To My Colleague with Breast Cancer: You Have This Moment


I read a little of your story today and it broke my heart. I see you wearing courage and faith openly, but I know you’re hurting, suffering, and perhaps afraid. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.  That I’m praying for you? I am.  But how many times a day do you hear that?

Whenever I see you, I think of Karlette, my little sister. The loss of her. The grief that still challenges every waking minute.  The sorrow that changed me. That changed all who really knew her in unspeakable ways.  Knowing this very real loss of her, I cannot offer you empty platitudes and mere words. I will not ever say to you what many cancer patients often hear:  “You’re a fighter. You will make it.  You will come through this.”


I don’t know that. Neither of us do. Unless we are speaking of a future in the heavenly realms, earth offers no guarantees. Faith that can move mountains assures us that God is faithful. But. Faithful God allows grief, disappointment, and sorrow.  No matter how unfair or mean or downright unacceptable it seems to us—faithful God says, “some sicknesses are unto death, some for testimony.”  This can be a hard, hard pill to swallow.  But it is truth.

I wouldn’t say any of that to you either. You already know it.  You began this difficult line of thinking when you first heard the diagnosis or when the treatments did not bring desired results.

Then, I remember a conversation with Karlette on one of my visits.  In 2011 or 2012.  She had so many battles, so I’m not sure of the year.  She was weary of people seeing her as a cancer patient, as a cancer victim.  When people saw her, she felt, they saw cancer and not her.  She wanted to talk about MORE than that.  She was so much more than that, but when cancer takes over your body and your life and you can barely lift your head most days, even you begin to wonder.  I remember saying to her—you are not your cancer.  Or maybe, she said to me–I am not my cancer.

I say it to you–you are not your cancer.  You are more than this disease that disrupted your happiness and altered your life so completely that you are no longer who you were. I say to you–embrace the uncertainty.  Live and dance and love in beauty and in the sacredness of your being, and be everything you are in this moment.  Only this moment is sure.


Happy World Post Day!

I just found this gorgeous postcard in a stack of mail that came while I was away at a conference. Amy, Eclectonote on Swap-bot, sent this postcard for a World Post Day swap.  I almost forgot about World Post Day! Gasp!



The swap called for sharing postal-related postcards.  I

My “send-to” partner, Maria–who lives in Moscow–probably won’t receive her cards for a while, but when she does I hope she loves the postcard featuring the vintage postal boxes in our campus post office.  When I returned as a faculty member to my alma mater four years ago I was tickled pink that the mailboxes I knew as a student were still there!

Vintage Post Office Boxes, Photo by Me!

Vintage Post Office Boxes, Photo by Me!

My box was #57, so I made sure to include it in the shot.

World Post Day is celebrated on October 9.  According to the Universal Postal Union, its purpose is to “bring awareness to the Post’s role in the everyday lives of people and businesses, as well as its contribution to global social and economic development.” You can find out more on the UPI’s website.

I have a busy Sunday ahead of me, but that won’t stop me from taking a few minutes to write some happy mail!  Will you join me?

Love Notes!

Love Notes begins tomorrow!

Love Notes is a postcard project coordinated by Jennifer Belthoff that “encourages slowing down, getting back to basics, and connecting through handwritten notes sent through the mail.”  Participants sign up for the swap on Jennifer’s website and then she assign partners–notified via email–who correspond with each other for three weeks based on a prompt she provides each Sunday. The swap is hosted a few times during the year. Although the swap has been going on for some time, I only recently heard about it through Christine B., a penfriend I met through Liberate Your Art 2016.

Postcard writers can respond to the prompt in any way they choose–sentence, paragraph, poem or list.

Angie, my partner for the July swap, lives in Tampa, Florida. She sent three postcards that had an element of “handmade.”  The  first one was the front of a greeting card, too cute to toss, and perfect for her message in response to the prompt, “Begin each day with…:”  Begin each day with hugs, flowers, and friends.

Hugs, Flowers, and New Friends

Hugs, Flowers, and New Friends

Angie’s week two card, art deco fashion, was also appropriately chosen for her response to the prompt, “Yesterday…Today…Tomorrow…” She wrote: “Don’t ever lose your sense of style!  Be brave…Be strong…Be bold…Always!”

Felt hat and purse with triangular decorations, 1928

Felt hat and purse with triangular decorations, 1928

Angie had fun experiementing with her new watercolors. This postcard is from Pepin Press.

And lastly, in response to the prompt, “In my next 30 years…,” Angie wrote, “You get to choose what you spread.”

Spread Kindness by Angie C., Tampa, Florida

Although most participants share their own art and photography, Love Notes may be handmade or storebought.  In fact, participants can send note cards or letters instead of postcards.  The idea is to send a handwritten smile to be found among all the bills and junk that clutter our mailboxes.

Through the Love Notes Facebook group I connected with other participants and exchanged additional postcards.

Joanne from Ottawa (Canada) sent:

With Love from Ottawa

“With Love from Ottawa,” Photo by Joanne.

She penned a Henry David Thoreau quote on the back: “To affect he quality of the day that is the highest of arts.”

Christine B., who regularly shares her photo postcards with Love Notes participants, sent two cards, one featuring purple hydrangeas.  She sent this one “in solidarity” after yet another police shooting of an unarmed African American.

Hydrangeas by Christine B.

“Hydrangeas” by Christine B.

After receiving a photo postcard from me of a tree with birds’ nests, Christine sent a card featuring a snow-embellished tree she shot last winter.  She sent her card with well wishes for the academic year and a quote:  “Courage is fear that said its prayers.”

A reminder that summer's over. Photo by Christine Brooks of Flagstaff, Arizona.

“Winter,” Photo by Christine B. of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Lorelei C., a paper artist from Pennsylvania,  kindly sent two handmade postcards with lyrics from songs–the  catchy Bobby McFerrin “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and John Legend’s “Imagine.” [Click an image for a closer look]

Finally, Deb, an artist from Virginia Beach, Virginia shared her lovely postcard made with ink, a “Make Art” stamp, washi tape, paint, and glitter pen.

“Make Art,” by Deb D.

Make art.  An elegant “mandate” that we craft and create.  No objections from me!  I love how Deb accented the postcard with a dash of color and some of my favorite washi tape.

I’ve been looking forward to Love Notes since the July swap ended. If you haven’t noticed, I participate in a lot of mail swaps, but what I appreciate about Love Notes is the opportunity to make a real connection with individuals.  Besides, I’m more than ready to give all the “thinking” and “doing” of the last two months a momentary rest and send more pretty out into the world.   Partners have been assigned.  Now, we just wait for the prompt.

If you want to see more Love Notes, check out the Facebook group or search the #lovenotesjb hashtag on Instagram.  Be sure to check back. I’ll blog postcards as they come in!

Happy Weekend!

Haiku and the Little Ones

Right around the time the season changed from summer to autumn last year, I stumbled upon a haiku collection while perusing a colleague’s bookshelf.  I hadn’t read haiku in years! I borrowed her book and enjoyed the haiku for a few days before giving in and ordering my own copy of the book. The book is entitled The Essential Haiku: the Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, edited and translated by Robert Hass.

The haiku masters offered the perfect moments to sip tea and reflect on changes in the natural world as the seasons transform from one to another. They served as a welcome substitute for time that would have been spent outdoors (and perhaps with my camera) because the weather was often icky last autumn and winter.

After I had my fill of the haiku masters, I moved on to Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku, a book I must blog about at another time.

As you can guess, I was pretty haiku obsessed. I read them to my son. I tried to get him to write haiku with me. He ran in the opposite direction–screaming, arms flailing (slight exaggeration). Aha! But eventually I found a way to “capture” him (along with his 15 classmates).

Last April–building on the lessons on metaphor, simile, and image I’d taught the children in second and third grade–I taught a brief lesson on the haiku form, read a few to the (then) fourth graders, and allowed my son to transform a longer poem he wrote for National Poetry Month last year into a haiku to demonstrate for the class how a three-line poem can tell the same story and present the same image as a much longer poem.

Poem written by my little one when he was in third grade.  The frog is one of the many animals he loves.  Scrapbook elements by Amanda Wittenborn: Amanda Creation


The children were tasked with writing about something in nature, the change of seasons or an animal.  They “mastered” the form easily and loved writing their haiku.  Since nine-year-olds are still eager to please, they vied for my attention to read their haiku. They didn’t have time to read their poems to the class, but I took their poems, typed them, and created a display for the university library. (FYI–The school is situated on the university campus).  In May, during the last week of school, the entire class gathered in the library with their teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and a few other parents and had a poetry reading followed by a class picnic at “Unity Pond” on campus.

Many months after I’d intended, I’m sharing their haiku. [Click an image for a closer look]

The lesson and writing took about 30 minutes. They did a great job. Don’t you think?

Even though haiku is a lot more complex than it seems, it is a good form to teach to children. They won’t catch all the subtle nuances of language and imagery, but they get the basics in terms of the traditional structure and themes of haiku.  I am looking forward to my next adventure with my son’s class. I don’t know how or when, but I’m sure we’ll have some literary adventures this school year!


They Gave Me Butterflies!

As part of my Mother’s Day gift this year, my hubby and son planted zinnia seeds outside my home office window, so I can enjoy the flowers even when I’m indoors.  I’ve watched the buds open and multiply brilliantly over the last few weeks.  A couple of days ago, I noticed butterflies hovering around the blossoms. Today, I stepped outdoors to snap a few shots of the zinnias, and the butterflies were everywhere, gracefully fluttering from flower to flower while I attempted to capture them in their best poses. They lightened my mood and made my heart smile.

This picture (post-processed) captures my mood after today's encounter with the butterflies.

This post-processed image captures my mood after today’s encounter with the butterflies.

My guys gave me flowers. They also gave me butterflies.



“Just Like Your Dad,” or Happy Birthday, Daddy!




“Just like your dad,” some people say to me. Typically, this is in reference to some unwavering position I hold on a particular issue. I’m not always sure of their meaning, but I take it as a compliment. My father is an honest, hardworking man of his word. He has impeccable integrity. Is he perfect? No. Can he be stubborn and contrary? Indeed! But it is because of his strong opinions and my having to battle him throughout my childhood and adolescence for the right to my own, that I do not waver with every “change in the direction of the wind.” It is because of his (and my mother’s) sacrificing that I know my worth. And because of the fierceness of his commitment and service to our family that I know the character of genuine love.

Today is my dad’s 81st birthday. Eighty-one years is a long time to be blessed with life and good health and love on this earth. It is more meaningful because my dad is the first among his parents and siblings to live beyond the age of 60. I imagine that he spent his years up to that point a little anxious…holding his breath a little. So we celebrated 60.  We celebrated 70. And then, 80. And 80 was major because we had not gathered as a family since Karlette passed.  There was something in the celebration that was more than just another birthday–it was a celebration of “being alive” and with family and close friends. For some of us, we celebrated for Karlette, who loved (and never missed) these family gatherings, and who would have been right there with us making much over Daddy. For some of us, it was intense because our last celebration of this magnitude–for my dad’s 70th birthday–where family and friends gathered was just weeks before Hurricane Katrina scattered us in different directions. For those of us who suffered loss after loss after loss over the last few years, the celebration served as a welcome exorcism of the heaviness of the grief that weighed us down.

That was last year. This year the celebration is a little quieter–as we had a huge family reunion a few weeks ago. But the day is no less significant. As I celebrate my dad and his day, I’m not only looking at today. I am looking back to the warmth of yesterday, meditating on all the intangible and imperishable gifts my father bestowed on his 10 children. I also look to tomorrow, as I realize these gifts are being instilled in generation after generation of his progeny. Though I cannot tell all that he is and all that he’s accomplished in one blog post, this is what I celebrate.

Thank you, Daddy, for being unapologetically who you are and for passing a little of that on to me.

Happy Birthday, with all my love…


Mom and Dad with all their children at their 50th wedding anniversary, 2008.

Mom and Dad with all their children at their 50th wedding anniversary, 2008.

Journaling: Unleash the Magic

Faith Journal: This is one of four journals I use regularly. It holds scripture, snippets from devotional readings, prayers, intercessory prayer lists, inspirational quotes, meditations, sermon notes. The notebook is a Staples Arc. The flexibility of the disc-bound system is perfect for journaling.

The ARC: This is one of five journals I use regularly. The notebook is a Staples Arc. The flexibility of the disc-bound system is perfect for multi-focused journaling.

I’m elated! Today I spent time with some really super women who meet periodically for journaling and vision board workshops. One of my friends, who spearheads the journaling program, asked that I come and talk about journaling with the group. Although I journal a lot and in multiple ways, I felt I had nothing to say that she probably hadn’t already said. My hubby, who knows how I excited I get talking about writing in notebooks and pretty papers, pens, and stickers, said–“Do what you always do. Show them what you do. Be you.” [Forgive the overuse of forms of the word “journal” in this post].

So that’s what I decided to do. I gathered as many crafting tools as could fit in my rolling scrapbook case–a zillion pens in various colors and weight, washi tape, stickers, Project Life cards and elements, Memory Keepers Envelope Punch Board, paper trimmer, Martha Stewart punches, old magazines, three of my journals, camera, and iPad (of course). It would have been fine with me if we’d just sat down and played with stickers and washi tape! But I’m sure the women wanted to do more than play with pretty things. And I appreciate their tolerating me.

Journaling isn’t easy for everyone. Besides the “intimidation” of writing on a regular basis or confronting one’s feelings fully, one has to take time to journal. And that is often the most difficult part. But it doesn’t have to be so involved or time-consuming, and it should be something to look forward to.  In a life that is often too busy for words, journaling is typically the only “me time” I can manage!

I shared with the group some no-stress ways to journal. I use every method I suggested, so I know they’re quick, easy, painless, and even fun. Some of you may be looking for easy ways to journal, so I thought I’d share.🙂

  • Morning Pages: Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests “Morning Pages”–three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”   You can read more about morning pages by visiting Cameron’s site: Julia Cameron Live.
  • List Journaling. I wrote about list journaling in a post last fall.  I really enjoy Cori Spieker’s (The Reset Girl’s) monthly list prompts for adults and little ones.  You can access the lists and find out more at her website:  Listers Gotta List from the Reset Girl.
  • Scripture Journaling.  Scripture journaling requires nothing more than actually handwriting and meditating on biblical texts daily.  I thoroughly enjoy the quiet time of contemplation. I’m sure there are a number of scripture writing plans available, but here are two themed plans I recently started using (If you prefer to purchase a journal for scripture writing, check out the Write the Word journal offered by The Lara Casey Shop):
  • Photo Journaling. Photo journaling requires little writing, but it requires making a concerted effort to “see” the world in which one moves. Phone cameras make photo journaling a whole lot easier. The two sites below offer inspiration and motivation for documenting life through photographs.
  • Digital Journaling.  Though some people journal exclusively using their phones, tablets, and/or computers, apps make journaling appealing even to the non-journaler.  Each of the apps listed below allow a combination of text, pictures, handwritten notes, drawings, information from websites, and digital content from other sources.  Each also accommodates folders and/or tags so we can categorize our thoughts and musings by subject or theme.
    • Day One
    • Evernote
    • Notes
Scripture Journaling. I scripture journal inside my planner because I want to have access to the day's scripture throughout the day. I use washi tape and stickers in my faith journaling.

Scripture Journaling. I scripture journal inside my planner because I want to have access to the day’s scripture throughout the day. I use washi tape and stickers in my faith journaling.

In a conversation about the importance of writing, one of my good friends, Dee, a professor in the area of health and human performance at the University of Florida (Go Gators!) pointed out that “our brains were designed to generate ideas not store things.” That makes it all the more important for us to flesh out our ideas in writing and record not only what we want to remember but also use writing to sort out and untangle all the “stuff” that gets crammed into our brains Writing unleashes our creativity, yes, but it also frees our minds from the heaviness of our day to day interactions and stretches our critical thinking “muscles.” I like the way Dee put it–“When we write, magic happens.”

Write on!