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Creating Beauty: It Matters

Peonies from my garden

“Make your tiny corner of the world beautiful, even for one brief, anonymous moment. It matters.” – Nichole Nordeman

Creating Beauty: It Matters

A couple of weeks ago, I looked through photos on Instagram and saw a photo taken by Nichole Nordeman in the O’Hare Airport in Chicago. She had been stranded there on her way home to somewhere in the South, missed her kids, and simply wanted to get home. But because of Hurricane Ivan plowing its way up Florida and into Georgia, most flights in the US were grounded.

The video she took was quick and crooked, but the atmosphere was palpable. In the crowded airport, a young man with a backpack sat down at a piano and began playing music. And in the crowds, stranded, frustrated, for a brief moment, there was beauty.

Nichole says she realized then the value of beauty. Somehow, beauty can take a dire situation, cause us to pause and reevaluate, and adjust what had been soured. Beauty can soothe a wounded heart, bring respite to a weary soul, and alleviate the heaviest of burdens. Life is better with some form of beauty to lift us.

Why Beauty Matters

For some reason, the words Nichole wrote, above, struck a chord with me. I immediately wrote them down and now have the phrase hanging at my desk at work and in my kitchen at home. It is the absolute truth:

Make your tiny corner of the world beautiful, even for one brief, anonymous moment. It matters.

It does matter. And remembering that on a daily basis, moment by moment, resonates with me. It is, and always has been, my life purpose. To create, capture, and share beauty.

Some pieces I have been working on lately have been:

  • a new manuscript, one I am very excited about
  • several new canvases
  • and about a thousand new photographs of many settings and things

Creating fuels me. I can’t not create.

The times when my creative fuel runs a bit dry is when I listen to what the world is saying about the worth and value of created things — if no one takes notice, then it must not be worthwhile.

I wholeheartedly disagree. If it creates beauty in a tiny corner of the world, then it is worthwhile. It matters.

Because the act of creating has changed our own selves, and perhaps touched others in mysterious ways. We don’t know. We may never know. But that isn’t the point–to know how many followers click like, etc. The unknowing doesn’t make the impact of what we have created insignificant. The unknowing is part of the beauty.

Beauty matters.

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Peonies, Beauty, and a Joy-filled Heart

Peonies from my garden

To me, flowers are happiness. – Stefano Gabbana

Every spring, my heart looks forward to the flowers. Years ago, when we moved in to our current home after 4 years living in Prague, I planted a flower garden (and wrote about it here). Every spring since has been more and more of a celebration.

I love many of the perennials planted in my garden. I chose the combinations of color and plants based upon their bloom times. Here, I wrote about creating a painterly garden.

Roses have always been a favorite, but in recent years, peonies are gaining to be a very close tie for my favorite flower.

Why? Peonies only bloom once per year. But the form, fragrance, and abundance of beauty in each peony stem is enough to be unforgettable.

Yes, flowers to me = happiness. They are quietly beautiful, don’t demand anything but water, soil, and sunlight, and in return give a heart brimming with joy. Here, I have a few favorite photographs of peonies from my garden this year, along with a few favorite quotes.

Peonies, Beauty, and a Joy-filled Heart

Peonies from my garden

Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Peonies from my garden

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.

Emma Goldman

Peonies from my garden

Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.

Gerard de Nerval

Peonies from my garden

Where flowers bloom so does hope.

Lady Bird Johnson

Peonies from my garden

Flowers are love’s truest language.

Park Benjamin

Peonies from my garden

Flowers always make people better, happier and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the soul.

Luther Burbank

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A Monarch Butterfly and Its Changing Beauty

Monarch butterfly

HAPPINESS.—A butterfly, which when pursued, seems always just beyond your grasp; but if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you. ~ “A Chapter of Definitions,” Daily Crescent, 1848 June 23rd

Years ago, I planted Swamp Milkweed in my backyard. With a name like that, it’s a wonder anyone would plant it willingly in one’s backyard, but I knew something about Swamp Milkweed. I’d read that the Monarch butterfly lays its eggs on a Swamp Milkweed plant, and I wondered if it might be true, even in a suburban backyard.

Monarch caterpillar
Monarch caterpillar

 

What transpired that summer was beyond my expectations. Even my boys, then all very young and curious about the mysterious plant that would attract the great orange butterflies. We checked the plant often, even after the modest pink blossoms appeared and passed. Then all at once, it seemed we had 5 yellow and black striped caterpillars. Monarch caterpillars!

A Monarch Butterfly and Its Changing Beauty

My oldest son checked the caterpillars morning, noon, and night, until one day he discovered only 3 caterpillars remained. Then two, and then horrifically, one.

With quick research, we figured out how to bring the remaining caterpillar into the house. We supplied it with fresh leaves until it became so engorged it could hardly move. Then the yellow and black caterpillar began strange moves. We all saw it happen–over the course of ten minutes, the caterpillar hung from the top of the stick inside its habitat, dropped while hanging from one end of its body, and began moves that I can only describe as the hula.

Monarch caterpillar transforming
Monarch caterpillar transforming

At the end of its dance, a shroud of white silk enveloped it — a chrysalis.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis
Monarch butterfly chrysalis

For weeks, my boys and I watched to see what would happen. Over time, the white silk became translucent, and as suddenly as the caterpillar spun its transformational chrysalis, one morning as the sun rose, the chrysalis split into two pieces. A black caterpillar-like body clung to the stick with long black legs, and dripping wet wings hung limp from its back.

Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis
Monarch butterfly emerging from chrysalis

Over hours that morning, the caterpillar worked with much effort to wring the excess dampness and liquid from its body and wings. The dripping continued, until at about noon, when the sun shone highest in the sky, the new creature began to stretch. Its wings began to unfurl. Its legs climbed the stick until it poised, ready to take flight.

Monarch butterfly with chrysalis
Monarch butterfly with chrysalis

We brought the container outside. It was a beautiful, late summer day when our caterpillar-turned-butterfly took flight.

Monarch butterfly after transformation preparing to fly
Monarch butterfly after transformation preparing to fly

Its first motions into the air, when it let go of the stick, sent it twirling, flailing, almost. But within another few seconds, the butterfly found its wings and it began to make circles around us. I think the four of us erupted with celebration so loud it scared the butterfly. It landed a few times on a tree, once on one of my son’s heads, once on my shoulder. And then, it took flight, higher and higher, until it disappeared from sight.

There are many analogies that I’ve drawn inside my head from those days. I’ve always loved butterflies, deeply. But after that up-close encounter with the miracle that occurs right before our eyes, every butterfly is precious to me.

So today, on October 9 (Sunday before this posts), 2016, when my youngest son, now taller than I am, noticed a Monarch butterfly outside on our waning butterfly bush, I knew I had to grab my camera.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

It turns out, today’s Monarch was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. There isn’t a single mark on his wings, no scratches either. Pure miraculous beauty.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

And to think this month, from Ohio and all across the U.S., the Monarch butterflies are migrating to their overwintering grounds in Mexico … a long, incredible journey for creatures so delicate.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterfly

Have you watched a butterfly transform? Have you seen Monarchs along their lilting migration south? One of my favorite things I look forward to every year. Enjoy!

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Poppies and Peonies

Oriental poppies in my garden

To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn

Every spring, the warming weather hooks me with its promises of color after the long Ohio winter. Every spring, I can’t help myself and plant a few more flowers. Last year, I planted poppies. A few years ago, I planted peonies. And just as the best time to plant a tree is last year, the plants hardly flower on the year I plant them. But this spring is completely different.

Just outside the back door, below the kitchen window, hundreds of peony blossoms are readying to open. And just beyond the peonies, the oriental poppies are bursting with papery blooms, brilliant crimson and vanilla white. It makes me endlessly happy.

Poppies and Peonies: Stars of the Spring Garden

Oriental poppies in my garden
Oriental poppies in my garden

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine for the soul.” – Luther Burbank

Clematis
Clematis

The clematis climbs the sides of the deck, and this year had twice the number of blooms as last. It’s hard not to love.

“Flowers are happy things.” – P. G. Wodehouse

Peonies, about to open
Peonies, about to open

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds on my neck.” – Emma Goldman

Bearded Iris: the color
Bearded Iris: the color

The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.” – Auguste Rodin

 

An opening Anenome Peony
An opening Anemone Peony

 

“Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is no greater promise of life than flowers about to bloom. I hope you’re enjoying this spring and planting some new beautiful colors. Share some favorites here with us, too. Happy spring!

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10 Favorite Autumn Quotes and Photographs

autumn splendor

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. – Albert Camus
I’m usually a summer kind of girl, one for the long days and warm sunshine and sweet flower fragrance in the breeze. But this fall has been one that has made me reconsider which season I love most. Has it done that for you, too?

This autumn has been warm and sunny and filled with rich color, so much that it’s impossible not to think of the trees as flaming and the skies as fair and blue or dark and moody. As the leaves have been twirling to the ground, I’ve thought many times of some of my favorite quotes — the following are paired with some recent and favorite photographs of autumn.

10 Favorite Autumn Quotes and Photographs

Autumn maple leaf

…I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house. So I have spent almost all the daylight hours in the open air. – Nathaniel Hawthorne

autumn leaves

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons. – Jim Bishop

calico forests in autumn
the calico autumn forests

Besides the Autumn poets sing
A few prosaic days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze…
Grant me, Oh Lord, a sunny mind—
Thy windy will to bear!
– Emily Dickinson

autumn maple leaf

It is a delightful pastime to sit in the pleasant sunshine of autumn, and gazing from this little spot of free earth over such a landscape, let the imagination luxuriate amid the thrilling associations of the scene! – H.T. Tuckerman

an autumn ash tree

The time of the falling leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept. How beautifully the leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days! There are exceptions, of course. The leaves of most of the fruit-trees fade and wither and fall ingloriously. They bequeath their heritage of color to their fruit. Upon it they lavish the hues which other trees lavish upon their leaves…. But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they have been absorbing from the sun all summer. – John Burroughs, “The Falling Leaves,” Under the Maples

autumn splendor

Well, it’s a marvelous night for a moondance
With the stars up above in your eyes
A fantabulous night to make romance
’Neath the cover of October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I’m trying to please to the calling
Of your heartstrings that play soft and low…
– Van Morrison, “Moondance,” one of my favorite songs

sweet gum tree leaf

Autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling. She occupied her mind as much as possible in such like musings and quotations…  – Jane Austen

autumn leaves

Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture, so I need an inner light, which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn. – Leo Tolstoy

autumn sky

Around and around the house the leaves fall thick—but never fast, for they come circling down with a dead lightness that is sombre and slow. – Charles Dickens

fall color

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day!
Every leaf speaks bliss to me,
Fluttering from the autumn tree…
– Emily Brontë

 

Do you have a favorite quote about autumn? Has yours been color-filled? Please share in the comments with us!

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A Weekend on the Tennessee River

Sunrise Along the Tennessee River

“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the clay hills …” -William Clay Handy

 

Where I live, there aren’t many places to go where you can’t see or hear another person. Cincinnati is like most U.S. cities — filled with cars and highways and buses and buildings. But for those of us with a wandering heart, when we live in a city, it’s especially nice to get away once in a while.

Over Labor Day weekend, my family and I packed into the car and headed south across the Ohio River, through Kentucky and the Smoky Mountains into Tennessee.

It wasn’t the first time we’ve been there, certainly, but this time it was beautiful — maybe more than other times.

Along the Tennessee River

A place feels a lot like magic when the sun shines bright despite a forecast of rain and the water is smooth as glass. It’s surreal when a Bald Eagle soars overhead and an Osprey dives into the river and flies out with a hulking fish. It’s incredible when the sun rises through the Smoky Mountain fog, and when hours later the moon leaves a silver trail upon the midnight water.

Those are the enchanted places which restore the city dweller’s soul. Those are the places where a roadtrip can lead and make a difference in our lives. We can see with new eyes. We can become restored.

That place might be just down the road for you. For me, earlier this month, it was alongside the Tennessee River …

A Weekend on the Tennessee River:

Along the Tennessee River

Along the Tennessee River

A diving Osprey along the TN River
A diving Osprey along the TN River
With a successful catch, the osprey along the TN River
With a successful catch, the osprey along the TN River

Fishermen along the TN River

Along the Tennessee River

Sunrise Along the Tennessee River

Have you ventured on a roadtrip recently? If so, where? Please share in the comments below … thanks and have a great week!

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12 Favorite Butterfly Photographs

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Privet

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

Red Spotted Purple Butterfly
Red Spotted Purple Butterfly

Every year in September as the days grow shorter and the temperatures begin to fall, I become wistful for the summer. In winter, I miss the color — the greens of grass and trees, the vibrant blue skies and billowing summer storm clouds, the happy flowers smiling up at the sun, and the hummingbirds and butterflies which bring the world to life. I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’d love summer to last a bit longer …

In fall, if you take a few moments to notice, you can see the butterflies and hummingbirds taking flight. Though they all have different hibernation and migration patterns, they all journey far for the winter, especially from the northern states like where I live in Ohio.

Monarchs, the bright orange butterflies we see on flowers and in the countryside, migrate all the way to their winter home in Mexico. From Ohio, to reach the preservation in the mountains north of Mexico City, Monarchs fly about 2000 miles in the fall. It’s amazing, right?

Over a period of about an hour yesterday afternoon, I saw more than 10 monarch butterflies flying toward warmth, southwest toward the sun. They’re heading toward Mexico, where they’ll cluster in the pine and oyamel trees in the mountains, their winter home. Then they begin the migration all over again. For more, visit sites which specialize in the science and migration.

The butterfly life cycle is amazing to me, especially that the different generations of butterflies can find the path back and forth to their summer and winter grounds. I recently read Maya Angelou’s quote, which I’ve added above:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

It’s true. All beauty isn’t automatically beautiful. It becomes, through hard times, and because of those hard times, shines more brightly than it would have without the hard times.

I think the extra ingredient in true beauty is gratitude. When we have been through the darkest nights and made it through to the rising of the sun, we are grateful for that sunshine, whereas before we might have taken it for granted.

12 of My Favorite Butterfly Photographs

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly on Privet
Growing, Stretching, Sharpening Ourselves to Become our Best
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Echinacea
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Echinacea
Red Admiral butterfly, Prague garden
Red Admiral butterfly, Prague garden
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly
Black Swallowtail butterfly
Black Swallowtail butterfly
Painted Lady
Painted Lady

Monarch butterfly on buddleiathe regal Monarch, who at this time of year flies thousands of miles to its winter habitat in Mexico

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly on echinacea
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly
Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly

butterfly Monarch August13_081913_ 451wings like stained glass windows

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly in flight
Zebra Swallowtail butterfly in flight

I still hold to this saying:

the butterfly

Have you noticed the Monarchs migrating this autumn?

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The Surprising Beauty of Crane Beach

Crane Beach

Castle Hill above Crane Beach derives its history from December 29, 1634, when a group of Ipswich town men voted “that the Neck of Land wheareuppon the great Hill standeth, which is known by the name of the Castle Hill, lyeinge on the other side of this River towards the Sea, shall remayne unto the common use of the Towne forever.” – Wikipedia, Castle Hill above Ipswich, Massachusetts

 

Crane Beach, Ipswich, Massachusetts
Crane Beach, Ipswich, Massachusetts

 

I missed posting here last week, but it was a busy week — two of my sons and I traveled to Boston to be with the closest of friends, ones who-are-like-family who live there now. It was a wonderful time.

We had the chance to travel to Crane Beach near Ipswich, Massachusetts for a day. There were so many other things we enjoyed during our week in Boston, including paddleboarding on the Charles River, and a U2 concert (which was out of this world), but my photographs from Crane Beach are ones I have to share.

Crane Beach, Massachusetts

We drove out on a Tuesday after July 4th weekend, a day which was forecast for rain. The weather turned out to be incredibly clear and sunny, until about the time we left in late afternoon.

I’ve spent a day on Crane Beach 15 years ago, and the experience was nice, but the beach was very crowded — probably the most crowded beach I’ve ever seen.

This time, however, Crane Beach was empty. And the skies were so blue. The sand, white. The water, warm-ish and clear.

Crane Beach
Crane Beach — isn’t it beautiful?

It all was unexpected, a surprise.

My boys and I enjoyed every minute, walking the sand, enjoying the color and the beach almost entirely to ourselves. When we returned, I had to learn more about it, and about the castle high up overlooking the beach. This is what I found:

The property changed hands from Winthrops in 1637, through several families until the property was purchased by Richard Teller Crane, Jr., in 1910. The Cranes built two successive estate homes, and in 1945, the Crane family donated their beach and estate to a conservation trust, which runs the beach and wildlife preservation land to this day. In 1998, Castle Hill above Crane Beach was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

The view from the sand dune, Crane Beach
The view from the sand dune, Crane Beach

The tidal pools and sand bars stretched far and wide when we arrived, but by the time we left at high tide, the beach shrank to 1/5 its original size at low tide. The tidal pools left a beautiful pattern of ripples in the sand at low tide:

Crane Beach, the tidal patterns
Crane Beach, the tidal patterns

The biggest surprise for me, now, a week and a half later, is looking at the images I took with my iPhone. All of the images above have been taken with my regular iPhone, and though I’ve added a watermark, I haven’t enhanced the color at all. The blues of the sky and water, the white of the sand–all are true to what we saw, but also far more vibrant than my memory recalls.

I loved Crane Beach this time …

Have you visited Crane Beach? Please share your experience with us in the comments below.

Thank you, and have a great summer-y week!

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Peonies and Beauty

A peony blossom

Whenever you are creating beauty around you, you are restoring your own soul. – Alice Walker

 

I have always loved flowers. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the fields of red poppies or vibrant yellow rapeseed across Europe, the Redbud and Dogwood trees here in Ohio this spring, from the small garden in my backyard, or the grocery store checkout, I simply love flowers.

To me, there is something about a flower’s quiet beauty that turns me inside out and makes my heart happy. Flowers don’t demand attention. But if we take time to notice, they give us something intangible — something which to me feels like peace.

I love what Alice Walker said, when we create beauty, we’re restoring our own souls. I believe it to be true.

Two years ago, I put a flower garden in outside my kitchen window, and later wrote about it here. I started with a shovel, landscape fabric, mulch, and an assortment of plants. My top two priorities were to plant peonies and roses.

Roses go unsaid; I adore them, and have written about and shared photographs of them many times here. But peonies are one plant which bloom and once they do, they take over the garden with their beauty. This past week, I’ve been captivated.

Peonies from the Garden

Peonies

It’s a very short trip. While alive, live. – Malcolm Forbes

 

Peony

 

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

An unfurling peony
An unfurling peony

 

The soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone. – Johann von Goethe

 

Peonies

 

I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all. – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

Peony

When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one, and a lily with the other. – Chinese Proverb

 

Peonies

In every man’s heart there is a secret nerve that answers to the vibrations of beauty. – Christopher Morley

 

Peony

Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. You’re only here for a short visit. So be sure to stop and smell the flowers. – Walter Hagen

 

Peony

By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower. – Rabindranath Tagore

 

Peonies

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest in the little window-sill gardens of the poor, though perhaps only a geranium slip in a broken cup, as well as in the carefully tended rose and lily gardens of the rich, the thousands of spacious city parks and botanical gardens, and in our magnificent National parks — the Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, etc. — Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world. – John Muir

 

Do you have a favorite peony or flower? Share your photos (you should be able to attach or link) here with us!

 

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The Essence of Beauty

Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

Some days it is the sunrise, color so rich it can’t possibly be real.

Other times it is the power of words which bring meaning to a moment,

Or it is a clash of color so pure I cannot look away,

But always, the deepest beauty strikes me when I least expect it.

That is when I stop and hold my breath,

And if I have my camera, the images come quickly.

This is what happens in the snow-saturated long months of winter.

This beauty is what makes my soul sing.

 

A Spring Bouquet
A Spring Bouquet for the winter

 

It makes sense to me: the essence of beauty is gratitude. By recognizing something beautiful, we are saying thank you.

 

The artist is the confidant of nature, flowers carry on dialogues with him through the graceful bending of their stems and the harmoniously tinted nuances of their blossoms. Every flower has a cordial word which nature directs towards him.  – Auguste Rodin

 

Color, Light, and Form
Color, Light, and Form

 

Let us decide on the route that we wish to take to pass our life, and attempt to sow that route with flowers. – Madame Émilie du Châtelet

 

the silhouette of nature's elegance
the silhouette of nature’s elegance

 

The earth laughs in flowers. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips
Daffodils, Hyacinths, and Tulips

 

I must have flowers, always, and always. ― Claude Monet

 

What brings you deep joy?