The quiet shuffle of cards
I was restless and it was late ...
far too late to be making noise,
so my options were limited
when I grabbed the deck
of cards that sits on
the bookshelf for
someday or sometime
it was a surprising move
they don't get much use,
but I thought ...
I could play,
the cards, still like new,
were stiff and slippery,
hard to shuffle,
and I couldn't
remember all the rules
so I faked it and won
that was easy
so I searched for
instructions and found
it wasn't so easy
game after game
I lost until
I was no longer
restless, but tired,
and went to bed
and played again
the next day, and the
again and again
after days and
weeks of following the
I aced it on a quiet
evening with a full house
While I didn't have a lot to say about playing Solitaire, I wanted to write a short piece about how calming it was to shuffle the cards and how sticking with it (finally) gave me the reward of winning.
The narrative poetry structure works on three levels: it's a good format for shorter writing, the line breaks make it visually more interesting, and choosing where to add a line break gives you, the writer, more control of pacing and emphasis.
Try it with a story of your own about playing cards or patience or winning. And share it with me, I'd love to read what you write.
The CRoW in tHe
let iT aLL
hIGH and LOw.
I dON't KNow.
Me jUSt say ...
whAt a ShOw.
Oftentimes, there are events you want to capture, but as a stand-alone story, there's just not enough material to write more than a few sentences.
When that happens, try a narrative poem.
It's a storytelling form of poetry you can use as a tool to share snippets of your life. Moments in time that bring joy, clarity, or greater understanding.
I've never seen a playful crow ... they keep their distance, often conjure (undeserved) negative vibes, and perch and fly with purpose. Off-guard displays of preening and play are not common ... at least not in my experience.
I wanted to remember the crow and how such a seemingly upright, formidable bird let it all go.
It's a reminder to seek, observe, and remain open to discovery, surprise, and wonder.
And when there's not much to say, but saying it is important, write a poem.
I've never been a picky eater. Not really.
This is Jell-O Week and it reminds me of one of my favorite holiday treats when I was a girl ... my grandmother's jello, served with the meal, not after. She mixed fruit in with the jello, layered it with whipped cream, and served it in a parfait dish that was undeniably festive ... layer upon layer of jello and whipped cream visible through the clear glass sides of the parfait bowl.
Having a dessert-like dish served with the meal seemed so decadent ... even on a holiday.
My first experience with anything other than fruit as jello mix-in was with a gelatin meat mold that was served at a dinner where I was a guest. Pieces of carrots and sliced beef floating in the congealed gelatin. I'd never seen such a thing, and wasn't sure I liked what I was seeing.
But we were visiting and when it was passed around the table, to be polite, I placed a small spoonful on my plate.
One bite and I was done. Nope, not going there.
A more recent, and pleasantly surprising, gelatin dish I've discovered is coffee "jelly." Simple and refreshing.
Friday is National Cabbage Day and a friend has tried again and again to convince me that lime jello with cabbage is good. I'll take her word for it.
Would you or wouldn't you ... or have you tried lime and cabbage jello, whipped up a batch of coffee jelly, or served a savory gelatin dish? Share your story in a letter, an essay, or a conversation and see what gels.
The rush to get it done ...
It was a last minute addition to the menu: chocolate avocado pudding. No stovetop required, just blend and chill.
But was late in the day.
It would be a rush to get the pudding made, chilled, and ready to serve.
But it was possible.
With the familiarity that comes with having made the recipe a number of times, I cut and pitted the avocado, measured the cocoa powder, maple syrup, milk, and vanilla, and whipped it together.
After spooning the pudding into individual serving bowls, I slid the bowls into the freezer for 15 minutes to speed the cooling.
When I reached back into the freezer to transfer them down into the refrigerator, condensation had formed on the outside of the bowls, and they were slippery.
One down, two down, three, and things were going well. When I lifted the fourth, the bowl slipped from my hand.
Boom. It hit the floor.
The bowl didn't break, but the jolt tossed the pudding from the bowl and it sprayed in every direction possible ... landing on my slacks, my sleeves, in my hair, on my face, and surrounding kitchen cabinets.
The first gasp I let out was for the bowl as it slipped from my hand.
The second, for the dollop of pudding that landed on my cheek.
And the third, loudest of all, came as I slid to the floor, in a full split, when I stepped forward and lost my chocolate-covered footing.
Oh, I wanted to cry, almost did cry, but the dollop on my cheek slid down and touched my lip.
Huh? Pudding ... sweet ... cool ... so good.
And then I laughed. Yes, I got the pudding made, but I'd also created a lot of work for myself when it came to cleaning up the mess I'd made.
National Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day reminded me of my pudding predicament and another saying: haste makes waste ... yes it does, and it puts you down one serving, puddin'.
I hope you use the weekly Story Starter calendar of days to write and share your stories.
Some days may resonate, others, not so much. But most weeks I hope you find one or two that prompt something ... for conversation, letters, writing practice, or a collection of stories worth sharing.
Because people love stories, and you've got some good ones.
If you're interested, here's the recipe for Avocado Chocolate Pudding.
I don't have anything for Ballet Day, do you?
If you're not already getting the calendar, sign up today!
p.s. for the grammar buffs: Is it "spilled" or "spilt?"
It's listed as "National Don't Cry Over Spilled Milk Day," but when it came to my collage, I liked the alternate spelling, and decided to with "spilt."
We stopped to chAT
with the lady in the hAT.
She wAS, like us,
dressed foR the weaTHer ...
wHEther shE liked iT or nOT.
The weaTHer thAt is.
WhETHer it'S brISK and brIght
or gray like tOdAY,
we bUTTON and bOOT it.
Then we snAP, zIP, and
tUCK it, tOO.
bUT we'D qUIVER and shiVer
if thAT was aLL thAT.
So wE pAUSe and we pONDer
for thAT which iS thAT ...
WhERe's my hAT?
This poem came together over the course of a few days with the help of a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.
Both are helpful in similar and different ways. The rhyming dictionary does just what it sounds like, finds words that rhyme with one another ... in this case I was looking for words that rhyme with hat. Quiver and shiver came to me without the dictionary ... but maybe they were inspired by it?
The thesaurus is, I think, a sometimes overlooked tool for writing.
Word choice makes a difference.
I once wrote a post about Brussels sprouts that included a bit about a chef who appeared on a local television show ... he said he was going to "make" Brussel sprouts. It caught my attention because I thought, he's not going to "make" Brussels sprouts, he's going to (and here's where a thesaurus can help) bake, steam, or maybe roast them, but he's definitely not making them.
Choosing the right words not only makes your writing more interesting, it can lead to more accurate writing as well.
This week's story starter calendar got me started on hats and offers a nod to the thesaurus ... if you're not already, sign up today and get the calendar delivered, every week, straight to your inbox. And start writing.
It's Daylight Saving Time today ... and I'm reminded of my night in the house of clocks ...
When the cuckoo chimes
I once spent the night in a house that had a cuckoo clock and a grandfather clock ... and I didn't sleep a wink.
The cuckoo clock chirped every hour on the hour, and again every half hour.
The grandfather clock was set to strike four times an hour:
- every hour on the hour
- at a quarter past the hour
- at the half hour
- and once again at a quarter to the hour
I tossed and turned all night.
My mind reeling not so much from the different chimes, but from my inability to fix a pattern to the sounds of the cuckoo clock and the grandfather clock ... I didn’t know a grandfather clock sounds four(!) times an hour.
On one of our more recent walks, we scuffed through a walkway littered with pine cones. The kind of pine cones that hang from a cuckoo clock and make it tick.
My grandparents had a cuckoo clock with pine cone weights, and that cuckoo clock where I spent the night had them, too.
I’d always seen the weights and the clocks as one.
But when I saw so many pine cones scattered across the walkway, I saw them as the cuckoo-clock maker must have seen them, inspiration for the weights and keeping time.
If you like the cuckoo clock bird collage, grab the Hello Chickadee! printable stationery set. It includes the cuckoo clock image, a chickadee, and feathers, too.
The shape of things
After working on this collage bit for a while, I wondered how things were coming together, so I took a photograph. It helps me see things more objectively.
And I wonder, what do you see?
I hope you see the start of a great horned owl(?).
There's a perfectly imperfect element to collage that I like. How even small bits, like that crescent moon snip of yellow paper on the circle of black, can transform it into an eye ... one that looks like it's looking back.
When I set it in place, it changed everything.
Stopping to "smell" the flowers didn't prove as rewarding as I'd hoped, so for now, I'm back to collage, hoping this wise looking owl will prove more rewarding.
And it is ... seeing it come to life is a hoot!
Owl are you today?
Flowers ... paper and otherwise
Last week I received a beautiful gift from a friend ... a handmade paper box with cut paper roses adorning the lid. In the note she sent along with the box, she talked of the Victorian meaning of flowers ... roses in particular. They hold meaning for love, honor, faith, beauty, balance, passion, wisdom, and intrigue.
My friend's flowers reminded me of the collage work I've done with flowers, much of it inspired by collage artist Mary Delany. Born in 1700, she started her collage work at age 72(!) where it's now exhibited at The British Museum.
Delany's work was especially striking with black backgrounds and vivid colors.
The floral arrangement above mimics Delany's style with the black background, but with natural materials. You can try it yourself by deconstructing and arranging just a few flowers (this arrangement is a lily, a daisy, some greens, and a small yellow flower I can no longer identify). Make your arrangement on black paper or some other background ... just be mindful of working outside and the breeze, it will wreak havoc with your petals (yes, that's the voice of experience).
If you remember, a few weeks ago, I talked about wanting to create larger work and I think I've found a new direction. Three-dimensional paper flowers. Big ones! I'm so excited.
But I must be patient. The supplies I need are not available locally, so I'm waiting for them to arrive in a few days and hope to have something to show next week.
And remember, it's not too late to start something new. Mary Delaney did at 72 and from what I've read about her, it changed her life.
Let's get going.
Hobbies: The satisfaction of doing
Making something from nothing
My mother used to make lampshades. Mostly hand-stitched silk shades with fringe. They're beautiful. She also did a turn with paper shades featuring cutouts as well as vintage florals, butterflies, and birds collaged on parchment papers.
She no longer makes shades but still has the vintage papers. When she and my sister were clearing things, they asked if I might be interested in them.
While I usually use painted sheet music in my collage work, I'm really enjoying the challenge and change of working with different materials.
I'm not sure if it's a fanciful flower or butterfly floral? Doesn't really matter, I can't stop.
Yesterday I created more. And in the process relished the satisfaction of making.
For well over an hour I sat snipping papers, switching one flower for another, digging deep into the pile of papers, tilting my head from left to right to analyze the layout before settling on the best possible arrangement, then gluing things in place.
It took most of the afternoon before I talked myself into sitting down at my desk to get started, and am so glad I finally got there.
Of course gluing papers in place may not be your idea of fun, but whatever it is, I encourage you to sit down, stand up, or do whatever it takes to get going. I think you'll be glad you did.
Not sure where this is going, but it was fun getting to where we are
All of my collage work is relatively small. I snip and cut some pieces of paper that, if they drop from my scissors, can be hard to find on the table.
Sometimes they're stuck to the scissors; other times my hand; ocassionally they stick to the glue itself, embedded in the top of the glue stick; and then there are those that seem to vanish ... lost forever.
For a while I've thought of making larger collage pieces, but how?
Cutting larger shapes from the sheet music I paint wasn't working. It's too thin and I couldn't make sense of it. But what about cutting the shapes from cardboard shipping and storage boxes?
Trying something different
The barred owl is about a foot tall. He's a bit long in the beak, and there are things I'd change, but overall, not bad for a first go.
When I took it outside for photographs, I thought ... anyone who sees me will think I'm crazy. And then I thought ... who gives a hoot?!
I don't know what will become of my larger collage work, or this owl friend of mine, but I do know it brought me immense pleasure just to make it.
And sometimes, that's all that matters.
The other day when I was feeling restless, not sure what to do with myself, I knew the best thing to do would be to do something.
Presenting myself with a new challenge meant I had to work with new materials, and endure some frustration and challenges. But it I'm glad I did it. I know more than I did and looking at the owl makes me smile.
What a hoot!
July is Anti-boredom Month and it seems the best cure for boredom is action.
Making, doing, and learning.
It's also inevitable. We're all bored at one time or another. The question is, what will you do to get un-bored?
I wish it was my apple tree
Some still hang
bright and red
others make like
polka dots, red on
The ones that
fill the gutter
line up like bowling
balls in the automated
Is it the imperfections,
or it it because they're not
already picked, in a bag,
in a store?
I wish it was my
A bird's-eye view collage
It's been a week of bird sightings and activity.
I found a nest in the yard the other day. It was after a few days of strong winds ... winds that must have released it from its perch.
This morning we walked through the park and saw a group of people (a gaggle, or maybe it was a congregation) grouped together, all facing the same direction, looking up at a pine tree.
They were mesmerized by the great horned owl perched high above, with her two owlets(!) all fuzzy and huddled close together. In other words, a parliament of owls. Amazing.
And then there was the paddling of ducks down at the pond.
What's gathering in your neck of the woods?
- a convocation of eagles?
- a stand of flamingos?
- an ostentation of peacocks?
- a wake of buzzards?
- a peep of chickens?
- a muster of storks?
- a host of sparrows?
- an exaltation of larks?
- a colony of penguins?
- a wedge of swans?
- a party of jays?
I made this collage from old maps and a cancelled stamp. It occurred to me that when we look at a map, it's like looking at the world with a bird's eye view. I think we'll always need paper maps ... after all, what if there's no wifi?
Create a shift ... by doing
A while ago I was feeling out of sorts, a bit edgy, and bored with myself. I didn’t know why and I didn’t know what to do about it.
All I knew was I wanted to shift my mood and stop the creep ... I’d already spent much of the day feeling off and I didn’t want it to creep into what remained of the day.
So I decided to do something. Something I enjoy. I sat at my desk with my collage materials. I like collage work because it’s easy to pick up and put down without taking up a lot of space or having to do a lot of preparation.
After I got going, I realized, once again, it feels good to do.
Was it because I was working with my hands? That may be part of it, but I think it’s more.
I think the doing activates a shift.
A shift from a passive, unsettled state of mind to a state of being active and engaged. It's why I'm such a fan of having hobbies, passions, and pastimes.
It works when I write letters, when I clean, or cook ... just about any activity, really. The challenge, always, is getting started. For the collage work, I started by sitting at the table. I didn’t know what I would do or create, but knew just pulling out the materials would help. And it did.
It's so simple ... yet so hard sometimes.
Why is it so hard? Sometimes it’s because we’re so busy doing for others we forget to tend to ourselves. To take some time (not a lot of time, just some time) to do what we want, instead of what everyone else wants or needs, or demands. Other times, we're just overwhelmed. By our work, our circumstances, and these days, the pandemic.
When I sat down, I wasn't sure what I'd collage, but felt better just sitting with my materials. It was then I realized, it feels good to do. So I made this collage.
This is not the first time I’ve written about stopping the creep. Read my post about the recipe that saved my life and let me know what you do to stop the creep.
A side of snail mail
A different way to connect
We won't be visiting in person this Thanksgiving, so I'm serving up a side of snail mail.
I've decided to make a small batch of handmade collage cards to send and give thanks (there's still plenty to be thankful for, even if we're apart). Now that I have the design figured out, it's a matter of cut and paste.
The process is a meditation of sorts. Cutting and arranging, cutting and arranging some more. It's the mindless act of doing that's relaxing. I sometimes work with no background sound, other times there's the television in the background, or music, and sometimes there's a conversation happening.
These patterns happened by chance. Well, at least the first set. I was trying to keep count of how many pomegranates I'd cut, so I started lining them up. I liked the pattern and took a photo.
The first image was so compelling, I decided to do it with the next batch. The green leaves were all a jumble until I thought to arrange them in a sunburst pattern. Much better.
This is interesting ... creating parallel designs as I work. It's also a good way to visualize my progress.
Are you a pattern maker? Do you have ways to track your progress on projects?
A less intimidating approach to journaling
This is my second hand-made journal. The first was the October journal - 10 pages folded in half to make 40 pages. At least one page for every day of the month.
I decided to create my own journal book because big, blank journal books are intimidating. So many pages to fill compounded with the idea that the pages should look good, my handwriting should be at it's best, and what I write should matter.
But I've discovered those things don't matter. With a small, monthly journal, the pressure is off.
Why have a journal?
My goal is to write once a day. To mull over what I'm trying to get done, how it's going, and what I need to do next. To ask questions of myself. Writing helps me work through the tough stuff, make sense of what's baffling, and record my progress...and success. However small.
And I get to create a new cover design each month.
In the front of last month's journal I wrote two goals for the month. To finish my letter writing book and a book about birds and birding.
I accomplished the first. Still working on the second.
To be honest, I forgot that I wrote my goals in the front of the book. When I flipped through the book at the end of the month, it caught me by surprise. The other thing that caught me by surprise was that I wasn't disappointed that I hadn't completed both.
I'm thrilled that I completed my first goal (I'm waiting for the final proof of A Snail Mail Guide to Cursive Writing Practice to arrive in the mail today(!)), and I'm working on the second.
The second book is underway, but far from complete. I think the reason I felt okay about it all was that I've been working on it. Making steady progress.
It's hard to know exactly how long it will take, but I do want to push myself and try to finish it by the end of the month.
What I'm discovering, though, is that working toward something is just as important as finishing it by a certain date. The work is the reward. It makes me feel productive, engaged, and ... just better.
And that's why I wrote, "Just the beginning..." on the cover of this month's journal. Because after I finish the birds and birding book, I've got another idea, and another. And that means beginning ... all over again.
Every day is the beginning of something. Maybe it's because something ended yesterday, maybe it's because we discover a new approach, trick, or method, and we're starting in a new direction.
The key is to keep going. Plugging away at things. It's amazing what can get done.
Every day we begin. We can toss aside a bad habit or distraction and focus on something we deem more important. Or not.
If it doesn't work today because you're tired, or not feeling well, or someone needs something you can't put off, you can begin again tomorrow.
It's up to us to do what we tell ourselves we're going to do. Because in the end that's what matters most. I don't want to disappoint anyone ... but most of all, I don't want to disappoint myself.
What are you beginning?
The coolest cat of all
It was a stare down and the cat with the green eyes didn't blink.
Twice now we've seen it, always slinking through the tall grass in front of the house two blocks down, one over.
It never moves when we pass by. Just stares at us, drawing us in, compelling us to stare back. It never blinks. Do cats blink?
It's the coolest cat I've ever seen.
This is a new entry in the I Write Letters to Say series. Today is Letter Writing Day. Letters are really just another way to say hello. To tell a story, to write about something that catches your attention. There's no need to write a two-page essay or worry about anyone correcting your grammar or criticizing your handwriting. They'll just be glad to hear from you and happy to get some mail ... good mail.
Really. People love getting mail and writing can make you feel closer to them.
Give it a go: be the coolest cat in mailbox and make it a good mail day for someone you know.
Here's some stationery to get you started.
Last night we saw fireflies in the corner lot where the grass grows tall.
We stopped so we could watch for a bit. Again and again, we pointed and said, "There's one. Over there." And, "Wow!"
Now I want to go back and see them again.
At the end of the block on the corner there's a garden planted on the edge of the road. It's tucked between the street and a stockade fence. It's so small, and jammed into such a small space, it seems more than a garden. It's a declaration. A fertile sign of determination and grit.
Someone wanted a garden and they were not to be deterred.
They wanted to grow peas, and tomatoes, and peppers. We know that's what's growing because they impaled the empty seed packets on sticks to mark what was in the ground. And we've watch them grow for weeks now.
There's a tradition in New England ... peas and salmon on the Fourth of July. Why? The salmon swim upstream this time of year, just when the peas begin to sprout.
I'm not sure the neighbors will pair salmon with their peas, but the garden's bounty is proof there's plenty to be savored when the seed of determination is planted.
Figuring out what works Collage work has become my go-to art form. After trying a bit of watercolor, line drawing, pencil, and more, collage is it.
It's the perfectly imperfect nature of collage that works for me.
It's not that things are sloppy or unfinished. No, I pay attention to detail and form, but its more conceptual than precise.
Finding the rhythm
All of my collage work is done with painted sheet music. No other papers: no book pages, receipts, or found paper. Just sheet music.
That, too, took a while to figure out.
There are no distracting words on the page and I like how the music adds texture to the pieces I cut.
And I've learned it best to keep a supply on hand. A stack of painted sheets. An assortment of reds and yellows, blacks, grays, and greens. Blues, purples, and pinks. Each with varied amounts of paint, rough edges, and dry brush strokes.
Ready when the ideas are
If I have an idea, I like to sit down and start in. If I have to begin from scratch, to paint the colors I want or need, I risk losing some of my enthusiasm, some of the spark that comes with having a new idea.
Having an assortment of colors on hand helps me stay with the idea, to keep my momentum.
I've been running on scraps for a few weeks now and I can feel it holding me back. Little bits of paper cut from larger sheets. Yesterday I ran out of the green I wanted. Lots of scraps, but not enough to finish what I started.
It's time to take stock ... and restock.
Painting the sheets has become part of the process. Part of the preparation.
Be sure you've got what you need to get started. It could make all the difference.
Diggin' the sculpture garden
What came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
I can’t say how many times I’ve been down the road where we found the pine cones, but I’ve always been in a car, never on foot.
Last weekend in search of new walking routes, we set out early for downtown Westbrook. There’s a lovely river walk that beckoned and on Main Street, in the middle of town, a sculpture garden.
That’s where we found these particularly large pine cones. It was only when we got close, really close, we saw the pine cones were made from shovels. They are the work of artist Patrick Plourde.
It made me wonder, what came first, the shovel or the pine cone?
Though my collage work is on a much, much(!) smaller scale, they, too are made from repurposed materials, paper after page of sheet music.
I came to use sheet music after stopping at a yard sale. It was the end of the day and there were three big books of sheet music. As I was looking them, the woman who owned them said, "Twenty-five cents each. Otherwise they're headed to the dump."
Well, I wasn't looking for sheet music, but I was looking for was collage papers I could paint, cut, and make something from. I decided to give it a try.
Don't let a lack of supplies hold you back. Dig a little deeper and use some of this to make some of that.
p.s. Yes, pine cone is two words ... should have looked that up before I did the lettering. Grrrrrr.
People love stories, and you've got some good ones.