Would you start a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle if you knew it was missing one piece? Before you even opened the box, would you think, "What's the use?" or rather "Why not?" Maybe it makes a difference if you plan to keep it, like I did with a collection of Artsy Cats (by Mudpuddy), which I hung in the "grandkids" room.
I just couldn't part with these cute kitties and their laughable names -- Clawed Monet, Vincat Van Gogh, Frida Catlo -- you get the picture.
But I knew that the puzzle I selected to work during the holidays would not be a keeper.
The winter scene fit the mood of festive lights and hot chocolate, and I would enjoy watching the community come together for an evening of shared fun. Then I would say goodbye to the idyllic scene and pass it on.
As the remaining pieces dwindled to about ten, I became increasingly aware that none – none! – of them would fit in the lone space on the left edge. Surely, that piece had not been missing from the beginning. It had obviously fallen off the dining room table and was blending in with the rug below. A hands and knees search would uncover it.
Under a nearby cabinet, couch, chair? Nope.
I lifted the cardboard workspace three times, thinking what? That the piece would magically appear where it had not appeared before?
There was only one place left to look, the vacuum cleaner bag. Was I that intent on completing this puzzle that I would finger through mounds of dusty debris for one stray piece? Apparently so. Five gritty minutes later, I was still one piece short.
After a calming cup of chai tea and self talk, I finally accepted that which I could not control. The puzzle would remain incomplete. But there's a much bigger picture here, of course, pun intended. The empty space did not cancel out my hours of pleasure in finding spots for the other 549 pieces.
I could go on and on with fitting metaphors, but I have other puzzles to work.
Hopefully, all 500 pieces are present and/or I won't misplace a piece along the way. But I'll start them anyway. Why not?
It looks like a fake photo, a stray leaf photoshopped onto an autumn scene. But it's not. First of all, I personally took the picture and secondly, I have no clue how to photoshop. A leaf really was suspended in midair, twirling, spinning, dancing, for at least 2 minutes! While nearby leaves were floating nonchalantly to the ground, this one was magically doing its own thing. But how?
I circled it from every angle, clicking pictures with my phone, waiting for it to fall at any minute. Instead, it began turning somersaults, end over end, in some kind of joyful celebration. Then in an instant, the sun caught a thread – the color of a cloud – glistening ever so slightly. A spider's tricky handiwork.
The leaf's message wasn't lost on me. In fact, I had been reading it on my kitchen chalk board every day for the last two weeks.
I found the quote among an assortment of autumn sayings. Its truth and simplicity have become my mantra over a cup of coffee each morning as I've watched leaves detach from branches they've clung to for months.
"Letting go can be a good thing," the leaves remind me. Beautiful, in fact.
"Necessary," I add, knowing that new growth will never come as long as I'm clinging to worn out routines and unhealthy habits.
What is it I need to let go of now? I never need to think long for a list to materialize.
It's the actual letting go that's the challenge.
I remember the leaf dancing in its new-found freedom, in the joy of what comes next.
I smile at the possibilities.
"Your lovely book is on its way to Ireland! I'll let you know when I hear from Breezy. She doesn't know who I am; I've only seen her here on Facebook. I just decided to send your book to her because she's always making gifts of her breads to others."
(Facebook message March 31, 2021 from Kathy Fanning, a friend in Juneau, Alaska)
Breezy? Breezy who?
I wrote Kathy back to thank her for her thoughtfulness and to ask for more details. She had little more to offer than a last name, Breezy Kelly, and a link to a Facebook Group – Bake Bread for Peace, which I immediately checked out.
(Facebook message April 24 from Kathy)
"Hi Twylla! Thought I'd share this sweet photo with you...I saw it on Breezy's page, and of course, was delighted to know the book found its way to her."
There was my book, The Power of Bread, on a woman's table in Ireland, surrounded by three loaves of bread! They looked delicious and perhaps even still warm, having just been whisked out of the oven by the breadmaker's hands. I was stunned by the unlikeliness of it all – connections from Alaska to Ireland to me – and yet not. Acts of kindness and intention are rarely as serendipitous as they may seem.
I sent Breezy a friend request, which she accepted, and we exchanged several FB messages. I was eager to learn more about her passion for baking bread and sharing her loaves with others. Fortunately, I found an article in the Belfast Telegraph, written by Ivan Little in July, 2018 – with a picture of Breezy and a loaf of bread.
"Peace begins at home and in the community," Breezy said. We can do something on our own doorsteps to repair the awful disconnection." ...baking bread can make a difference."
She went on to explain that the bread–peace connection came to her one night after watching the "grim" news on TV.
"I felt afraid and as I went into the kitchen for tea. It suddenly struck me that baking bread and breaking bread are things that people do all over the world."
Since then, Breezy has baked and shared bread with neighbors and in homes throughout Northern Ireland. Storytelling and singing are often part of the gatherings, or pehaps it's the aroma of a single loaf drifting out of her cottage window that spreads her message of peace.
Breezy invites us all to pass on peace with a simple loaf of bread. I plan to join her and others around the world on October 24, for the 9th Annual International Bake Bread for Peace Day.
Please consider baking a loaf yourself and sharing it. Not a bread baker? My favorite loaf of pumpkin bread comes from a box. Whatever you choose to bake, don't forget to stir in the most essential, yet invisible, ingredient – your own peaceful spirit.
For the past 40 years, September 21 has been designated International Day of Peace by the United Nations, a call for 24 hours of non-violence and cease fire – a "sustained humanitarian pause to local conflicts."
As I read that headline this morning, my first reaction was gratitude for living in a part of the world where there is no need for a cease fire, and where the only physical violence I personally see is filtered through the nightly news.
But that doesn't mean that I don't worry, often agonize over the inequalities in the world. While all my basic needs – plus more – are met, millions of people starve, are homeless, live in fear of their lives, are marginalized, discriminated against, suffer from addiction/ illness/disability with no medical care or insurance. The list goes on.
Then there's Covid; deaths topping 675,000 yesterday. Health care workers overworked, Hospitals overrun, mostly with unvaccinated patients. Masks vs no masks. I worry for my grandchildren who aren't old enough to receive the vaccine, for my 92-year-old mother who is vaccinated but receiving services from some caregivers who choose not to get vaccinated.
Peace can be elusive, even on a sunny day in Maine. So I turn to the one thing that brings me peace, without fail, each time worry overtakes hope. I step out my front door.
Drew and I find a trail minutes away from our Portland condo, park the car and walk into Nature.
With each step, "The Peace of Wild Things" calms my spirit. I send Wendell Berry's poem to you along with the wish that as we individually become more peaceful, we will pass that peace on to others, and on... and on.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Drew and I send you peace.
I was about to turn off the TV when the commentator's statement caused me to pause.
"This is a brilliant world we live in," he said. Granted the sight directly in front of his eyes and mine, almost 7000 miles away, was inspiring. Athletes from around the world smiled, hugged, snapped pictures, mingling as if one during the closing ceremonies of the Tokyo Olympics.
But my own reaction caught me even more by surprise.
That word sounded so contrary to the majority of descriptors I usually hear about the state of the world, that I simply sat on the couch and stared at the screen.
Brilliant – giving off light, lustrous, exceptional, grand
I found myself desperately wanting to believe it. Like the survivor of any prolonged drought, I had forgotten what brilliance looked like, what a cool sip of water tasted like, much less a fresh perspective.
In short, I had forgotten to look for brilliance, or recognize it when I saw it. Prior to Covid and the constant barrage of distressing Breaking News, I had known there was brilliance. Somehow I had allowed it to dull.
Then a couple of days later, Brilliance appeared at a Starbucks. Drew and I had stopped for mid-afternoon caffeine outside of Atlanta, during one of our 8-hour driving days to our condo in Portland, Maine. While waiting, I noticed a bulletin board overflowing with colorful Post-its.
I took a closer look.
At least a hundred notes declared their messages of hope, happiness and encouragement (along with the occasional "Steve/Mickey was here"). No matter how cliché the phrase, I found my smile grow and mood lighten. When I read the pink note telling me to "Breathe, you got this!" I actually felt that I did, whatever IT was. In that moment, sipping my Frappuccino, I was surrounded by a community of Brilliance.
Yesterday, Brilliance literally hit me in the head on my morning walk.
And showed up a few hours later at Portland Head Light in an artist's creativity.
Brilliant is back in my vocabulary – having never left my life or the world – but is in desperate need of polishing.
May 7, 2014
I arrived in Elko, Nevada for the first time.
I assumed it would be my only time. You have to want to get there. And I did.
Sarah Sweetwater was waiting for me. After a year of back and forth emails and multiple changes in my travel plans to visit labyrinths in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, Sarah and I were set to meet at 11:00.
(Please read more about Sarah on a blog posting I wrote about her in 2018.)
It was part of a Big Push, to complete my 50-state journey of walking labyrinths and gathering stories from their creators by July 4. After this trek to the west, I would have three states left. Sarah was key. At the time, Sarah's labyrinth was the only one in Nevada, listed on the Labyrinth Locator, which met my two primary criteria – located outdoors and built and/or envisioned by a woman. And from everything I had read about her online, she was a remarkable woman I was eager to meet!
June 26, 2021
I arrived in Elko, Nevada for the second time.
I assume it will be my last time, but you never know.
Drew and I left Redwood City, California early this morning, drove 530 miles, and reached Elko around 5:00. We're on a 4-day road trip to our home in Conway, Arkansas, after Drew completed his job at Alto International School in Menlo Park.
We briefly stopped at the hotel, then drove to Elko Peace Park, where – eight years before – Sarah and I walked the labyrinth she designed. Surrounded by her creativity, I wished for her warm and caring presence. Sadly, Sarah died one and a half years after my visit.
I stood at the entrance of the labyrinth, breathed deeply and said, "Thank you, dear Sarah, for the gift of this peace labyrinth and for the difference you made in the lives of many, including mine. I carried a rock that I would place in the center – to say that I was here, that I remembered.
When Sarah and I reached the center during our walk in 2014, she explained that she had designed space for the word PEACE to form concentric circles in 82 languages... "as many as I could find," she said.
Then she shared a secret.
"I included my signature somewhere among the Peace messages. Can you find it?'
When I gave up, she leaned forward and pointed....
Mountain peaks with two small Ss at their base.
I smiled today as I touched it, then gently placed the rock, and retraced my steps along the path.
June 27, 2021
Drew and I are back on the road. We carry the peace of the labyrinth with us, and invite any of you who visit Elko to experience Sarah's beautiful labyrinth for yourselves.
I have never met Madeleine Robinson in person, although she lives only 35 minutes away in North Little Rock (Arkansas), and we collaborated on my children's book, The Power of Bread, for 6 months. She and I connected as author and illustrator, through editor James Matthews, before COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. And like everyone else, Zoom became our primary means of seeing each other, at least from the shoulders up.
It took just one meeting, seeing sample sketches for the book's first pages and hearing Madeleine's imagination take flight on the rest, that I knew she was the one. It was like the images, which had been floating around in my head for years, were all of a sudden alive through her illustrations. In a word, I was "Wowed!"
I envisioned my characters in watercolor tones of clay and desert, palm tree and bougainvillea – the Middle East, where the power of the bread weaves its magic. Madeleine, who works most often in watercolor, imagined the scenes first in pencil sketches, then brought them into brilliant life with her paintbrush.
The Power of Bread is a first for Madeleine and me, my first children's book to write and hers to illustrate. As a recent college graduate with a major in Studio Art Illustration and an abundance of creative talents, her career is just beginning. I assure Madeleine that when she's a famous, sought-after children's book illustrator, I will proudly proclaim, "She illustrated my book FIRST!"
Madeleine leaves for Los Angeles at the end of July.
"Hopefully, with a lot of hard work, I will begin to make music and illustration my full-time careers," she wrote in a recent email. (She also writes music and performs with her band, Sleepover.)
"It's one of the most exciting and scary prospects to me, and I can't wait to have such a big change in my life."
The voice of a young woman following her dreams.
We will meet soon for a long-awaited lunch and a chance for me to thank Madeleine personally for her exceptional work. It will be a time to celebrate a connection which brought a book to life, and sent a message of peace into the world.
Madeleine's covers for The Power of Bread
My battered, water-stained copy of The Yosemite was the first thing I put in the bag for our overnight trip to Yosemite National Park. After all, John Muir was the reason I had added Yosemite to my Bucket (aka Before 70) List in the first place. Muir, the revered conservationist, naturalist, Father of the National Parks, had personally invited Drew, me...and thousands of others, with the lyrical magic of his prose.
"Nearly all the upper basin of the Merced (River) was displayed, with its sublime domes and canyons, dark upsweeping forest, and glorious array of white peaks deep in the sky, every feature glowing, radiating beauty that pours into our flesh and bones like heat rays from fire....Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boundless an affluence of sublime mountain beauty."
~John Muir, July 15, 1869 (journal entry)
As Drew and I followed a slow caravan of cars into Yosemite Valley, I imagined what it must have been like for Muir to walk into the same area 150+ years ago, all by himself. Take away the vehicles, people, lodges, restaurants, gift shops, bars, visitor center, medical clinic, art gallery – and yes – even Starbucks, and Muir would have been left with.....everything. Everything that matters.
In a meadow, bathed in sunlight, open to the sky, with Yosemite Falls to our backs, we paused to complete my personal Yosemite quest. I pulled Muir's book from my purse, turned to an earmarked page and began reading.
"No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite...how softly these rocks are adorned, and how fine and reassuring the company they keep: their feet among beautiful groves and meadows, their brows in the sky..."
~John Muir, The Yosemite
Later, upon taking our leave of the park at Lower Yosemite Fall, it was as if Muir himself gave us a parting gift.
"In the bright spring mornings the black-walled recess at the foot of the Lower Yosemite Fall is lavishly filed with irised spray...Beheld at a certain distance, [it} seems to be colored, and drifts and wavers from color to color mingling in the foliage of the adjacent trees, without suggesting any relationship to the ordinary rainbow."
~John Muir, The Yosemite
For those of you who follow my blog, THANK YOU, first of all! Then a word of reassurance that you're reached the right place. Instead of receiving a notice of a new posting from Labyrinth Journeys, my name appeared instead. Aside from feeling a bit self-conscious about that, I'm excited that my website has been refreshed as an author site. With the addition of my children's book, The Power of Bread, it was time to branch out.
I invite you to visit the website and subscribe to my blog – under the photo of Drew and me snowshoeing in New Hampshire.
You'll notice I didn't say that I personally made the changes. Web design is as much a mystery to me as physics. But, thankfully, I know someone who does.
James Matthews – the exceptional editor and book designer of both my books – creates websites, among an impressive list of other talents. James' official title is Director of Communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas. He's also a multi-media documentary artist. On his website, James says that he has "a bias toward the human-made landscape, manual processes, and the physical object." How does that translate into some of the creative work he's been engaged in for the last 15 years in Little Rock? I'll share one example and refer you to his website for a glimpse into others.
His Eviction Quilts series...
James has designed and sewn nine quilts. Each quilt represents a person or family who has been evicted from their home, belongings left by the side of the road. James pieced together a story of loss in each quilt and named it after the street where he discovered and collected the fabrics. South Cedar Street, pictured above, features a lime green center made from a woman's dress and a man's shirt.
The quilts have been displayed in several Arkansas museums and were awarded an Honorable Mention at the Delta 60 Exhibiton at the Arkansas Arts Center. (For a more in-depth story of James' journey to create the Eviction Quilts, you can read an article which appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.)
In reflecting about his quilts, James told me, "... the quilts become a sort of material archive, a way to save the soon-to-be-discarded pieces of a transitory event such as an eviction. As with all my work, the project is an attempt to get people to see their surroundings with fresh eyes."
Whether James is creating his own art or supporting the creativity of someone else, like me, his work invites us to pause, to pay attention. . .to see.
It arrived! The box of books. MY book!
The Amazon delivery guy had barely stepped back into his van when I was out the door, lifting the fairly heavy box of 75 books as if it weighed nothing. But, of course, it was everything!
Inside was 10 years of work, and 15 years since The Power of Bread's story began. All those years packed inside a 19.5 X 13.5 X 7.5 box, waiting to be opened. Just beyond the cardboard flaps lay a finished product, a celebration; yet I stood, momentarily, unmoving. Reflection seemed in order, for cups of tea and pondering the process. But not now... later – when I'd pull out the file folders of first, second and fifteenth drafts and re-live it all.
I cut through the tape, and there they were! There they were...
Madeleine's beautiful and inspired cover
Yes, I did. I cried.
The next day I drove to Little Rock (30 minutes away), with books wrapped in bows for family. Drew already had his copy in California, daughter Katherine and family's copies were in the mail to Maine. I was on my way to share the book with my first, and most important, in-person audience. It felt like a gift I was giving myself.
We met, socially distanced and slightly shivering, in Elizabeth and Ben's (behind the camera) backyard. I presented them each a book and began the story.
"Tomorrow is our Breads of the World Festival," said Ms. Goodwin..."
The Power of Bread was at long last where it belonged – in the hands of readers.
To my dear grandchildren ~ Luke, Nate, Ruby, Anna, Robert, Matthew and Hazel~ and to children everywhere, the world's best hope for peace.
Back cover with summary...