February 10 – Challenge: Capture Shades of Grey

by Martha Slavin

Slavin Grey

How many shades of grey can you find in this picture? Do you feel surrounded by grey in the winter?

We’ve had our share of grey days this month–lots of rain–but also fog and grey skies. Looking out at the dark grey clouds, grey landscape, grey roads, I began to feel greyness in my soul. It all seemed to be just one shade: fog.

My challenge to myself: paint the beauty in shades of grey. I started taking photos of every wintry shade of grey I could find. Back in my workroom, I painted a palette of greys using a foundation mix of an ultramarine blue, quinacridone red, and hansa yellow. I changed the ratio in each box and added other colors from the pencil list below. I also tried painting with black tourmaline, hematite, and neutral tint in the hope that I wouldn’t just have flat grey. The minerals in the watercolors separated as they dried so the colors became more appealing.

Grey 2

I found multiple shades of grey. Maybe I could create a beautiful grey painting after all!

I was lucky that we visited Pt. Reyes over the weekend. I found grey everywhere I looked: boat docks, bridge girders, water.

I found blue greys in the bumper of a truck:

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I found yellow grey by a boat dock:

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and reddish grey in the morning clouds:

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and realized the depth in shades of grey. Now I’m on a grey painting binge. Here’s the first Grey Horizon:

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My challenge to you:

take photos of the grey skies around you right now. Send me your results. You can post them to my Google +Collections page at https://plus.google.com/collection/k9LjEB or Instagram at #postcardsintheair, or email them to me at marthaslavin@gmail.com.

I’d love to see what you find. And maybe by looking grey in the ‘eye’, you will find the beauty in grey days too.

Martha Slavin is an artist and writer. Her blog, Postcards in the Air, can be found each Friday at www.marthaslavin.blogspot.com She also writes poetry, memoir pieces, and essays. She creates handmade books, works in mixed media, watercolor, and does letterpress. She lives with her husband and two cats in California. This post was originally published on Martha’s blog.

February 6 – A Mystical Birthday Gift

by Mary Jo Doig

butterfly1

In the early morning hours of my birth day, yesterday, I woke embraced in total darkness and thought of my mother exactly 74 years earlier. I knew her labor was quite prolonged and so I knew now, at 3am, she and I still had seven hours and 21 minutes ahead in the birthing task before us. As in that time nearly three-quarters of a century ago, I was surrounded by this same total darkness within her body. In addition, I would have been moist, too, enclosed in a water environment much like all my swims later in life in the ocean, the bay, and the sound off the shores of Long Island.

An unexpected fact rose into my thoughts: I’ve always been a rather fearful swimmer and in this moment of astonishing, fragile connection between two worlds seventy-four years apart, I question: was I fearful then? Of course, an instant response said silently, you must have felt terrified by being slowly pushed and squeezed forward into an unknown world ahead. Had some of that fear translated into the fearful child I had become? It could be so. Or not. The answer did not arrive; perhaps it was not even important.

My thoughts returned to the wonder of the moment, an experience unlike any I’d ever experienced. Gratitude to my mom for giving me life rose within and gently filled all the spaces of my heart. I thought of all her labor: my birth, and all the tasks that followed in raising her first child. I was not an easy child to raise; our relationship wasn’t always smooth although, eventually, we did work through many of our conflicts toward the end of her 89 years with us. Yet, when she died, although I’d worked before and in years after to remove it, sadly one relentlessly immovable brick remained in the inner wall I had carried through the years.
Nevertheless, in the still-dark and mystical early morning of my birth day, I knew that my 74th birthday had opened with a profound gift of grace. At the end of the day I knew that grace had filled each moment of the day.

~~~

Today, as I write about those mysterious moments, I find the gratitude that filled and softened my heart yesterday morning remains. Then it occurs to me to search for that final stubborn, persistent brick that weighed me down for decades. Today, though, I discover with joy that I cannot find it; it has disappeared forever, I hope.

I am intensely humbled and at peace with the gracious gifts I received yesterday. My favorite word, shalom, slides into my thoughts, filling them with each of the rich, diverse affirmations it gives: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, and tranquility. I wish each of you, dear reader, an abundance of these same gifts.

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

February 5 – Lab Rat

by Carol Ziel

Image by Charles Rondeau courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

Image by Charles Rondeau courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net

The lab seemed innocuous enough, buried in the kind of industrial complex where Kinsey Malone would have been comfortable chasing bad guys. The bad guys I’m chasing are fifty extra pounds congregating under my chin, belly and behind. They took my body hostage while I was selling my soul to sweets and chips.  Kim Kardashian would be jealous of my derrière if it wasn’t balanced out by the equally large protuberance of my stomach .  If I could give birth, it would be equivalent to birthing a second grader. The lab is going to be my midwife. The fact that it is next to the Watering Hole dog spa doesn’t make it much friendlier, although I have developed a yearning for belly rubs. Those would be so much more pleasurable than the tortuous experience I anticipate. I am about to become a “Lab Rat”.

I have had continuous gym memberships for thirty years. Clearly automatic withdrawals from my bank account for dues have not automatically withdrawn my craving for carbs or toned my tushy. I have to get up close and personal with those metal monsters lined up like soldiers in assembly: row after row of treadmills, upright bikes, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, lat machines, thigh, leg and back machines. And the free weights. There is nothing free about those weights since I have always paid with aches and pains as varied as a roll of lifesavers, but hopefully they will save my life, or at least enable me to walk without wobbling and climb stairs without hanging onto a banister.

The first sign that I am in an alternative universe is the welcoming plaque: Metalheads Sign In. My Senior Sneaker sign up sheet is cozied up alongside of it, just as I will be cozying up next to muscle-bound, testosterone fueled titans in the weight rooms. Other missives papered the walls like the deeply inspirational No pain, no gain; If it hurts, keep working; When my body ‘shouts’ STOP, my mind ‘screams’ NEVER;  Pain is weakness leaving the body and my personal favorite You can’t flex fat so shut up and lift. It appears that what I thought was fat-flexing was fat-dimpling.

And so I’m committing my dumpling self to a relentless regimen of rigorously considering my exercise options. My daydreams of being Ms Senior America will be elaborate; they will be deliberate and specific. I will visualize a trim tummy, perfect pecs, and the legs of an exotic dancer. I will dedicate a journal for this journey. I will buy Velcro-strapped slip on gym shoes, and Lycra leggings in purple. I will buy a special alarm clock that will joyously launch me into my new morning routine. I will buy music to rev up my rhythms and distract me from the promised pain.

Or maybe I’ll just walk my dog.

Carol has been an SCN member for six years and is grateful to be nurtured by such wonderful women writers. She is also a gardener, grandmother, social worker, Quaker and Goddess-centered woman who primarily writes poetry but is branching out into more essay types of writing. More to be revealed.

February 2 – Into Her World

by Letty Watt

Photo by Cristie Guevara courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

Photo by Cristie Guevara courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

My friends, whose loved ones have suffered before with the trembles of aging say to me, “Go to her world. Just listen. Don’t criticize. Don’t explain. Don’t tell her she’s wrong or confused.”

My heart understands, but my mouth, too often, says the wrong things. At ninety-two my mother-in-law’s world is spinning out of control as her body bends, and her mind becomes entangled with what is real and what is imagined.

Sitting in the lobby at the assisted living center to watch people and chat with others is one of her favorite times of day. She needs people to interact with, and we are thankful that she’s still alert enough to get out of her room. Some days her reality is similar to ours, but more often than not her fears and recurring nightmares leave her nearly paralyzed with fear.

I watched my husband the other day, as he walked into his mother’s room. Her eyes were closed, and her head drifted to the side. Her hands, worn from decades of playing the guitar and piano, rested on her purse. Her walker stood in front of her knees and feet like a faithful dog, ready to assist her. My husband knelt on one knee and touched her hands. “Hi, Mom.”

Her head rose slowly and a gentle smile formed across her lips. The sparkle in her eyes seemed slow to shine. “Oh, Jack. I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve called you and called you.”

She looked up at me.

“I’ve called you both all day long. Please do something. Everyone is moving out fall today, and I need help. They’ve left me here alone. I don’t think I can drive myself.”

My heart raced upon hearing the fear and confusion in her voice. My husband calmly patted his mother’s hands, and remained on the floor eye-level with her.

“I’m sorry that’s happened Mom. I will take care of it. Remember that John and I will always find a way to keep you safe.”

She nodded and dropped her head slightly, “Can I go home now?”

“Mom, I’m here now. I won’t let anything happen to you. Oh, look out the window at the birds feeding.”

Her head lifted and turned to the sunshine in the window. “I like to watch out the window and see who is coming to visit. Yesterday, I saw John drive through the parking lot, but he didn’t stop to come see me. Why not?”

“I’m sure he drove by on his way to work and waved at you. He wanted you to know that you were safe. Do you have some pictures of the twins to show us?”
She shuffled through her purse, finding the present day in an envelope of pictures from her grandchildren.

Beaming with pride, she said, “They are so cute. Evelyn is walking now, and Eleora talks a lot. She’s just like me.” The sparkle returned to her eyes.

lettyWriting soothes Letty Watt’s soul and clears her mind. She began writing a weekly blog over five years ago, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, but things changed. Now she writes because stories hidden in the recesses of her mind are begging to get out into the world. Check out her blog, Literally Letty, at https://literallyletty.blogspot.com.
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January 28 – The Ballad of Wild Bill

by Khadijah

IMG_2847

Last Monday Primrose, our LaMancha doe, had twin bucklings. We woke up, and there they were, all healthy and happy, and Rosie was up and eating and drinking and causing trouble, as usual. Mu’aadh, my twelve-year-old son, named them Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill Hickock. Buffalo Bill was brown, and Wild Bill, gray. Congratulating ourselves for being clever enough to have such a wonderful creature in our herd, we left her to look after them.

Tuesday afternoon the babies were both missing, and Rosie was happily hanging out in the goat house. We mounted a search and found them in the field where the goats go to browse, sleeping. We returned them to their mother, quite sure that it was a fluke.

Thursday afternoon, I was on the phone when I looked out the window and saw that the goats had staged a breakout. They basically have our entire 25 acre property to browse on, with the exception of a small area directly adjacent to our house. The goats, of course, feel that this tiny bit of land must surely hold wonders that are not to be found anywhere else on the property. So they had gone through meadow and forest in order to browse by the storm shelter. I told the children to go and put them back in the field.

A few minutes later Maryam came in with the news that Wild Bill was nowhere to be found. Thinking of what had happened Tuesday – and mad at myself for not exiling Rosie and her babies to the goat pen – I told them to look all along where the goats had to have walked in order to get to the Land of Milk and Honey. After a half an hour or so, they came in and said they had not found him.

The clouds were moving in and there were only a couple of hours until sunset, so I went out and tried to look for him systematically. I walked the forest at the end of the orchard first, since that would have been the path of least resistance for the goats – something they value very highly. No Wild Bill. I then walked the field in a grid pattern, looking more with my peripheral vision than straight on, hoping that what worked for hunting small game would work for searching for small goats. It began to get dark a half an hour in; half an hour later it was full dark and raining, with the wind picking up.

I, of course, was crying for poor Wild Bill, out there without his mother.

So I walked, and cried, and snot poured out my nose as I thought what a wimpy homesteader I was, crying over a lost goat.

Eventually Hudhaifah, my older son, came out with a flashlight and helped me finish walking the field. Wisely, he stayed quiet as we walked and I berated myself for being a bad goat-herd, and Rosie for being a bad mother after all. I mean, I had eight children, and to date I have never misplaced any of them. She, on the other hand, had lost two once, and now one again. Eventually the rain and wind became too strong, and we had to go in. Baby Asmaa and I kept bursting into tears over the loss of dear, sweet, Wild Bill.

The next morning Alice, my ever practical goat mentor, told me to suck it up and get out there and look again. The children and I looked in all the places we had looked on Thursday, as well as some places that really, if the goat had been there, we would have had to call him Houdini. No Wild Bill. Four days old, no milk for a day and a half, no protection from the elements; surely, Wild Bill had to be in the happy browsing ground.

Saturday morning was busy, as I prepared to go and get a new computer. My old one had, in an act of solidarity with Wild Bill, completely crashed and burned. I had lost many files from my hard drive, and it was clear that it was the end for that erstwhile machine. I looked out the window and saw that Lily, our herd queen, was plotting an escape out by the fence. Maryam went out to foil her plans. When I looked out again, Maryam was walking back and forth, as though looking for something. She went into the goat pen and came out again, running to the house.

“I heard maaaa maaaaa maaaaa from somewhere. I was afraid it was Buffalo Bill, but he is in with Rosie.”

Could it be?? Could Wild Bill have possibly followed in the tough guy footsteps of his namesake and survived two and a half days away from his mother?

A few minutes later Nusaybah came in with a very thin, shivering, and chastened-looking Wild Bill Hickock in her arms. Apparently he had taken shelter in the upturned root system of a toppled tree, and had decided to remain silent the whole time we were looking for him We wrapped him up in towels and made him a bottle. Nusaybah held him and fed him. He finished it off in minutes.  I left them there by the fire and went to look for a new computer.

When I returned, Wild Bill, wearing a diaper, was jumping around the living room like he had spring-loaded feet.

And so the saga of Wild Bill drew to a close. He is currently out in the goat house with his mother and Buffalo Bill, having a grand time.  Alice said we should rename him Miracle; I think that Wild Bill suits him just fine.

Khadijah and her family are currently homesteading on 25 acres in southern Missouri. She is a student, teacher, herbalist, writer and translator who has had several books published on the subject of Islaam, as well as a children’s poetry book. She is currently working on a women’s herbal book and another children’s book as well as her own story which you can read about at Yemeni Journey. She also writes about sustainable living at Wide Earth.

 Yemeni Journey: http://www.yemenijourney.com

Wide Earth: http://www.wideeart.us

January 6 – Holiday Fox in the City

by Connie Spittler

For the first time, a quick brown fox visits us this holiday season. As my husband, Bob, watches TV late in the evening, he’s spotted the scurrying fox several times. trotting along the frosty grasslands or edge of our small neighborhood pond. It’s always an unexpected event, so I haven’t seen the wild urban creature yet. I’m usually in bed during his prowling hours. Still, imagining his billowing tail flying by in the dark add a magical flurry to the winter night.

Commonly characterized as sly,wily, and mysterious, the fox is viewed differently in Japan mythology, where longevity and protection against evil are assigned symbols. Some Northern Native American tribes thought of the fox as a wise, noble messenger and in certain Celtic realms, the fox is considered a guide and honored for its wisdom.

As our dancing, prancing fox moves in and out of focus and time, I think of the surprising people, pets, events and moments that visit our lives–intriguing, illusive–all special in individual ways. They come and go, whether fleeting or lingering, reminders to be grateful for the unexpected things that happen along life’s path.

This season, my message to all comes from the fox, a wish for wisdom, longevity, and beautiful surprises. Do keep a look out. You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll see. I intend to.

Long time author, Connie Spittler’s women’s fiction/cozy mystery came out this year – THE EROTICA BOOK CLUB FOR NICE LADIES, about a stolen ancient book of herbal cures, with tongue-in-cheek erotica provided by Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Bronte and other classic authors. Scheduled on a 2016 Story Circle Network conference panel, she’s looking forward to meeting SCN members.

December 21 – Giving Thanks

by Doris Jean Shaw

So Thanksgiving is over and you think the season for giving thanks is over.
Wrong, it has only begun.

Each morning, I thank the Lord that I can get out of bed. Every night, I thank the Lord that He helped me through the day. I try to remember to thank God for all the blessings He sends my way.

When my grandchildren do something cute I thank God that they are part of my life. As my two celebrate an accomplishment or pass a milestone I give thanks for the guidance that has gotten them this far.

In Hebrew, there is no word that means “to thank”. The closest is one that means “public acknowledgement”.

Give thanks to the Lord. I know you have something in your life to give thanks for but do you remember to do it?

Doris Jean Shaw
Doris Jean Shaw is a Life Coach, retired educator, and author. She loves to write about her travels, along with children’s stories and devotionals.