Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nature Journaling with Photographs

During January, I focused my nature journaling on incorporating photographs into the entries.

For the first week, I walked outside and looked at the rather bleak landscape. When I looked down, however, what caught my attention was track marks through the snow. They were pheasant tracks, so I took a picture of them. A leaf happened to be near the tracks, so it shows a nice natural comparison in terms of size.

I added some facts, a drawing of what a pheasant's track would look like in the mud, and noted the colors of a male ring-necked pheasant. There was even a poem that I found that captured what pheasants are like, so I wanted to include that as well.

During the second week of January, I focused on the red berries that catch my eyes since they are in such sharp contrast to the white snow and bare branches everywhere.

After learning the name of the shrub (American Highbush Cranberry), I explored its unique characteristics a bit deeper. 

I  enjoyed using colors of Prismacolor color pencils to decorate the page and tie into the red berries that the cedar waxwing birds enjoy eating in the spring.

It seems that I wasn't the only one in the home who had the idea to incorporate a photo into my nature journal. Sophia found a couple of pictures of Bailey (the horse) that tied into her nature journal entry for the week.

There's something about photographs that just seem to bring the nature journal page alive. I plan to continue to do this throughout the year when I think a photograph will enhance what I am writing about and exploring.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Clutter Busting - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 4

For the fourth week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Clutter Busting - Letting Go of What's Holding you Back by Brooks Palmer.

This book had so much helpful and insightful information about what clutter is and represents in one's life. There were action steps to take and questions to reflect upon. I'm happy that I read it.

There are key points that I would like to remember from this book:
- Clutter busting is actively breaking through barriers and letting go of the unnecessary clutter that crowds your life. It helps restore clarity and insight....You naturally replace lack of motivation, anxiety, and unhappiness with peace of mind, certainty, and acceptance of change and progress.
- The things that move and inspire you are fertilizer. They make your life blossom. Clutter, however, is inorganic. Nothing grows from its existence - not anything we can love, that is. 
- Where your attention goes, so spreads your life force. Where you put your energy and attention, you leave your mark. 
- You don't need something outside you to remind you of why you make a difference.
- There were pictures of their kids when they were much younger. None of the photos were of the kids as they were then, in their late-teenage years. There were a lot of pictures of dead relatives and of friends they didn't see anymore. And most of the photos were of other people....These were indications that they were stuck in the past, when things were "better," as they imagined them to be. Nothing in their [home] signified or celebrated the life they were living now.
- You overlay the present moment with a memory. It is a way of pretending that everything is all right. Meanwhile, the present suffers because your attention is not there. The longer you spend in the memory of the past, the further away you move from actual joy of right now
- Go through all the recipes [that you have accumulated] and pick the ones you want to try.
- Always come back to yourself when deciding what to keep or toss. Does the item make you feel good? Does it improve your life? Or have you been hanging on to it because of the memories associated with it?
- Clothing represents different emotional periods of your life. If you keep a lot of things you don't wear, your clothes closet has become a photo from your past.
- (Regarding letting go of emails:) "It feels pretty bad trying to keep this memory going....It's like someone died, and you won't let them go....It's up to you, but if you hang on to this pain, you'll be slowly destroying what is gentle and good in you. It's time to bury the dead. You deserve to have the fullness of life in your heart." (The woman released all the emails. She looked lighter. The dead weight of emotional clutter is debilitating. Shedding that clutter fills you with lightness.)
- What items from the past have you been keeping that interfere with your present goals?
- Keep photos that jump out and animate your heart, that make you feel grateful for the experience you have had. They are a reaffirmation that you are a deserving person.
- Be aware of whether you are holding on to photos to relive the past or to honor a memory.
- You need to have a spacious, smooth surface by your head every night before you go to bed. Otherwise, you take all the crap to sleep with you every night. You're going to have to get used to peaceful stillness again.
- (Regarding a full nightstand:) "This is what's going on inside your head. How could you think clearly with this kind of noise going on all the time? It would be like living right next to the airport."
- Are you living in a graveyard? Is it what you want? Memories of the past can capture your attention, but how much fun is that? If you're living in the cemetery of the past, that means a great big part of you is dead. But some part of you is still alive: your essence, the pure feeling of existence.

Homemade Crunchy Dill Pickles

This past September I made homemade dill pickles. When I was growing up, my parents made dill pickles. My mother never bought pickles in the store - if she could can them there was no reason to buy them.

One batch of pickles that I made in September 2014.

It wasn't until I was purchasing groceries on my own that I realized that pickles could be crunchy. I read on City Boy Hens that "The reason that homemade pickles generally become mushy over time is that there is an enzyme on the flowering end of the cucumber that does not get destroyed during the canning process. As a result, it breaks down the fibers in the cucumber over time and turns it into a soft and mushy pickle within six months."

According to City Boy Hens, "The secret is a product up in Canada called Pickle Crisp by Bernardin (Canada’s answer to USA’s Ball). Just 1/4 teaspoon in each quart jar will keep your pickles crisp for long past a year!"

So, I thought I'd give pickle making a try after finding Pickle Crisp at Fleet Farm. There also was a package of flavorings which included Pickle Crisp that I thought I'd try as a comparison.

Another batch of pickles that I made in quart jars
during September 2014.

First, I made the pickles using the package of flavorings. It was easy to do because I just made the solution and put it in the jars with the cut-up cucumbers. After putting them in a water bath for the recommended time, they were done.

Then I made a batch of pickles using the recipe on City Boy Hens that makes six quart jars:


5 lbs. pickling cucumbers
8 cups water
8 cups pickling vinegar
1 cup pickling salt (don’t use table salt. It will cloud your brine and turn your pickles to an unpleasant color)

Into each jar add:

1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1 large garlic clove (sliced)
1 bunch dill
1/4 teaspoon Pickle Crisp


Weigh, wash, and gently scrub cucumbers. Discard any that appear spoiled. Cut the ends off of each end of the cucumbers.

Fill your canner with water about 2 inches higher than the height of your jars and bring the water to a boil. This will take a bit of time.

Sterilize your jars in the oven at 225 degrees for 10 minutes and continue to keep them warm in the oven until they are needed.

Place canning seals and rings in a small pot and begin to warm them up.

In the mean time, begin making your brine solution and bring it to a boil.

Carefully remove sterilized jars from the oven and add dill, garlic, mustard seed and pickle crisp to each jar.

Firmly pack each jar with as many pickles as you can possibly fit into this space.

Once packed, pour the brine into each jar using a canning funnel, making sure to leave a 1/4″ head space in each jar. (Note: I did 1/2" head space because that's what two other recipes for pickles instructed.)

Wipe the lip of each jar with a wet paper towel. Using tongs, place the seals and rings on each jar.

Carefully place each sealed jar into the canner and process in boiling water for 15 minutes.

Carefully remove each jar from the boiling water and leave to cool on thick towel.

Listen for the ping of each jar as it seals. Once the jars cool, store them in a dark. cool place for at least six weeks to allow the flavors to develop.

As a side note, on Pick Your Own, there's a very helpful FAQ list regarding canning pickles.

A jar of pickles I made using the recipe on
City Boy Hens' website.

Both versions turned out very well, and each has a slightly different flavor. We definitely are going to can more dill pickles during the 2015 season after seeing how easy, flavorful, and crisp the pickles are to make.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sewing Pillowcases for Pine Ridge Reservation

For the 4-H club that Sophia and Olivia belong to (and which I am the leader), we did a community service project at December's meeting that focused on sewing pillowcases for children who live at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The children are all living in extreme poverty, so we thought that having something as simple as a handmade pillowcase might be something that they would enjoy.

All the fabric and thread for the pillowcases was donated by two families. So, the only cost to the club was members' time and the postage to ship the pillowcases to South Dakota.

We followed ConKerr Cancer's website had a tutorial about how to sew pillowcases using two different pieces of fabric.

Basically, you lay out the larger piece of fabric right side down on the table.

Then you put the smaller piece of fabric (for the edging) on top of that and roll the larger piece up until it is enclosed in the smaller piece - like a hot dog.

Sew along the edge.

Pull the larger piece out from the sewn "hot dog."

After ironing the fabric, we followed a video about how to sew French seams. This was very helpful because it is counter-intuitive to how you would sew a pillow. You actually sew on the outside of the pillowcase first by putting the WRONG sides together.

Then you flip the pillowcase so the RIGHT sides are together and sew. This process is how you hide the seams - or do French seams.

When you're done, you have a pillowcase.

The girls were happy with how their pillowcases turned out and even more so knowing that a little girl or boy would receive and use them.

I made a pillowcase too. Mine is the one on the right - the blue one with lime-green trim.

The 4-Hers (including Sophia and Olivia) and I made ten pillowcases to donate.

Seeing all the bright, colorful pillowcases makes me smile. I'm hoping it does the same for each of the children who receive one.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ordinary Sacred - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 3

For the third week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge as well as the Dive Into Diversity challenge, I chose Ordinary Sacred by Kent Nerburn.

This is a short book - only 122 pages - and it is comprised of different short stories. Some I found particularly inspiring and relevant, while others were interesting but not as moving. I enjoyed the writing style of the author, and would enjoy reading other books he has written.

Some of the things I want to remember from the book include:

- A quote from Mahatma Gandhi: It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without heart.
- The heart knows much that the mind cannot see.
- Our lives are filled with....ordinary moments when the hidden beauty of life breaks into our everyday awareness like an unbidden shaft of light. It is a brush with a sacred, a near occasion of grace. Too often we are blind to these moments. We are busy with our daily obligations an too occupied with our comings and goings to surround our hearts with the quiet that is necessary to hear life's softer songs.

Taken on July 20, 2010.

- The Confucian philosopher Zou Shouyi said that we too often fail to recognize wisdom in those without talent, achievement, and fame. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, tells us to look to the meek, the poor in spirit, and the pure in heart. The Native Americans tell us to look at the elderly, because there lives have walked the long path toward wisdom.
   They all are reminding us that traces of the sacred are everywhere before our eyes, and that our task, as surely as performing acts of worship, is to find these sacred moments, hallow them with our attention, and raise them up as a celebration of the mystery of life.
- You feel privileged that a child has chosen you as someone to value, and you know that your attention can help give shape to a life.

Dandelion Bouquet
Taken on June 1, 2008.

- How we understand of life's wondrous ways, and how hard it is to see the blessings in the shadows.
- Let the beauty we love be what we do. (Rumi)

August Journal Quilt without Border
Taken on August 24, 2010.

- We are known by the things that we love, and remembered for what we held dear.

3 Generations
Taken on April 24, 2012.

- What object that I take for granted will be the memory by which I will be known? What will [people] remember that I loved?
- Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. (Leonardo Da Vinci)
- Our life is a work of art. We must seek always to be its artist.
- "I need to thank you. You have to let me thank you. It's all I have to give."

Towards the end of the book, there was a story that reminded me of the older people who I have loved in my life (like Dad, Mom, and my grandparents) and the ones with whom Sophia, Olivia, and I volunteer with at the nursing home.

Dad Teaching the Girls
Taken on April 29, 2009.

These are excerpts that made me pause and reflect:

- There is a wisdom that comes with age. The old have walked the path we tread. They have seen the landscape through which we are traveling. They have felt our passions and known our dreams, though perhaps in different shapes and in different measure. In their eyes we can see our future. In our eyes they can see their past. In some fundamental way, they know the place where we are going.
- They also know that few will seek them out. They have accepted the fact that few will ask them to share what it is that they have come to understand. Their time has come and passed; the younger generations want little more from them than reminiscences.
- I was honored to speak to both these men. I hope I showed them proper respect in our conversations. I hope, too, that I was listening to them for what they can teach me about life, not merely for what they can reveal as witnesses to the past.
- We live so strongly within the boundaries of our own experience. If we long for anything, it is usually for a time past, when we were younger, stronger, better looking, and not yet so bound by decisions we have made.
     We seldom long for a future where our bodies are less but our spirits and insight are more. Yet, that future is there. It is in the eyes of those who have lived longer, seen more, and come closer to a resolved understanding of their place and purpose on this planet.
- There is no death. Only a change of worlds. (Chief Seattle)
- It is the streets, the people, the birds, the animals, the trees - the joys and struggles and passions of everyday life - where my life now brushes against the sacred and my spirit finds its strongest voice.
- I have done what I could, tried in my way to be an instrument of peace.

There was a section in the book about a mother and her children. It resonated deeply with me because it reflects what I've been trying to do with Sophia and Olivia, and how I live my life.

Girls and Me Picking Up Gretel
Taken on March 27, 2008.

These are the highlights from that story:
- She is a woman with a good heart. I can tell by the objects she carries - a bouquet of flowers, a box of thank-you notes. She understands the power of beauty, the need to show gratitude and thanks.
- The quiet believers [are] those who live a life of service, trying to shape their small corner of the world into a place of warmth and love by making each ordinary act of life a prayerful offering.
- We want our children to be people of faith, but we do not wish them to be blinded by belief....[We want them to be] alive with the sacredness of life, the kinship of all creatures, and the true conviction that we are each our  brothers' and sisters' keeper.
- We pass no judgment on how the spirit speaks, asking only that it speak in a voice of kindness and love.
- For our children are but gifts that we are given, a moment's grace that we are asked to shape and share. We should raise them to be open to the world - full of faith, but not blind with belief; respectful of all who are honest seekers; and guided in their lives by a kind a caring heart.
- Give them the eyes of wonder. Show them, as best you are able, the beauty of everything in the universe - the stones, the trees, the birds, the people.
- Show them the connection, not the obligation, in their daily affairs. Let them see that the phone calls they make to grandmothers, and the thank-you notes they write to people they barely know, are really gossamer threads strung between hearts. Teach them that a life of service is a life of peace, and that a small faith can be as powerful as a large belief.

There was a story in particular that stood out about a girl who he befriended. She told him at her eighth grade graduation, "Thanks for paying attention to me, even though I'm just a kid."

Mom, Dad, and Girls at First Communion
Taken on January 9, 2010.

He thought in response, "Had it not been for her, those people would not have been gathered together. Had it not been for her freshness and promise, there would have been no tears. Yes, she was 'just a kid.' But that kid had brought us together and opened our hearts in a way no adult could ever have done."

As he reflected more about what she said, he finally realized what he wanted to say not only to the girl, but to all children:

Never apologize for being "just a kid." For you are the most important person in the world.

You are promise. You are possibility. You are hope when our hope has dimmed. You are joy when our hearts are heavy. In you, we see the world as we dream that it could be.

Remain excited when you see a leaf; it tells us there is still beauty in the small, when our eyes have gotten too focused on the great.

Play with each other on playgrounds; it shows us that all people of all backgrounds can meet each other with open hearts.

Keep talking to the dogs and the cats and the pigeons and the ducks; it reminds us that the spirit is present in all living things.

Keep laughing and giggling when you are surprised and delighted; it offers our ears the music of grace.

Do whatever it is that your heart would have you do. Laugh, cry, stomp your feet in anger, dawdle in the morning, resist bedtime at night. Allow us to see how important the moment is to you, and to share, for an instant, the importance of that moment.

For you remind us what it means to be alive.

You command us to be strong, you remind us to be gentle.

In your eyes, we see the eyes of all children, and, for an instant, we understand what we have in common with all mothers and fathers at all times in all places on the earth.

No, never apologize for being "just a kid." For you are strong beyond your wildest imagining. Your goodnight kiss can stop an army; your tears can melt the hardest heart.

For you have the gift of innocence. You have the gift of dreams.

When we see you laughing and playing, our spirits take wing.

When we lift you and hold you, we are consecrating a world of hope.

He concluded with how he saw both of their roles:

For we each have our jobs, she and I. Mine is to hold her safe in unseen hands. Hers is to be a mirror to my dreams.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Horse - Outdoor Hour Challenge

For this week's nature study we focused on horses. We read the section in the Handbook of Nature Study about horses and found these facts interesting:

=> The length of the horse's leg was evolved to meet the need for flight before fierce and swift enemies.

Visible Horse - Skeleton
The anatomy of a horse drawn onto a horse 
at the Minnesota Horse Expo. 
Taken on April 23, 2009.

=> The horse has one toe that has a strong, sharp hoof.

Difference in Foot Structure
Comparison of foot structure.
September 4, 2011.

=> The horse's feet are not good for marshy places. A horse will mire where a cow can pass in safety.
=> The ears, if turned back, denote a treacherous disposition. They should point upward or forward. If the ears are laid back it is a sign that the horse is angry; sensitive, quick-moving moving ears indicate a high-strung, sensitive animal.

Bailey Visiting Mom
Bailey's ears are upright - she's curious about 
my mom's walker.
Taken on Mother's Day on May 9, 2010.

=> The eyes are placed so that the horse can see in front, at the side, and behind, the last being necessary in order to aim a kick.
=> The nostrils should be thin-skinned, wide-flaring, and sensitive.

Hoss's Nose
Hoss' nose.
Taken on December 9 , 2012.

=> Scent is one of the horse's chief aids in detecting the energy.
=> The horse has six incisors on each jaw; behind them is a bare space called the bar. Back of the bar, there are six molars or grinders on each side of each jaw.
=> At the age of about three years, canine teeth or tushes appear behind the incisors. These never seem to  be of much use.
=> A full-grown horse has 40 teeth in all: six incisors, two canines, an twelve molars on each jaw.
=> The hair is shed each year.

Hoss' Color Change
The top of Hoss' tail
Taken on April 22, 2010.

=> The horse's powerful teeth can inflict deep wounds and he can kick and strike hard with the front feet; still more efficient is the kick made with both hind feet while the weight of the body is borne on the front feet.
=> The mane and forelock are useful in protecting the head and neck from flies; an the tail is an efficient fly-brush.

Olivia Turning Bailey
Olivia walking around a bit on Bailey.
Taken on August 6, 2010.

=> A colt's legs are so long that it must spread the front legs wide apart in order to reach the grass with its mouth.
=> When a colt or the horse lies down, it lies flat upon the side. In lying down, the hind quarters go first, and in rising, the front legs are thrust out first.

Bailey and Hoss Resting in Pasture
The horses relaxing in the pasture.
Taken on May 6, 2010.

=> Horses can walk, trot, canter, and gallop. When walking, two or more feet are always on the ground. When galloping, just before landing the body is in the hair and the legs are all bent beneath it.

Horses Galloping to Get Breakfast
The horses running out to get their hay for breakfast.
Taken on April 11, 2012.

=> Timothy hay, or hay mixed with clover, is good for the horse. Oats and corn are the best concentrated food.

Snow Still Coming Down
During the winter, it's important that the horses 
receive enough hay to keep them warm and their energy sustained.
Taken on March 23, 2011.

=> A horse should be fed with regularity, and should not be used for a short time after having eaten.
=> Grooming of a horse is a part of its rights, and its legs should receive more attention during this process than its body.

Horse Topiary by the Ordway
The girls are standing by a horse topiary
that was outside of the Ordway.
Taken on May 29, 2007.

Outdoor Hour Time:

Each day, Sophia and Olivia spend time with Bailey and Hoss. Bailey is a Pony of the Americas and Hoss is a miniature horse. They are each responsible for feeding the horses - once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Bailey has provided our family with many learning opportunities with regards to her eyes and vision since she is blind in her right eye (which we didn't know when we adopted her). The veterinarian always spends time educating us about her eyes and changes he sees with them, and has given us many opportunities to look into her eyes with the equipment he uses.

Nature Journal Entries:

Both the girls did a page in their nature journals about horses. This is Sophia's page:

She incorporated some photos from the fall of Bailey with her and of Bailey rolling on the ground (both of the horses do this throughout the year).

This is Olivia's page:

She said she spent quite a bit of time drawing the horse. Her entries also have a lot of information that she writes from facts she finds on the internet.

(We used Autumn 2010 OHC #3: Horses as inspiration for this Outdoor Hour Challenge.)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Attention

Throughout 2015, I am going to do "Spiritual Practices A to Z" based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. There is a list available of spiritual practices that are from A to Z. Some letters have two practices, but the majority have one.

I am choosing to focus on one spiritual practice for two weeks, and then move onto another one (starting with the next letter of the alphabet). There are quite a few different ideas - from reading, watching movies, listening to music, looking at artwork, journaling, and doing spiritual exercises. I have picked some of the ones that resonated with me.

So, for the past two weeks, I have focused on the spiritual practice of attention.

Spiritual Practices: Attention
Enhances: Awareness
Balances/Counters: Distraction, Stress

The Basic Practice

Attention - a primary practice - is also known as mindfulness, awareness, concentration, recollection. We must stay alert or we risk missing critical elements of the spiritual life — opportunities for gratitude, moments of grace, and evidence of our connections to others. Attention can be practiced anywhere and anytime.

The blue pillowcase with the lime-green trim is the one I made.
The others were made by Sophia, Olivia, and youth of the 4-H Club 
that I lead and which they are members.
Some of the pillowcases needed finishing and ironing,
so I did that before mailing them to Pine Ridge Reservation for 
children living in extreme poverty.
I focused on each pillowcase I worked on and 
thought about the child who will be receiving it.

Begin by doing one thing at a time. Keep your mind focused on whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. It is through the mundane and the familiar that we discover a world of ceaseless wonders. Train yourself to notice details.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Most of us have exhibited the symptoms of lack of attention at one time or another. Perhaps we are easily distracted by trivial pursuits, attracted to any media message, ready to jump into any conversation, or susceptible to periods of endless surfing through the information and choices available to us.

Without awareness, we eventually end up living in a daze of stimulation without any grasp of its significance. We are operating on automatic pilot. Because nothing truly registers on our consciousness, we feel drained of energy.

Christmas at my mom's home - although nice to
spend it with family - is rather chaotic and loud. 
There are so many things going on - opening stockings, opening presents, 
eating a meal together, and listening to multiple conversations.
It can get to a point, as the Spiritual Practices website noted, 
that "...nothing truly registers...[and I] feel drained of energy."

Sometimes not paying attention has just the opposite effect, however: everything registers, and we find we don't know what to do with it all. We are so bombarded with stimuli that we can't focus on anything. We feel scattered and feel stressed.

For both lack of energy and stress, attention is a good corrective prescription.


The quality of one's life depends on the quality of attention. Whatever you pay attention to will grow more important in your life.
— Deepak Chopra in Ageless Body, Timeless Mind

A picture of Sophia, me, and Olivia 
many years ago. 

Just remember that those things that get attention flourish.
— Victoria Moran in Shelter for the Spirit

Winter on the Farm
Collage of winter images that I took in 2008.

There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.
— Linda Hogan quoted in Listening to the Land edited by Derrick Jensen


Everyday Sacred  - A Woman's Journey Home by Sue Bender. I read this during the first week of January, and enjoyed it. There were many things that resonated with me, and that I have been reflecting upon. I wrote a review of the book including some points that I wanted to remember.

I'm currently reading Good Citizens by Thich Nhat Hanh. In it, the author explains the relevance of paying attention and being mindful in order to be more compassionate citizens who are set to repair the world. He shares five mindfulness trainings and their bearing on restoring the world.


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Chinese language drama about love and the mythic battle between good and evil. Two masters of the Wudan style of martial arts are masters of the spiritual practice of attention.

The Scent of Green Papaya is a beautifully-photographed Vietnamese masterpiece that focuses on a servant girl's spiritual practice of attention and her mastery of the inner smile. I'm waiting for this DVD to be delivered from another library.


Johann Sebastian Bach's Goldberg Variations for harpsichord or piano consists of an aria in G Major, ten groupings of three variations, and a restatement of the aria.

As the Spiritual Practices website said, "Listening for the differences in style, rhythm, phrasing, and emphasis in the 30 variations requires concentration. After you focus on what elements distinguish each variation, the repeated aria sounds amazingly full and rich. Once we pay attention to details what we knew to be real takes on greater meaning and depth."

The library had this CD and I listened to the initial aria and variations 3, 8, 18, 19, 25, 29, and 30. As I listened to the quick-moving variations I was impressed both with Bach's composition skills as well as Glenn Gould's skills with playing the piano. This CD was enjoyable to listen to, and one that I'm happy to have found through the Spiritual Practices website.


According to the Spiritual Practices website, "One of the best ways to expand our attention's capacity is to study photographs. Often we miss important and meaningful details in the flow of sights passing before our eyes. Photography fixes an image — stops the world — so that we have time to notice what we might not have noticed before. Seeing what has previously been 'invisible' to us is an essential part of the spiritual life."

A series of books that was recommended that fits with this spiritual practice is A Day in the Life. The series presents photographs taken by an international team of photographers during a 24-hour period in one country. I checked out from the library three books in the series: Africa, China, and Ireland. Each books is so different from the other in terms of content and photography style.

As I looked at the pictures, some were ones that I glanced over. Others, however, were ones that I spent time with and could see an element or detail that clearly caught the photographer's eye.


First graders in the rural town of Yulin in China learn some of the 140,000 characters that make up the Chinese lexicon. (Photo in book by Stephanie Maze, USA)

This is the Daning River that runs from the mountains of Sichuan down to the Yangtse. Here it meanders around the town of Wuxi. It reminds me of the village where many senior citizens lived that was near Chongqing (a couple hours from where Olivia's orphanage was located). We were told that we would never see this village again because it - along with thousands of others homes and villages - would be under water once the dam was built and operational. (Photo in book by Rick Rickman, USA)

A woman and child in Tibet. (Photo in book by Steve McCurry, USA)

A woman in Tibet. (Photo in book by Steve McCurry, USA)


A woman in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo in book by Peter Bialobrzeski, Germany)

A girl in Jamaame which is in the lower Juba region of Somalia. (Photo in book by Sebastiao Salgado, France)

Two men praying for a sick church member on Badagry Beach in Lagos, Nigeria. (Photo in book by Jodi Bieber, South Africa)

A girl carrying fresh lettuce in Bangui, Central African Republic. (Photo in book by Nick Kelsh, USA)

A woman carrying wood in Bangui, Central African Republic. (Photo in book by Nick Kelsh, USA)


A man on a moped moves along a flock of sheep in Kerry. (Photo in book by Annie Griffiths, USA)

I've never seen anything like this before. The description in the book said that "on Achill Island in County mayo, a 21st-birthday surprise party comes with a twist: the invasion of eight Strawboys in hats of straw and long white gowns. The custom is said to date back to the 18th century, when masked rustlers preying on a landlord's cattle escaped capture by ducking into a packed wedding celebration and joining in for a dance or two. Today's Strawboys come equipped with an accordionist and a repertoire of traditional steps to entertain the  guests. (Michael Bryant, USA)

On the Spiritual Practices website, it said "To expand this exercise, take a camera with you for a day and practice framing pictures through the lens. It is not necessary to put film in the camera to have it act as an aid to your attention. What did your camera's eye pick up? Think of your photographs as mirrors of your attention."

So, I took my digital camera and tried to capture what a day in my life looks like. Things that I saw and that represented how that particular day looked like to me. In this case, it was Sunday, January 11th.

Cooper looking out the window to the west to watch rabbits and squirrels.

Cooper looking at the horses in the pasture connected to the backyard.

As I'm getting up to go downstairs, 
Cooper is taking one last look out the window.

Aspen and Cooper eagerly run outside.
The horses are eating next to the barn.

Now it's time for morning breakfast for the dogs...

and time to feed the cats.

We haven't had pancakes for awhile, 
so I make them for whoever is up early in the morning.

It looks like Olivia and I will be 
having breakfast together this morning.

I've been taking it easy for the past couple of weeks 
after having a lot of pain in my lower back. 
I found out that I have two bulging disks 
that are pinching on nerves. 
This is on top of degenerative disk disease. 
So, a walk around the backyard will have to suffice 
rather than a three-mile walk with the dogs.

Someone is peeking out the back of the barn at me.
I realize that - as I look at this picture -
that spring will mean some barn repairs and painting.

It's snowing a bit, and Bailey has 
some snowflakes on near her eyes.

This is the candle holder that's on the side of the barn.

As I made my way to the front yard later that morning 
to get the newspaper, 
I followed a pheasant's tracks.
 It led to the tallest pine tree at our farm.

Making my way back, I noticed the bright red berries.
They are waiting for the cedar waxwings to return.

When I come back inside, Shadow is waiting for me.

As I walk upstairs, I hear beautiful harp music.
Sophia is playing her harp.

While Sophia plays the harp, 
Olivia is working on her piano theory book.

I decide to write about what I saw outside in my nature journal.
The pheasant tracks are what I focus on.

While I'm writing, Aspen is right by me.
She has her eyes on Eenie (the cat) 
who is relaxing at the end of the bed.

All throughout the afternoon, the birds visit the feeder.
At this point, I stopped taking pictures. 
I'm not sure why...
maybe it was enough for the day and 
what were highlights for me.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

When I watch a musician, I am reminded of the importance of focused attention.

Olivia practicing the piano.

Greeting a family member, friend, or colleague in the morning, I vow to be attentive to his or her needs today. I was able to practice this on Saturday, January 10th. There was a challenge with staffing with my mom's home health aides, and I had to listen to three different people to assess the situation and determine how to resolve it.

Later, my sister shared that her 17-year old cat, Suki, wasn't doing well and it looked like it was nearing the end of her life. She has never had to make a decision to euthanize a cat before, so we talked about that process, what steps to take to honor Suki's life and time as part of my sister's family, and when to make that difficult choice. Although Suki seemed to be doing better in the afternoon, it did make my sister reflect upon what will need to happen and what to do when that time comes.

Practice of the Day

He stared out at the ocean and said, "Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view."

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. That's all. Words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. When I do what he said, I am never disappointed.

Anna Quindlen in A Short Guide to a Happy Life

To Practice This Thought: Take time to really see what is right in front of you.

Even flowers that are passed their prime and
have faded to the palest tan are rich with detail and beauty.

Spiritual Exercises

The poet and doctor William Carlos Williams used to carry a notepad around with him in which he listed "Things I noticed today that I've missed until today."

Make his practice into an ongoing project in your home or group. Every morning, remind yourself that during the day you are going to notice something new or see a familiar sight in a new way.


Before starting this exercise, I read To All Gentleness - William Carlos Williams - The Doctor Poet by Neil Baldwin since I never heard of Williams. I thoroughly read about five chapters of the book to gain more insight on who Williams was, and then skimmed through the rest of the book to read excerpts from his poetry. Some of the poetry that caught my eye includes:

Taken on September 25, 2011

Child of the grass...
Thou that art sweeter than all orchard's breath
And clearer than the sun gleam after rain...
A lady tall and fair to see
She swayeth as a a poplar treet
When the wind bloweth merrily.


Dry Sink
Taken on June 10, 2012.

In brilliant gas light
I turn the kitchen spigot
and watch the water plash
into the clean white sink.
On the grooved drain-board
to one side is
a glass filled with parsley - 
crisped green.


Girls Shoes by Headwaters
Taken on September 5, 2012.

Waiting for the water to freshen -
I glance at the spotless floor -:
a pair of rubber sandals
lie side by side
under the wall-table
all is in order for the night.


Homeschool Phy Ed - Walking the Dogs
Taken on April 8, 2009.

The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides the world rolls coldly away:
black orchards
darkened by the March clouds - 
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood 
bristling by
the rainsluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure of
the farmer - composing
- antagonist


Purple Flower
Taken on June 25, 2011.

A bunch of violets clutched
in your idle hand 
gives him a place
beside you which he cherishes.


Jan Chozen Bays is a pediatrician and meditation teacher In the book Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Bays, she shares a wise and practical Zen Buddhist approach to mindful eating.

These are some concepts that relate to the spiritual practice of attention:

• Mindful eating is about opening the mind's awareness to our food and to the body, before, during, and after we eat.

• Mindful eating is nonjudgmental.

• Awareness is the key to change. Once we are aware of something, it cannot remain the same. Awareness plus small changes in our automatic behaviors can produce large changes over time.

• Learn to assess stomach and cellular hunger before you eat, during eating, and after eating.

• If you are not hungry, don't eat.

• Be present for at least the first three bites or sips as you begin to eat or drink.

Cucumber Lemon Water
Taken on September 3, 2012.

• Eat small portions, considering 'right amount.' Serve yourself an amount of food that will leave you two-thirds full.

• Eat slowly, savoring each bite. Find ways of pausing as you eat, such as putting down your fork or spoon between bites.

• Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing.

• Become aware of the difference between 'no longer hungry' and 'full.' There is no need to eat all the way to 'full.' Eat until you are two-thirds full, then take a drink and rest a bit.

• Mindful eating includes mindless eating. You can choose to eat mindlessly when it is appropriate.

• Emptying is as important as filling. This applies both to the stomach and to the mind.

• At least once a week, eat an entire meal in silence and mindfulness.

Vegetarian Dinner
Taken on March 13, 2011.

• Know that food changes mood and use it as good medicine. Adjust the dose; a small amount may work better than a lot.

• Remember the energy equation: balance the energy going into your body with the energy going out.

Going on a walk
Taken on March 28, 2013.

• Above all, know when it is not the body but the heart that is asking to be fed. Give it the nutrition that fills it up. That nutrition could be meditation or prayer, walking, being in nature, listening to or making music, playing with a pet, fixing food for someone you love or who needs help, or just sitting and being present with people. Fill the heart with the richness of this very moment.

Girls Playing with the Dogs Outside in the Snow
Casey and Montague with Sophia and Olivia.
Taken on December 2, 2007.

• Before, during, and after eating, give thanks."


I have been focusing this year so far on proportion size and eating when I'm hungry. I've noticed that a few times during the night during the past couple of weeks that my stomach will growl - so I believe I'm eating more appropriately than in the past.

One day - January 8th - I started the day with a bowl of oatmeal and raisins along with a cup of hot chocolate. It was one serving size, but I couldn't finish it. After about half of it, I was full so I stopped eating.

That morning, I prepared for a 4-H meeting that afternoon. I left at noon to set-up, but was not hungry so I didn't eat lunch. By the time I got home at 4 p.m., I felt a little hungry so had two slices of cheese and 3 slices of summer sausage. I also had another hot chocolate so I'm drinking milk and getting calcium each day.

Hot Chocolate
Cup of hot chocolate. 
This is a picture that I took in the past. 
Now, I usually put some mini-marshmallows on top.

Dinner was around 6:45 p.m., and was a baked potato and small piece of pork roast. I chose not to have a dessert since I was full.

Journal Exercises

The descriptive writing in your journal gives you insights into the quality of your attention. Read through your journal looking for entries that take you back to a specific place, time, or conversation.


Some excerpts from my journal since the beginning of 2015:

"...then the flooding began - first with the ice dam in my office, family room, and Sophia's room. Then in the basement from spring until October. Oh! And then in July with the upstairs bathroom. Four out of 13 rooms in the house - plus the basement - were affected."

"...On yesterday's walk with the dogs, I enjoyed the changing colors of the clouds as the sun set. They went from gray to shades of yellows and oranges. As we walked back, the bright, white moon emerged from behind the clouds."

"...This morning Mom called at 4 a.m. I had just fallen back to sleep after the dogs woke me up around 3. Her blood sugar was 34, went up over 100, and then back down to 70-something. They had called the paramedics..."

" I was taking down the ornaments I focused on them and tried to remember where they were from and/or what they represented."

"...Aspen slept next to my side - curled up in a ball next to my stomach. I followed her breathing. How my breathing pace and hers would alternate."

"...during the night I listened to the strong wind. The windchimes were loud."

"...the horses were having fun in the pasture. Bailey was standing on her hind legs - so was so tall. It was such an incredible sight. She did that a few times. Then she would jump in the air - sometimes all four feet off the ground. She and Hoss were kicking their legs in the air. They would cantor around the pasture, and then Hoss would tear around like a little madman - hiding in the pine trees and then come dashing out."

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

Give an example of something that has flourished because of the attention you have lavished upon it.


I had trouble thinking of something that I have recently given a lot of attention to that has flourished. Perhaps the 4-H club that I started in October would be an example of that. When I look at what the club members have done in only four meetings and what we have done as a club to get it established, I can see that it is doing exceptionally well.

When I think back a bit further, I thought about a plant that I focused a lot of attention on. My sister had a Christmas cactus that my dad had given to her. It wasn't do well at all and she brought it to me in February 2013 to try to help save it. I cut all the dead and weak parts off of it, and then began rooting cuttings from the healthy part of her plant as well as my Christmas cactus (also a gift from my dad).

Mary's Christmas cactus that I'm trying to bring back to life
This picture was taken on February 23, 2013, of
the Christmas cactus that my sister hoped I could save.

A year later, it was doing very well. The plant was again healthy and thriving. I gave it back to her on her birthday in May 2014.

This is my sister's Christmas cactus on December 3, 2014.

She was so happy to see blooms and flowers on the plant less than seven months December 2014.

Christmas Cactus in Bloom
By December 3, 2014, it was blooming -
just in time for Christmas.

Household, Group, and Community Projects

Make a visual record of your expanding awareness of the world. Once a week, find or draw something to represent one of your observations and paste it on a wall calendar. Over time you will find yourself becoming more attentive as you gather material to include.


I thought about this exercise and felt like the best way I could do this was to combine it with nature journaling and trying to take one photograph a week that captures some element outdoors that I want to remember. I did two nature journal entries - one focused on pheasant tracks and one focused on the red berries of the viburnum.