Life in Black and White

So fellow travelers, there is a challenge trending on social media called Seven days in B&W. Here are the guidelines, which we use as the header for each post:

Seven days. Seven B & W photos of my life. No people. No explanation.  

Post and Challenge someone new each day.

A collection of some of my daily life in B&W photos

The admins of an on-line creative forum posted a similar challenge adapting the theme from daily life to #ordinaryextraordinary. Those guidelines read as follows:

*Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to post one black and white photograph per day here that represents the extraordinary in your ordinary, everyday life. Look for these things, smile at them, shoot and post with *one sentence* telling us why what you shot is extraordinary to you.

Creative challenges spark my interest and jump start my brain by giving me a focal point. A challenge like this encourages me to experience the world around me from a different perspective. Framing common elements of my day in just the right light so they make an impact when rendered in black and white as well as finding deeper meaning in ordinary components of my life has unveiled a rich array of  treasures whose value I now appreciate more fully.

Some of my images from the #ordinaryextraordinary challenge*

I’m also quite certain I would not have had the fortitude to stand up and speak my truth in the Me too campaign without this gift of uncovering extraordinary beauty in my daily experience. The B&W challenges gave me some solid touchstones. Because I was already  committed to those challenges and dedicated to continuing the process, the images I found became trail markers back to normalcy. The mere existence of  joy woven into my every day life helped me find my way back after diving deep into long silent emotions.

This is why art and creativity matter. When society fractures at rates beyond comprehension we scramble to hold on to something, anything, familiar. Creative processes can teach us how to shift perspective to see our lives from different vantage points. Creative expression gives form to feelings we cannot bear to carry within ourselves any longer. It helps us face the unthinkable acts of our inhumanity to each other and embrace the hope we can change the immutable.

So challenge yourselves. What are the extraordinary elements of  your daily life?  Go find them and see them reborn in the clear contrast of  mindful awareness. Maybe take a photo or two and share them. Who knows what ripples of inspiration you may create.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready .

*Note: The #ordinaryextraordinary challenge  can be found on Facebook, under The Crazy Ones  page . It runs through October 22nd.

 

Sinking In

So fellow travelers, one of the things I value highly from being part of a creative community are the moments when one person’s contribution generates another work.  We call it the ripple effect.  Jackie Campbell,  a friend and fellow haiku writer (she posts one almost daily in her thoughtful blog) shared a story with a photo that caught my attention right away.

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Photo courtesy of Jackie Campbell

The image matched a haiku I wrote a few months ago but had not posted  because I had yet to capture an image to match the words.

Tide rises waves come
Hold fast to the shore my friend
Light and love are near

Most of my haikus are created out of the experience embedded in an image I capture, so the visuals usually preceed the words.  This haiku came out of some challenges another friend was experiencing. When I composed it, I sent her a copy on a hand decorated card and kept the original words in my blog drafts waiting to snap the right photo to go with it. Then this morning while wrestling with another post that felt heavy and awkward, I came across Jackie’s candid story and photo. Often when I feel I’ve hit creative quicksand, I will take a break and scroll through my WordPress Reader’s feed or check in on Instagram if only to lift my mood. Most of the time savoring the creativity of others not only raises my spirits, it sparks my own process and I get back into the flow of writing, just as Jackie’s piece gave me the boost I needed today.

Jackie’s honesty about feeling daunted by the process of learning to “get out of manual” mode when using her camera reminded me of how easy it is to doubt our ability to acquire new skills, particularly when technology is a component of the tools we are using. I’ve had my digital slr camera for several years now and there are still settings I have not ventured to experiment with. In fact on my last trip to the Pacific Northwest I chose to leave that camera behind and rely on my phone for photos. With trips planned to two national parks, it was an almost unthinkable choice, one made only because I know I will return to those those parks again in the next few years.

On recent trips I have felt burdened by the bigger camera and noticed most of the photos I like best were ones I captured with my phone. This trip I felt more present in the adventures I had, letting the experience really sink in without the requirement (admittedly self imposed) of capturing it “on film.” There were only a handful of moments when I missed the capabilities of my dslr and the depth of experience I gained by being present without it were well worth the trade off of less impressive shots taken by phone.

20170826_120556.jpgMt Olympus from Hurricane Ridge in Olypmic Natl Park.                                                         One of the moments I missed my dslr and extra lenses.

The fear we have of not creating work that is “good” enough, not getting it “right” comes from self imposed expectations. We just don’t give ourselves the benefit of making mistakes which are after all how we learn to do things better. Our expectations and tendency to compare ourselves to others not only in creative endeavors, but in many, too many, areas of life, fabricate quagmires of doubt. This is why I am grateful for the creative community I am part of.  Encouragement, advice and even an inspirational challenge from time to time (more on that in an upcoming post) are lifelines along a sometimes rocky journey to creative growth and deeper self expression.  We may not always walk side by side, but we are never truly alone. It’s a blessing beyond any measure of perfection.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

Bridges and Walls

So fellow travelers, one day last week I had some time to enjoy a rare morning walk in the little Upstate NY village I live near.

The trees have been a bit shy about changing into their autumn colors this year. September was so hot and dry it seems most leaves simply curled up and dropped. It’s as if they were saying “We give up. We’re just too tired to get through the change this year.” My lawn crunches as if I am walking on broken glass, dark green rafts float across my pond, trees rattle like old bones in the afternoon breeze. As much as I love summer for all the adventures it brings, Autumn is my favorite season. Finding a pop of color by the bridge in the village gave my heavy heart a much needed lift.

Just as I lifted my phone to capture the image, gulls burst into flight over the river. I stopped to take in their raucous energy as they swirled in wild circles, laughing cries echoing over the water. Gratefully I let their apparent joy, ease the heartache of current events. So much sorrow, so much loss, so much violence and anger, so much judgement and blame and most of all, not enough listening.

Those feelings weighed heavily on me as I drove to an even smaller village further “up”state to spend a weekend with several good friends. We met originally in an on-line creative group which eventually began gathering at several annual events giving people who attended a chance to meet and get to know each other. The experiences generated both wonderful connections and, as often happens when communities grow larger, some challenging dynamics. Some of those dynamics seem to resurface once in a while in ways many of us find confusing. Our gathering of friends pondered some of these challenges during our time together this weekend.

When people are hurt, shamed, excluded or ridiculed by others the pain leaves a wound which can linger for years. When we are hurt by someone we trust, we yearn for the violators to acknowledge the pain they have caused, we want to hear them accept responsibility, offer a sincere apology and even promise not to hurt others.

Occasionally this does happen, though only in circumstances where the hurt is a result of a genuine misunderstanding, Most of the time the cycle of betrayal and hurt result from actions of people whose behaviors reflect internal issues they are either unaware of or are unwilling to resolve. So most people are left trying to deal with unresolved pain. “Walk away, move on,” people are told over and over without being offered an answer as to how one does that.

Art with a message found in a little garden 

The topic of bullying and toxic relationships comes up frequently when you work at a high school and being on a special ed teaching team it’s something we encounter all the time. At a workshop during one of the professional development sessions our school district holds each year, one of the facilitators presented the empowering work of author Kari Kampakis.  Kari teaches young people that everyone in our life serves a purpose and has something to teach us. When it comes to the way we are treated by others, some people teach us about the kind of people we want to be and others show us who we do not want to be.

We tend to create bridges connecting us to the people in the first category and build walls to protect us from the latter people, but Kari talks about “leaning into” the feelings from hurtful experiences. By this she means being aware of what they did to make us feel the way we did; was it their words, the tone of voice, their actions and what specific actions affected us? Then, take what we know and promise we will learn from their mistakes. “Make specific pledges,” she encourages kids, “Say ‘I will make sure others feel included,’ ‘I will listen when other’s are struggling and comfort but not try to fix them,’  ‘I will not expect more acceptance than I myself can give.’ “

Walls protect but they also confine and we can easily become trapped. When we allow the hurtful actions of others to teach us specific ways of how we can treat others with more kindness and compassion, we reclaim control over our experience because chances are the perpetrator is unlikely to change and the apology we seek will never come. Instead of constantly reliving the hurt, we draw strength from healing pain, take responsibility for our feelings and turn anger into positive action. Consciously choosing to judge less and learn more empowers us to walk away, move forward and get on with our own journey. Bridges, not walls aid that journey.

Here’s to walking bridges over no longer troubled waters

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Safe Haven

“Hope rests on a foundation of understanding and happiness is sheltered by a roof of tolerance.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, working at our local high school I see the damage that bullies inflict not only on their targets but on a community as a whole. Just last year, our community lost a very precious young life to the ravages of bullies. Every now and then I also encounter bullying from adults who should know better.

Always I feel at first a flash of anger igniting remnant embers of past hurts from childhood tormentors. Yet in my heart I know anger begets more anger, perpetuating the cycle of pain. Stepping back gives me a chance to gain perspective, refocus and respond rather than react. That’s easier to do when you are a bystander, a far bigger demand if one is the target.

Recently waves of hurt and anger rocked an online community I belong to, created by falsehoods lobbed by a very public persona with their own following.  It was just the most recent in an ongoing cycle of attacks cleverly veiled as righteous anger at fabricated injustices. The details are less relevant than the effects.

Here is where communities either stand or fall.

And ours, I am proud to say, stands not only united, but stronger and closer than ever.

Too often we are unaware of the pain a simple comment or action might cause others. Those who are hurting often do not realize their pain isn’t obvious until they speak up. When this most recent attempt to malign the characters of key members of the community surfaced it swiftly proved those accusations false simply by the honest, straightforward response of those attacked by this outsider.

Our community is stronger because people had the courage to speak up, share their pain, admit mistakes, ask for and receive forgiveness. When a space is truly a safe haven truth can be spoken on all sides. No single voice dominates or controls the dialogue. Then clarity and healing are possible because all voices can be heard. Our community has the blessing of this freedom because it was founded specifically to create a safe haven. I have no doubts about the integrity or intentions of those who lead the group and I am grateful to be a member.

Today, early morning light and heavy dew revealed dozens of tiny spider webs draped everywhere around my yard. It’s a common late summer sign of egg sacs having hatched and hundreds of tiny webmasters were busy working under the cover of darkness. Tiny strands strung with glistening dewdrops festooned my yard like the remanents of a joyous party.

 

Magic threads appear

 

Build bridges of trust and faith

 

Friendships strong as steel

 

 

 

 

A beautiful metaphor for webs of deception transformed into a celebration of friendship, iluminated by the Light of Truth.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may you find true friendship along the way.

 

 

 

 

Turning the Page on an Endless Summer

So fellow travelers, today is the final day of the 2017 Great New York State Fair .

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This photo is from 2011 because I won’t have photos from The Fair this year.  You see, for the first time in forty two years I am not going. This is a decision without precident and far out of character for me. I love the Fair! I’ve attended every year since I arrived as a college freshman, when free buses ran us from Syracuse University up to and back from the Fairgrounds during the week before classes began. I’ve been so many times I know about the Sheep to Shawl contest where teams sheer, card, spin and knit wool to compete for ribbons. I’ve enjoyed the Rooster Crowing Contest in the Poultry Barn an event which landed us a pet bunny (the girls got bored and wanted to see the guinea pigs and bunnies, you know the rest.) I’m a regular “People’s Vote”r for the table setting and wood carving competitions. I’ve seen more amazing things sculpted in butter and sand, wondered at intricate quilt designs and applauded teams of rescue dogs performing high jinx while raising awareness that shelter animals make great pets.

Then there is the food, around which I plan my intinerary.  Arrive early enough for a breakfast of Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, conveniently located in the dairy building right by the afore mentioned butter sculpture’s rotating glass refrigerated display case. Snack on maple snow cones or maple cotton candy before checking out the astounding enteries in the photography and quilt competitions in the Home and Art Center. Peruse the ribbon winners of the flower of the day in the Horticulture Building, then grab a baked potato with the works (butter, sour cream, and cheese) while my feet can endure the long line at the booth, after all at a dollar it’s always been and still is the best bargain of the day. Walking the midway offers fresh squeezed lemon or limeade and fried dough at one end and at the other end, if I time it right, I get to watch young dancers and drummers from different tribes performing while I enjoy my favorite Green Corn soup at the Six Nations Cook House.  Eventually I meander back to the cool shade under the trees by the NYState Parks mini lake for dinner from either the International Building or Dinosaur Barbeque where the picnic tables are within view of Chevy Court where free concerts are staged.

So why am I missing it this year?  While our annual trip to Portland and a day of jet lag fatigue kept me out for nine of the thirteen days of this year’s run, I still had both time and advance tickets available. And I do love the Fair, it’s my annual end of summer tradition.

And there, when I woke up this morning on the very last day this year’s Fair,  I realized there was the key : End of summer.  It’s a reality I am in complete denial of, an inevitable shift in time I cannot stop even if I choose not to turn the page on the daily calendar sitting in my kitchen. If I don’t pass through those gates then this summer cannot end, right?

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You see, this summer has been extraordinary.  After the inordinate impact of last year’s challenges at work, I dedicated this entire summer to getting my physical and emotional health back. From the Spirit of 60 Road Trip to favorite trails rediscovered  and the adventures of our trip to Portland, I’ve focused on understanding why I veered so far off course, what I need to do to stay balanced, establish clear boundaries, reset priorities and how to thrive rather than survive the challenges of the coming school year. Every day possible, I woke up and asked “What would I most like to do today?” then followed that call as best I could.  I might find simple joy in a treat at a favorite cafe, wonder at a rare bird sighting, strength in hiking a difficult trail, healing in the hug from a loved one. It’s a routine I will continue as best I can going forward with the new school year.

So this morning when I asked myself what I most wanted to do the answer brought me here instead

Potters Marsh and Three Rivers, a favorite birding spot

It was a quiet, peaceful hike. Ducks, geese and sandpipers that nest along the banks of the marshes in the spring have raised their young and moved on the for season. Only a steady stream of dragonflies and bumblebees stirred over the still waters. Crickets shrilled their late summer chorus from under towering goldenrod.  A constant wind brushed the tree tops, the rustle of drying leaves sounded like waves coming ashore. Following the trail into cooler woods I was rewarded with the distant call of blackbilled cuckoos. On the way past the eagles nest also now empty, we came across a small snapping turtle struggling in a patch of sand in the middle of the path. After letting Delilah sniff to satisfy her curiosity, I gently set it on the edge of the big pond. One small act of kindness somehow settled the restlessness in my heart.

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Hey where did he go?

So, after I came home, when I finally did flip the page on that daily calendar in my kitchen one quote reminded me I have the power of asking the “right” questions. It read :

“We are either throwing our emotional weight into the balance of fear and anger or we are adding to the world’s measure of hope and kindness.  This is cannot always be seen, but it can certainly be felt.  Today, I will ask myself two questions: ‘How do I feel in this situation?’ and “How do I want to feel?’ ” (Hugh Prather)

What I want to feel is the warmth of an endless summer shining in a heart free to answer “What do I most want to do today?” and I know I have the choice to honor that no matter what the coming seasons bring. Besides, those Great New York State Fair advance admission tickets will still be good next year.

 Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.
 

 

There and Back Again: Redefining Home

So fellow travelers, it’s been a quiet few days since we’ve returned from our marvelous trip to the Pacific Northwest. There’s more than a hint of Autumn in the air, one local weather watcher reported a record early frost in her area a bit north of here. Delilah and I found signs of way too early color on our first walk.

 

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HRH Princess Delilah met us at the airport with squeals and cries of sheer delight. She arrived courtesy of her escort Mark B. who along with my good friend and camping buddy Lisa provide our spoiled rescue Diva with the best of care when we are out of town.  They also happen to be the adopted family of our former foster Sammy aka Sammers Wiggle Butt. He stays with us when they go out of town.  I’m deeply grateful for this reciprocal arrangement, without it our extended annual visit with our kids would not be possible.

Parting goodbyes grow harder for me each time as every trip deepens my connection to the wild wonders of the PNW.  The irony if this is not lost on me, since I had said for years that region of the country was one I had no interest in moving to. Never say never.

Functional graffiti on a side street in PDX

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Each year we explore more areas, seeking out potential towns to purchase a retirement home. My husband tracks property values on Zillow and I seek out natural vistas and new trails to explore. We learn more about the issues each area is facing  and I am planning at least one future trip to experience the colder rainy season. I expect I’ll remain a willing convert, after all you don’t have to shovel rain to get to your bird feeders or brush it off your car to load your groceries.

Rain 2014 the only year its rained during our trip

 

Since returning, I noticed I had a hard time saying I was “home.” Yet I also felt content to be back, walking the neighborhood with Delilah, cleaning my little fish pond and weeding the small forest attempting to take over various areas of my yard. I gathered flowers from the wildflower patch I seeded last spring and discovered a dozen or more tiny fry had appeared in the pond during our absence. Seeing them wiggle in the waterfall current and darting around the lily pads sent a wave of joy through my heart which ached to have coffee at the bagel shop* where Favorite Younger Daughter works and hike just one more mountain trail with either one of my girls.

Then insight dawned.

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Just as I can equally love two daughters with their unique talents and temperaments I can have and love more than one “home.”  It simply means I am twice blessed and for this I am truly grateful.

 

Massive sunflowers greeted me when I got home. They are the first ever to bloom after many unsuccessful attempts to grow them. I laughed right out loud when I saw them. Maybe it was good to be back at this home after all.

 

 

 

Walk gently on the path my friends an may adventure find you ready.

*If you happen to find yourself  in Portland  do stop by Spielmans.  Their custom roasted coffee is excellent and they make the best bagels I’ve ever had- and I grew up in New York City so that assessment bears some weight.

 

 

Mountain Spells

So fellow travelers, we have spent three days discovering the majestic power of the mountains in Rainier and Olympic National Parks in Washington.

Mount Rainier (above) and Mount Olympus (below)


They are spellbinding. 

 

Yesterday at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, Favorite Older Daughter and I hiked a trail leading to a lookout point. It was a mercifully short, but knee cracking steep climb.  My daughter patiently paced her stride as I stopped to get photos and catch my breath more than a few times.

 

The views from the top were worth every inch we hiked.

Even more precious was this rare time alone together. “Proud” barely describes the depth of joy I feel being with the amazing young woman my daughter has become. I have not written much about her because it is not often we get to spend time together. I head back home in a few days with an increasing sense that “home” is no longer where I currently live. It’s become this wild and wondrous place I return to every summer, this place our kids call home.

While trying to describe my experience at the trail’s crest I wrote what I thought was a run on sentence, until I realized it was actually a poem

The mountains are calling and winding tendrils of awe around my  heart

Ice fresh air seductively imbued with cedar fills my head with wild dreams of following endless ridges laced with enticing ribbons of trails 

I would walk on and on diving below the tree line plunging deep into forests of forgetfulness and forgiveness  where nothing matters but the next step

A raven calls

I turn and face the sun

and walk step by step 

 back home

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Afternoon Tea with Roses

So fellow travelers, this visit to Portland has a more relaxed pace. Taking time to simply enjoy being here as if this is where we already reside gives me a different perspective of this quirky city.

Portland is definitely exhibiting the aches and pains of a city which has grown far too quickly in the past decade. Some of the bruises are decidedly ugly.  Traffic gets steadily worse every year and Oregon’s absence of vagrancy laws creates an open door policy which requires a level of tolerance most large cities balk at. People become blind to the homeless because their presence is so pervasive it overwhelms any perception of being able to help. I have not been here long enough for the blindness to set in, what I see makes my heart ache. I am not sure I am willing to risk blindness to reside here.

During the week, the kids are up and off to work early.  I hang out with their beautiful rescue dogs, and edit photos from the previous days wanderings while enjoying a good cup of coffee, while my husband works (the great downside of the capacity to log in and work from any location.) When he’s done we head out to wander at will, returning later in the day to have dinner with the kids.

Today my husband drove out to see the custom auto shop where our son-in-law works. Ah those boys do love their cars and trucks. I met Favorite Youngest Daughter at the bagel cafe where she works and enjoyed a delicious sandwich, sitting on the deck surrounded by sunflowers while writing my post about the eclipse.

When my husband returned from shop talk, we headed to the International Rose Garden, a spot I had not yet fit into our daily explorations because I expected most roses would be well past bloom this late in August.  I was majestically proven wrong~

For some reason I was most drawn to the tiny buds yet to blossom, holding their secrets tight in the intense afternoon sunshine.

 

 

Late summer roses

Bright aromatic banquet 

Secrets yet to bloom

 

 

 

And the bees, zooming in and out of the fragrant flowers, pollen coating their wiggling bodies as they pushed deep to gather sweetness.

 

Busy visitors

gather sweetness spreading life

pure joy to watch

 

Portland is hot in August so we gladly accepted my younger daughter’s recommendation to visit a charming spot called the Tao of Tea.

We first experienced this type of tea service a few years ago at the Lan Su Chinese gardens in downtown Portland. Lan Su Garden is a beautiful treasure often overshadowed by the more famous Japanese Gardens.  The spot we went to today is a second location of the tea house located in the Chinese gardens offering the same menu minus the admission fee*.

Tao of Tea is well named, a sanctuary where rich wood walls buffer sound and seem to absorb the worries of this trying world as you sit sipping carefully prepared hand selected teas.  It was a most perfect haven to consider our younger daughter’s plans for the coming year.

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Cocoon of quiet

Pillow dumplings smokey tea

Heart connections thrive

Fluffy dumplings, exotic teas, the gentle trickle of a Buddha blessed fountain, all gifts I can wrap up in memory to take home until I can return.

 

Walk gently on the path my friends an may adventure find you ready.

*Editors note:  Given the opportunity to visit Lan Su Gardens, the unique and intricate landscapes are well worth the admission fee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Market Magic

So fellow travelers, this Portland trip is focused on savoring my favorite elements of this quirky city.

Foraging in vintage shops which abound in treasures and Goodwill stores which offer bargains on items we forgot to pack, like a fleece jacket to stave off cooler coastal temps.

Gastronomic delights dreamed of for the past year, revisited and found true to the memories. Marionberry shakes,  kimchee quesadillas, beer infused mac and cheese to name a few.

Photo note:  Wet Dog Cafe, Astoria. The wait staff was amused I’d come all the way from New York to have that mac and cheese.

 

Getting lost in vast ocean views.

 

 

 

Sunset Beach after a hike (post pending)

 

Today I wandered around the Portland Farmers Market. 

Each Saturday the central green space of the PSU campus becomes a feast for the senses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local produce, most of it organic,  food products like honey, jams, pickles, fresh pasta and breads. If, somehow, you are still hungry after the bounty of tasty samples, there is a tempting collection of food booths scattered throughout the market offering options from wagu beef tacos to veggie curries.

 

Lavender and honey ice cream was all I needed to feel content while enjoying the musical entertainment at the little stage under the trees.

Today’s featured performance was a smooth jazz trio whose take on classic crooner hits brought me back to childhood memories of radio infused Sunday drives.

Sinatra vs Bennet was an unending debate between my grandparents. ( With all due respect to Frank and my grandpa, I lean towards Tony, the young upstart my grandmother favored.)

 

But it was this colorful musical duo with their sweet terrier pup that I was glad to find.

I met them last year and heard the story behind their journey to the safe haven of PDX. In their eyes like so many others, this city became a harbor for stormtossed souls seeking acceptance.  The rhythms of their Hawaiian folk tunes carved a triptych word pattern.

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Shredded lives

 broken threads

 rewoven

 stronger now

 tapestry

 framed in hope

 

 

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

Zen Moment Sunset in Astoria

So fellow travelers, this moment from an evening post dinner walk in Astoria.

Sunset boardwalk stroll
Cherished moments together
Gifts of time and love

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.