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Photo of Devil's Island Sea Caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore by Cliff Odendahl.

Devils Island Sea Caves in Apostle Islands National Lakeshore – Photo by Cliff Odendahl, Copyright 2013

A few months ago I sent a book draft to my editor and wrote a short story for a local writing contest — my first work of fiction since I was a child. I was in the writing groove.

Then, suddenly, somebody close to me died and I suspended my regular activities while I helped take care of other matters. As time passed and I got back on track with other work and activities, I still didn’t write. Of course, the longer you are away from something, the more difficult it is to pick it up again. I doubt I am the first writer to lose my momentum for a period of time.

The spark to write again came from a workshop I attended at Madeline Island School of the Arts last week. I can’t say enough good things about Catherine Watson and Jane O’Reilly, who guided the class in writing personal stories with descriptive detail and emotion, and my fellow participants who supported each other’s efforts and results.

The school itself is a warm and friendly operation, located on an idyllic setting on an island in Lake Superior. My husband, Cliff, was enrolled in another workshop going on at the same time, Craig Blacklock’s photography class. For months I had been telling people that Cliff and I were going to “art camp” together this summer. We shared a cabin at the school, but with wildly divergent schedules we rarely saw each other except for occasional meals. Cliff loved his opportunity to photograph the beauty of the island and the majesty of Lake Superior.

I was on a high, living in a bubble where writing and learning about writing was my focus morning, noon and night. I am motivated to keeping the spark alive at home by writing in my blog and in my work-in-progress book, Realize Your Dreams: Create an Action Plan for Life Transformation, along with a couple other projects.

The creation of art can be a solitary activity. We can all benefit from opportunities to meet with others, expand our perspectives, learn from great teachers, exchange knowledge and share our own personal work with like-minded people. If you are a writer or an artist who could use a spark of your own – seek out a workshop, class, or conference – anything that will stimulate you and your passion for your work.

Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, 1890

Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, 1890

One hundred and thirty years ago today, Vincent Van Gogh spent his thirtieth birthday re-reading Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. How do I know this? It is one of the many, many details about the artist revealed in a comprehensive and compelling book, Van Gogh: The Life, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, which I am currently reading. Its revelations and insights are a must for those who want a better understanding of the artist.

Vincent Van Gogh has been my favorite artist since I was a child. I don’t remember when he came into my consciousness; perhaps it was the first time I saw and was awed by Starry Night. As evidence that both home and school play a part in imparting the appreciation of art in a child, I remember poring over a Time-Life book, The World of Van Gogh 1853-1890, that my mother bought our family when I was a teenager (Thanks, Mom!) As a high school student, I painted a copy of Van Gogh’s Thatched Cottages at Cordeville, 1890, for an assignment. It was a study in shades of green and blue with an abundance of Vincent’s trademark brushstrokes. Imagine my pleasure when, as an adult, I came upon the original in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

I celebrate Vincent’s birthday today on behalf of myself, and all whose lives were made infinitely richer because he lived and created the kind of art that lives forever in our hearts.

You know how it is when you sit in a waiting room at a doctor’s office? Everybody just keeps to their own little space. Sometimes there is a nod of the head, or handing over of a newspaper, but mostly there’s just silence.

Yesterday I was part of a friendly group that kicked the silence model right out the door. It started when two retirement-aged women started talking and comparing notes on something. I put down my Kindle and joined in. A man came in and he participated in the conversation too. One of the woman’s husband and adult daughter entered, so we all introduced ourselves. (Yes, we actually shared names in the doctor’s waiting room…unheard of!) A couple of people noted how much fun we were having, and one called it a party. It was almost sad when the nurse came to call somebody into the examination room and they had to leave. While her mother saw the doctor, the daughter and I had a nice conversation about retailing. After they left, one of the woman who had been telling us about her frustrating medical condition popped her head in before she left to let me know she was doing much better. Then I was alone in the room.

Before long, an elderly man came in, preparing to sit in the usual silence. I wasn’t ready to let the conversation end, so I asked him a question. Before long, he was telling me about his life – he was in his nineties and was upset he couldn’t do all the things he used to be able to do. He had a lot of physical complaints and didn’t seem to have much companionship in his life. I am hoping that maybe a brief show of interest from a stranger may have given him just a little comfort. I wished him well.

When I went back to college a few years ago, I chose to major in Communication Studies. I became passionate about the power of honest communication and authentic interactions to change the world. Yesterday we might not have made any big, outright changes, but together a small group of people helped make a positive impact on each other’s day. That has to be a contribution to what is right in the world.

This morning I got out of bed and looked out the window with the delight and wonder of a child.
Snowscape 2013
An overnight snowfall covered all surfaces in a fluffy pure white blanket. Snow gathered in smooth clusters on the outstretched limbs of pine trees and delicately coated every twig of the deciduous trees, creating a lacy pattern. It mounded up in little domes on top of the outdoor grill and birdfeeder. The world outdoors at my home, surrounded by nature, away from traffic and snowplows, was perfectly peaceful and beautiful.

I am a Minnesota snow-lover from the tips of my heavy winter boots to the top of the fur-trimmed hood on my parka. Even the fact that it is now March and spring is within sight doesn’t stop my swoon at the sight of a falling mist of white crystals.

My love of snow has also been revealed in the artwork I have been creating lately. Above is an example of a recent snowscape I painted in watercolor. I posted a couple more paintings on my Artwork Page.

Later today I’ll do some shoveling. The snow won’t last long this time of year, but right now I keep looking out the window and smiling.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Life events ebb and flow – and some periods are more challenging than others.

This Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for the blessings that have come our way as my husband and I have been dealing with tough circumstances, in this particular season of our life.

Health – A few weeks ago my husband received an unexpected diagnosis that led him into surgery and a hospital stay. Thankfully, the operation was successful and my husband is looking forward to healthy days ahead.  This situation has certainly reminded both of us that good health is precious and can’t be taken for granted. Some things are out of our control, but we try to do what we can. One change: we are adding green smoothies to our diet. We each had one as part of breakfast today – traditional turkey and pumpkin pie come later.

People – I am always thankful for my family and friends, but never more so than now. We have been literally enveloped with care and love. The connections we have with other people are valuable beyond expression. It is a reminder to be as good a friend to others as they have been to us. I would also like to extend a special call out to the RNs and CNAs at St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood, Minnesota for taking extraordinarily good care of my husband during his stay there.

Purpose – I am thrilled that I will start a new job on Monday – one that looks like it will be a good fit for my qualifications and values. I don’t believe that a person’s identity in life is totally defined by their job, but purposeful employment, an income, and relationships in a positive work environment are all important, and I am happy to have this new role.

As I am grateful for my blessings, it is with a humble heart because there are people who are struggling – with health problems, loss, unemployment, or other problems. I say to them to have hope – this season, too, shall pass. I care, and so do many others.  You are not alone.

Have you ever wondered why a midlife woman would choose a photograph of herself in a bathing suit, with windblown hair and a face without makeup to grace the masthead of her blog? Let me tell you why…

I don’t generally go hiking in my bathing suit, but there I was –scrambling up the hill on a dirt path in the rain forest, trying to keep sight of the group ahead of me. We kept climbing up, up.  Every so often, I had to stop and catch my breath. We were almost to the summit of the highest point of the island.

Whitehaven Beach

The vista opened before me and the sudden sight of pure white sand swirled against the aqua blue water of the Coral Sea far below us nearly took my breath away.  The group my husband and I were traveling with, fellow passengers on a two-day sailing and motoring trip through Australia’s WhitsundayIslands, stopped at the overlook and took photos. I wasn’t sure of our next step – did we now have to turn around and return to the catamaran that was waiting for us?  No, our guide started leading us forward – down towards paradise.

Our guide pointed at the area far to our right and told us that is where the sharks and manta rays were to be found.  I looked over and was tempted to head in that direction, but realized the water ahead of us was much closer, and walked forward. My husband was photographing the panorama. Others from our group were spreading along the beach.  I could hear their laughter. 

The air temperature must have been about eighty degrees – warm, but not too hot. The ocean was calm. There wasn’t much of a breeze, but I could sense the mist of salt water on my bare skin, dried by the sun’s rays.  Everything was infused by light, like the world was overexposed. 

I turned slowly around in a circle, a full 360 degrees. From the ocean ahead of me, to the rest of the group in the water and on the beach further to the right of me, I kept turning.  Now I saw the twisted trees, and the steps leading up the hill from which we had come.  Continuing around the circle, I saw rugged pines and rocky coastline, and then back to the brilliant blue water.  The view was spectacular in all directions.

This is photo Cliff took of me at Whitehaven Beach.

I stopped to savor the moment of complete joy.  “Cliff!” I called to my husband, “Take my picture.  This is what happiness looks like.”  He readily complied.

One of the joys of travel is that a journey can last as long as the memory it created.  Back home in Minnesota, I close my eyes and remember the details of my perfect day on WhitsundayIsland.  This is what happiness looks like. Indeed.

I appreciate all of you! Thanks for your encouragement and support of my writing.  The one-day promotion of my travel memoir, Traveling Together: Cliff and Me and the Motorcycle Makes Three  is over, but the ebook is still available at Amazon at its regular price of $2.99. Here is a link to it.

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