I’m not religious, but I’m a sucker for family traditions.  Most of our traditions are handed down, but there is one we accidentally created on our own.

A number of years ago healthcare issues and crappy insurance had nearly bankrupted us, and we had money for only the bare essentials.  We knew a tree was out of the question and had satisfied ourselves with decorations we had collected in the first 10 years of our marriage.  I had cobbled together food for our feast from gifted grocery cards and my latest paycheck and had about $35 to last the few days until my next paycheck when I headed to a thrift store that had been advertising $5 coats for kids.

I had completely excavated a corner of $5 coats when I noticed a long box behind the clothing rack. A few tugs and I unearthed an artificial tree.  The masking tape holding the box closed had a few sentences promising a complete tree for the low, low price of $10.  Reason failed me, and before I knew it, a six-year-old Thing1 and I were packing the box and his new coat into the station wagon.

It was the perfect find at the perfect time.  The bank account may have been empty, but the house was full. As far as Thing1 knew, it was the perfect Christmas, and he was right.

Since then, jobs have changed and bills have been caught up.  When it’s our turn to host Christmas we occasionally spring for a tree from the nearby tree farm (we love the tree-cutting ritual). Most years, however, our $10 second-hand fake fir still occupies the spot of honor in the living room and in my heart.

Happy Thanksgiving

When he says the Thanksgiving meal blessing, my father always prays that we remember the many who are living without peace or plenty or even barely enough.  We couldn’t be with him or my mother this year.  However , as I sat snuggling on the couch with Thing2 after our Thanksgiving feast, feeling utterly at peace, I thought I heard his prayer.  

It would take an entire blog to list all the things my family and I have to be thankful for — each other, friends, time to acknowledge the good in our lives. I’m even thankful for my worries because they are reminders — like Thing2’s small hand in mine — of how full my life is these days.

As we snuggled watching the football game, I kissed the back of Thing2’s head and prayed with my mom and dad for that same peace and plenty or at least enough for the rest of the world.  

Cards and Joy

Bouquet of Roses

Alice Walker, in her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, once wrote that the secret of joy is resistance — collective and individual resistance — to injustice (In the case of the book, the abhorrent practice of female genital mutilation).   I have often thought, however, she was also talking about resisting apathy and isolation in the face of injustices you may not have the power to stop.

I was thinking about that a lot as I painted my ‘Cards for Humanity’.

Every hour, if you choose to listen, you can hear another story of man’s inhumanity to man in almost every part of the world. With every inhumanity you can also hear someone justifying their inhumanity and someone else promising more inhumanity in (justified or imagined) retribution and/or simply revenge.

Listening to stories of innocents caught in crossfires, knowing distance and lack of logistical and political where-withal make me only a toothless witness, I was tempted to withdraw from the world. To worry only about the people under my roof and to build my barricades.

Then I began painting a card for a loved who was sick and remembered a connection to them.  I painted another I’ll send out to another friend who is down and remembered my connection to them. Then I painted another for a faceless person who might be suffering, remembering our connection to each other that the people who create the crossfires are trying to sever.

I painted more, knowing flowers won’t stop bullets or bombs, but I did know they will stop my apathy. They keep me from isolating my family from the world and surrendering to fear. And, if the only thing they do is make one person happy, that’s okay too (because, as Jimmie Durante would sing, it’ so important to make someone happy, and you will be happy too).

You can purchase Cards for Humanity at this page: Buy My Art.  After thinking long and hard , I decided that helping is the best antidote to feeling helpless and decided that 10% of sales on that page will go to two causes I really care about: kids and community.

5% of all sales on my Buy My Art page are going to Save the Children to, you know, save the children, a group of people that, as a mom, I’m pretty sappy and passionate about.

The other 5% will go to support education at Hubbard Hall, a community art and theater center in Cambridge, NY.  Why should you or anyone outside of a 10 mile radius care about Hubbard Hall?  Because through their efforts to bring the arts to kids and grown ups of all ages, they have touched the lives of people around the country and the world. They are a model of how to build a vibrant community – something humanity could really use. As devout member of the ministry of encouragement, I support their mission of inclusiveness and nurturing the creative spark whole-heartedly.

Cards for Humanity


I’ve been making cards for a Holiday craft fair in December. I started making cards with flowers on them after creating a few pieces for family members and then kept painting flowers — get well cards for humanity.

Then I added a few cards for Christmas and  Hanukkah since it’s a holiday fair, but, as an atheist, I felt a little funny at first.  And I wondered, for the umpteenth time, if it was hypocritical and why  we celebrate those holidays at all.

This year, health issues are changing our Thanksgiving celebration, separating us from family members.  We still have so much to be thankful for, but being separated from family on this one holiday that is sacred to me helped me understand why the religious holidays of others are still celebrations for us.

There are the rituals and the memories.  But there are also the holidays themselves.  Hanukkah and Christmas and other religious celebrations that occur concurrent with the winter solstice are often celebrations of light at the darkest time of year.  They are celebrations of miracles against all odds and of physical and spiritual growth even in the coldest winter.  They are perennial demonstrations of communal good will and of hope.

Right now the world is in a dark place.  It sometimes seems like the bomb throwers (literal and figurative) are everywhere. If there were ever a time to celebrate light in darkness – to celebrate and nurture hope and good will in those who want it, this is it.

I don’t have any illusions that the bomb throwers and disrupters in the world are going to come to our house and sit down for Thanksgiving dinner to solve the world’s problems over a bottle of wine. I do, however, look at the very existence of these holidays as unscientific proof that in our species there is an innate, inextinguishable desire for peace and even good will that is as vital as our competitive and destructive natures.  That desire is something I am willing to work for wherever possible.

As an atheist, a belief in an inherent desire for peace not only gives me hope, it gives me faith (something I guard closely and try to nurture) in the future of humankind. And I’m happy to celebrate it by lighting candles, stuffing a stocking, or simply sitting at a table to acknowledge the good in my lives and hope for good in the lives of others.




Feel Better


It was all bad news all weekend, and it’s getting colder outside. I feel like the world is getting ready for a long winter, literally and politically, so I went up to my studio each night and started prepping.


I made a few flower cards for some people I love who aren’t feeling well, but then I couldn’t stop painting flowers. I didn’t fight it because I think I’m right in saying that, heading into a long cold winter, you need something bright as much as you need an extra cord of firewood.


Surrender to Miracles


It’s been a sad weekend all-around. Worry about loved ones in poor health and grief for people victimized by terror made it hard to focus on hope.  There are so many negative elements beyond the ordinary person’s control that it almost seems as if hope is pointless sometimes.

I didn’t think I was in the mood to paint this morning and decided to go for a drive instead.  I was driving toward the Equinox mountain when the sun, warming the mountain from the east began pushing the clouds out of the valley and over the peaks.  It was a perfect moment, completely un-plannable, and I knew I needed to paint and connect with the mountain.

I painted for an hour and packed up to go home and get online for work. As I drove along the Battenkill river in Arlington Vermont I saw a white object in the sky coming toward me. It was gliding and then flapping, and as it got closer, I realized it was a bald eagle. Trying to drive and watch the eagle, I didn’t even bother reaching for my camera.

For that moment I felt my spirit lift and I let go of everything  – sadness, fear, despair – feeling a loss of control of everything – (except the wheel – I did keep hold of that) and for a brief brilliant moment feeling complete serenity.

I stopped at the country store moments later, breathless and energized, knowing there are tragedies that are beyond my control but also aware of the miracles that are equally so.  I marched to the cooler at the back of the store, accepting that bad things happen and often there is nothing you can do except accept. Denying the miracles around you, however, doesn’t make you any less helpless, and embracing them may help you get through the tragedies.

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