A Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve come across several “I’m taking a break for the holidays” messages on other sites lately and I agree with that idea wholeheartedly! With the Winter Solstice upon us, it’s natural to lean toward rest and reflection as we await the magic that a new year brings. I’ve decided to do the same by enjoying quiet candlelit evenings, time with family and loved ones, long walks in the woods, cooking delicious and nourishing meals and cozy afternoon naps, and then coming back here refreshed and rejuvenated in the New Year. I hope you’ll do what feels good and natural to you over the next 2+ weeks too, and I’ll leave you with one last post for 2014… it’s a long (but fun) one so make a cup of Mayan hot chocolate and settle in. May it inspire your senses and soothe your spirit.

I deeply appreciate the many soul-stirring things I discovered, experienced and saw over the last 12 months or so. Here’s a shortlist of some of my favorites that might inspire you as this year closes and the new one begins. (I’m not formally endorsing these things in any way or receiving any compensation for including them. I just like them and want to share.)

Soundtrack for reading: My Favorite Things (John Coltrane)

  1. I hadn’t traveled much in the years leading up to 2014, so I indulged my pent up wanderlust as I visited Red Rock Canyon (near Las Vegas, NV) and Mount Desert Island in Maine. If you’re looking for unusual and breathtaking natural beauty, these treks are for you.
  2. When I started working at a local art center in 2000, there was an encaustic painting by local artist Tremain Smith hanging on the office wall. I always felt very drawn to the sublime layers of texture and color. A few months ago, I went to one of her gallery openings and finally had the pleasure of meeting her. This was shortly after I had started making my own collages, so it felt like divine timing was in play when she told me about the spiritual nature of her artwork.
  3. I love to hike and try to go several times a week if possible. When it’s really cold or windy, or when I need a different kind of movement, I do Mary Helen Bower’s Ballet Beautiful. I took ballet as a 7-year-old and wish I had stuck with it – it just feels good and it’s a great workout.
  4. Ever been to a burlesque review? Ooo la la! Sexy & suave, witty & talented, clad in velvet, sequins and good dose of panache – and that’s just the audience! I had the pleasure of attending a show and I’d highly recommend it. Inject some fun & fanfare into your life while celebrating the curves, bumps & grinds of true beauty. (You’ll thank me when you’re snowed in for a week in February.)
  5. I created a Melody Gardot station on Pandora – it pulls up the likes of Amos Lee (also Philly-born like Melody) and some lovely Latin guitar instrumentals. It’s perfect for cooking a romantic dinner, writing in your journal, dancing or even just looking out the window on a rainy Saturday afternoon. C’est si bon!
  6. I like a nice glass of red wine – sometimes with manchego & crackers, sometimes alone – and this year I found Santa Julia, an organic Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina, that’s well-priced and yummy – think: un-sweet black cherries + pepper + vanilla. Best to drink it with a very close compadre while wearing brown suede boots (just try it).
  7. Here’s a DIY spin on tea-lights: when they get liquidy, drop in some essential oils for a fragrant and sensual experience. I like these combos: ylang-ylang + lemon; bourbon vanilla; cinnamon + orange + clove; lavender + frankincense + clary sage. Your heart and head will swoon a little.
  8. I had a dream I was making this so I plan to try it, maybe for Christmas brunch: slice the top 1/3 off of a croissant and set the bottom in an oiled baking dish (obviously you can do as many as you want, but since it was developed in my imagination and is untested maybe try just 1 at first?). Pour a scrambled egg mixture with whatever add-ins you like (brie, scallions & chopped spinach maybe?) into the crevasses of the croissant (it can run out a little into the dish. Bake at 350 degrees till the eggs are cooked. (I woke up before it went into the oven so I’m guessing on the temperature.) I suppose you could top it with the top of the croissant, right? Certainly someone in Paris has done this already. I think I’ll try it first and then see if I can find a recipe – more fun that way!

8b. In case you don’t want to risk it, here’s something that’s been tested and approved by a foodie dinner club I had the pleasure of attending. It’s my version of the one you can often find on the Whole Foods buffet: wheat berries (look up how to cook them), dried cranberries, chopped celery & scallion, small cubes of Gouda cheese (and/or nuts would be good too). Mix together. In a separate bowl combine: raspberry chipotle mustard (I get this regionally-made one at my local co-op – crazy good), pomegranate (or similar) vinegar, olive oil, maple syrup (or similar), salt & pepper and a pinch of cayenne. I make up my own dressings so I just eyeball the amounts – if you’re not used to doing that, go easy on the vinegar and add a little bit at a time till it tastes yummy and balanced. Whisk well to emulsify (mine was pretty thick) and stir it into the wheat berry mixture. You can add chopped flat leaf parsley at the end if you like. Overall, it has a nice chewy-crunchy texture with a little sweet/tart/heat action, and it just feels healthy.

9.You know how you can hear something several (or many) times and it doesn’t quite click until one day it does? That happened to me in early 2014 – I finally really listened to and absorbed the teachings of Abraham-Hicks. In the length of one video, all the random ideas that I’ve had while forming Sacred Sensual Living came together into a cohesive and viable “what and why.” Deep down I knew my ideas and theories had merit because it’s how I live and thrive: immersed in the beauty & pleasure of life, connected to my intuition, nourished in my heart, with a joyous and peaceful soul. But discovering that the under-pinning was aligned with the A-H philosophy helped me see how I can make Sacred Sensual Living highly practical and useful (in addition to beautiful, of course). I’ll be writing much more about this and creating a variety of new resources for you in the New Year, so check back (and/or sign up for the mailing list) to learn more about how to mine your life’s sweet spots and create a more meaningful life – it’s easier than you might think!

  1. And last but not least, here’s a present for you. It’s the mantra I’ve had going through my head for months now. (Sometimes Ray LaMontagne’s voice sings it to me with a different last word to his title lyric: “Let it Be Me” Sorry, Ray, it just happens. It’s a beautiful song as is too, of course.) You can download the piece below and use it as desktop wallpaper or do with it whatever you like (sharing on FB, Pinterest, etc. is always appreciated!). (Note: for best resolution, click on the image to open full size then right click and choose set desktop wallpaper.)

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p style=”text-align: center;”>let it be easyThanks for hanging out with me as the year comes to a close. Remember: release, relax, rejuvenate. You deserve to enter 2015 feeling gooood. And most importantly, just enjoy.

PS – If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, you’re missing out on some Sacred Sensual goodies! Make 2015 the year when you awaken your senses in a whole new way, connect to your powerful essence and feel how meaningful life can be… by learning how to let it be easy.

The Maine Event: Coastal Beauty & Soul

A recent trip to coastal Maine reset my beauty barometer and invigorated my soul. It was waves crashing onto craggy rocks and forests glowing with yellow and orange foliage. It was an owl nearly grazing my head as it swooped by. It was crying over the lavender sunset light and marveling at divine timing, my lost gold ring found, and the freshness of local seafood. It was perfection, in it’s own craggy way.

I now understand why artists love Maine: breathtaking beauty, sublime light, unlimited inspiration. I took over 300 photos and I’m eager to use many of them in new collages. Here are a couple glimpses of the raw photos:

sunset with rainbow smallFrom atop Cadillac mountain in Acadia National Park. I think my point-and-shoot was feeling the divine spirit as well – no idea how that rainbow happened!

beach view 1Sand Beach taken from the climb up Great Head trail in Acadia.

Bubble PondBubble Pond. (Acadia)

sunset leavesCadillac Mountain sunset. Even the professional photographers were saying how spectacular the colors were that night.

balance rocks

Balanced rocks near a balanced rock, in Bar Harbor.

seed pods I got a little lost near Yarmouth and ended up on a beautiful island. I had a conversation with a local who had been digging in the bay for clams, and then I saw these angelic seed pods.

flower wavesBeauty and the sea at Cape Elizabeth lighthouse. According to a marker at the site, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would walk here from Portland, and it’s where he likely derived inspiration for his poem, The Lighthouse.

Sit in reverie and watch the changing color of the waves that break upon the idle seashore of the mind. – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Pink Moment

For many years now I’ve had reverence for “the magic hour” – that brief time before sunset when the light becomes golden or amber or pink. It’s the photographer’s sweet spot, providing a boost of glowing color and shadowy definition to natural scenes. A friend once said it makes us look like “Italian goddesses,” and sometimes when it bathes my surroundings I feel like I’ve been transported into a Maxfield Parrish painting.

My latest collage – “How Do You Spot a Blessing?” – was inspired by how this magical time seems to calm me down and make my soul smile. So, I was thrilled to read the paragraph below in a Conde Nast Traveler article on Ojai, California (the state is a slight obsession of mine):

…Ojai has been a cherished place for any number of California cultures over the years: the Chumash Indians who first settled the valley; citrus and avocado ranchers; theosophists; Krishnamurti; and Hollywood stars, who’ve long owned discreet retreats here… All of them are drawn at least in part by the town’s famous “pink moment,” a fleeting period before sunset when the jagged Topa Topa Mountains that frame the northern edge of this fertile valley take on a dusky-rose hue: It’s an enchanting time that draws the eyes up and clears the mind.

It’s an enchanting time that draws the eyes up and clears the mind…

Sunday evening I was sitting on a bench overlooking the Delaware River sharing a tall Negro Modelo (leftover from our byob Peruvian lunch) with a good friend. We were deep into a meaningful conversation when puffy pink clouds started to float over the mountain across the river. A few of the trees were just starting to exhibit the golden leaves of fall, and the pink light made them glow a vibrant orange amidst their green neighbors. The puffs turned to streaks and soon the sky, the river and my friend and I were all bathed in lavender light. I stopped him mid-sentence and told him about the pink moment. We were silent for a bit, looking up and appreciating the beauty. Soon everything greyed out into dusk and we finished the warming beer. Our conversation continued, but we both came back to it with a slightly heightened sense of awe about the beauty and magic that appears, and disappears, with each day.

Blessing blended small
“How Do You Spot a Blessing” is a digital collage I made from photos I took in New Orleans, LA; Rhinebeck & Woodstock, NY; and my own backyard (the pink sky and dark trees). May it bring you some clarity. And, remember to look up.

Inspiration: It’s Closer Than You Think

If you’re looking for inspiration, sometimes there’s a whole world of it right nearby. You might be in the habit of walking or driving around without really noticing your surroundings, but if so, you may be missing out on some idea-generating treasures right in your midst.

When I need a change of scenery to get my creative juices going, I usually just take a walk through my neighborhood – Chestnut Hill (a section of Philadelphia). I’m very lucky to live in a place where residents and business owners take great care in making their properties look enticing and attractive. Even so, sometimes I breeze by the beauty a little too fast and miss the special details (hello, Mr. Cricket!). I took all these photos within a block of my house (except for Woodmere), and just that little jaunt has given me some new ideas and fresh photos to use in my next round of collages.

Chestnut Hill 1The little lending library (top left) is a new addition – you can take any book and bring it or another back whenever you like (I took Awaken Your Senses, of course, and a steamy-looking novel by Paul Theroux). Everyone’s flowers are crazy lush this year – eye candy everywhere! I often pop over to Paris for a La Vie en Rose cocktail on Friday evenings – there’s even a jazz club downstairs, bien sur.

Chestnut Hill 2The green revolution has come our way, thankfully, and there are some great eco-friendly shopping options up and down the Avenue. My world changed when Green Soul opened – fresh pressed juices, smoothies and yummy salads, all with fresh ingredients… heaven. 054

The outdoor exhibit (top right) is put together by a group called Fresh Artists that works with public schools and businesses to mount shows of students’ work. (Love how the frames are actually part of the print – brilliant!). The Woodmere Art Museum (top left) has a permanent collection and special exhibits of regional artists, and they often have outdoor installations on display as well (and a hay bale maze come Halloween).

I love my neighborhood! It continually encourages me to really look around and discover the beauty and magic right outside my door. Although I love to travel and explore new towns and sites, there’s something to be said for the smaller, more intimate discoveries close to home.

How about you? Where do you go to find inspiration? Your backyard? Down the block? A couple towns over? I’d love to hear where you go for a quick and inspirational pick-me-up!

Beauties and Mysteries

Beauties & mysteries of lifeI took this photo at Red Rock Canyon, just outside of Las Vegas. After a couple of days of bright lights and crowds, this vast and quiet landscape brought peace to my soul. I can always count on nature to soothe and inspire me.

How about you? Do you have special places that you go to nourish your soul? Do you seek natural areas or does the energy of the city refresh you? Where do you find the beauties and mysteries of life?

Don’t Fear the Rapture

verdant b2“Although everyone feels rivulets of wonder, and even awe, from time to time, not everyone is as comfortable expressing those feelings as freely as John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson or Walt Whitman. Amy's rainbow

 

 

 

I suppose what people fear is loss of objectivity. But life doesn’t require you to choose between reason and awe,  or between clear-headed analysis and a rapturous sense of wonder. A balanced life includes both.” – Diane Ackerman, Cultivating Delight

pastorius panerama 2 sm size

A Different Beauty

winter brought greys & tans & silvery taupes

hawk at harper's ferry

that’s how nature intended it

no outlet

so we would have the opportunity

grateful

to see a different beauty

sky from train

that otherwise

The Ramble 3

we might not notice

devoted

distracted as we get by the bright-colored things

butterfly

but it’s all beautiful

deer

and spring unfailingly comes around

spring toes

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Soul Liberation: The Trail Not Taken

Sometimes we feel like we’re at a crossroads.

AT sign in HF
We check in with our head and our heart.

We quiet our mind and try to hear the small, still voice that guides us in a way our brain may not understand.

Often that yields an elegant and true feeling answer.

But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we need to detach from the either/or, the this/that, the right/wrong.

Maybe there is no wrong.

Maybe we should be looking for a third option.

frozen canal in HFA new avenue.

One that may appear treacherous at first glance. Impassible. Risky.

But gorgeous in its simplicity. Easy on the soul.

It’s foreign and familiar at the same time.

It’s a leap. But if you land with grace, it might turn into a smooth skate.

Or there might be an opening.

ducks in canal in HF close

To meet new friends. To find a new community.

Feel warmth amidst the crunchy ice.

To bathe in a small pool that promises nourishment and freedom.

To feel home again, in harmony with ourselves.

Embrace the Mystery

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. – John Muir

The Ramble 1

 

 

 

“[The Ramble was intended to be an] intricate disposition of lights
and shadows [to] create a degree of obscurity not absolutely impenetrable, but sufficient to affect the imagination with a sense of mystery.”
– Frederick Law Olmstead, co-designer of New York’s Central Park

 

 

 

 

The earth has music for those who listen. – George Santayana

The Ramble 2

There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be.
– John Lennon

Are you ready to receive the messages whispering from the
beauty that’s around you?
Are you listening to the music of your life?
Be where you are: receive, listen, embrace the mystery.

Magic Gardens, Magic Night

Art should not be segregated in museums; it needs to live free among us.
– Isaiah Zagar (creator of the installation that is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens)

circle small
The wound is the place where light enters you. – Rumi

statue small

To a dull mind all of nature is leaden. To the illuminated mind the whole world burns and sparkles with light.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

bottles small

Without vision, execution is delusion. – Thomas Edison

No delusion here. Pure light-filled visions of heart-tweaking beauty and soul-spinning grandeur.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

The Re-Set Button: A Trip to CA

People say that what we are seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive. – Joseph Campbell

California, 2010

California, 2010

Many times over the summer I had to remind myself that becoming enlightened isn’t about living a perfect life, one that looks shiny and perky from the outside. Rather, it’s about staying centered and peaceful in my soul while rinsing out the endless cat food cans, unloading the dishwasher and going back to the market because I forgot to get the trash bags.

These are my Ant duties, and I fulfill them, sometimes with such focused energy that crossing things off my to-do list is disturbingly satisfying. I believe that if I get it all done, then… well, it’s never all done, is it? I will admit it, my priorities are like vegetable soup right now. Pureed even.

Where is my Butterfly with her free-floating imagination and sense of curiosity? She visits now and then but has been sadly elusive for a couple of months now. In defense of the Ant, however, the seemingly trivial duties have served to build my anthill, my foundation. The one that my Butterfly will use as a launch pad and a resting spot. A beautiful one that will inspire her and provide the security she needs to explore new meadows, new worlds.

That’s been my lesson this summer: I need security in order to have real freedom. (As opposed to my former belief: I need freedom in order to create security – didn’t work out so well.)

California, 2010

California, 2010

The Ant has been successful. I’ve laid the cornerstone and paved
the driveway. The windows sparkle, attracting sunbeams and love-lights into my life and my heart.

But now, I need to push the Re-Set Button in preparation for the Butterfly’s return. I need some awe. Vast swathes of nature, intimate moments with whispering winds. California, here I come.

With the past, I have nothing to do, nor with the future. I live now.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

California, 2010

California, 2010