The Vultures

Just like a dream experience, whatever things I enjoy will become a memory. Whatever is past will not be seen again. -the Dalai Lama in Kundun

A few days ago I was walking Max up the street and noticed eight large vultures above us in the trees.  Vultures don’t make any noise, they don’t have a voicebox, so you’d never notice them unless you looked up.  I snatched Max up into my arms, thinking they might be eagles or hawks at first.  Each must have been over 2.5 feet tall.  Huge.  But then I noticed the way that they were sitting, kind of hunched down, and that their heads were bare. Vultures. But these huge birds weren’t a threat, they were just probably hoping I’d keep walking and never look up.

One by one they slowly stood up and in their awkward, bumbling manner spread their large wings out and took off.  I was so taken by them that I ended up in someone’s side yard trying to get a closer look. Although at first glance they might seem menacing, they are actually very gentle creatures. I’d never seen them up close before and I loved their whole demeanor.


I kept walking and saw two more closer to our house, one right above me again, just staring down from a tree just off the side of the road. He kind of reminded me of the umbrella vulture in Alice in Wonderland only he wasn’t glaring.

I love animal symbolism, and studying the spirits of animals. Like when a vulture crosses my path…how could that be anything but good? They never kill or hurt their own kind, and they clean up death from the landscape, they do the job that no one else wants to do.  They are nature’s disease control. How great to know one’s purpose so clearly! And the Cherokees call them the Peace Eagles.

I re-watched the movie Kundun a while back and was reminded of the sky burial that Tibetan Buddhists use at death. The vultures  scavenge the remains of the dead, giving them second life.  There’s a powerful part in the book Last American Man where Eustace Conway’s horse Hobo breaks his leg and he shoots him and leaves the body for a year:

He left Hobo where he’d fallen. He wanted the vultures to eat him. He knew that the Native Americans believed vultures to be the sacred transport, the means by which a spirit is delivered from the earth up into the sky. So Eustace left Hobo there, where the birds could find him. Which means that, even today, whenever Eustace is working outside and sees vultures drifting in the air, he looks up and says hello, because he knows that’s where Hobo lives now.
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert

(amazing book btw, I read it straight through and didn’t sleep for a night)

A year later Eustace went back for the vulture feathers, to collect them and to put them somewhere sacred.

Every time I see a vulture drifting in the air I say hello too. And thanks.

And as Whitman put it: What stranger miracles are there?


How To Make Mini Locket Paintings


(Click here to see all the projects I’ve made for Michaels Craft Stores!)

This month’s Michaels Maker challenge was to make a Paris themed project.  Since I’ve been on a “small painting” kick I decided to use that as my theme using these great glass lockets available at Michaels:


First I printed off a Monet painting from Wikipedia. I used a cereal bowl to draw a circle around a portion of the painting:


I used the template inside my locket to draw a small circle onto watercolor paper:


If you’ve never painted, or think you struggle with perspective, try using a grid to recreate the image. Then use a pen to draw around blocks of color to focus on:


Use the same grid on your smaller circle and use a pencil to lightly transfer the same blocks of color:


For this Monet painting its easiest to focus on the water lily pads first. You’ll want to use the tiniest brush you can find for this!


You can also use color pencil or tiny detailed markers to get some of the other details in:


The large section of grasses in the center of the painting: [Read more…]

A Week of Paintings – Set 1

I’ve made it one week. I’ll see if I can make it another, but with spring break coming up I may have to skip a few days. Here are the past 7 days of 3-inch paintings. I never know what I’m going to paint until the moment I sit down at my desk. And sometimes it’s a book or a note or a journal entry that sets me on a certain path.  More fun that way.

Girl with a Pearl Earring.
(Based off of Vermeer’s same painting. Also a great book and movie)


In process: 

Painting 7a

A Dala Horse my grandfather gave me:

Painting 6

 Virginia Woolf:

Painting 5

The cover of a vintage Walter Foster book:

Painting 4

 My typewriter:

Painting 3

 John Steinbeck:

Painting 2

 Emily Dickinson:

Painting 1


A few of you have asked if I am going to sell them. I’m not sure yet.  It’s too soon. I’m going to hang onto them for right now until I can see where they head and the progression of my painting.  It’s been a long time since I actually sat down and spent time painting day after day. Definitely rusty.  If I do list any they’ll be on the Blue Label page where I list vintage finds.

Painting this week has reminded me of how my brain gets caught in a rut. I really have to forget everything I know about everything.  I can sum it up with what Annie Dillard said about painting in Tinker Creek:

 I once spent a full three minutes looking at a bullfrog that was so unexpectedly large I couldn’t see it even though a dozen enthusiastic campers were shouting directions. Finally I asked, “What color am I looking for?” and a fellow said, “Green.” When at last I picked out the frog, I saw what painters are up against: the thing wasn’t green at all, but the color of wet hickory bark.

True: frogs are not typically green.  But we are taught from a young age that “green” is associated with snakes and frogs, but many have grays, lavenders, yellows in their leathery skin. As I paint I remember that caucasian skin tone is not peach…there are shades of olive, yellow and lavender depending on the light.  And now I am retraining myself to see.  Like when I took that plein air class and finally realized that the mountains around me in the desert weren’t gray…they were peach and lavender and dusky blue:



Look closely at something today and see what new colors you see. Just staring at my hands while typing I notice that they are red, purple, green, and yellow.  So much for the “flesh tone” crayon.

We Toss Up Our Questions

This was the sunset over the Bryson City Cemetery last night.  I was the only one up there…snow still covering the entrance road:

Bryson City Cemetery

I love old cemeteries. The older the better. I have a built in compass for them. What does it mean if you grieve for strangers? A pitted tombstone having been worn away from years of rain, ice and lichen growth. Timecapsules that will never be opened.  This graveyard is high on a hill. But my home is on a higher hill and I can see the cemetery from my writing window. I wonder when we’ll run out of room for burying people.

We try to see in the dark; we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees. – Annie Dillard

Bryson City Cemetery - Great Smoky Mountains


A woman came into the book store the other day. It was slow and we got to talking. She asked: Have you read Annie Dillard?  I told her yes, that The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was in my top 10 list. She nodded and said well, I don’t know what Annie Dillard looks like, I’ve never seen a picture, but I imagine if I met her she might look like you. You have that vibe about you. When she said that…I couldn’t remember what Annie looked like either, except for the 1970’s picture on the front of my copy of Tinker Creek, and it looks more like a painting than a photo.

And then a few minutes later: She knows nothing about me except for the few words we’ve exchanged.  Right now I’d say I resemble Scooby’s Shaggy, not Annie Dillard. I know I’ve been compared to Hilary Swank before but that’s probably because we both have big teeth.  A friend of mine said I need to get better at accepting compliments, because I’m not very good at it. So it this was a compliment, which I think it is given I love Annie’s writing, then thank you lady in the bookstore.

When the woman left and I suddenly had the thought she might be Annie Dillard herself. She wore an outback style hat and a big warm coat.  Annie would wear something like that. I mean, if I were Annie, I’d wear something like that.   I’ve really never met anyone famous that I can quickly recall while writing this, except for Johnny Cash…but that was just in a dream. He grabbed my hand and said thanks for coming. He was old, older than anyone really remembers him. And he knew my name. Brett and Boo were walking to the park the other day and found a copy of The Life of Johnny Cash sitting right in the middle of the road.  Isn’t that so strange? They brought it back for me and it sits on my shelf. “Winners got scars too” the cover reads. Printed in 1974, same year as Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

No one ever said to me: you must read Annie Dillard.  I’d pulled a random book off of a shelf , opened it up and was drawn deeply into its pages.  The book was Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. And I thought: I have discovered this amazing Annie Dillard. But apparently everyone else already knew about her.

You know I bought and moved the old depot.  Annie Dillard wrote An American Childhood in an old pine shed. In the back of my mind I think: My childhood will come back to me in an old pine shed. And I will write about it.  Yes, I know it doesn’t work this way.

I went to pick up Boo from school today, but showed up as the only person in the carpool line, not knowing they extended the day to make up for the last few snow days.  On the drive back I passed a woman standing alone in a parking lot….the lady from the book store.  I waved at her and she waved back. I thought about turning around because maybe, just maybe, Annie Dillard had dyed her hair black and was posing as a backpacker right here in my small town.  But I didn’t turn around.

At the end of An American Childhood, Annie asks:

What would you do if you had fifteen minutes to live before the bomb went off?  Quick: What would you read?

I’d probably read Annie Dillard. Or maybe Janisse Ray. Janisse reminds me of Dillard. I don’t remember how I found Janisse’s books. Or maybe they found me. Maybe everyone else already knows about Janisse too. Better late than never.

I read the other day that scientists discovered a giant black hole 12 billion times more massive than the sun.  But it’s not a new black hole…it’s been around since the dawn of time. Black holes eat matter.  Half of me wants to know this information and the other doesn’t. There. Documented. 900 million years old. Better late than never.

“As a life’s work, I would remember everything – everything, against loss. I would go through life like a plankton net. […] Some days I felt an urgent responsibility to each change of light outside the sunporch windows.” -An American Childhood

Urgent responsibility to the change in light over the cemetery two days ago:

schoolhouse hill in Bryson City, NC


annie dillard quote - an american childhood

Sometimes it’s a cemetery. Sometimes it’s SDSS J010013.02 (the black hole that eats matter ya’ll). And it’s all connected somehow…in a beautiful way:  Annie…lost and found Johnny Cash books…a lady in the outback hat.

P.S. Will try to get my “sometimes weekly letter” out tonight…but might be morning at the molasses rate I’m working today.


Snow Scenes from Bryson City

…and it’s snowing again. I love the snow as long as I don’t have to be anywhere….and we have food and heat.

snow in the great smoky mountains


And I have snow boots! (I knew I held on to these all those years for a reason…I think I’ve had these since high school.)


A picture I took at Deep Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

Deep Creek Park Bryson City


The view of town from our hill:

Snow Dusting of Bryson City, NC


A wildflower:

Deep Creek Park Smokies


Toms Branch Falls in the national park:

Toms Branch Falls in Deep Creek Waterfall Smoky Mountains


The depot where it now sits:

Old Train Depot Moved - Bryson City
This could have been written right here:

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

-Dust of Snow, Robert Frost 


Snow Type Ode

We are snowed in again.


Brett and Boo played in the snow with the neighbors and I painted tiny:


I’m going to spend the afternoon writing and see what comes out.  Things I don’t like to write about?  Shoes. And random objects. But sometimes you have to stretch yourself. And…sometimes a class helps when you are lazy like me when it comes to writing about things you don’t want to write about. I need accountability.

An ode to my Dr. Martens:

Black, round, cord laces wrapped around the ankle falling into the deep creases created from many steps. 8 eyelets on each side but only 6 are ever used. Tongue marked with criss-crossedover-under lacing, wearing down permanent grooves into the leather. The signature yellow stitching above the sole. Broken yellow traffic lines. Passing zone. Morse code, queue lines, mind the gap. The translucent gummy soles. Resistant to: OIL FAT ACID PETROL ALKALI. Raven black buttery calf skin. Soft brushed suede on the inside. Ready for combat. Military style. London, Trainspotting, Guy Ritchie. Rugged, rebellious, battered. Pearl Jam. Idgie Threadgoode. Made in Vietnam. A lifted toe. Spirited. Dark. Wrinkled creases below the toe. Furrowed brows. Grunge. The more imperfect the better. 




If you want to read some amazing writing every Tuesday you should subscribe to my friend Maya Stein’s 10-line Tuesday…I look forward to it each week. She inspires me:

“In June 2005, I began a weekly poetry practice. The goal was simple: to write a 10-line poem every Tuesday. The purpose was to have a manageable deadline to create new work and a dedicated platform to share it. I sent my first 10-line Tuesday poem to about 200 people. More than eight years and almost 4,500 lines later, I continue to write “10-line Tuesday” each week, and these poems now go out to nearly 1,100 people around the world.”  You can read the backlog of her 10-line poems here. 

Tiny Paintings

It’s an internal struggle for me some days: should I write or paint?  Sometimes I’m split in two. I’ve decided on small goals: one small painting or drawing a day to help me warm up for my writing practice.  3.5″ x 3.5″ each. And so it’s been three days so far…I’ll try not to be too hard on myself if I skip a day.  It takes about 20 minutes to do a painting. I make myself write for at least 10 minutes a day…a few hours if I’m on a roll.  That’s only 30 minutes a day.  I can’t use “no time” as an excuse.

John Steinbeck

john steinbeck




The American Goldfinch



Emily Dickinson




A view of the train and downtown Bryson City

bryson city


I also can’t use “lack of tools” as an excuse either. I just use the cheap watercolors from Michaels and a scraggly paint brush that I trim down here and there with scissors. And writing? The cavemen used mud on a wall, what’s my excuse going to be? I have mud, I have walls…but hopefully it won’t come to that.

And my painting classes from school are slowly coming back.  A lot of times I paint upside down so I just focus on the shapes.

Any requests? Because I do much better with assignments.


P.S. Today (Feb 23rd)…every purchase of a Choose Joy necklace comes with a free bag of Choose Joy bracelets!




To Tell a Better Story

Recently I’ve been working on a course by Storyline for creating a life plan. I thought it might direct my biographical writing a little more if I had a process in place because otherwise I have zero process.  One of the first steps in the course is creating a timeline of significant turns in your life, both positive and negative turns.  I had Boo list the big events she remembers in her life so we could make a timeline for her too. I thought it would be neat to look back on later in life and see what she thought were significant events…something I wish I’d done earlier on.

Things she listed: my father’s funeral (she remembers the bagpipes and the hearse); when I was diagnosed with cancer (she doesn’t remember much, just that I had cancer and lost my hair); the time she was wrapped in wrapping paper at a party we hosted for our church’s youth group and she was crying from being claustrophobic inside, moving to North Carolina, starting a new school, and getting her dog Max a few weeks ago.


At first I was really sad and disappointed that her memories have been mostly sad and traumatic up until our move to NC. (How could she not remember that birthday party?  Or Christmas? Or the time we went to Disneyland?) I made each event into a little strip and taped it to her timeline and when we looked at the events together she obviously noticed the same thing.  After a few minutes of contemplation she asked me to change the rules of the process:

“we don’t have to put things that just I remember, you can help me remember big events that were happy that I was too little to remember”

She is my greatest teacher. And it’s true…we need other people to help remember our stories, the perspective of another lens to look at our life through. A biography to compliment our autobiography. My timeline takes up 4 pages to her 1…but her 1 pager is already such a great story. My job is to help her see that.

The cool thing is that no matter how crappy things have ever been at times children can see the positive changes we make in our lives…the impact of being determined to tell a BETTER story. Living that out.

I love this quote:

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can’t go back to being normal; you can’t go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” –Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

We can edit our own life. Always a rough draft. I have this quote cut out and pasted into one of my journals:

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be. -Joan Didion

One night Brett asked me if I knew what my purpose was in life. I answered: I don’t know, and I don’t know if I will ever know, but I think I get glimpses of it.  I don’t think we are ever supposed to know, otherwise it would be like we’d reached our story’s arc: hey, I know what my purpose is! now I can retire at age 37!  It seems like it would be all downhill from there. I think we do get some signs to help us head in the right direction, sometimes they are u-turns. And so I can reinvent myself every day towards the story I want my life to tell. I can safely say that I may never find myself, and I’m okay with that.

It’s never too late to be who you might have been. -George Eliot





Snow Angel Bombing

Today is the 2nd snow day this week.  Boo and I stayed in all morning and watched the resort cam of downtown Bryson where we could see Brett working on his building and the snow accumulating at the Great Smoky Mountains Train Depot. Then I asked Brett:

Hey, will you stop by the train depot parking lot and do a snow angel for us?

And I captured it:

It made our morning.

You can view the resort cams live here:

Bryson City Resort Cam (at town square)

Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Cam (at the depot below our house)

Hope everyone is staying warm today. A few views from our small town of Bryson City yesterday:

Morning snow:


Early afternoon clearing up:


Venturing out for lunch:



And this morning…

Snuggling in with Max who just had surgery yesterday:


Walking to the neighbor’s:


I’m just glad to be here!  I was flying back from Seattle on Sunday and my flight was cancelled from Atlanta to Bryson City.  I had just gotten off a long flight at 7pm:


Because of the forecast I knew if I didn’t get home Sunday night I wouldn’t be able to get home for a few days…so I rented a car and drove the 3 hours to Asheville to pick up my truck. There wasn’t a single solitary soul at the Asheville airport at 1:30am when I dropped off the rental car.  A little eery.  I cranked up Ruby, checked her transmission fluid, and drove the remaining hour and half home to Bryson City.  As I drove I thought:

I have never been so content, after navigating the cities and airports and highways and rental cars, to get into my rumbling little 1982 truck and drive the rural winding mountain roads of NC at 3am.

And this is what was waiting for me on Monday morning…our first snow in Bryson City. Probably Max’s first snow ever…he’s not so sure about it:

Denim Fabric Silhouette Portrait on Canvas


Recycled denim crafts - silhouette Michaels Makers


This month’s challenge for Michael’s Makers was to create something using denim, one of the new craft trends for 2015.  For my project I took a side profile photo of Boo and collected the following materials: a stretched linen canvas, a roll of denim, and red embroidery thread:


I carefully cut out Boo’s silhouette:


And traced it onto a piece of the denim:

crafts to do with old jeans

Before cutting out the image I used a paint brush to apply glue around the image to keep it from fraying:

what to do with old denim

Once it was dry I carefully cut out the silhouette and applied glue to the back:

repurposed jeans

I spread the glue to the edges using a paint brush and then pasted it down onto the center of the  pre-stretched linen canvas:


Next I used a needle and the embroidery thread to stitch Boo’s name and date:


A small detail but a nice personalized touch:




The finished silhouette:


Gift or home decor idea! [Read more…]