Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Joys!

A Blessed Christmas and Joyful New Year to you!

I have found the remedy to hustle and bustle and the occasional holiday feeling of “’s over so soon?”  St. Benedict’s Rule gives great wisdom and insight into balance and seeing God in every moment, but more on him later =-)  

Another great discoverery in Orthodoxy -and antidote to busyness - has been in celebrating Advent, the coming of the Messiah.  Advent is not an observance unique to Orthodoxy, but the weight and focus of anticipating Christ’s birth all season long (7 Sundays in Orthodoxy)  vs. two celebratory days on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day has extended our joy and energies tenfold.

I’ve posted a photo of our kids’ Advent Calendar that we used this year for the first time.  Each evening they opened a window which showed an illustration and a Bible verse relating to a different name for Christ, such as “Alpha and Omega”, “Christ, the Messiah”, “The Lamb of God”, and “the Rock of Ages”, to name a few. They really enjoyed it and I count it as time well spent before bedtime.

Some other highlights I want to remember from Christmas ’07:

* Hubby’s DELICIOUS meal on Christmas day, Beef tenderloin with black pepper crust and salad of new potatoes with roasted walnuts and warm bacon vinaigrette.  Simple and extremely satisfying.

*The full moon on Christmas Eve - being outside in the quiet to watch and listen for sounds in the forest.


*Mrs. Bryant’s house (our elderly neighbor who pass

ed to heaven in November), as my sister and her husband put lights on the empty house as a loving remembrance.

*Witnessing a spectacular sunset as I was driving with the kids over Gauley Mtn. on  December 21st- our gift from God!


*The gentle tap on my arm followed by “You are so pretty” from a beloved family member with Alzheimer’s.

*Feeding apples and carrots to the horses and ponies with my niece.

*Laughter ---especially with my sister!  This is her gift to me, (a mouse-pad) which really gave my funny bone some exercise. =-)  It's such a sweet comfort to be understood.....


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gift of Incense

“And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Rev. 8: 4

Of all the treasures that Orthodox worship has brought to my life, understanding God’s design of our senses in His heavenly worship is chief among them.  This single concept, this reality, ushered me around the corner from understanding Christian theology as a reasoned set of precepts to follow, to Christianity as LIFE in Christ, active participants in the life-giving Trinity. 

For years I have burned incense in my home.  Sometimes the smell would annoy my husband and other times it would bring lively chuckles from my friends who liked to tease my ‘hippie’ inclinations.  Even so, I liked the fragrance and the wafting smoke reminded me of times well spent by a campfire.  Such is the powerful memory of scent.

From the first time I stepped into an Orthodox church, I smiled at the fragrance which seemed to cling to the atmosphere.  This was no passing sweetness that you sometimes encounter when moving among people at the mall; incense moves slowly and hangs in the air like stars in the heavens on a dark winter night.  It quickens your awareness and asks your stillness.

A friend of mine, who is not Orthodox, remarked that ‘incense induces one to prayer’.   Revelation 8 tells us of heavenly worship and guess what?  There will be incense in heaven!  Can you imagine the divine fragrance of the Court of Christ?  

When the magi visited the Christ-child, they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, aromatic gums and resins with healing properties; gifts befitting a King.  And isn’t it curious to note that this same balm, the myrrh, was applied to Jesus’ body when he was laid in the tomb? (St. John 19:9)

Blessings to you this Christmas season and may your prayer times be enriched with the sweet aroma of wafting incense.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Here is a confession from me: I loathe change.  I am most comfortable with familiarity, a regular routine, sameness.  I like to know where my favorites are on the bookshelf, I enjoy knowing the kids finish their day at school at the same time each day.  It’s comforting to know that my coffee will be waiting on me @ 7:15 each morning and that my processed photo files will be exactly where I put them the evening before.   Yes, a steady routine equals comfort and confidence.

It is precisely because of this character trait that I found myself utterly overwhelmed several weeks ago when my computer crashed.  Those close to me are probably weary of hearing me talk about it.  Even so, I am led to share with you what I’ve gained from this little ‘bump in the road’ as my friend Liz would say.

At this point, which is hindsight now, I am chagrinned to admit that I handle troubles so poorly;  especially something as benign as a pc crash.  I didn’t even lose any data for goodness sake.  What I did lose was my routine, my workflow.  At times I gritted my teeth, such as when I spoke endlessly with computer technicians via the phone, other times I would cry in frustration at not being able to complete my tasks.  And then sometimes, I just couldn’t figure out how 

to be productive in that void.

But Christ said to rejoice for our trials for they produce  perseverance, character, hope.  (Romans 5:3-5)  He wants us to rejoice?!      Yes,  Christ wants us to have gratitude for those opportunities that teach us our true selves.  This, in order to grow in Him.

This lesson was driven home to me recently as I was editing images from our recent trip to Williamsburg, VA.  I love trees and enjoy 

making & collecting photos of them.  Weeping Willows typically grow near the water and are one of the earliest to bear leaves in spring and among the last to shed them in autumn.  Maybe they are reluctant to change too.

Even so, here in Appalachia, we witness the changing of the seasons very distinctly; the trees are now shedding their leaves and are ‘going to sleep for winter’ as I tell my kids.  These changes come each year and some seasons are challenging, such as the drought we experienced this summer.  Roots must sink deep to find water, flowers and fruit are sacrificed so that leaves may grow; they find a way to survive and in so doing, become stronger for it.

May God continue His work in me, that I may become stronger and more resilient through the trials that life brings, recognizing that the only real routine in life is a rhythm of continual growth and change.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Remnant Ministries

Jeff & Rita Sharp are friends and clients.  These photos are part of a series I did for their work, their passion, Remnant Ministries.  You can read more about them from an article in the Register Herald here: Remnant Ministries

It is their mission, in part, to revive the Jewish roots of Christianity through teaching, celebrating the traditional feasts and being a willing vessel to go wherever God leads them to share the roots of the Christian faith.

The Torah they brought to the photo session is the only one I've ever seen.  The Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, is the most important manuscript in the Jewish Tradition.  Jeff & Rita are diligent students of Hebrew and the insights they shared with me were surprising and beautiful.  The manuscript is not only an historical treasure, but the crafting of this scroll and decorative cover bore testimony of skilled artisans.      

The most interesting article that Rita brought to the session was the tallit, or prayer shawl.  I was taken back by the  
intricate designs and knot-work.  The garment was heavy and full of purpose.  She explained to me about the tzitzit, or the knotted fringes or tassels on the hem of the shawl.  Rita said it was this, the fringes, that the lady reached for in St. Matthew 9:20 who wished to be healed by Jesus.    

As an Orthodox Christian, it brings a blessing to my heart that other Christians are learning about their roots.  I agree with Rita as she mentioned in the news article linked above:  with all of our modern views of Christ and trying to conform His identity with current culture, will we recognize Christ upon His return?   Do we understand the culture that Christ walked in on this earth?  

I believe we are enriched when we embark upon the ancient paths, to learn the framework that has given us our faith ; it's one of the reasons I converted to Orthodoxy.

"Thus says the Lord, Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. Jeremiah 6:16"

Rita & Jeff, May God grant you many years!!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A rough row to hoe

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel!  It's been an adventurous few weeks since my pc crashed.  It was my entire means of photography, I've had some stressful moments lately.

I've got some awesome friends and family who have helped me to make some adjustments :  hubby, Will, my pal, business manager and loving sounding board, has gone above and beyond the call of helping me to get a new system in place; my friend Clayton who always lends an ear and grants timely technical/business/marketing advice; my long-time best pal, Sharon, who listens to me whine and loves me anyway- and also gives great technical advice.  

Thank you Peeps!

I'll write more later as I continue to figure out the new mac ;-)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Teasures on our book shelf

The Blackbird’s Nest, by Jenny Schroedel and illustrated by Doug Montross, has become a family favorite at our house. I’ve started a children’s library on Christian themes, including several titles on the saints.

The Blackbird’s Nest is about St. Kevin of Ireland who was born to a royal family in AD 498. Even though his life was first recorded some 400 years after his death, the fragments and legends are worth the telling. Lessons on patience and spiritual renewal are timeless. The historical note, along with icon and other notes of interest, on the last pages of the book are informative and inspirational for the Christian reader.

Jenny Schroedel does an excellent job writing for a young audience, using a rhythm and keen descriptions to make every page a discovery. The artist does an equally beautiful job in making the illustrations something you could frame and hang on the wall. The colors are dark and earthy, with a smooth texture which lends me to think it’s probably originally created in oils.

This book is suitable for kids aged 6-12, and makes a rich addition to a church or home library.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Feast of the Elevation of the Cross

Yesterday we celebrated the Elevation of the Cross at church and it is one of my favorite feast days of the year because of the beauties in God’s house. It is the day we celebrate our Lord’s transformation of the cross from an object of humiliation and barbaric death to an object of victory and veneration!

St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:18 ) “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” Thus, we look upon the cross and see love, humility, grace, inspiration and triumph over the Enemy’s chains.

On this particular Sunday, there is a procession of the cross through the sanctuary; a standing cross is placed upon a bed of crimson flowers and carried by our priest, held high above his head. The altar boys, deacon and assistant priest follow the procession around the pews and back up toward the iconostasis. The choir is chanting, the incense is wafting upward and the morning sunlight is illuminating the high stained-glass windows. Here are rich beauties that speak to the body, mind and spirit; here is worship involving all thy senses.

Since I am currently reading Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ, about his trials and survival in communist prisons during the 20th century, I recall our prosecuted brethren in hostile countries during this service. As the procession goes up onto the altar, Fr. Scott gently places the cross and flowers onto a table. Then he and Fr. Andrew kneel down with heads to the floor, then up, with hands raised toward the heavens while praying. The choir is rapidly chanting some lovely verse that I did not recognize and the first prayer from Fr. Andrew’s lips is : Bless our President, our civil authorities, our armed forces and those who seek freedom everywhere, May God remember them in His heavenly Kingdom.

Indeed. May God awaken us daily to pray for those who sacrifice so much to grant us freedom; May God awaken us to help alleviate the suffering of those who would have joy in reading Scripture or just gazing upon the Cross, even from a dark prison cell.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

August 31st: Moving Day!
After nearly 10 years @ Gatewood, Jack has a new place to call home: Beauty Mountain Farm. This piece of paradise is located near the rim of the New River Gorge, owned and operated by Laura Davis and Gary Reynolds.

For those of you who may not know him so well, Jack is my horse, or, rather, I am his girl. I am blessed to share in his unique story. He has been with me since 1983 and we’ve grown up together in a sense. He was there to carry my friends and I on long trail rides during high school, he patiently endured my learning how to compete in hunter/jumper classes, he was there when I met my husband-to-be, he has been there to greet my two babies into the world. He is the most kind and gentle horse I have ever known.

As Jack is in his golden years, I’ve wanted to put him on a bit more pasture. I noticed a lady’s name & number on an ad bulletin one day and jotted it down for future reference. Months went by and then, out of the blue, I called the number to ask if they boarded horses. Well, we barely got past ‘hello’ and I knew. Laura and I ‘clicked’ as those with much in common are wont to do. I thank God for crossing our paths. It seems that my phone call was the catalyst for her to complete her barn projects and within a few months, she and Gary welcomed Jack & I aboard. I could not be happier; Jack has new pals and fields to roam and I have found a kindred spirit, a mentor, a friend.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Comic Relief

Now that the kids are back in school and I'm adjusting to a quiet house, some comic relief is in order. My friend, Clayton, introduced me to What the Duck comics and,'s a few favorites for my friends in photography. Enjoy!

And, to those of you who do family portraits, my favorite thus far:

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Power of an Encouraging Word

“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today”, so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

What sweet nectar is found in a sincere, encouraging word-- in both the giving and the receiving. Time and again I am blessed by the uplifting words of others. I am given a glimpse of Christ and encouraged in knowing that someone else has seen beauty in my life.

In the spring, at my PPWV Convention, I was encouraged by two of my mentors to enter my prints in the PPA International Competition. Much to my surprise, three of my four images merited and two went on to the prestigious Loan Collection, which is the highest honor for this particular competition. To say I was astonished is to put it mildly~ more like jaw dropping, speechless on the phone, dumb-founded. Making that collection was well past my goal….and all because of encouraging words.

Today I had an opportunity to give some words of praise.

On Friday, our basement flooded because of a ruptured hose on the back of our washing machine. While the kids and I were out school shopping, water was gushing from that hose for several hours creating a little pond in our finished laundry and family room. My poor elderly cat was floating in her kitty bed!
After a call to the insurance and then to the folks who came out to extract all the water and rip out the carpet, I was pleasantly surprised at the caring attitudes and quick response. I especially enjoyed talking to Wendy, who made the arrangements for the clean-up crew to come out.

I’ve talked with Wendy several times over the past few days and she never fails to be pleasant, professional and kind. Just before we hung up this a.m., I told her how much I appreciated her friendliness and how she managed her job. I think I sensed a smile over the phone.

I pray that God would remind me each and every time I have that opportunity. It takes such a short moment to give a kind word, and sometimes the effects may last for much, much longer.

I think Mark Twain said it well:
“I can live for two months on a good compliment”

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

PatriArts: Art from an illumined heart

If I could take on yet another hat, it would be that of art agent. I visualize having a studio/gallery and collecting the works of my favorite artists for all to enjoy. My list is small at present. I would include the beautiful handmade jewelry of Angie Olami, Anita Gallagher and Trudie Wohlman, the paintings and recordings of Marium Bria, the creative works of Arnold Friberg and Terry Isaac, the music of James Bitz and most recently added to my list, Patricia Banker, of PatriArts.

PatriArts is where I first learned of “Anachrons”, which is a word derived from “icon” and “anachronism”. I was searching for an icon of St. Ita, my daughter’s patron saint. Paintings of this saint are not easy to come by! At last, through google, I found an image, a very lovely painting of this dear saint (see image left). It was perfect for my daughter’s room. A beautiful image for her to gaze upon with rich symbols and celtic text to give a daily reminder of how St. Ita loved and devoted her life to God.

I don’t know Patricia personally, but after spending over an hour looking at all the artwork she has to offer ~ illuminated manuscripts, painted tiles, greeting cards, jewelry, bookmarks, posters, anachrons ~ I know I have found not just a talented artist, but a kindred spirit.

If you are searching for a truly unique gift inspired from Christian history or folk legends, I think you’ll enjoy perusing what PatriArts has to offer.

Thank you, Patricia, for sharing your talents and may God grant you many years!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Donkeys, Emus and Chickens, Oh my!

Isn't she adorable?

I was recently welcomed at Treworlas Farm in Beckwith, WV to capture some images of the adorable, the furry ...the exotic and exceedingly happy animals living there. What fun!!

I met many miniature donkeys along with their foals, countless varieties of chickens and their broods, emus, black swans, Percherons, goats and a few cows that I've not seen in any zoo, let alone in West Virginia. It was a wonderful opportunity and I wish I'd had more time to spend that morning.

As I wandered about, making my way through the fields to follow the little donkey herd, I heard a distinct bass-sounding noise: "rummm...rummm....rummm" something akin to Tolkien's Ents, I imagine. I couldn't figure it out, so chalked it up to some distant machinery laboring away. The strange thing was, however, that wherever I went, the noise was sure to follow, or stay just ahead of me. Weird.

The Percherons were the most enormous horses I've ever stood beside. At 18 h., it's a good thing they are truly gentle giants. In order to tend to their feet, Arthur, the farrier, has to put the horse in a stock to secure them. This contraption looks medieval, but is a God-send to those who must diligently trim and shoe these gigantic hooves.

A while later, as I was chatting with Arthur's assistant, he mentioned being intrigued with the attentive emu walking around in the pasture with the mini donkeys. He said, "I love the sound they make,'s really cool". I asked, "What do you mean? I haven't heard a peep from him. "Well, they kind of sound like a bass drum ...a very low vibration made in their throat I think." I got a good chuckle from that! So, was the emu following me around the whole time.

The chickens, well...chickens in general have never impressed me much, even less as a subject to photograph. But I've been missing out- I may even attempt a fine art print out of the images from Treworlas Farm! ha ....there is such a variety of poultry living there. This little fellow really caught my eye:

Treworlas Farm left a wonderful impression; a most serene and joyful place. I hope to go back again, especially in the spring when the babies will be born.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Prayer & Contemplation

“Be still and know that I am God” from Psalm 46: 10 reminds us to put aside our busy activity, our worries, anxieties and fears and be quiet. How difficult that is with the lifestyles we lead today.

We’re constantly in motion and when we aren’t, we feel guilty. Or, maybe it’s just a mom-thing to feel guilty. We have an urgent sense of caring for our families, preparing meals, being the taxi to the next event, keeping the home in order, being a nurturer to our children and being accessible to them whenever they need us. The list is endless as we consider our active role as mothers, sisters, friends and wives.

On this theme of constant motion and activity, J. Philip Newell wrote: “It is a haunt of madness that reflects the self-destructiveness of refusing to be still”

As I’ve spoken to other mothers it’s a common occurrence that we understand one another when we say we are exhausted, that we fall into bed at night, wiped out. And even then, before we can rest our minds, we’re going over all the events of the day, checking off our mental lists and thinking about what we have to accomplish tomorrow. And, just before sleep there is that moment of prayer…while trailing off to slumber.

It’s no wonder we seek refreshment and books to inspire us…no wonder we long for vacations to lift us out of our daily routines and rest. We have to find a tangible reason to rest, something we’ve earned through hard work or a significant accomplishment. Then, aaahhhh…we feel justified in being still, on the beach or in the mountains or by some pristine lake.

This, however, was not the example set by Christ. His was a ministry of perfection, marked by obedience and balance. He taught, he healed, he feasted, he listened, he prayed, he rested, he fasted…in a rhythm that was nurturing to Him, nurturing to us as we follow His example.

Since becoming Orthodox, I have recovered a daily sense of spiritual refreshment through my prayer life. And this refreshment goes a long way toward my roles as mother, wife and friend... as we are comforted, so we may comfort another.

Not long ago, as the kids and I were having a devotion outside on a beautiful summer morning, I asked them to be quiet for two full minutes and see what they could hear. They closed their eyes and listened. Afterward, they told me they heard the birds singing, a distant lawn mower, the wind. How important it is that we learn how to quiet ourselves to be attentive to the world around us, to God speaking to our hearts in those quiet moments.

If we never take time to be still, how will we ever have anything to offer another?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Low Expectations

Entrepreneurs, I've got some words of wisdom for you: good customer service. If you provide this from the get-go, you'll be heads and shoulders above the rest.

Maybe I'm becoming too cynical, but when it comes to purchasing/exchanging goods or enlisting services, I have low expectations. This serves me well because it increases my chances of being pleasantly surprised and lowers my chances of being disappointed.

I don't expect the lady at the drive-through to get it right everytime. Sampling new foods is adventure eating! Nor do I expect all the sizes/colors to be correct in the clothes I ordered online. Hey, maybe puke green looks better on me anyway. I didn't even get bent out of shape when the poncho I returned for exchange, became a return for full refund. I probably didn't need it anyway...

I have come to find it humourous that everytime I take my animals to the vet, I have to make sure they have the correct 'amy', since apparently there are two of us with very similar ID's. This came to my attention when they inquired about my dying cat. "What dying cat?" I asked with a puzzled face. "Oh....uhm,....aren't you at 135 Oakvale?"


"Oh, sorry."

I'm sure there's a silver lining to it. Maybe I can inquire about that other amy's bill.

Low expectations serves me well, but I do have my boundaries. What really pushes my buttons is when I have a problem, a defect with the product, poor service, etc. and have to make an exchange or inquire over the phone and I am met with apathy or worse, disdain.

Whatever happened to "the customer is always right" ? More likely, it's an attitude of "what do YOU want? why are YOU bothering me ...*sigh* only 30 more minutes till 5:00."

Ohhhh...I try so hard to be calm, to take names. Today I've waited at home all day for the repairman to fix our dryer. This appt. was made days ago, online with e-mail confirmation and ALL pertinent information correct. When I finally looked up the phone number (funny how they never give you a phone # anymore ) to inquire, the conversation would have been laughable had I not been so angry.

Not only did they not have our service order in their system, they had my in-laws phone number and P.O. Box on file, tagged for this service ....from six years ago. The young lady on the phone informed me that had the phone number been current, the repairman would not have had trouble reaching us.

This is where I had the mixed emotion of giggling .... and pulling this young girl's ponytails.

I calmly explained that all info on the e-mail confirmation was correct, the number, st. address, time of appt., date set, etc,, etc. AND that I had been waiting all day. (Why is their time always more valuable than mine?!) I refrained from saying that the company would receive an invoice from me for the $59.00 service call.

Anyway, I have HER name and all pertinent information. She now knows their online customer service system has a glitch and needs addressed. She knows that I was an unsatisfied customer and will be taking my business elsewhere.

My moral for the day - don't expect much. It'll keep your blood pressure lowered and when you DO meet those rare gems who provide service with a smile, you'll feel like you just won the lottery ... well, almost.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Getting Settled In

I am working to set up the features of this blog, so many customizations to play with! It is good to have another creative outlet, one to share where I'm at in this journey. I've added a little about St. Brigid today, more to follow.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A New Chapter

Ah, I am finally breaking into the "official" blogging world. I've carried on a tapestry @ my Christian message board, Sparrow's Hearth, , for some time now. Since I read a few other blogs on this network, I thought I'd give it a try.
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