Traditions, Old & New

Today is, for many of us, Ash Wednesday. Depending on your particular tradition, it might mean anything from the day to recover from Mardi Gras, to a day of fasting (Possibly following Shrove Tuesday pancakes last night!) to solemn church services, marked with something I wouldn’t personally have named imposition of ashes on the first day of the Lenten season.

Frankly, these were not traditions I was raised with in what used to be the old Southern Presbyterian Church. And, for many years, now, Ash Wednesday has reminded me of sugar bowls.

I can see the question marks sprouting over your head! It happened like this.

There I was, in the first church I served, in a tiny southern town, when Ash Wednesday rolled around for the first time. My immediate question had to do with where the ashes came from. Historically, the answer is that they come from the palm fronds from the prior year’s Palm Sunday service which were carefully saved, dried, and burned to make, well, ashes.

All interesting in theory, but what if your current church hadn’t observed Palm Sunday last year???

Answer: a sandwich bag full of ashes from the fireplace of my colleague in ministry who served the “big” church up town.

Next problem: What to put the ashes in for the service?

For this I turned to the source of all liturgical answers, the Cokesbury catalog. There the answer was something called an ash pyx which they were oh, so happy to sell me and deliver.

You guessed it. Lots of money! And a glimmer of inspiration. You see, the ash pyx in the catalog looked surprisingly like the silver plated sugar bowl in a tea set I won once upon a time at a dog show.

Problem solved! Somehow, we made it through the service and all the “Why?” questions that went with it.

Frankly, I still have a few “Why?” questions about the season of Lent which involves the weeks prior to Easter.

The oldest traditions are all about sacrifice and denial. Put most simply, one gives something up during Lent as a remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made.

Lately, though, I’ve come to think of Lent as a time to add something to life. Something that allows us to live more fully in love and joy, which is, I suspect, more what Jesus had in mind.

One of my favorite examples came to me in the words of the wildly wondrous artist and author, Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, known to many, many of us as SARK, who talks about radical self care. 

The details of such a spirit of care would, undoubtedly, be different for each of us. I began today with a bunch of fasting (!) lab work and a curious procedure known as a ginger compress designed to encourage my adrenal glands to do their jobs a bit better.

And, no, they didn’t cover that when I was in nursing school!

Depending on your tradition and how you learned to count such things, there are 39 more days of Lent, plus Sundays, which are designated Feast Days.

My plan, as you probably guessed, is, indeed, radical self care. (Thanks, Susan!)

More attention to rest. A firm intention to paint every day. Really! Even knowing that some of those days will probably be 3 prayer dots. Creating. And healing food.

Some of it really good chocolate. And the chicken, sustainably raised on local pastures, who followed me home from Pine Street Market.

This coming Friday has been designated roast chicken night at our house. (I’ll admit to designs on a big pot of broth to follow!)

And, just in case radical self care sounds like a plan to you, I’d love to hear how it goes. For starters, click here for my perfect roast chicken recipe. (It’s kind of got a Lent thing going for it!)

Enjoy! (More about the photo as my workshop, Holy Polka Dots, comes to life. Teaser… Anne Lamott will be involved!)


Don’t Try This At Home!

You, being both brilliant and compassionate, would never let your 4-footed friend do this! In addition to being tons of fun for dogs, it’s dangerous. (Feel free to email me if you need more information.)

For now, though, just let yourself concentrate on what this might feel like. It’s always reminded me of my very limited experience riding a roller coaster. Exhilarating, to be sure. Also pretty much guaranteed to remind you of a whole lot coming at you, very quickly.

I used to feel just like my canine buddy when I was sitting in a seminary classroom with the amazingly intense biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann, on a roll. One specific day I remember feeling exactly like this was during a class on Imagination. Ears – well, hair – flying everywhere. Huge grin on my face. And tears in my eyes.

For now, though, let’s go with learning a whole lot of great stuff, at what feels like at least 65 miles an hour. That’s kind of where I am at the moment.

It’s not so much the new perspectives I’m immersed in, though they’re huge.

Instead, it’s more the sensation of the new connections going on inside my heart-brain.

My Legend painting is in a bit of an awkward phase just now and declined to pose for this post. She did give me permission to tell you that, after considerable pondering, she has chosen a title. Tending the Hearth of the World. I’m supposed to say that this will be clearer after a few more days of painting. Probably by Wednesday!

Then there’s the whole notion of something called MetaCognitive Drawing as a tool for massive growth and change work.

The simplest explanation is thinking about thinking while moving a pen. The color is up to you! And you can count on more stories about the magical outcome of such drawings in the weeks to come…

For the moment, though, let’s talk about bridges.

Bridges between a perceived present state and a desired future state. Or, to boil it down, between what feels hard in the moment and what would be better in the future if it didn’t feel hard anymore.

It’s as if some very wise part of us already knows that, if we can find the bridge, we can make the journey to a more spacious sense of life.

I’ve been drawing bridges lately. But, rather like my Legend painting, they’re feeling a bit new and tender for being published just yet.

For today, I have a bridge photo.

IMG_4113-2That’s me. And that’s Shiloh Sophia McCloud, next to me, on the very first day I met her in person, on my very first day in Italy. In retrospect, that bridge we’re standing on feels prophetic to me because Shiloh is, among a great many other magical things,  “coincidentally” the leader of the MetaCognitive Drawing band.

And, not so very far away from that bridge is the courtyard in which Michelangelo carved his magnificent David. I am utterly awed by his work.

I’m even more awed by a quote attributed to the sculptor…

I am still learning. 

Even when our ears are blowing in the wind and our eyes are filled with tears. Or, perhaps, especially!

And one of the things I’m learning is that drawing can be a powerful bridge between the present and our desired future.

So be it for me and for you and, at least to the extent that I get to choose, for all the world. We’ll play, soon!

My Piece of…

One of the true things for today is that, when you can’t quite tell if the stuff on your nails is paint or chocolate, it’s been a pretty good day!

Hint… if it washes off the first time, it’s chocolate. If it takes a bit more effort, it’s likely to be paint from something like my Work-in-Progress Legend painting. Here’s part of what’s happening…


And, yes, the former surgical nurse still lives inside me, so you can bet that I’ve washed those hands about 20 times!

Which reminds me of another good thing. An online seminar from my friend, Paul Scheele at Learning Strategies, about – wait for it – helping people learn HOW to learn. Imagine that! Today was only day one. I suspect there will be more to share.

For now, here’s another thing that’s true.

Even when it’s been a day with lots of good things going on, life can feel a bit snarly and knotted up.

One of the times that happens for me, especially lately, is when I get really, really brave and open my email.

Yes, there are things in there that I want and need to know about or deal with.

There are also about a zillion things I don’t need or want to know about. There are even occasionally some things in my junk mail that the Committee on Ministry would probably prefer I didn’t know about!

I’ve gotten really proficient at deleting and unsubscribing. Also just plain old ignoring. I’ll bet you have, too.

The problem occurs when there are things I care deeply about but can’t change all by myself. This moment in history seems to be even more full of those than usual.

Requests to sign petitions and contact legislators on issues with the power to change the future for many, many people.

Voting polls.

Pleas for donations.

Even very enticing offers for things that require tough choices… I don’t think any of us can have or do them all! (Okay, at least I can’t!)

Every now and then I’m tempted to just not engage, as in not even opening the email. It’s not a great strategy, though, for any sense of doing some good in the world.

A sorting strategy of some type is essential. Mine goes a bit like this:

  • Is this a personal message from someone I know?
  • Is it an Intentional Creativity® thing?
  • Is it information I’ve requested, like details on some new shoes that might just make it easier to teach on concrete floors for 5 or 6 hours at a time?
  • Is it from Newf Rescue?
  • Is it from Bernie Sanders?
  • Is it about one of my top 3 human issues?

You get the drift. Sadly, there are lots of days when even that kind of sorting strategy leaves me with more than I can deal with. That’s when I pick up the yarn!

Specifically, the red yarn. If you’ve been hanging around for a while, or noticed the photo, you probably suspect that the Red Thread Legend is nearby!

Indeed, it’s always nearby for me. Not only the part about the mythical red thread that connects us, one to the other, with people we know and people we don’t know and people who are likely to be important in our lives, but the part that reminds us that we are only called to hold our piece of the red thread.

I think that’s because, since the time women first started telling stories, we’ve known that none of us can do it all alone. And the gift of accepting that reality is that we are then free to do what we can.

Maybe you remember, like I do, coming home from school, or perhaps Girl Scouts, with a snarly, knotted  wad of yarn and directions to return it to school all untangled and neatly rolled into a ball for some project or other.

Just between us, it was usually my mom who wound up making the magic that seemed so hard for my little fingers and age-appropriately short attention span.

These days I make a lot of that kind of magic. The girls and I made some together at Christmas. It’s important if you have prayer scarves or shawls to knit. Or hats or socks or baby blankets. It’s really hard to make things out of snarly, knotted wads of anything.

The bonus is that, once it’s unknotted, we actually can find and claim our own pieces.

And, yes, it works for email. Even snail mail. And politics. And relationships. Especially when we’re all doing it together.

What feels like your piece of the red thread? I’d love to hear!

ps. Here’s a bonus #WIP. She’s headed to Wild Oats & Billy GoatsHaving a blast with the edges!!!



My Ericksonian hypnotherapy buddies are fond of a magic trick called reframing.

It comes, like roses and chocolate, in several varieties.

We started, as I recall, by learning the pattern for a 12-step reframe, which, as you can probably imagine, required a couple of cheat sheets.

Then, we went on to the 6-step reframe, causing lots of us to wonder why we didn’t start there in the first place. Clearly, we weren’t ready until we were!

Then, the plot thickened even more. You guessed it… a 1-step reframe!

All those memories bring to mind the Harry Potter books in which wizarding school started with a trip to buy a wand.

These days, my wand is mostly a paint brush. Or a Sharpie marker. And I am totally still learning!

Today, though, many of the things I’ve learned through the years came together in an instant, including the meaning of abracadabra, which is something very close to I will create as I speak, leaving me simultaneously laughing and crying so hard that choking was not out of the question.

I was sitting in a Zoom meeting with a bunch of very cool creative women spending a chunk of our Saturday pondering the business of being artists. Our fearless leader was the comically wise Sam Bennett with her ever-so-capable side kick, Veronica.

In theory, we were wrapping up a journey we began sometime last fall. Wrapping up in the sense that finishing something so often means beginning new things.

Sam was sharing a list of 15 things she’s come to depend on in her journey. I was scribbling really fast with my magic hot pink Sharpie so what you’re about to read is what I heard, though not necessarily exactly what Sam said.

Experimenting with failure and not knowing IS the life of the scientist, explorer, artist and queen!

Que the 1-step reframe!

You see, one of the other things on my list today, after the private painting/dog petting session was finished, while the laundry machines were doing what laundry machines do, and the oven was making left-over frittata new again, was the eminent demise of a batch of GoDaddy domain names!

And no one home to help!

Dealing with such an event, as you’ve probably realized, has not historically been in my comfort zone. But, tonight I had a couple of sketch book pages covered in scribbles from the Zoom meeting and the one all highlighted in yellow was… yep…

Experimenting with failure and not knowing IS the life of the scientist, explorer, artist and queen!

I’m hoping Sam will understand if I add grandmother to the list. (Not so sure about the queen part. Must be learning for another day…)

So, re-framed, I just did it.

Loving names as I do, it was quite the project, and I did avail myself of the option to phone a friend for moral support! It feels like a bit of a miracle that, in this moment, I am left with a collection of things I intentionally chose a-new instead of a whole bunch of maybes from the past that were costing me money.

Yes, it was a little scary. And there is one question remaining for another day when I’ve collected a bit more information.

But, just in case you missed it… I did it!

There are no Oscars or Westminster trophies or Nobel prizes for such an accomplishment but, you know, I don’t need any.

That, by the way, is how you recognize that the 1-step reframe flew, instead of falling flat on the floor as sometimes happens.

And, just between us, magic events like this don’t really happen in one step. They happen, like the evolving lights in my studio, with a whole lot of noticing what doesn’t work and a big dose of imagining it might be different, followed by as much research as it takes, a handy friend, a couple of do-overs, and eventually light!

Some of you–maybe lots of you– are muttering about now, thinking the light is for others but not for you.

Take a deep breath and please hear me, in all truth, assuring you that even if you’re not a queen or a grandmother or a scientist, you are, in fact, an explorer. I know that because you’re still reading! And there is an artist lurking inside you, even if you haven’t made friends with her yet.

Take another deep breath and let it a…l…l… out gently. We’ll come back to this another day.

For now, though, a bit of attention for the laundry machines and time for me to paint.

Oh, and a gift for you, the explorer if you’re feeling even a tiny bit brave. It just might be the magic reframe you’re longing for. But you’ll have to click here to find out!

ps… That gift is, in an odd way, related to the photo of the flag that flies on our front porch every day. It seemed extra-important on this particular 3-day weekend!


Not Just Any Old Tuesday

It’s 8:28 pm on Tuesday, February 11.

Daniel, the Golden Retriever, just won the Sporting Group at my version of the Super Bowl and the Oscars, combined – The Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Several of my other favorites did really well, too.

The Working and Terrier groups are still to come. (Go, Newfie!!!) Some truly awesome Junior Handlers. Then, of course, Best in Show.

One of the newer 4-footed kids, the Lagotto Romagnolo, is an adorably scruffy looking dude with short dreads whose main job it is to hunt for truffles in Italy. And perhaps soon in Georgia! He went home sad tonight. Truffle fan that I have become, I was sad, too.

In addition to intriguing facts like that, and thanks to the miracles of modern science, I can also tell you that Bernie Sanders is leading as the early returns come in from New Hampshire.

I started showing in the breed ring about a year before I was able to start voting. As you may have suspected, I have some pretty passionate opinions about candidates as well as dogs.

Here’s the hard part…

Tomorrow, Daniel will still have won the Sporting Group. A couple more awesome dogs will have won their groups, too. And the Shetland Sheepdog and the Havaneese and the Whippet will all have won their respective groups on Monday night.

And, tomorrow, we in the USA will still have a very long, hard road to November. A road that is almost guaranteed to be filled with both disappointment and hope, and — compared to Westminster — regrettably short on sports”man”ship.

The Legendary Husband wandered through a few minutes ago and observed that our Luther is an agility dog. He’s totally right, in that Luther’s favorite place to snooze is on the kitchen floor and we get more agile climbing over all 145 pounds of him. (And sometimes more sore!)

As for me, I spent quite a bit of today working on my Legend painting. (And consulting on the latest plumbing project!)

Legend is all about our journeys through life. About where we find our truth and how we move beyond the things that may have held us back and “who” inspires us along the way.

It’s kind of an intense process, complete with drips and tears, and I have more to do tomorrow.

When you get right down to it, all of us who are paying attention and living in hope, even on the hard days, have more to do tomorrow, tears or not.

Part of my list includes an Experiment. Say tuned…

ps… Phoebe made me promise to tell you that the Newfoundland was, indeed, gorgeous. And, in case you’re up for a bit more hope in the midst of reality, check this out. Would Phoebe steer you wrong?

pps… Just in cased you missed it, a totally stunning black standard Poodle named Siba took Best in Show last night. Not the breed of my heart, but when she gaited around the ring she looked like she was wearing winged sneakers! I’d have put her up, too. Which suggests, I suspect, that the good guys are alike in more ways than they’re different. I’m just sayin’!


As Promised, Really Excellent Chocolate!

In the land of Intentional Creativity®, where I spend much of my time lately, we show up for transformation and community and fun.

We are sustained by roses and almonds and chocolate. So much so that planning a workshop experience means hunting ideal sources for food, as well as for paints and canvases. For a serious real-food foodie like me, it’s just that much more fun!

Here, with thanks to Danette May, who got me off to a great start, is the recipe for my latest creation:

Grammy’s Chocolate Almond Bark


  • 1 c. organic roasted almonds with sea salt, coarsely chopped if desired
  • 1 Tbsp. + 1/2 tsp. coconut oil, measured while solid
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped excellent dark chocolate, like Greene & Black’s 85% cacao (about 2/3 of a 3.17 oz. bar) or dark chocolate chips
  • 1 scoop Cacao Bliss or a slightly rounded Tbsp. of organic raw cacao powder
  • 1 good pinch Anthony’s espresso baking powder, if desired (or instant espresso granules)
  • 1 tsp. Maldon flaked sea salt for garnish if using unsalted almonds

Recipe doubles easily!

Line a sheet tray with unbleached parchment paper.

In a heavy saucepan (or double boiler) combine chocolate, coconut oil, and vanilla extract. Stir over low heat until completely melted. Add Cacao powder and espresso powder and stir thoroughly. Add almonds and mix until covered.

Pour chocolate mixture onto tray with parchment paper, spreading evenly with a rubber spatula to a thin layer.

If you used salted almonds, you’re done. If you used unsalted nuts, sprinkle evenly with sea salt flakes, or omit if you prefer.

Refrigerate for an hour or until well set. Break into bite sized pieces and store, tightly covered, in fridge or freezer. Allow to warm a few minutes to cool room temp before serving, preferably with roses on the table!

Technically, I suppose, you could call it candy. I call it sustenance. Body. Mind. Spirit.

Or, in the eternal words of Charles M. Schulz…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. 

Stay tuned for workshops coming soon!

8th Grade Is Teaching Me, Still!

Let’s start by remembering that middle school is pretty lousy for most everybody. It surely was for me.

There were some bright spots, though. One of the brightest was my 8th grade English teacher. She was young, and progressive before that word meant what it means today, and committed to treating her students like humans, capable of experiencing new things. We read poetry. Edgy stuff. We did a winter holiday program designed to be more inclusive than what was usual in those days. (To take part, I learned to sing in Hebrew!) And we read the play, 1776, complete with an actual album of musical numbers from the Broadway show.

I still know all the words to all the songs, along with most of the dialogue, by heart.

That turns out to be one of those good-but-hard things on this day, when it seems that all but one of the the GOP senators voted on the side of self interest rather than their sworn duty.

Through it all I could literally hear, in my mind and heart, the roll call from 1776 on the question of ratifying the Declaration of Independence.

The dangers of voting for independence, close to 250 years ago, were different. An aye vote meant committing treason against the British crown for which the penalty was death by hanging.

Today, a vote to uphold the impeachment charges meant the likelihood of political retribution. The possibility of not being re-elected. The potential loss of big money donors making huge contributions in return for vacations on private islands. The decidedly likely wrath of a man who behaves as though he believes he is above the law and basic civility.

We stand, most of you, and I, to this day, like dwarves upon giants, on the shoulders of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin and a statesman of whom you may have never heard, named Caesar Rodney, who came, literally from his death bed, to stand in favor of Independence.

I write these words with tears in my eyes and voices whispering in my ear that my fabulous new chocolate recipe might be a much wiser choice for this post.

It might!

And yet, I, like Mitt Romney, am going to be able to tell my kids and, most especially, my granddaughters, that I kept my promise today.

His promise was a vow before the God of his understanding to uphold his oath as a senator and a juror even if it meant crossing the aisle, and standing with the Democratic minority who were also, I sincerely hope, keeping their vows.

Mine is to nurture fierce compassion in the world through stories and images and experiences that have the power to create hope.

Check back soon for really a really excellent chocolate recipe. (Chocolate counts, too!)

But first, my paintbrush is calling me. I’m busy making something new out of something that wasn’t working. When I figure out what it wants to be, I’ll let you know.

For now, may you and yours be blessed on the road.




Sue Boardman, Certified Intentional Creativity®
Color of Woman Teacher & Coach