Gratitude on Good Friday

I have a message of gratitude for you on this Good Friday. Before I get to that, I want to share something about what is known in Christian circles as “standing at the foot of the cross.”

Standing at the foot of the cross is something that I learned about in midlife. While I had often read the accounts of Mother Mary and Jesus’ friends standing vigil as he hung, suffering, on his cross, I had been reared in a religion that relied on the denial of evil. We were trained to look away from evil and replace it in our minds with something better. This doesn’t teach you how to interact with suffering – your own, or anyone else’s.

It was in midlife, after witnessing the intense suffering of friends and family, that I knew I could no longer look away. A new faith journey opened my heart and eyes to be able to be present with suffering. A few years later, when Katie was the one “on the cross,” I learned even more about the power of presence in crisis: that while it’s not expected (nor possible) that we can “fix” a situation for another, our presence with them can be an agent of healing. There are many examples of this healing agency in our lives, including the doctors, nurses and community that stood with us and ministered to us in the months of Katie’s illness, as well as after her death. One of the agents of healing is the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research.

Some of you know that we founded the endowment at Seattle Children’s Hospital shortly before Katie died. When asked, she directed us to establish it to cure cancers like hers. This is a tall order, as it’s extremely rare and therefore, under-funded for research. What we did was to direct the funds to research that had the best chance of translating to cancers like hers, and that research is bearing great fruit now. We began supporting T-cell therapy research for treating leukemia, and the work has expanded to therapy for solid tumors, which is exactly what Katie wanted. Her endowment is one of 61 at the hospital that is dedicated to supporting their cancer care team, including 11 immunotherapy clinical trials developed by researchers at SCH.

It’s a balm to my heart to know that Katie’s wish is coming true, and that because of this research and these clinical trials, other families will not have to suffer horrible treatments with awful side effects – or worse, the death of their children.

So today, I can report – with enormous gratitude for the generosity of our family and friends for their gifts of $27, 256 in 2020 – that the balance of the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment for Cancer Research was $557,538 at the end of 2020. The endowment’s income, directed to cancer research last year was $20,897 (the principal remains invested in the hospital’s account).

Every dollar in this endowment represents the willingness of someone to come forward and stand at the foot of Katie’s cross, our cross, and the cross of countless others we will never meet, to alleviate suffering. That’s a Good Friday message, indeed. ❤️

New Month, New Paintings

I’ve just finished a new painting and it’s now hanging in the Gallery at Savage Plants. This was a fun painting to make and it “recharged my batteries” as I worked on it.

I began by spraying water on the canvas, and then pooling fluid acrylics in warm colors all around, followed by cool colors (after the warm ones had dried). I loved the effect so much that, while paint was wet, I made a “print” of it on another blank substrate, this one an Aquaboard (see the smaller painting on the left, below). Aquaboard has a very different texture from canvas; it’s a hard substrate (like Masonite) which is treated with gesso to allow it to absorb paint, ink and other media. The smooth texture upon which the gesso sits, and the way the paint is taken up by it, creates a completely different effect than paint or ink on canvas.

I resisted the urge to apply many layers, simply enjoying the play of transparent colors over the texture of the substrates. This is early in the process:

Having a variety of media to work with keeps inspiration flowing. In this case, I had some new things to play with: 3D Acrylic Liners by Sennelier and rich India Inks by Dr. Ph. Martin, purchased from Dick Blick. Both were added to these paintings, a little bit at a time, to achieve rich, three-dimensional texture and color. I’m still working on the smaller painting, but here is the finished product of “Impression 221” (it’s more vibrant in real life, but you can get the idea here):

The painting is 20” x 20” and ready to hang. If you have an interest in purchasing it, please visit the Gallery at Savage Plants or use the contact form on my website.

Art in Nature & Forest Therapy

I became a certified Forest Therapy Guide in 2020, an opportunity created by my job as Facilitator of the Strolls for Well-Being program at the Bloedel Reserve. The Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides and Programs created the practicum, which was set to last for six months, but was extended by the pandemic to nine months. This was an intensive immersion, beginning with a week spent learning with my cohort in the Sierra Foothills in Northern California. The experience of traveling to spend a week with this group deeply touched me on many levels. We endured cold days and nights due to high winds and power outages, while wildfires threatened the surrounding areas. We remained safe, with everyone working together and bonding even more closely because of these issues. I treasure this group of people and feel grateful to know each one of them.

ANFT Cohort 47 in October, 2019

During the practicum, we were to select a “sit spot” that was accessible to us on a regular basis and spend 15-20 minutes a day sitting there in silence, observing the more-than-human beings around us. I chose a spot on the bulkhead that separates our property from the waves of Puget Sound.

Sitting in the same place, day after day, month after month in a variety of seasons and weather conditions, I gained a tenderness for the beings who live around me. Normally sheltered by the walls and windows of home, I felt their presence in new ways as I sat among them. I listened to the conversations of the birds, noticed how they became agitated or quiet when I first took a seat, and then went about their business as they saw that I was not a threat. My delight in their company grew over the weeks and months that I spent with them.

Another assignment of the practicum was to draw a Web of Interbeing, showing the different beings that I observed and adding new ones to the web each month. Additionally, we were tasked with identifying and sampling plants that are safe and useful for making tea. This was a call to dive into local wild food and medicinal lore, and was one of my favorite parts of the program. Because I live in an area that is still inhabited by the original land stewards (the Suquamish Tribe, whose Chief Sealth gave his name to the city of Seattle), this study was particularly interesting and rewarding.

A happy aspect of the study of tea plants was the ANFT approach to the drawings; they were not judged for their artistic merit, but were considered an invitation to observe, respect and form a relationship with each plant. This was freeing for everyone, and it added to my enjoyment of the process and the product.

To learn more about the Association of Nature & Forest Therapy Guides and Programs, follow this link to their website.

What is Intuitive Painting?

I studied fine art in college in a “formal” way. It was art for art’s sake, which was a wonderful experience, but impractical (for me) as a way of living. There was no pathway to practice commercial art or interior design offered where I studied, and I was not one of the “stellar” students who could step right into the world and support themselves by making & selling art. My conclusion was that I would need to find another way of making a living, and though this was a disappointment, I could not see another way forward on the path.

Decades later, I learned about intuitive painting when I discovered Flora Bowley’s art and her method of teaching. In her book, “Brave Intuitive Painting” and on her website, I could see that her approach was free – and her teaching was freeing others. Watching her painting demonstrations, I felt excitement, fear and attraction. I wanted to learn from a gentle and commercially successful teacher like Flora.

The opportunity presented itself in the form of an opening in one of her workshops, held a couple of hours’ drive from my home. I applied and secured a spot, made reservations to stay in a Tiny House Hotel in the Alberta neighborhood of Portland, and drove there. This was the most adventurous, “just-for-me” thing I had done in decades. I was both scared and excited.

Flora’s teaching was all that I had hoped, and more. It challenged me in a variety of ways. We painted all day, listening to music as we did, had a yoga session, ate delicious, artfully-prepared food on our breaks, took a field trip to shop for art supplies, explored the city, made new connections with other artists and had evening meals in the charming Alberta district. I found a new connection to my artistic self. It was a huge gift.

Returning home with three canvases and a conviction that I could (and would) continue to paint in this new way, I asked my husband to help me set up a studio in our home. That was the beginning of this new era of my life.

So what is intuitive painting? It means allowing intuition to lead each step. Rather than beginning with a plan or an image to create, the artist allows the painting to develop in layers. At times, it may go through awkward – even unattractive – stages, but trusting the process rather than focusing on the outcome leads to continued freedom of expression. This helps authentic energy, playfulness and beauty to emerge; the process is a bit like watching a photo develop or a flower go from bud to blossom.

Here is a short video I created to show the process, which took place over many days. You can find more information about intuitive painting on Flora Bowley’s website.

And here is the finished painting, which is in a private collection now.

So What’s New?

What a year this has been! The Coronavirus has created changes in all of our lives, and for me, those changes included moving my job as facilitator of the Strolls for Well-Being online and helping to tailor the program to the new format. My colleagues at the Bloedel Reserve and I created a “Strolls at Home” series while the grounds were closed by the Governor’s order in the spring. Once the Reserve was allowed to re-open its gates to the public, we pivoted to create and implement a user-friendly in-person program with meetings facilitated via Zoom. Participants can visit the Reserve using a time-ticketed appointment at their convenience, or they can stroll in any natural environment near their home. I miss gathering with everyone in person in the beautiful Japanese Guest House, but am thankful that we can meet our deep need for nature-connection in flexible ways during this time.

A glimpse of the interior of the Japanese Guest House
view of the sand and stone garden from inside of the Japanese Guest House

Another impact of the virus has been the privilege of assisting my parents more than usual. They stayed in California until mid-summer, when we were able to arrange a flight so they could travel with minimal danger of contagion. Once safely at home, they needed to settle in to a new routine, and to face the prospect of wintering in the cool north (they haven’t spent a winter here in over a decade). We have been helping them with a variety of tasks and it is especially nice to have them nearby during this crazy time.

My personal response to the early days of the pandemic was to eat and drink more heartily than usual. Once that settled down, I found I needed more exercise. I set a training goal of 20K steps a day, with the result of better mental health – and fitting into my clothes again. After that goal was achieved, I scaled back a bit and am still enjoying walking.

Staying home without the usual conveniences (pedicures, haircuts, help with cleaning), we needed to find an enjoyable way to keep our home tidy, and happily discovered the gocleanco account on Instagram. This Canadian company started with about 10K followers and – as they couldn’t go out to work during the pandemic – began to give free cleaning tips and post funny “how-to” videos. They now are back to work and have over a million followers! Their tips have made cleaning much more rewarding and even (dare I say it) fun. Check them out!

Another way to enjoy quarantine began with the gift of homemade sourdough starter from a friend. She gave me a step-by-step lesson in baking, and now I am hooked! I enjoy the entire process from starter-to-finish (pun intended), and I have developed a love for the starter itself. It’s a delight to take it out of the refrigerator, feed and nurture it – and it’s a delight to pull fresh, hot loaves of bread from the oven, slice and butter the first piece. I highly recommend the Tartine Country Bread recipe as a place to begin.

We visited David in Montana this summer, traveling safely by car and taking care to mask, sanitize and keep our physical distance from those outside of our “pod.” We hiked, ate outdoors and enjoyed the beauty of Big Sky country with David and friends. He was able to return the visit in October for Gregg’s birthday, staying in our friends’ guest house and following the same safety protocols (eating outdoors, sanitizing, etc.). I’m especially thankful for these visits because I think they will have to satisfy us for some months now…

Gregg & David playing at Big Sky Golf Course
Hiking at Moonlight Basin
Hike in Taylor Fork
Birthday golf at Whitehorse

Lastly, I completed my Nature and Forest Therapy Guide training and am now certified as a guide. Huge thanks to the Bloedel Reserve for sending me through this wonderful program!

With the Strolls for Well-Being on their seasonal hiatus until March of 2021, I welcome the time to focus on art and other interests. Though it’s been a tough year in so many ways, I want to close it with gratitude. Here’s some good news: the Katie Gerstenberger Endowment is now over $519,000 in principal value, and has donated over $131,000 to cancer research to date!

I pray that we will benefit from all of the good things we have learned this year, and savor with gratitude all that we still have to enjoy. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

A Birthday in the Time of Coronavirus

Gregg and I recently returned from a holiday in Montana. When we embarked on this trip, we were aware of the beginning of the spread of COVID-19, but it seemed far away from us and where we were going. This became a moving awareness from “it’s too far away to touch me/those I love” to “it’s coming here” to “it’s here.” I regret that I didn’t understand the implications at the outset; I do now.

We are doing our best to support our son and my elderly parents from afar, while looking for ways to order what we need while #STAYINGHOME. We also intend to support local businesses as they ramp up their ability to offer meals and other necessities from a physical distance, rather than in person.

There were a few reasons for this trip: 1st, to visit David and friends; 2nd, to celebrate Katie’s 25th birthday; and 3rd, to ski.

Celebrating the birthday of someone who has died would not have made sense to me before Katie passed; after all, they’re not here to enjoy the party. We’ve celebrated her life and honored her memory in many ways, from private gatherings to public events, fundraising, speaking and creating comfort items. Celebrating her birthday has always felt a bit awkward, because I’m the only one in our family who wants to do it. I haven’t pushed it on Gregg and David, but this year, it’s an important birthday (she would be 25), and I decided that it was time to do something big and fun that she would have enjoyed. I booked a Sleigh Ride Dinner at Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, and invited friends to join us. It’s a splurge that I’ve been longing to make for several years, and was especially happy that we were able to go on the night of the full moon, which we’d been told makes it extra special.

We gathered on the porch of the main lodge at the Ranch, enjoyed beverages under the heat lamps, and then climbed into carriages that were pulled by pairs of draft horses. Up through silent, snowy woods we traveled for about 20 minutes, until all six sleighs arrived at the cabin where dinner was to be served. The cabin has no electricity, so the room was lit only by candles and oil lanterns, and heated by the enormous cooking stove.

Dinner was a multi-course affair, served family-style and accompanied by a cowboy who told stories, played guitar and sang songs of the West, with a special focus on Montana. Our table of family and friends shared a toast to Katie, and enjoyed the delicious variety of food in the softly-lit ambience. When we finished the meal, everyone gathered again in the sleighs. We huddled under woolen blankets to keep warm. Nearly 6 inches of snow had fallen while we ate dinner, so no moonlight was visible, but instead, a soft, ambient light surrounded us. We all felt the magic as we turned our faces to the sky, peering through the tops of tall, slender lodgepole pines and feeling the falling flakes of snow on our skin.

That night, as I was preparing to sleep, I saw – for the first time in ages – the sparks of light that are a sign of Katie’s presence in spirit form. I felt that she knew, saw, and joined in, our celebration of her arrival on earth that night. I’m grateful beyond words for this experience.

The rest of the trip was filled with good times spent with David, his friends and our friends from home (who live part-time in the mountains); with skiing (small improvements on the green slopes for me) and enjoying walking around the little town of Big Sky. We then realized that we needed to self-quarantine, and returned home as quickly as possible. Now, we are adapting to a quieter, slower life and doing our part to #STAYHOME for the benefit of everyone (including our 60-and-over selves). I send you well-wishes and peace of heart as we all walk through this time physically apart, but together in spirit.💖

Small progress on the wide-open green slopes of “Mr. K.” It’s hilarious to think how fast it felt I was going, until other skiers whizzed past me!
📸David Gerstenberger

A Refuge for My Heart & Soul

For most of the past 12 years, we have traveled to the west coast of Vancouver Island in August to seek solace during the anniversary of our daughter Katie’s passing. We stay near the remote rain forest of Pacific Rim National Park. There is something pure and elemental about the place that soothes my soul on what are, for me, the darkest days of the year.

The four of us vacationed in the area with my parents in 2005, and had a blast; we have wonderful photos and memories from that trip.

After Katie died in August of 2007, we felt the need to leave town immediately following her memorial service. It was too hard to stay in the house where she had died, and we decided to return to Vancouver Island. It was just the right place, and it has been a refuge for my heart ever since.

This was a particularly hard year for me, because it’s the year that Katie has been dead as long as she was alive with us. It’s a terrible reality. But this year, by grace, our niece and nephew joined us. They are the couple who moved their wedding forward six months so that Katie could fulfill her wish to be their bridesmaid, and they invited David to serve as a groomsman for them. Their only daughter died on the very day that she was born, so they understand loss and the impact of the anniversary of her passing.

They were able to simply be present with us in the most natural way on the day. We had a beautiful dinner together and then walked the beach while the sun was setting. Since David has been unable to join us in Canada during the past few years of his work/life in Montana, sharing this place with Andrea and Mike was magical, and a great gift. Few people would be able to do it, and few would make the trek to this faraway place; their presence took the “sting” out of the anniversary.

The solace of this time came through these verses of thanks which I offered to the island as we crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca toward home:

Thank you, Vancouver Island, for your beauty,

For gifts that distract and delight me on the day of the year that my child died,

Filling my heart with joy and peace and a feeling of home

When I must leave my own home to escape wallowing.

I leave my family’s home

Where my daughter died in her bed, 12 years ago

With us around her, loving her –

Wishing she could stay and be well

But knowing she could not.

Wishing for her freedom from suffering, pain, anguish and disappointment

But for this wish to come true, we had to accept her death.

I leave our home at this time each year

So I won’t re-live each moment of that day –

The day I washed her body

Cut a lock of her hair

Dressed her in clothes she loved

And sat with her

Until she looked no more like her beloved, lively, 12-year old self

But like one who had escaped an exhausted, disease-ridden body.

I had to let them take that precious body away

To be burned

And returned to the earth, by way of the sea.

I leave my home to awaken in a different room

And rather than ruminate through the day,

I dwell in gratitude and wonder

At the beauty and peace of the natural world

At the awesome power, ruthlessness and gentleness of nature

At how small we are

And how we all die

And how life goes on

And springs up after death.

I go to a place where no one knows me, or her

But Mother Earth welcomes all, and favors none

And I live moment by moment in joy

During the saddest days of the year.

Here, I can breathe

In the eternal home of ancient people

Breathe in their silent songs, stories, history, tears and laughter.

I breathe the air they breathed – salty, like tears –

Walk with bare feet

The sand and earth they walked

Feeling I am one with them, and her,

And will one day join them.

Thank you, Tla-o-qui-aht

For allowing me to come home to you

When memories are too painful for my own house to hold;

For taking me to your aboriginal breast,

Absorbing my invisible tears,

Comforting me,

Holding me in your arms

Until I can breathe free from sorrow.

On these sacred, difficult days, you are truly home for me –

You are my heart and soul’s refuge.

Photo credits: A. Cunningham and me

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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