A Far-Reaching Friendship

I met Tom Bowles after a meditation session in Mexico.

I had noticed Tom and his wife in the dining room at Rancho La Puerta. They were of my parents’ generation, and radiated happiness and peaceful vitality.

On vacation at the Rancho for the first time, my mother and I were meeting new people and trying new things. Tom and I struck up a conversation, and I learned that he was a retired surgeon. After Katie’s cancer journey, cardiothoracic surgeons have held my admiration; I was intrigued and wanted to know more about Tom. He is one of those doctors with a noticeable healing presence, coupled with high intelligence and obvious technical ability.

Tom mentioned that his wife had just published her first book, a volume of poetry. Since I had recently published my book, I introduced myself to Judy and congratulated her. It was the beginning of our friendship. After returning home, we read one another’s books.

The trip to the Rancho became an annual tradition for Mom and me. Each year, Tom and Judy were there at the same time. One day, Judy and I ended up on the same hike in the early morning before breakfast. I usually hike on Mt. Kuchumaa, but that year, recovering from a respiratory illness, I decided to stay in the lowlands. Judy and I talked non-stop as we hiked, touching on writing, art, teaching styles, artistic injury and blocks caused by unkind instructors. She revealed that she had been a teacher of short stories at American University, who later felt the call to write poetry. This resonated with my journey into painting in a new medium after 30 years away from it.

We hiked and talked on subsequent mornings, enjoying each other’s company and sharing more stories. We kept in touch via email and letters between trips to the Rancho.

In my work for the Bloedel Reserve as a facilitator of the Strolls for Well-Being program, I have a dear colleague, Laura, who is also in charge of the Creative Residency program and the Poetry Month installation. In 2018, Laura invited me to share my favorite poems with her in anticipation of the installation, and I included Judy’s book among them. Laura chose Judy’s poem “Measure for Measure” to be part of the exhibit in April of that year. What a thrill it was for me to write to Judy and tell her that her exquisite poem had been selected! Judy is also a master gardener, and I began to dream that she might have the opportunity to come and see her poem set within the Reserve. But it was not to be; one of her daughters had been diagnosed with cancer, and Judy was at that time walking in my shoes – as the mother of a daughter in treatment for cancer – in her case, an adult daughter.

We kept in touch during this difficult time. I created a photo book for Judy so she could see her poem (and all of the others) in place in the landscape during Poetry Month. She shared the book with her writing group and her family. Then came the happy news that her daughter was in remission!

As Laura began to prepare for Poetry Month of 2019, she chose another of Judy’s poems, this time from her soon-to-be-published second book. The poem is “Forsythia.”

Last week, the dream came true: Judy and Tom arrived to celebrate Poetry Month 2019 on the Bloedel Reserve. Judy saw her poem in place, along with the rest of the installation, and enjoyed a five-day Creative Residency, which included a stay in the beautiful, private cottage tucked away in the woods. A residency brings with it the opportunity to enjoy the grounds even when the Reserve is closed to the public. Two of Judy’s three daughters were able to join her and Tom: Lauren and Julia (now fully recovered from cancer).

Judy gave a beautiful reading at a reception on the Reserve. In a typically unselfish move, she generously shared the spotlight by reading not only her own poetry, but several poems written by others which are in the exhibit this month. It was a joy to hear her read her work aloud.

We had the pleasure of lunches, dinners and long conversations together. In Judy’s words, the family “adored the whole time: the Reserve, the poetry, the cabin, my presentation and you and Gregg’s hosting.” The joy of this dream-come-true will be with me for a lifetime. Thank you, Judy and Tom, Lauren and Julia, for making the trip and sharing your gifts of poetry and presence with us and our community!

This week, as spring develops more fully and the earth continues to awaken from its winter slumber, I’m reflecting on the serendipities and rich blessings that have come from a (seemingly) random meeting in Mexico six years ago: artistic inspiration, mutual encouragement, new relationships, invitations offered and accepted, creative expression, forest bathing and cross-country connections. I’m overflowing with gratitude for my job at the Reserve, and for the outreach programs that have been created there to serve a larger community. I’m so happy to work in a place surrounded by natural beauty, artistry, generosity and healing potential.

If you are an artist (or know one) who would benefit from a creative residency, please check out the Bloedel Reserve’s Creative Residency information here. And do come to see all of the poems in the landscape! The words enhance each setting, and the settings enhance the poems.


“Artist Dates”

If you’ve read Julia Cameron’s work, The Artist’s Way, you will recognize the term “Artist Dates.” Ms. Cameron recommends that creative folks regularly take themselves out for an artist date, which can be be anything from window shopping to a walk in nature, and anything in between. These dates serve as a banquet of inspiration for the artistic appetite. During our recent travels to Mexico and California, Gregg and I had an opportunity to visit the San Francisco Bay Area, spending precious time with friends and family. Those days also allowed for artist dates that continue to inspire me.

The first “date” was a long walk through the city of San Francisco, from the financial district to Pacific Heights. The friends who kindly hosted us for two days dropped us off at their office on Montgomery Street, which gave us the opportunity to explore the city on foot. As soon as we started walking west, my heart swelled with joy. I looked upward at the gorgeous architectural details of the old buildings, at the sky and the incredible San Francisco light, which is unique in the world; I felt right at home. I had forgotten how much I love the city!

My grandmother Emilie was born and raised in San Francisco. She and my grandfather used to take us with them when my grandmother served on the board of trustees of Mills College. We would stay in the Clift Hotel, visit our cousins, eat in fabulous restaurants (does anyone remember the Fleur de Lys or Trader Vic’s?) and window shop. Shreve & Company, Gump’s and Ghirardelli Square are among my happy browsing memories. We also visited one of the city’s many museums, which made a lasting impression on me.

As we made our way to meet my cousins for lunch, Gregg and I walked up and down many hills, admiring the hotels, townhouses and neighborhood shops. After we ate, we took a short drive with my cousins “down memory lane,” and visited their home on one of the hills overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Then Gregg and I took our leave, walked down to the Marina district and back to Montgomery Street, a round trip of about 10 miles. From the architecture to city parks, from waterfront views to streetcars, all around was pleasure for the eyes and the soul.

The following day, we took a rental car back to the airport, but before our flight, we had time to visit the deYoung Museum. They were preparing for an exhibit of Monet’s later works, which we missed by days (rats!), but they did have an exhibit of Gauguin’s work that was absolutely worthwhile. Not only that, but we joined the museum, so we were given access to the Legion of Honor, as well (a two-fer).

We learned that Gauguin was a multi-media artist. I loved seeing all of the different forms he used in his self-expression. A close look at his canvases showed that some of them were made of such rough material that they appeared as coarse as burlap, with the uneven weaving showing clearly through the paint. One benefit of a mid-week visit to the museum was the fact that it wasn’t at all crowded; we could take our time and actually encounter the work as deeply and slowly as we wished.

After taking in the various exhibits in the deYoung, we ate a light lunch in their cafe. This was followed by a stroll through the Botanical Gardens, before driving a short distance to the Legion of Honor. I remember that museum from childhood because it is where I first encountered Auguste Rodin’s work; he remains one of my favorite sculptors.

The Legion of Honor houses a great variety of exhibits, from ancient pottery (from B.C.) to Old Masters and much more. There was a staggering display of gems and jewelry from private collections which did not allow for photographs. The grandeur and craftsmanship were beyond anything I have ever seen before, and my words won’t do it justice; if you’re interested in seeing photographs and learning more, follow this link.

All of this visual input stimulated my mind and heart, and filled my artistic well. We saw paintings by the artist who also made a portrait of my great-great-grandmother, which was exciting to see and compare to the one that I’ve known throughout my entire life.

Here & above are a few photo highlights from our two days of Artist’s Dates. I highly recommend taking yourself out for one, even in your own home town. It’s nourishing to the soul and inspires creativity and joy!

Intuitive Ink Painting at Rancho La Puerta

I recently returned from a life-changing trip to Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Baja California. My mother and I have been traveling to the Rancho for the past six years to take a week away and tend to our bodies, minds and spirits. I’m aware that this is a luxury, but every time we go, we come back so restored and refreshed in all ways that I’ve come to consider it a form of health care and self-care – one which I highly recommend to anyone.

This year, after Mom and I returned from the Rancho, Gregg and I took a quick trip north to visit family and friends, and then the two of us went on a new adventure – back to Rancho La Puerta. It was new, because for the first time, I was serving as a presenter – something I have been dreaming of and working toward for several years. I designed a class specifically for Ranch guests called “Intuitive Ink Painting” which can be a one-session or a full-week class, depending upon what each guests wishes. It’s good for beginnners and for those who already have an artistic practice.

I love creating “gateway” classes for people. I created “Word Soup” for blocked writers when I was still a blocked artist. I taught “Word Soup” in local public libraries for three years and had a blast helping people find new inspiration, whether they were absolute beginners or had an ongoing writing practice. There was no criticism, and I offered many different prompts and ways to move past blocks.

In 2018, I created a Meditative Drawing class and taught it at the Bloedel Reserve for participants in the Strolls for Well-Being program. Once again, no artistic experience was necessary, but artists did come and enjoy it as much as beginners. There is nothing more rewarding than inviting people to try something new without any pressure to perform, and seeing them bloom with pleasure and joy once they get started.

This is the way I approached creating and teaching Intuitive Ink Painting at Rancho La Puerta. I supplied all of the materials and kept it very simple. I gave a demonstration at the beginning of the week, and a quick review each day for those who hadn’t attended before. Guests were invited to create a greeting card, a painting or small journal, and what a delight it was to watch people jump in, play and discover.

One of the benefits of adopting Rancho La Puerta’s motto, “Siempre Mejor” (“Always Better”) is the constant encouragement to try new things, whether in athletics, dance, music, healing modalities, nutrition or whatever is offered during the week. This practice can carry over into home life and make us more adventurous and vibrant.

A few people told me with great conviction that they had no artistic talent. Some had been told this by a teacher; some had decided it for themselves. Some compared themselves unfavorably to a relative or friend who they considered more talented than they are. Some declared that they would not be attending my class…and showed up anyway, after I told them they were exactly the kind of person for whom it was designed.

It gave me great happiness to see guests progress from fear or sadness about their perceived lack of talent to simple joy in the process, and to a new view of themselves and their ability. To let go of our “inner critic” (and especially of an “outer critic” from the past) is a huge step toward freedom and a new relationship with our creativity. When exploration is encouraged, all effort is affirmed and we begin to “play” once again. Play and discovery are good for the soul, and they help us to be courageous and hopeful in other areas of life.

I learned so much from my students and received enormous joy from sharing in their process of learning and liberation. At the end of the week, I was invited to submit more dates to teach in the coming year, so I will let you know if/when I am booked to present Intuitive Ink Painting again at Rancho La Puerta. I’m so very thankful to have had this opportunity to share something I love in a place I love, and see it bless others.

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Inspiration from Big Sky Country

My husband, Gregg, recently retired after 34 years working for the Boeing Company. He enjoyed a career which enabled him to travel and meet lovely and interesting people around the world. His work took him to Japan, Italy, France and Spain, along with places in the United States. His love of travel was one of the things that interested me about him when we met; though I will continue to work at the Bloedel Reserve and as an artist, we now have more time to spend dreaming – and fulfilling dreams – of travel together.

We just spent 10 days visiting our son in Big Sky, Montana. David works as supervisor of the Outdoor Pursuits department for a 15,000-acre private club. The Yellowstone Club offers an active, family-friendly, casual-yet-elegant lifestyle to its members in a breathtaking setting, and the environment and the work suits David very well indeed.

Gregg and I skied at Big Sky Resort, walked around the town’s golf course and meadow neighborhood, shared meals with David and his friends, took a snow coach tour of Yellowstone National Park and enjoyed the beauty of its winter landscape and “big sky.”

The awe-inspiring vistas we saw spurred me to take many photos – and to dream of making art based upon those images. 

As a beginning skier, I spent many hours riding the “magic carpet” and skiing down the easiest slopes. The views of Lone Peak and the Spanish Peaks filled me with awe and gratitude. The light changed hour by hour, and the evergreen trees growing alongside of the carpet allowed the sun to filter through, making diamond-like glints on the snow.

Though there truly is “no place like home,” I’m grateful for the gift of travel and the opportunity to share in our son’s life and activities. I’m also thankful for the inspiration that comes from seeing different areas of this beautiful world we are blessed to inhabit.


Revisiting Old “Friends”

I had the privilege of teaching a workshop on Meditative Drawing last week as part of my job facilitating the Strolls for Well-Being at the Bloedel Reserve. What fun it is to share with others something that has brought me joy and freedom! This kind of drawing involves no stress or comparison; it’s simply an exercise in observation, linking eye-to-hand and directly encountering nature. Strolling in the Bloedel Reserve re-ignited my desire to draw, and eventually led me back to painting.

As I prepare to teach Intuitive Ink Painting at Rancho La Puerta in February, 2019, I have reached back into my college portfolio and rediscovered some artwork from undergraduate days. I see these pieces so differently now than I did then, with far less criticism and more appreciation.

In college, the critique process crippled my joy and freedom in making art. Coming back to painting and drawing through an intuitive process (taught by Flora Bowley in her book, “Brave Intuitive Painting” and Bloom True classes) has untied the knots that kept me from enjoying my own work. There is still a lurking tendency to perfectionism, but I am also able to see the good, and (as Flora taught us) to “work with what’s working.” In that spirit, here are a few of my college pieces, which I’ve not shown since the early 1980s.

It’s lovely to be able to see these with new, appreciative eyes. I like them far better now than I did back then!

How long has it been since you’ve looked back on your early work? Is it time to revisit some of your “old friends” and view them with a fresh perspective?

Teaching Art in Mexico: Rancho La Puerta, 2019

I’m delighted to be teaching a class on Intuitive Ink Painting in February, 2019 at Rancho La Puerta, a wellness retreat and spa in Tecate, Baja California (Mexico). This award-winning resort was founded in 1940 by the Szekely family and has been led by the family ever since. My mother and I discovered the Rancho several years ago at the suggestion of a friend (thank you, Jan McLaughlin!). We didn’t yet know that what seemed like a one-time luxury is actually health-care, in the form of preventive and restorative self-care.

Each year that we have had the privilege of sharing a week at the Ranch, Mom and I have returned home restored, refreshed, having learned new things and met fascinating people. There always seems to be a little magic at Rancho, whether it is a healing insight, meeting someone you will never forget, de-stressing, having a life-changing conversation, trying something new that you wouldn’t do at home (daily yoga, crystal bowl therapy, waking up to hike at sunrise, spin class, cardio drumming, falling asleep on a beautiful lounge beside a swimming pool, making a prayer arrow, hiking to the organic farm to meet the producers, to name just a few). Before we leave the Ranch, we always sign up for another week the following year. We often meet people who have been staying annually for a decade or more; they come with friends, with family members, or on their own. It’s a welcoming place that embraces everyone.

I’m looking forward to teaching one of my favorite things to Rancho La Puerta’s guests during the week of February 16-22, 2019: Intuitive Ink Painting, using ink-filled brush pens and water. I will have a variety of mixed media materials to share, and each day, we’ll make easy, fun, travel-friendly projects, suitable for both beginners and experienced artists. I hope you’ll follow the link below and check out the class on the Rancho La Puerta website. Have a look around the website, too; the accommodations are beautiful and there is a wide range of choices, the food is organic and delicious, and the options for activities  are varied and extensive. There’s truly something for everyone. I hope to see you there!

Intuitive Ink Painting at Rancho La Puerta