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!)


Old Stories, Trees, and Hope!

Remember, for a moment, learning to ride a bike. Probably your story includes an adult with lots of advice. It might go something like this…

There you are on the bike, perhaps without training wheels for the first time.

Probably, as you’re reading this, without a helmet. (So glad we know better, now!)

In my case, on a suburban street, somewhere in the midwestern USA. (Please feel free to substitute accordingly!)

So, kid, bike, driveway, and the concerned adult mentioned above.

You set off, wobbly and, perhaps, more than a little anxious, with the concerned adult jogging along, holding onto the back of the bike, who finally lets go.

Your plan is to proceed down the driveway, turn at the sidewalk and make your way in triumph next door to show your friend how empowered you’ve just become.

One tiny problem. The concerned adult, who is totally focused on the very large tree off to the side of the driveway.

(Nevermind that the tree has been standing very still, just there, for 80 or 100 years!)

“Watch out for the tree,” yells the concerned adult. About 8 times.

And, you, finally liberated, in an entirely predictable fashion, smash your precious bike right into the tree.

Or, as some of my meditation friends would say, Where the attention goes, the energy flows

Which is to say, that if you’re totally focused on the tree, you’re probably going to hit it.

Now, I’ve known this story for years, in its therapeutic sense. Focus your attention on what you want, as opposed to what you don’t want.

Frankly, it’s harder than it sounds.

And, just between us, I’ve been having a bit of a cosmic reminder lately. You see, lately I’ve been focused, not for the first time, on Don’t be in pain! 

There are lots of reasons for that.

Frequent flyer miles with the knee surgeon. A couple of falls that weren’t quite serious but came pretty close. Some losses in my life. More than my average amount of stress, lately. And a bit of fear, here and there.

And, you guessed it, I hit the tree. Anxiety. Difficult dreams. Trouble sleeping. The kind of loss of strength that comes from the notion that being still is being safe.

Frankly, it hasn’t been working very well.

So, I’m making a different choice. A choice I’m calling, with thanks to the amazing Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, Radical Self Care.

A choice like this takes a bit of preparation.

A bit of inspiring reading. Some pantry weeding. An uncomfortable amount of self-disclosure and asking for support. And, a bit of shopping. Organic fennel tea, local grass-fed soup bones, and my most essential colors of paint, along with a painting called Apothecary.

I begin, officially, a week from today.

Except for the fact that I’ve actually already begun. You see, my eyes are already on my friend’s driveway, instead of the big, scary tree.

I’m headed for where I want to be instead of where I don’t.

It won’t necessarily be an easy trip, especially the part that involves NO dairy or wheat for at least 2 weeks.

Today, though, when we had lunch at Stiles Fish Camp in Ponce City Market, after picking up a couple of my paintings from their adventure with the magical scanning machine, I practiced eating fabulous oysters without crackers!

(This is not something that we folks raised in Florida are accustomed to, but it actually worked!)

And, I have granddaughters watching. And paintings to paint. And prayer dots to make. And hope to share. So, eyes on where I want to be!

May it be so for you, as well.

A Day Full Of Lessons

I have a confession to make. I never went to Kindergarten! (I’m counting on the likelihood that Columbia Seminary won’t ask for my doctorate back!)

I did go, for a brief period of time in the early ’60’s, to a pre-school program where I remember spending a lot of time sitting on the floor in what seemed like a dark room, singing Puff, the Magic Dragon. And, yes, I still know all the words.

Singing, however, did not turn out to be one of my greater gifts and I went on to learn other things.

Lately, I’ve been learning about thinking about thinking.

Today, I had an unexpected moment to practice. I was sitting at the table by the front window of my studio, waiting for a young paint buddy when some movement caught my attention.

Brief reminder… even with my very cool glasses, I don’t see as well as I used to!

Anyway, after a moment I realized I was face to face with a cute little chipmunk of the usual brown persuasion, sitting up like a begging dog, about halfway across the garden which is covered, between the raised beds, in lots of brown wood chips. And she was looking right at me.

At first I was surprised. Not that chipmunks are unusual. Just that I don’t think I’ve ever noticed one looking at me.

Then I was grateful. Grateful that we have our tiny corner of the universe where there have been no chemicals used for almost 20 years. Grateful that some of our food comes from that garden. And grateful for the birds I began to notice, doing what I sincerely hope is their snacking before it rains routine.

And then I remembered that my farm grandmother, Elsie, used to say that a cardinal was a sign that a loved one who had passed on was thinking of us. And I noticed myself wondering…

And then I wished I could call a new teacher of mine, Robin Wall Kimmerer, who wrote the magnificent quote above (which I discovered just this morning) and thank her for being part of my education.

Just after that, I looked at the clock and hoped my missing paint buddy was okay, swallowed a tiny spark of irritation, and reminded myself that my job is to help him discover his gifts and how to use them for good in the world.

That’s when I remembered that a couple of years ago the amazing author, artist, and teacher known as SARK, told me that I was, before all else, a teacher.

Susan is generally right!

Therefore, my left brain… the side that’s into things like structure and order, suggested, without resorting to the mean voice, that a text to his mom to find him another time was in order.

Though, at that point, there were two cardinals in the garden and I decided to sit and learn just a bit longer. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good reminder that the young man in question is teaching me, too.

I just wish, for all our sakes, that we could get Dr. Kimmerer named Secretary of Education!


“Mediums and Risky Glazes”

In the land of Cosmic Cowgirls, where I’ve been hanging out for just about a year, it’s step nine of the Intentional Creativity Method: The 13 Steps. 

Integrating: Mediums and Risky Glazes.

This is often a scary step – and there can be lots of resistance, so make light of it and at the same time let it be in the good kind of fear – where we are walking to the edge.  

– Shiloh Sophia McCloud

IMG_3798It’s the next step for my painting project known as Alchemist on this vision quest and, as I “suspect” the wizard-teacher intended, the next step for me, as well.

She/they dragged me out of bed at 2 am insisting that it was risky glaze time, just as soon as I got this blog post finished to explain the signs of virtual risky glazing you may be noticing on this website and my Facebook page.

You see, glazes are meant to, well, integrate elements of a painting (and the painter, herself!) into a new whole. And that’s what the new images and language you’ll find in my world are meant to do, too.

First, a story.

I joined, as my son proclaimed, the blog-o-sphere about three years ago. Clueless did not begin to describe!

Tools for the Journey, it was called in those days. Bits of my books, tips on boiling bones, the occasional political opinion when I was feeling really brave. Book reviews. Poems, prayers, and pictures of the garden. Quilts. Lots of them. Inspiration, especially aimed for folks about the business of grandmothering.

My girls would have been about 5 and 7-ish at the time.

Then, in January of 2017, helped along by the amazing author and artist, SARK,  I found language for what I thought I was doing.

I was The Fiercely Compassionate Grandmother. 

Oddly enough, I found that language… at least the fiercely compassionate part… in a book illustrated by Shiloh Sophia McCloud. Yep!

And the puzzle pieces of my life began to come together.

A new website was born. New images. New language. New business cards. Even t-shirts!

Before too long, there began to be blog posts about painting, amongst the more usual ones, for I set out on a pilgrimage.

No one was more surprised than I!

What was even more surprising than the realization that I could actually learn to paint something other than walls, was the stunning awareness that I had wandered into a cosmos in which I discovered an amazing new tool for doing what I so longed to do… helping those who identified, in whatever way, with the Grandmother archetype to become one of those five people for their kids and, maybe, for the world.

And that requires another story, which you can read here. Just come right back, because we’re getting to the exciting part!!!

Have you ever made bone broth?

It’s a lot like life! Bits and pieces of things, not all of them terribly appealing on their own, a magical container, and the addition of energy over time. Depending on your particular container, lots of time.

And some help along the way. Especially if, like me, you happen to have a stock pot so big you can’t lift it all by yourself!

Which is a lot like realizing I can’t be The fiercely compassionate grandmother to the whole world. (Duh!)

The world needs lots and lots of fiercely compassionate grandmothers. Literal ones. Community ones. Thrilled ones. Reluctant ones. Archetypal ones. Young. Old. Women. Even men, if they’re very brave. Appalled, passionate ones who care deeply about things like justice and self-expression and an honest-to-goodness global community, ready to set about making stardust soup out of the situational angst of our world.

Everything I’ve ever learned has led to this moment.

My calling is to call the circle. To support and encourage as many fiercely compassionate grandmothers as possible. And to teach those who are curious about the miraculous ways fierce compassion and our own dreams can be set loose with magic wands like paintbrushes. And dots. Lots of dots.

So here we are. Fiercely Compassionate Grandmothers. Welcome!!! If you want to be here, you belong. (We might even make some new t-shirts!)

Honestly, I’m still sorting out details like emails and domain names and exactly what to change, when.

There will be lots of opportunities ahead. Bowls of stardust soup. Working with me individually. Workshops. Even videos, once I figure out the technology!

And retreats, like Grammy Camp. I can’t wait!

Soon. After that little business about literal risky glazing. And, perhaps, a nap!





“Half Fun & Full Serious!”

I have long been a fan of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury cartoons.

In addition to his ironic humor, I’m starting to think he may be a contemporary prophet, or a Dreamer in the way that Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes of them.

One of my favorite characters has always been my colleague in ministry, The Rev. Will B. Dunn.

Here’s my recollection of one of Will’s more memorable moments…

Our friend is on his knees in his front yard, black suit and hat and all. He is asking God to send him a sign about whether he should run for President. 

In the next frame, reminiscent of Moses, a bush in his yard bursts into flames, bringing a message along the lines of, “Don’t do it!” 

What does Will do?

He grabs a fire extinguisher and puts out the sign!

This may be the proof text for the old adage: Be careful what you pray for. You might get it!

And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you’re wondering what dragged this particular story out of the dustier reaches of my brain just now.

Well, it’s like this.

My world feels full of signs.

Summer in Atlanta is no place for burning bushes so my signs are appearing in the form of dreams and sudden inspirations.

The sense of puzzle pieces falling into place.

And an unexpected event or two dragging lots of change along.

If we’re being honest, there’s a tiny part of me that’s tempted to reach for a fire extinguisher!

And there’s a lot more of me that’s feeling excited about the future as it’s beginning to come into focus.

I feel inspired. And intentional.

I’m beginning to have language for where I’m heading.

Here’s a hint…

There’s lots more stardust soup to come!

For now, I’m also aware of the old therapists’ notion that change is always stressful, even when it’s change that we have, at some level of awareness, hoped and longed for.

Which brings us to the issue of what my fabulous, talented friend, SARK would refer to as radical self-care.

Only you know what that might mean for you but, just in case you might be dealing with change or stress or even a whole box full of mental puzzle pieces, here are some examples of what it looks like for me.

  • Compassion.
  • Sleep. (Or, at the very least, space for peaceful rest.) Complete with clean sheets, favorite jammies, and, perhaps, a bit of meditation music playing very quietly in the background. Lots of experts would recommend no “screens” for an hour before bedtime. It has something to do with blue light.
  • Gentle movement. Qigong, yoga, walking, even dancing, whatever works for you. If it happens to be an alternate arm and leg kind of movement (like walking and swinging your arms) so much the better.
  • Good food. Fresh. Minimally processed. Minimal caffeine, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. You get the drift!
  • Someone to talk to. The very process of putting language to our experience helps us to organize it and discover new things about it. And, if you want to just be heard, witnessed, ask. Strategies may need to wait for later! Journaling works, too.
  • Space for creativity. Color. Quilt. Knit. Paint. Write. Cook something new. Make soup. And listen…

Signposts to the future are all around us if we just let go of the fire extinguishers!



Chickens or Eggs?

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

I’m betting on the chicken because the egg would have needed somebody to fix a nest and keep it warm!

Oddly, I was pondering this yesterday, in light of the question of depression.

Depression, as the old saying goes, runs in my families.

Heavily genetic on one side.

Possibly more situational on the other.

I have been one of the ones who, in some wild DNA marathon, manages to out run it most of the time.

But, as my old friend Henry Close would remind us, If you’re not depressed sometimes you’re not paying attention!

Apparently, I’ve been paying attention lately.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

I don’t usually realize that I’m feeling depressed while it’s happening.

What I do notice is when it stops.

Rather like one day deciding to put some new lights in the house because the time for dimness has passed.

Here’s the tricky part…

Do I change things because I feel better or do I feel better because I change things?

I suspect the answer is YES!

Which is to say that both of those things are probably true.

Even something simple like rescuing paint brushes from their canning jars of murky water and washing them can help.

Suddenly, they have hope again. They’re ready to do what they were meant to do.

Brushing the dogs can do it, too, but is a whole lot more tiring!

Lately, I’ve been eating a lot more bone broth. This is big on my list of things that, while they don’t necessarily fix things immediately, can’t possibly hurt.

And, I have a Qigong retreat/tune-up scheduled this summer.

If I had to guess, though, I’d say it was the painting – the Intentional Creativity process I’m learning –  that is calling me beyond paying quite so much attention to all the sad, frustrating, infuriating news in our world and back into a place where I can attend to hope and healing.

Where, just for a moment, every now and then, I can actually be hope and healing.

Now, clearly depression comes in many sizes and colors with different chemical and genetic and contextual factors. There are lots of theories about “causes” and “cures”.

And, if we’re being honest, there’s probably some vested interest at work in some of those theories.

The amazing author and artist known as SARK is fond of  what she calls radical self care.

Healing foods. Long, scented baths. Walking. Time to sleep. Comfort.

She’s convinced me!

And then, as often as possible, a tiny change for the better. (Susan calls them micro-movements.)

There are nearly endless options.

My Feng shui friends say it takes more energy to ignore things that aren’t working than it does to fix them.

Change the burned out bulb. (Ok, I’m on a lighting kick!)

Put some real food in a pretty bowl and skip the drive-up window.

Wear your favorite paint shirt, dried in the sun, all soft and fresh and friendly.

Be gentle with yourself.

Nobody ever got shamed and blamed out of depression.

Ask for help if you feel like it’s bigger than you can handle.

And, along with all the rest, create something.

Today, I will turn on all the lights and paint. (After I wash the brushes!)

More dots. A few words. Still, in many ways, background.

With the help of my new Instant Pot, I will take some crab shells we’ve been saving in the freezer and the fennel Bill’s kindly going to fetch from the Farmers’ Market, and experiment with broth.

There’s thyme in the garden, too!

And, assuming my painting cooperates, I’m planning a nap, complete with Spring Forest Qigong’s Six Word Chant playing softly in the background and enormous dogs snoring gently at my feet.

Chickens or eggs? Who knows?

Just gratitude.

Thanks, Greg Camp! 







Does Anybody Really Know?

With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, does anybody really know what time it is?

We certainly don’t at our house.

The dogs are not amused at the revisions to their fine dining schedule on this time change weekend in the US.

Three hungry Newfoundlands who suspect the ones with thumbs have forgotten them are quite the force of nature!

They remind me of Dave when he was in middle school. My perpetually late son somehow got fascinated with Stephen Hawking and spent a great deal of energy trying to convince me that time was just a theory for controlling people and had nothing to do with reality.

Especially when it had to do with the time school started.

(Don’t tell Dave, but I’m not entirely sure he was wrong!)

I can’t help but wonder what impulse to control the natural world caused us to think adjusting the time twice a year was a good idea. (Or not, if you happen to live in places like Arizona and parts of Indiana!)

Bill, who lives in a random “time zone” of his own, is probably wishing that the mythical extra hour of sleep had really happened. Fortunately, he’s really good at changing the multitude of digital clocks that surround us. (Me, not so much!)

I have noticed, this fall, since I turned my chair to face the big garden window, how much more aware of the shortening of the days I’ve been than in previous years.

And, as a person who grew up mainly in Florida, I’ve long been a fan of bright, golden sun light.

Lately, though, I’ve been learning some new things.

I’ve been learning about light and dark.

My learning began, in a new conscious sort of way, about a year ago as I listened to friends and scholars reflect on the Jungian notion of light and shadow in light of our recent American experience.

We might say that this moment in history is bringing us face to face with our shadow, which always has the potential to teach us things we need to know.

Then, this past August, I embarked on a virtual Black Madonna Pilgrimage.

My painting, Our Lady of Fierce Compassion, is complete. (Stay tuned!)

I’ve learned how to buy paint. I’ve learned about brushes, and glazes, and how to fix canvases for hanging.

I’ve learned to chant in Latin, which makes three languages for me now, when you add that to English and Chinese. Hebrew, too, I suppose, depending on your understanding of “chant”.

Then there’s been dark. And light.

Along with spirituality and physics, which are not nearly as different as I used to imagine.

Which is rather a lot for someone who learned absolutely nothing and got B’s in high school physics, mostly based on the fact that I wore a skirt to school now and then. (That’s a problem for a different day!)

For this moment, I’m reading Stephanie Georgieff”s fine book, The Black Madonna…mysterious soul companion and learning more about dark and light.

Here’s my favorite quote so far:

I find it fascinating that the Black Madonnas combine both darkness and large hands. For me it is as if they are saying, get to work and do something, plant the seeds for the future.

If, in this moment, you’re even pondering some new questions, this time, today, is totally worthwhile.

And, if you’re just trying to figure out when to get up in the morning, some (paraphrased) advice from the brilliant artist and author, SARK… just be where you are, whatever time it is!





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