Gratitude is a Verb…

grat·i·tude
grat-i-tood, -tyood]

NOUN
   1. the quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful

Okay, so Merriam-Webster, Oxford and Dictionary.com all say that gratitude is a noun.  Of course, they also say that about love and we all have heard the argument that love is really a verb.  I feel the same way about gratitude and although the grammar police might come after me for that, it’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Today, February 23rd, is Gratitude Day in my corner of the world.  No, it’s not a National Holiday, in fact there’s a day in September that is officially celebrated as World Gratitude Day, but, because of some really courageous people this day in February is a day set aside to remember that to be grateful is not a feeling but a choice.

You see, almost 10 years ago some friends lost their precious daughter Amelia and her grandmother in a tragic auto accident.  It was the kind of devastation that easily could have torn a family apart but instead, they chose gratitude; they chose it even when they didn’t feel it, even when it was hard; even when it seemed to be nearly impossible.

In my friend’s words from two years ago:

Gratitude Day was born out of the desire and need to focus on the good. My family was devastated by the loss of our daughter (and sister), Amelia in a car accident. My husband also lost his mother in that accident. His mom was 69, and Amelia was seven. They both left this earth before we were ready.

It has almost been eight years, and I have become a willing counselor to other families who have lost their children. When something tragic like this happens, you think, “that happens on the news to other people”. Now I know, it happens to my friends, my neighbors, my community.

So Gratitude Day is for everyone, not just us. It is a day to be thankful we had our beautiful children in our lives. It is a day to also remember we have many blessings. Love, good health, friends, spiritual strength, the blessing of good memories, and the faith that there are many good days to come.”

Amelia would be 17 years old today.  I know that she is proud of the example that her family and those who love her have set.

I have so much to be grateful for.  I wouldn’t even know where to start.  Today I am grateful for these courageous people who have chosen gratitude and set an example that is an inspiration to so many.

Happy Gratitude Day!

First Steps

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King

The past month has been a whirlwind.  On January 8th I flew to North Carolina to celebrate my mom’s 92nd birthday, see my family and to look at a piece of property in Roan Mountain, Tennessee that I hoped would become my new home.  The visit was a dream come true.

My sister Peggy and my mom picked me up at the airport in Asheville and we headed to my sister Nancy’s home in Plumtree, NC.  It was so wonderful to all be together.  I had missed Peggy’s visit in April of last year as I was still recovering from shoulder surgery and was unable to make the trip.

In the morning we all loaded up and headed into Roan Mountain, a beautiful 30 minute drive through Western North Carolina and just over the border into Tennessee.  We were early so we drove up into Roan Mountain State Park.  I had loved my previous visits to my sister’s and the drives and hikes through the Blue Ridge mountains, but it was Roan Mountain that called me home.  The wild, breathtaking beauty drew me in and I knew that this was where I belonged.

NI2A0605

Ice on the drive up Roan Mountain

On the way back down I remembered that I had seen a short cut from the house we were going to look at to the park; a short-cut that took us down Teaberry Road.  It seemed like a fun thing to do to explore the area so off we went.  It all started out well and was really a beautiful drive.  The sun had come out a bit and was filtering through the trees as we drove.  This was looking like a viable alternative route to the park for future reference until Teaberry Road turned into a dirt road and before we knew it became a one lane, somewhat bumpy drive that wound down the mountain.  To our left there was a pretty steep drop-off so we hugged the right side of the road as we crept along.  The next thing we knew we rounded a curve and here was a man coming the other direction.  Unlike us, he seemed completely unconcerned and didn’t even wait for us to get to a slightly wider part in the road before he whizzed by on our left.  Luckily, it all worked out well, although it would have been him that would have ended up off the side of the mountain had it turned out badly…it was, after all, his side of the road.  Note to self:  No trips to the park via Teaberry Road, at least not in a car.

The Perkins Hollow property, as we had begun to call it, was all that I had hoped for.  An adorable 1200 SF house on almost an acre of beautifully landscaped property with a little creek running through at the back.  I fell in love immediately.  I began to imagine my life there:  ideas for making the house a home for me, Pippin and Cowboy; turning the vegetable garden into a butterfly and bird garden; hiking trips to the state park, Smokey Mountain National Park and all of the other breathtaking destinations in the Appalachian Mountains; all of the photo ops.  The first step in seeing my dream come true.

Two days later I was headed back to Austin, ready to make an offer on the property and make the final push to get my home in Austin on the market.  Long hours were spent painting, cleaning; trips to Goodwill, and getting the yard in shape for the big day.  On Saturday, January 30th I took a break  to go with friends on a birding trip to Granger, TX.  On the way home I received the final counter offer from the sellers in Tennessee and the minute I walked in the house I printed, signed and scanned the documents to email back to my realtor.  By Sunday, I had a binding contract on the house.  Step two.

Wednesday was the big day that my little house on Campden Drive went on the market.  As my realtor, Kellye Hancock (Hindsite 20/20 Realty) put it, her phone exploded.  Texts were coming in every few minutes from realtors wanting to show the property.  By the end of the day we’d lost track of how many people had seen the house and we had three offers, two of which were well above the asking price.  Kellye put a deadline of 5:00 p.m. the next day for any other interested parties to submit an offer and Thursday started with another wave of prospective buyers.  By the end day there were three more solid offers.  Potential buyers were sending me letters along with their offers that included heartwarming stories and promises to take care of the native plants and the birds; one girl sent a picture of her dog.  I melted into tears of gratitude.  This was beyond my wildest imaginings.  By Friday morning, just 48 hours after the listing went live, I had a contract on the house.  Step three.

This has been, and I’m sure will continue to be, a magical journey; one that I never expected.  I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and doors keep opening.  I still need a job  and there are inspections and closings and moving to be done, but I have faith that all those doors will open as well.

I subscribe to this thing called “Notes from the Universe” (www.tut.com).  Each morning, Monday through Friday I get an email from “The Universe”.  This is what was in my inbox this morning:

“If you can see it in your mind, Judi, it’s real.

All that remains is merging the present you know and the world you’ve imagined, which is my part. And you can best help me align circumstances, coincidences, and chance encounters by getting busy, going out into the world, and moving in the general direction of your dreams, even if only to do what your peers might do, who know not of life’s magic.

But you know the truth, Judi.  You know how life works.  Do not waiver in your march.  No matter how humble your steps, this is how I will reach you.  And as you witness one dream come true after another – first the small ones, then the big ones, then the huge ones – you’ll remember why you were first drawn to the jungles of time and space, if you haven’t already figured it out.

Crazy kid,
   The Universe

P.S. — And when you know, Judi, would you please clue us in so that we can finish the documentary?”

Thanks Universe, I’m grateful.

 

On Safety, Comfort and Choosing Change…

“Why are you moving?”  This was the Facebook message I received a couple of weeks ago.  I confess I had to bite back the urge to say, “Why do you care?”.  Instead my response was, “Well, because I want to live in the mountains.  And there’s really nothing stopping me.”  I’m glad that I didn’t go with my first response because what ensued was a wonderful philosophical discussion about taking chances and creativity and the gift of allowing life to not be too comfortable.

“It’s always a good thing to seek change”, he said.  “Safety is not always the best choice.”  I’m finally learning that this is true.  Learning to embrace change; learning to take that leap of faith when it feels right…and maybe even when it feels a little uncomfortable.

Tomorrow morning I’ll get on a plane and fly to North Carolina.  Saturday afternoon I have an appointment to go look at what very well could be my new home, just across the North Carolina border in Roan Mountain, TN.  A small house on almost an acre of beautiful land just 6 or so miles from Roan Mountain State Park.  All of this is starting to get real.

I’ve been amazed at the number of people that have been put in my path to affirm the choices that I’m making.  The choice to take a chance on a dream; to get out of my comfort zone and go for what I want, even when it might seem impractical.  For all these people, I am so very grateful.  To the friends, the acquaintances and the strangers who have come along in the past couple of months to encourage, inspire and challenge me, I say thank you.

Stay tuned…

Going Home…

NI2A5623

From the Appalachian Trail on the top of Roan Mountain

It’s completely unlike me to quit my job and choose to move 1200 miles away on, what might seem to some, a whim.  I mean, we’re talking about the person who has lived in the same house for the past 24 years and has worked at the same job for 22 years.  It’s comfortable; safe; secure; familiar.  Why would I want to change that?

I came home from a visit to the Appalachian Mountains around my sister’s home in North Carolina last July and started looking for property around Roan Mountain, TN; about 20 miles across the North Carolina/Tennessee border from where my sister, her husband and my mother live.  We had taken a visit to Roan Mountain State Park and I was totally smitten by the park and the breathtaking landscape that surrounded it.  I lost count of the number of times I said, “I could live in a little cabin in these mountains.”

Truth be told my love affair with the mountains of Eastern Tennessee began shortly after I graduated from high school and took a trip with friends to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   Ten glorious days in early October hiking around in the mountains and touring the surrounding countryside captured my heart and my imagination way back then.  Life and work brought me to Texas a few years later but there was a love for those mountains that  resurfaced the moment I returned.  It felt like coming home.

So, despite the fact that, as of yet I have no place to live and no job, I’ll be moving to the area around Roan Mountain shortly after leaving my job on April 15, 2016.  The person who, at one point in her life, would have been panic-stricken at the idea of not having a well laid-out plan and a giant safety net is taking a leap and is trusting that this is meant to happen; trusting that there is a plan for me in those mountains and that I’ll figure it out as I go along.  Have there been moments when the fear has set in?  Absolutely.  There is also a sense of peace about it all and a sense of trust that it’s all going to work out.   I want to hike in those mountains with my dog and my camera, doing my best to capture the essence of what drew me to them all those years ago.  When it comes right down to it the only thing that could stop me is fear and I won’t let that happen.

This past January I participated in a creativity retreat with dear, dear friends that was called “The Choice of Art.”  During that weekend we were asked to write our future biography and we read it aloud to the group.  Mine started out like this:  “Judi is a nature photographer who lives with her Border Collie Pippin in a log cabin in the mountains of North Carolina.”  I guess I called it in.

I am so excited about the life that lies before me.  Is there fear as well?  Yes, but it’s not the overwhelming fear that I would have felt 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago.  It’s not the paralyzing fear that would have kept me from making this choice to begin with.  This feels right and the one thing that I am struck by is that there is not a single friend, family member or acquaintance that has asked me if I’ve lost my mind or cautioned me against making this change.  It’s friends and family like that that have brought me to this point; people that have modeled courage and inspired me.  People who have offered encouragement and support and have cheered me on.  To say I’m grateful doesn’t begin to cover it.

Namaste…

NI2A5612NI2A5616NI2A5598NI2A5638

Gratitude in the storm…

2014-05-24 Town Lake

“Now we step into today – open armed and open hearted. Every morning is something new, something unbroken, something curious and full of the rare and radiant. This is not a cliché; it is just simply true. Courage is not about being fearless, it is about loving so much you’ll brave what is hard or scary. Have courage, love this life and this morning. Your heart was broken open not apart.” — Carrie Newcomer

These words have been my daily meditation of late; something to hold on to.  A reminder to look for gratitude — to seek out the rare and radiant.

I had plans to spend the day with Pippin and my camera–I needed a day of quiet reflection…a day of peace. The skies were cloudy when I awoke and as I began to gather my hiking gear it became clear that the odds of getting stuck out in a thunderstorm were high.  In the end I scrapped those plans and headed out to the Town Lake Hike and Bike trail to get Pippin and I some exercise and some time with nature.  The sky was threatening so the camera would have to stay behind.  Undaunted, as Austinites can be, the parking lot under Mopac was jammed–everyone had the same idea.   Quiet reflection…not likely.  There were people everywhere, runners with their dogs; some pushing baby strollers; bikes rolling by.

Nevertheless, I found a sense of peace in the boats gliding quietly by on the lake; the steady rhythm of the kayakers and stand up paddlers on the water.  The sky was dark; the air thick with a cool wind — a rumble of thunder in the distance.  We walked some; ran some; listening to the birds in the trees around us.

At my faith community we have been doing a series on the power that God gives to us.  Truth be told, I haven’t been feeling very powerful lately.  And yet, being out in nature–seeing the power of nature as a storm brews gave me hope that I can find that power in myself.

As we ran the last half-mile stretch to the truck the wind was whipping the trees in earnest; giant raindrops splashing on my face.  We made it to the truck and I put Pippin in, grabbed my phone and ran out onto the bridge to snap a couple of shots of the storm coming in.  As I got back in the skies opened; bringing healing rain to this land that has been dry for so long.

2014-05-26 Town Lake Storm_02

I am grateful for this day; grateful to live in this beautiful city where the chance to be in nature is all around me.  The blessed rain is still coming down as I type this and I am thankful.

Namaste…

2014-05-26 Town Lake Storm_01

Finding gratitude…

Town Lake 019

Ever have one of those weeks that calls into question things that you once believed were fundamentally true?  Of course you have…silly question.  We all have if we’ve been around very long at all.  We are all broken people and we let each other down.  But how many times do you choose to trust again before you finally say enough is enough?  Forgiveness and trust are often hard to reconcile.  Forgiveness can come; I believe that it must, but trust?  I just don’t know right now.

It’s long past time for me to fill the pages of this blog again.  I confess that I’ve been struggling with gratitude lately.  Gratitude needs to be an intentional thing.  A spiritual discipline.  It is a gift I can give to myself as well as others and it’s high time that I begin to focus on it again.

As rough as the past few weeks have been I have much to be grateful for.  If I pay attention as I should there are things big and small everywhere in which to find gratitude; the friend who listens without judgment when I need a caring ear; my dear, funny Pippin who gives me a reason to smile and to laugh every day; a job with people of integrity who understand when I’m having a rough day…so many things…

I loaned my truck to a friend this week and he brought it back with an assortment of things repaired; things I had been living with for quite awhile, such as the broken driver’s side door handle and the missing knobs on the handles that roll the windows down; now replaced.   Heck, I drive a 20 year old truck–a few idiosyncrasies come with the territory.  The gesture was totally unexpected and unnecessary but he did it anyway and I am grateful.

I stopped to visit with my friend Mark early this morning on my way out for a power walk with Pippin at Town Lake.  Some of you will remember Mark from a blog I wrote last August.  Mark is homeless.  Visiting with Mark always brings to mind a laundry list of things I have to be grateful for if I’ll just get out of my own head long enough to notice.  Mark’s life is harder than I can possibly imagine and yet he always seems grateful for the chance to have a short conversation; perhaps a Clif Bar and a bottle of cold water; a simple acknowledgment of his humanness.

2014-04-29 BlueJay_01

One of the ways that I decompress during stressful times is to spend time with my camera.  I have found my muse in the birds and squirrels in my backyard and on my hikes with Pippin.  It’s a chance to be quiet and still — birds don’t stick around long if you make a bunch of noise or move too fast.  It’s a chance to be in nature and a chance to use the creative gifts that God has given me–a form of meditation I believe.  I’ve had some time to do just that this past week and I am grateful for it.  I’ve been rewarded with some decent photos, some new birds to add to my life list and the gift of encouragement from friends who share my passion.

05-10-14 Squirrel_08crop

My plan is to be more faithful to this practice of gratitude and to recording it in this blog.  Perhaps in doing this I can find my way back to forgiveness and trust.  I am grateful for your time and attention in reading and my wish for you is that, through all of life’s ups and downs you find a reason to be grateful.

Namaste…

05-14-14 House Finch_02 2X3

05-07-14 Goldfinch_32 2X3

05-07-14 Goldfinch_20 2X3

The gift of paying attention…

Sunrise 1-12-14 edit

“The quality of life is
in proportion, always,
to the capacity for
delight.

The capacity
for delight is the
gift of paying
attention”

–Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way”


I took the photo shown above yesterday morning as I was leaving the house to go help set up for church.  I generally leave the house a little before 7:00 a.m. and as I got in my truck to leave I noticed a hint of orange from the sun just beginning to peek up from behind the roof tops of my neighbor’s houses.  The way that the winter bare trees looked against the crystal clear early morning sky was breathtaking to me.  I had to stop to get out and take a photo.  The entire drive in I kept looking for a place to pull over to catch the perfect sunrise.  Driving across the Mopac bridge near downtown I was completely astounded by the dazzling, orange ball coming up behind the skyscrapers.  If I would not have been risking life and limb to pull over on the freeway and get that shot I would have stopped in a heartbeat.

All of this just simply would not have happened six months ago.  I would have been rushing along, intent on getting from point A to point B and I would have missed all of the beauty happening around me.  This is the gift that I have been given since I have begun to nurture the creative child that I never even knew existed within me.  A change has come over me.  I notice things that I would not have noticed before.  A beautiful sunrise; the color of fall leaves; a poem or a song that touches me…

I’m just starting out on this journey and I’m so looking forward to where it will take me.  I have a lot to learn about photography and writing and the creative life in general.  This Wednesday I’ll take a step forward in my education by starting a photography class.  I’m excited; a little nervous, but mostly I’m grateful for the gifts that this creative journey has given me.   It is an awakening whose time has come…

Namaste…

Moonrise 1-13-14 006