composition, it might make all the difference just to pay attention to the present situation, to the path I am walking right now, and take the next few steps in full awareness of where I am. Perhaps what I really meant to convey in this photograph all along was the complete picture: the backstory, the now, and the not-yet. They all exist simultaneously.

I find this a very interesting exercise…but not the most compelling image.
Maybe this one?

That’s my daughter and her pup…in Oregon…where I’ll be moving. This is what compels me, emotionally. I feel pulled forward on that leash.
Do you feel it?

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: AT HOME

“Is this home?
Is this where I should learn to be happy?
Never dreamed
That a home could be dark and cold.
I was told
Every day in my childhood:
Even when we grow old
‘Home will be where the heart is’ –
Never were words so true.
My heart’s far, far away;
Home is too.”

April in Wisconsin is mating season for wild turkeys. And it still snows periodically. Looks like November, but it isn’t.

Amy picks a perfect topic for this week’s Photo Challenge, one that has been foremost on my mind lately — Home.

In November 2017, I moved into a rental house on 56 acres of Nature Preserve in Wisconsin with my partner, Steve, and the inventory of his online book business. 

My kids senior portraits from High School reside on the bottom shelf of my grandmother’s Welsh dresser, along with other “artifacts” from Steve’s collection.

Three of my adult children then moved from Chicago to Oregon. They had grown up in Illinois where we had a home in the suburbs before my husband died. We each had a tough time transitioning from that stable place, that nuclear family center, to our own individual lives and partnerships. Through it all, we have maintained our loving bond and our sense of belonging to each other. 

Finally, a year before the Coronavirus became news, I decided to separate from Steve and began planning a cross-country move to be closer to my kids.

I am deeply engaged in the process of establishing HOME for myself. I think the first step is finding clarity in its definition. If home is where the heart is, my home is with my family, with the children my husband and I loved into being. My heart is always with them. This is not an easy time to be a young adult. I want to be able to support them in their journeys toward maturity and purpose in this troubled world. 

I had planned an April vacation with my oldest child, who lives here in Madison, to visit the rest of the family in Oregon. Those travel plans got cancelled. We have been using social technology to share thoughts, pictures, videos, and “Game Night” instead.

The faces I miss seeing in real life.

“Is this home?
Am I here for a day or forever?
Shut away
From the world until who-knows-when.
Oh, but then
As my life has been altered once
It can change again.
Build higher walls around me,
Change every lock and key.
Nothing lasts;
Nothing holds all of me.
My heart’s far, far away,
Home and free!”
~ ‘Home’ from Beauty and the Beast, lyrics by Tim Rice

The driveway and our front yard are both expansive, for sure.

I probably have no legitimate reason for feeling stuck during this lockdown. I have plenty of room to move around. But my brain had been set on change, and the change is on hold. I have more time to focus on the status quo.

Steve plays the philosopher host.

I am still in this house with Steve. We are best friends, both helping each other as much as we can to learn who we are and where we truly belong. We both want happiness, for ourselves and for each other. We have lived together for 12 years and had amazing adventures. We have looked deeply at our hearts and discerned, without blame, that we find spiritual wholeness in different places.

That place of spiritual wholeness — I think that is home.

How do you know your Home?

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symbols of My Father

Reposting from July 10, 2015; my dad died 10 years ago on March 19:

Today is my father’s birthday.  He’s been dead for 5 years, but his influence on my life has been incredibly profound.  I look through my photos and recognize him in symbolic images that point to something he represented in my life.  Representation is a well-developed part of human culture.  We use it in language, art, religion, philosophy, identity and so many other ways.  The real challenge we ‘civilized’ folk have is to strip away representations and come face-to-face with actual entities.  My father was highly educated and an educator himself.  His facility with symbol was quite advanced: he was a mathematician and a writer and combined those skills in his career as a Technical Writer.  I am grateful for the symbols I still see that remind me of his life, his personality, his love. 

My photos are valuable symbols to me.  Especially when I can’t access the actual things they represent.  GWHII RIP 2I miss you, Dad.  Rest in peace.

Symbol

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge: Reflections

“Use reflective surfaces to create an artistic echo of a scene…” 

Mirror, mirror on the wall…why is it I blog at all?
I started this blog when I began my 50th year of life. That was in August of 2011. I had just moved to Wisconsin to live with Steve. I was widowed three and a half years. I had a lot to process and a lot to learn.

I am now facing another transition: leaving Wisconsin and Steve to live in Oregon, closer to three of my four adult children, my  mother, and my three siblings. I have a lot to process and a lot to learn.

I learn by reflecting on what I’ve seen.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

I am making this cross-country move because I have learned again what I always knew to be my Truth: that I belong most importantly in my Family – my family of origin and the family that my late husband and I loved into being. 

 

“Art is not a reflection of reality, it is the reality of a reflection.”
Jean-Luc Godard

Writing in this blog, storing photographs and memories, was a way to plant the seeds of realization. In my words and pictures, I remind myself who I truly am and see who I am becoming.

“There is one art of which man should be master, the art of reflection.”
― Samuel Taylor Coleridge

All my artistic echoes have origins in my mother and repercussions in my children. Being so distant from their heartbeats just doesn’t make sense. I need to hear the rhythm of our art, our lives, in order to keep dancing. 

“What we do now echoes in eternity.”
― Marcus Aurelius


May the love we create in our family be reflected in the world. I believe we all have the responsibility and the capability to make this a more loving, peaceful, beautiful place.

Thank you, Miriam, for hosting this week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge.  

Lens-Artists Challenge: Favorite Things

Patti challenges us this morning with a request to see our Favorite Things. Here’s a glimpse of me enjoying my favorite thing — 

Yesterday, I was volunteering at the Riveredge Nature Center in a classroom of 5th Graders learning about Pond Interactions. 

“Who can define ‘interaction’? The way two things engage with each other – excellent! Now, who knows what we call things that are living or were once living? Good – ‘biotic’ is the right word. What do we call something that was never alive? ‘Abiotic’ – that’s probably not a very familiar word. What do you see here that’s ‘abiotic’? The eyeglasses on my face is a good example. And how do I engage with them? I carry them around on my ears and they help me see. Exactly.” 

My favorite things are not things. They are biotic and abiotic energies. Living beings and non-living elements like water, air, warmth, and rock.

In my highest tier of living Favorites would be the family that I helped create. My late husband, who kissed me for the first time exactly 41 years ago today, and the four children that we loved into being.

And because I have four children, I am not practiced at playing favorites and picking out specific individuals for special affection. So I have to say that also in that highest tier is My Favorite Planet – Earth. The whole thing. My favorite part of Earth is that interaction of biotic and abiotic energy that has not been dominated by human technology. Things like water vapor and trees…

…and rock and air and plants…

…and wild animals in their natural habitat.

When I think of the abundance of interactions going on all around, of Life on Planet Earth, how can I judge that anything is out of favor? My preference can’t magnify or diminish any of it. All I can do is reflect on how much I appreciate being part of it, being here to witness and to marvel.

Maybe that’s my favorite thing of all – being alive.

Lens-Artist Weekly Photo Challenge: Just For Fun

The most fun I ever had with my camera was doing my son’s wedding photo shoot one year ago. Well, I was a bit nervous…at first. I’d never done a portrait photo shoot before. Much less a wedding one. But all the logistics came together beautifully, and these kids are just so darn photogenic, that I knew I was getting seriously excellent shots. So I relaxed and had an absolute ball. I really enjoy being with my kids. They’re full of fun…and youth.

 Thank you to Patti at P.A. Moed for inviting us to have fun with this challenge!

Old Home Week

Turns out you can, indeed, go home. Expect things to have changed, expect to discover new delights. Expect to laugh and cry. Hug your loved ones. And plan to return.

Thanks, Mom, for sharing your gifts as always: music, food, wisdom and stories. 

Thanks, Sarah, for offering me your perfectly comfortable home, your gracious listening ears, more food, and transportation. And for sharing Stanley. Thanks, Dharam, for sharing your presence, your insights, your music, and your fabulous hugs. And more food.   

Thanks, David and Sarah, for sharing your time, your vulnerability, your smiles, your love. And food. Thanks, Cristina, Guru & Amrit for showing up with youth and energy and honesty. And even more food. My hope for the future is greatly increased the more I get to know you. 

And thanks, Val and Mike, for your hospitality, wisdom, and stories. Including great food and lots of wine!

I love having you all in my life!
Going home isn’t easy for some. When I come home to family, it can be a slugfest…but in the most delightful way. 

I am truly fortunate.