A Beautiful Lesson in the Art of Giving and Receiving

Today I went for a walk, little did I know that I would be taught a most valuable lesson about giving and receiving, from a 4 year old girl.

About 1/2 way through my walk I crossed paths with two women and 5 little girls who were enjoying the sights along the canal. I couldn’t help but notice the little blonde girl walking toward me and how proudly she held four goose feathers in her hands.

She looked up at me and stretched out her hands, “would you like one of my beautiful feathers?”

“Of course I would, thank you so much for such a wonderful gift.”

Her entire body, not just her face, lit up with the pleasure she felt in giving me this very precious gift.

As I walked away, goose feather in hand, I wasn’t sure quite what to do. It was clear that to her, this was not a dirty goose feather, it was magical and beautiful. Tossing it aside wasn’t an option. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her face if we crossed paths again and I had tossed aside her gift.

The perfect solution came to me and I tucked the feather into my pony tail.

I thought about the nature of giving and receiving. It’s become clear to me that being a good receiver is equally important as being a generous giver. This tiny girl’s face lit up the world with joy when I accepted her gift, I can’t help but think that her light would have dimmed if her gift had been rejected or ignored.

On the final stretch of my walk I encountered the group again. Tiny brown eyes looked up at me asking, “do you still have the feather I gave you?”

I pointed to my pony tail and turned around on the path, “what do you think?”

“I think it’s beautiful,” she said.

“I do too.”

She held out the three remaining feathers, “would you like one more?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“Oh yes, you need two.”

“Shall I put this one in my pony tail also?”

Tiny hands clapped and she said “yes.”

I tucked the second goose feather into my hair and turned so she could see it.

“Oh my, you look like you have two beautiful birds on your head.”

Words can’t describe the warmth that filled my heart or the smile that spread over my face and hers.


Artist’s note: The feature image represents my interpretation of the day. Out of context I doubt it has much meaning, but I like to think that my little friend would find it beautiful.



butterfly on a pretty weed

My kids find it embarrassing when I stop to take pictures of things like a pile of shoes on someone else’s porch, a muscle car in a parking lot, or of a stranger’s garden. I think the word they use if they catch me taking pictures of a person is “creepy.”

In my defense, I only take pictures of random strangers from a distance and I don’t post them on Facebook. I like having them as a source of inspiration for writing and as a visual reminder of the many characters in life.

I thought twice about taking my camera along on my late afternoon walk. It was overcast and muggy and the day didn’t have the lighting I had in mind. I love taking pictures around sunset. I think there’s something romantic and nostalgic about that time of day. Of course pictures taken at sunrise may also share those qualities but it’s highly unlikely that I will ever discover whether or not that’s the case. The only reason you’ll find me up before sunrise is because that was the flight time with the very best price.

I stopped in front of the favorite garden along my route. There are flowers from spring until fall and I’m drawn to the bursts of color and the combination of plants and flowers that are both whimsical and wild.

Lost in thought, I focused in and snapped one picture after another in an attempt to capture the contrast of the oranges, yellows, pinks, and purples against the small sea of waving green.

“Excuse me,” called a voice from the porch.


My kids worst fear has come true, I’d been busted. As a rule follower at heart, my face grew hot and my pulse quickened.

I swallowed hard, “Hi there, I was ummm…just ummm…you have a beautiful garden. I especially love the day lilies.”

I opted out of trying to explain why I was taking pictures and attempted to distract her with a compliment and called out the one and only flower that I knew the name of.


“I noticed you taking pictures and I just wanted to tell you that you are welcome to wander anywhere in the yard for as long as you like.”

Really? She wasn’t mad?

“Wow thanks! By the way, I’m Beth.”

She waved from the porch, “Nice to meet you Beth, I’m Bonnie.”

Bonnie joined me in the yard after she finished her late afternoon snack. She gave me a personal tour which included an introduction to the frogs in her pond, I’ve nicknamed them Fred and Fernando. There was a third frog, but he wasn’t showing the camera his best side.

fred the frog
Fred the frog
fernando the frog
Fernando the frog

Bonnie shared a passionate overview of how her gardens have transitioned over the past twenty three years. I had never given a second thought to how many things could impact the art of bringing flowers to life.

I told her my tale of woe and how my second attempt at gardening hadn’t gone nearly as well as the first thanks to the deer and the heat. She listened with an understanding smile and invited me to stop by in the fall to collect as many perennials as I wanted.

I think we made each others day.

I wandered along the towpath taking pictures of butterflies and what I consider to be pretty weeds. I thought and I walked and I realized, flowers and butterflies are beautiful even on a cloudy day.

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And…I Fix Computers Too

I am one of ‘those people’ who can strike up a conversation with anyone and usually does.  Today however, I was standing in line at Best Buy for the third trip related to my out of commission laptop and I wasn’t in the mood for small talk.

The same could not be said for the gentleman in front of me in line.  First he told me all about his camera.  That’s why he was there.

“I spent one hundred thirty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents on it, and I took out this here plan that if the camera breaks, they replace it…cost me two hundred dollars.”

Who does that?

He went on to tell me that this was his third camera and he was in between vacations to Alaska and Disney World, both vacations were settlements,  resulting from accidents on the property of the Theme Park and a cruise ship. At Disney World he slipped in the parking lot and now has a lifetime pass as well as a part-time job as Tigger a few times a year. 

On the cruise ship, his fate was much worse.  He slipped on the deck and became ‘road kill’ for a 475 pound man in a wheel chair, not once but twice.  He is now headed for a complimentary fifteen day tour of British Columbia and surrounding sights.

He spent six years in the army, three working for the post office and more than twenty in the IRS, each occupation backed up by an ID card pulled out of his wallet, and has been ‘happily retired’ since 2006.  Apparently he’s only two broken bones away from owning the world record of number of casts worn by a single person – only 2 more to go and he ‘wins.’  I tried to verify his claim, but could not.

Finally I was rescued by one of the geeks (never thought I’d hear myself say that).

After dropping off the second recovery disk, I attempted to exit the store with no further eye contact or conversation.  Much to my dismay I was unsuccessful.

“I noticed you dropped off a disk.” He said.

“Oh… yeah… it’s a recovery disk. My computer crashed and they have to restore the whole system, the first disk was bad.” I responded (mentally kicking myself for re-engaging).

“Well, I coulda fixed that for you for next to nothing.  I fix computers too…”

Right Turn Ahead…Recalculating…

After checking the itinerary no less than 700 times before heading to the airport, my youngest son and I were finally airborne and on our way to Minnesota for a long-awaited vacation at the lake. 

The day had gone without a single hitch, we missed rush hour traffic and there were no accidents on I95, the shuttle bus was ready and waiting at long-term parking, we flew through security, the flight was on time, and my suitcase only weighed 48.5 lbs.

We landed safely in Minneapolis and made the trek from the far end of the airport to the tram, up three flights of escalators, and walked to the furthest corner on rental car row. 

Thanks to the unparalleled efficiency behind the desk, there were only 2 customers and 45 minutes between me and a wrestling match with the side view mirror of the Ford Fusion.  The bags were in the trunk, the mirrors were properly adjusted, on our way at last, we headed to the open road.

Only the road wasn’t so open. 

I hadn’t taken into account that we’d be leaving the city during rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon when the residents of Minneapolis pack up their cars and head to ‘the lake.’  I felt like I was back on the East coast in bumper to bumper traffic headed to ‘the shore.’

Although we had two smart phones and an iPad all equipped with navigation systems we opted to add a sense of adventure to our trip and use the directions provided by my dad along with the map the rental car attendant gave us.

We were already off to a much later start than I had hoped.  The plan was to be on the road by three p.m. and sitting down to a feast with the rest of the family by seven; however it became clear that in spite of my navigator’s best efforts, there was no shortcut to escape the heavy traffic and KFC was going to have to do for dinner.

My 15-year-old mimicked the voice of a GPS as he guided me from one turn to the next. His instructions far exceeded the limited navigation capabilities of the TomTom, as he notified me that people were flashing their lights because I needed to turn my headlights on.  Who knew they still made cars where you have to turn the headlights on yourself?

We had thirty miles to go; darkness, rain, and road signs that seemed to conflict with the directions confused both the navigator and the driver. We stopped to gather our bearings.

“Recalculating…Mom, back up so we can see what that sign said.”

“I’m not backing up on the highway,” I replied.

“You totally have time, there’s no one coming,” he insisted.

With a sideways glance I said, “I don’t recall that as an instruction from my GPS.”

“You totally could have made it,” he exclaimed once more.

We made a pact to ignore the road signs, stick to the directions, and not back up on the highway no matter how confused we got. White knuckled, I drove along the winding unlit roads to the sound of rain pounding on the roof, the hypnotic rhythm of the wiper blades against the windshield, and the deep smooth voice of my son who finally said…

 “Right turn ahead…you have reached your destination.”

Paul Bunyan Meets Cirque Du Soleil

It was like Paul Bunyan meets Cirque Du Soleil and it all happened right in my front yard.

It was Saturday morning. I saw him before he reached the house, he dropped a pile of orange rope on the ground and rang the bell. I hoped it was the tree guy and not just a random stranger brandishing a chainsaw as though it were a tinker toy.

Above the high-pitched commotion of two yapping dachshunds, he introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Bobby, the tree guy,” he said.

A tiny wave of relief rolled through me.

He wore faded jeans and a grey muscle man t-shirt, and the slight swagger in his stance contradicted the modesty in his eyes.

“Sorry I didn’t get here sooner, I had to take the chipper in. It kept overheating, smoke was coming out everywhere. I told the guys at the shop what I thought was wrong, but instead of doing what mechanics should do, and figure it out, they took my word for it.

“What were they thinking? I’m a tree guy, they’re the mechanics. Sheesh!” Bobby ranted.

I laughed and said, “You should have sent it into the shop with a woman, because the mechanics never would have taken her word for it.”

He cinched the harness belt and strapped the tree spikes on over his boots.

One step at a time he secured his foothold and walked up the tree. His powerful hands grasped the rope and he pulled himself higher and higher.

I held my breath as I watched him maneuver. Suspended in air, held only by a rope, he swung through the tree and cut off one branch after another. He worked with his ground crew to drop each one to the ground with precision and a surprising grace.

He said, “One tree down, and one to go. I’ll be back on Monday.”

Bobby returned. It was Friday, not Monday, but nonetheless true to his word he was back.

The surface of my driveway was barely visible under the tangled mass of branches and leaves.

As I approached, the ground crew of two shouted out in unison, “Customer! …… Customer!”

“Is that a warning so everyone knows not to talk bad about the customer?” I asked.

“No ma’am, it’s so we know there’s a lady present,” was the reply.

I smiled and my eyes followed the direction of their tilted heads.

Bobby was more than 30 feet in the sky, framed by the two limbs he straddled, his dark grey t-shirt blended into the backdrop of darkening clouds.

I watched through a window of two fingers as he planted one foot into the branch and stretched his body along the length of it. Bobby swung the rope repeatedly until he secured a safe position to slay the next member of the tree.

Thunder cracked and the sky exploded, announcing the end of the day but not the end of the job.

The following morning was sunny, Bobby’s mood was not. There was no swagger in his stance and his entire body drooped with defeat.

He sighed and shrugged his shoulders, “I underbid this job by a longshot, it happens, but you still gotta finish the job and finish it right,” he said.

I watched him scale the mountainous locust one last time, there was only a glimpse of his red t-shirt visible between the leaves until he emerged at the top. Outlined against a sky of white and blue he balanced on the uneven branch and began to claim the tree.

For the next seven hours the chain saw whined and whirred through limb after limb, tree parts thudded to the ground and sawdust swirled through the air like a winter flurry.

At 6:42 p.m. the work to cut the remaining twenty feet of the locust tree into manageable pieces was still underway.

Unable to stay away, I watched the day come to a close.  The trunk stretched across the neighbor’s yard and my view from the patio was partly blocked by the four feet that remained standing.

The buzz of the saw whirred and puttered into silence, “Damn it!” Bobby shouted.

It was the first time he had raised his voice since he started the job. Dusk fell around us, the saw had died, the job was not complete.

I’m surprised “damn it” was all he said.

In the days that followed I tried not to lose faith that Bobby would return.  I wanted to believe that he would “finish the job and finish it right.”

One month and three days after the work was scheduled to start my doorbell rang.

It was Bobby, a man of his word.

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The Felling Finale…or is it?

The morning was sunny, Bobby’s mood was not.

Bobby looked nothing short of defeated, his entire body drooped with exhaustion.

“I underbid this job by a longshot, but it happens, and you still gotta finish the job and finish it right,”  were his final words before he took on the tree.

As I once again watched him scale a tree, this one even taller than the last, I held my breath.  I couldn’t imagine being so high above the ground, held by nothing other than a rope and spurs attached to my boots to secure a foothold.

I’ve tried to find a way to create the image as he climbed to the top of the tree  with poetic words and not by giving a blow-by-blow description, but I can’t.  It was like nothing I’ve ever seen.

In my mind, it was no longer a tree, it had become a mountain.

There aren’t words to describe what it was like to catch a glimpse of his red t-shirt between the leaves and see him finally emerge at the top of a sawed off limb. Outlined against a sky of white and blue he balanced on the uneven branch and began to claim the tree.

He took down limb after limb, and with the help of his crew they brought each one to the ground with skill and precision. Sawdust swirled through the air like a quick winter flurry.

I wish I had been there for the final fall.

Outside my kitchen window, Bobby climbed the neighbor’s tree in a matter of minutes. He took down the small pine tree down in less than 2 hours. The mighty locust in my yard took two days to bring to the ground.

At 6:42 p.m. the pine tree was complete while the work to cut the remaining 20 feet of the locust tree into manageable pieces was still underway.

Unable to stay away, I sat on my patio and watched the day come to a close.

“Damn it!” Bobby shouted. The buzz of the saw whirred and puttered into silence.

It was the first time Bobby had raised his voice since he started the job.  Dusk was starting to settle, the saw had just died and the job was still not complete.

I’m surprised “damn it” was all he said.

Bobby the tree guy through the leaves

Operation Tree Removal (aka Bobby the Tree Guy):

Part one:  I didn’t realize you thought I meant ‘this’ week…   Read post

Part two: Oh Me of Little Faith…. Read post

Part three: the text: idk if i’ll be able to mow the lawn today…Read post


Chicka Boom, Chicka Brush

I left for my run without my ipod. When I realized it I was annoyed, but given the fact that it took me nearly 1/2 a mile to notice it, I’d have to admit it wasn’t a tragedy after all.

I’d spent most of the day feeling anxious and blue.  My mind filled with thoughts of all I can’t do.

Chicka boom, chicka boom…a strange and unfamiliar sound interrupted my silent soliloquy.  No wait, not chicka boom…chicka brush, chicka brush, like two shakes of a maraca followed by swish, the single beat of a brush on a drum.

The rhythmic sound grew closer and passed me.  Chicka, the two beat sound as his prosthetic bounced against the fine gravel,  then brush as his foot completed his stride.

Chicka brush, chicka brush…

We exchanged a silent wave and I watched him run into the sun.

Inspiration and perspective come at unexpected times and in unpredictable forms.

The next time I think “I can’t” or “it’s too hard,” I’ll do my best to remember chicka boom, chicka brush: the sound of yes I can.

Funnel Cakes and Moon Walks

I recently attended a Celtic festival in Bristol borough.

The festival took place in a small park located on the Delaware river. I didn’t realize there was a park located behind the wooden awning that shelters the entrance to the river.  I now know that it’s the host for weekly concerts and summertime festivals.

There were dozens of stands with stuff to buy jewelry, t-shirts, paintings and more.  My favorite was Lolli Molly Bows. The display of bright pink, green and purple tutus, bows and butterfly wings brought out the little girl in me and for a moment made me wish my daughter was 2 and not 20.

In addition to trinkets and t-shirts, there were home-made goodies, hand-made crafts, and the chance to enter a raffle for a painting sponsored by the  Bristol Cultural and Historical Foundation, the guardians of local history and tradition.

The atmosphere was lively and warm, laughter and the rise and fall of simultaneous conversations circled around me. I delighted in watching friends unite with hugs and handshakes.

Of course no festival would be complete without the obligatory moon walk, sweet roasted corn, fresh squeezed lemonade, and the perennial favorite, funnel cake. The Tornado Potato was a new one to me, I think next time I’ll have to sample the spiral of fried potato slices on a stick.

A family band played and danced on the pavilion made into a stage the lilting sound of irish ballades filled the air. The grass was speckled with lawn chairs and summer hats.

I stopped for a moment and caught a snippet of conversation.

“Daddy, after the moon walk can we get funnel cake?” a small voice asked.

“Of course we can, let’s get some lemonade too.” was the deep response.

In that instant, I realized I could have been anywhere in the world or at least anywhere in the US.  People are the same wherever you go. The accents or physical appearance may make us seem different from one another, but we’re really not so different after all.

Bristol PA Lions Park

Bristol PA Celtic Festival Lolli Molly BowsCeltic Festival Bristol PA,tornado potato and fresh squeezed lemonade Celtic Festival Bristol PA,Funnel Cake Stand

Celtic Festival Bristol PA,Funnel Cake Stand irish band

The Night I was a Princess

I suspected that writers use their life’s experiences to shape their work, but until I began taking classes, I really had no idea just how much they do.  Class after class, and piece after piece more and more memories are jogged and become ideas.  Some stand on their own, and some are just snippets.

The memories make me smile and sometimes they make me cry, and more often than not they do both.

I would like to share a piece I wrote for one of my most recent lessons.  There were several options, but in essence the assignment was to bring a childhood memory to life.

I hope you enjoy.


The Night I was a Princess

“Beth,” a voice called.

“Yes mommy,” I replied.

“There’s a television show about a princess on tonight.”

“There is?” I gulped.

“There is, her name is Cinderella and it’s on during dinner, but guess what.”

I grasped a slender finger and followed her into the living room.

“My rocking chair, it’s…it’s…it’s…it’s in front of the TV,” I exclaimed.

Her blue eyes smiled at my wide-eyed, upturned face.

“You get to eat your dinner in the living room and watch while you eat,” she said.

“I do?!”  I squealed and clapped.

“Yes, as long as you promise to be very careful.”

“Oh yes Mommy!  I will, I promise!”

I settled into my very special seat and ever so carefully I placed the plate onto my lap.

On every other day it was an ordinary rocking chair, a seat covered with red fabric and had a ruffled skirt that tickled the back of my legs. That night it was not a rocking chair, it became a stool by the fireplace, a seat in a magic pumpkin carriage, and the throne of a princess.

I don’t remember if I ate the mashed potatoes and peas, but I do know they are still favorites of mine. I tingled inside while I watched Cinderella escape from her evil stepmother and fall in love with her prince.

I cried when it was over.

My mother held me. It was not the first or the last time she comforted me as I cried when I had to say goodbye to something, someone, or some place that made me happy, not to mention the times she held me when things made me sad.

I’ll never forget my first TV dinner and the night I was a princess.