Traveling

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Sometimes, travel is little more than a series of random occurrences that culminate into an unexpected travel experience. That’s why journeys and paths are often used as metaphors. We understand the underlying meanings of undertaking a journey be it physical or spiritual. Even on a meticulously planned trip, there is still inevitable randomness that is simply out of your control.

The weather.

Traffic and Car Problems.

Construction and Renovation.

Companions’ temperament.

In 1986, I went to the U.K. My boyfriend broke up with me, we shared a dorm and he had a new girlfriend. If we were still dating, would I have gone anyway? It’s doubtful. I had nothing or no one holding me back. So I went, and it changed my life and my outlook on life.

Last Fall, I discovered a saint’s shrine within driving distance and so I went. My family was out of town. I doubt I would have made the effort if they were home. There is another shrine nearby. I’m going to spend some time there this Fall.

I’ve had the opportunity to travel by trains, planes, and automobiles. No boats though. Boats are not for me. I’ve been able to experience day trips, two week long holidays, and one week adventures. Hostels, hotels, campgrounds. Sightseeing, business travel, retreats. Family and solo. So many ways to go and so many places to stay.

As exhausting as traveling can be I find that there is nothing like the feeling of exhilaration and energy that recharges my batteries.

Seeing new things and seeing old things with new eyes are only two of the benefits of traveling.

As much as I like the convenience of traveling by car, a couple of years ago I took the train from New York to southern Virginia. I was nervous at first, that mode of travel being new to me and traveling alone, but I loved it. I loved everything about it. I loved watching the countryside out the window. I loved how much more room there was than on an airplane. I loved the wide variety of people and characters I ran into. I took notes and I eavesdropped discreetly. I read and I snacked. It was confirmation that it’s not the destination, but the journey that makes the traveling worth the trip.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Home at Val-Kill

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On a recent road trip to see the in-laws I began to read Eleanor Roosevelt’s autobiography. I never remember that she and President Roosevelt were from New York, and so while reading it many of the places she mentioned were familiar to me: the capital of Albany, of course, GE in Schenectady, etc. I also never remember much about her other than that she was a strong, independent woman with a life apart from her husband’s. What struck me as unexpected was her description of herself as painfully shy, introverted and lacking in initiative and self-confidence. I think I literally laughed out loud. Even in my ignorance, I would never describe Eleanor Roosevelt as shy or lacking self-confidence.

Quite suddenly while we were heading back north I realized how close we’d be to Hyde Park, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s family home (and now Presidential Library and Museum). I mentioned that I wanted to drive by, maybe walk around a bit and take pictures. It’s not far from our route, so it was no problem to divert for an hour or so on the way home.

When we arrived in the hamlet of Hyde Park, I looked for signs to guide us to the President’s home. I was excited, diverging from our planned itinerary for some local history. We followed the main road and then I saw something that would change our intended destination: a sign for the historic site of Eleanor Roosevelt’s home. The autobiography hadn’t gotten to talking about Val-Kill until after we left, but I’ve always admired Mrs. Roosevelt and decided that I would like to see the home of one of the smartest, independent, and inspirational heroes of the twentieth century.

I had already decided that I wouldn’t take the time to take the guided tour (the only way to see the inside of the cottage); it would take more time than I was willing to sacrifice, and I didn’t want to spend the money for so short a visit. My daughter wanted to accompany me, and I was really excited to include her. My daughter is her own independent, speak-her-mind, interesting, spirited young lady and Eleanor Roosevelt’s name is one that I’d like her to remember.

We wandered down the path (1, 2) and over the wooden bridge (3) taking photos along the way. There was a little door in the side of the hill with rock walls as tall as my daughter bordering it. (4) We took some more photos and she stood on top of the wooden deck slats.(5) She peeked between the slats and said that it was deep and empty. We walked around the cottage and down into what I presumed would be a very pretty fenced garden come summer time. (6) There was an outdoor fireplace. Coming around the back of the stone cottage there was a white wooden fence surrounding a courtyard with another outdoor fireplace and a cherub statue that might be a fountain when it’s not so cold as to freeze. (7, 8, 9)

We looked in windows and over walls. We wandered through puddles and muddy paths, kicking rocks and listening to the water as it rushed under the bridge. My daughter tried to tug open the locked cellar as she imagined what treasures might be hidden down there. (10)

This was a unique travel moment that one can only hope for. Not only was I surprised that I thought of it before we had traveled past it, I was surprised that I followed through. It’s not as though I would have driven the two hours on just any weekday, although now that I’ve been to the place I might want to go back and take the actual tour.

Continuing to read the book after we left Val-Kill, I discovered through Eleanor’s words that she came here to live after Franklin died; subsequently giving their Hyde Park home to the government for the historical site, library and museum. This became her year round home, not the vacation retreat she enjoyed with her husband, and she did much of her work from here. She also spent time with her family and enjoying the solitude of the surrounding woods as she continued her writing and political work. I loved finding out that Franklin Roosevelt had contributed to the design and the building of this cottage. I put two and two together and found that the wooden slats that my daughter had been standing on was the swimming pool that the President enjoyed as part of his visits to Val-Kill and as part of his therapy and exercise for his legs after contracting polio. (5) Recognizing things there and from photos that I looked into from her autobiography really made this site come alive for me.

One of the best things about travel is the parts that come alive. I can picture Eleanor sitting in a chair with the stone cottage in the background behind her, the windows of the house open to let in the cool air from the stream and the wooded areas. I can hear the birds whisling, the water rushing, and the bees buzzing from flower to flower. I look around at her home and special place and I think iof how to maintain my own places and keep them special and where I can surround myself with the sounds and the scenery that will continue to inspire and give me that sense of stillness that I often seek.

Other Roosevelt items of interest include:

Marist College

The Culinary Institute of America, where the burial site of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is

Town of Hyde Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park

Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

A Tour of the Roosevelt Family’s New York

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(1)

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(2)

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(3)

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(3)

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(5)

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(6)

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(7)

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(8)

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(9)

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(10)

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As Holy Week Ends

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It’s full of run on sentences but that just adds to the breathlessness of writing about Wales. I’m really happy with what I did in my travel writer’s class in the twenty minute exercise. Like, really happy with it. Homework is to continue the piece, which I’m very excited about.

Excellent Walking Dead finale! Can’t stop thinking about it. I’m writing great meta in my head, but it won’t transfer to the page. Still working on it. I also loved the April Fool’s from Stephen King about writing an episode. It’s funny how I don’t read his books, but I like everything else about the man.

Excellent Supernatural! Loved every bit of it. Cas jumping into the playground door to heaven was badass. Crowley standing up to Rowena. Rowena’s face when she didn’t kill Dean. Dean and Crowley having a drink together. The séance. Bobby. BOBBY!

The Flash (SPOILERS) had the best moment on so many levels with Mark Hamill playing The Trickster. He leans down close into the copycat’s face and in telling him why he chose him, had a longish pause, and then says slowly and pointedly (and what I guessed was coming), “I am your father.” It was the perfect homage without the shark jumping cliché. I find that’s the best thing about The Flash. It’s really the one thing we love to watch as a family. It has a great pace, full of humor and adventure. Great cast, great story, and as I am the non-comic book reader of the family you don’t need to read the comics to really enjoy this show.

The Easter Vigil is tomorrow night. All throughout this week’s services and masses, people keep coming up to me, asking how I feel, patting my shoulder, hugging me, reminding me that it’s my first anniversary. I’m both excited and non-plussed as I don’t feel that different today than I felt a year ago after the vigil. This church is only becoming more of a belonging space for me. I’m asked to hand out papers and cards after mass. The ongoing support is continuing and welcome.

My son is on his school trip overseas, to France. Several of his close friends are also on the trip. It’s hard to believe he’s already 18, and he’s graduating this spring/summer. He’s just a wonderful person in so many ways.

The other two are fighting like cats and dogs and today is only the first day of spring break!

Last fish on Friday til next year and then turkey dinner for Easter. What should I make for dessert?

We’ll be visiting my mother in law next week. Many of you know that she was hit by a car in 2013 and has been recovering ever since. She is back in the rehab because of a slight set-back, but she is strong and feeling better. This rehab center gives her confidence; they are a good caring place.

I was originally going to write a reflection here on how I was feeling this Holy Week, but when I began to write this (more or less) social media update, I realized that it really spells out how my Holy Week is going and how it’s making me feel. While I didn’t do as much introspection and meditation as I would have liked this Lent, I think that was my own fault for committing myself to a daily reflection. Instead of being a spiritual release, on some days (not many), it became a burden, which was totally not my intention. I’ve never been a questioner about my conversion, but this Lent felt much more comfortable for me with a better direction and reasons for doing things. I found it easier to talk to my kids about Jesus and being Catholic, which was not something that I found stress-free in the past. This morning when I said that I wanted to bring them to the Good Friday service, they didn’t want to go, but when I explained that it was the day that Jesus died and I really wanted to attend, they understood the importance of that, and agreed to go with very little disagreement. They were also very well behaved and my son in particular joined in the group readings and sang along with the hymns. Not exactly something he does, so it made my heart warm. My daughter took out her Kindle and began drawing pictures of churches, steeples and crosses. That was her way of showing her respect and I thought it was right for her. (When I saw her Bike Race app however, I told her to put it away.)

The Supernatural family is still my family and The Walking Dead has sparked my creativity as has this new workshop for travel writing.  Currently, the television is off, although the kids are on tablets, but the house is quiet, which is always a good thing. I did one weekend retreat in February, one day retreat in March, and in May I have plans to do an overnight at the same retreat house. They are very welcoming and accommodating with my money situation. I am also hoping to go again to Spring Enrichment with the Diocese.

I know it seems as though my little world revolves around my church, but the church seems to have brought all of the me’s together to form the birth (or re-birth) of an authentic me, a genuine me, a me who I should be. Add into that my writing, my travel, my faith, history and advocacy, justice and beauty, motherhood and mothering, family and camaraderie. All of my belonging spaces coming together to create my loft house in the woods where I am the only one who can see how the paths converge and spread like the threads of a spider web, catching all of the ideas, all of the wants, all of the being that I long for.

I wasn’t looking for a new religion when I went into my church initially. I wanted quiet; and comfort. Receiving both of those I looked for nothing else. My skepticism held fast, but when Jesus came to me in a bright light, no words were needed; indeed the words are already there through the Gospels. He needed no words to lead me to His salvation, or mine I suppose; the light was enough to open my eyes.

For me, the first half of this is no different from the second half. What I do in my daily life, whether important or insouciant, it is all with the basis of faith; with the foundation of belief; with the heart of Jesus.

Reflection – Ash Wednesday

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As I find myself observing my first Ash Wednesday since my baptism into the Catholic faith (I observed two before today), I am hesitant to choose that one something to give up. There are truly so many things available to me, not necessarily bad habits that need eliminating or rectifying or sins that need reconciling, but between candy and dessert, soda and McDonald’s Breakfast Burritos, television and internet, the present list goes on like a persistent gnaw at my subconscious, and I’m not sure where my Lenten (or should I say life -) priorities should lie.

In addition to giving something up, what do I add to my day to encourage me in my spiritual contemplation, the new awakening to my continuing faith journey? In the past, I’ve committed to a daily reflection. Unfortunately this has lasted about two days. Maybe I’ve taken on too much, been overly ambitious, trying to publish a missive rather than a thought.

Should I pray more?

Should I give myself some extra alone time in the morning to reflect and ruminate? Perhaps use as a model the Daily Examen of St. Ignatius?

Everything I’ve mentioned and thought about for this Lent looks good and interests me, but so far none feel right; none feel faithful.

None fit.

They all feel forced, a put-uponing rather than a release, a lethargy of excuses rather than an arousing of spirit or a growth to carry me through these next forty days.

I am at odds with myself and it all feels muddled; a disarray of good intentions amid the clutter of listlessness, torn between excessive piousness and not enough, walking the fine line of knowing who this Lent is for – my outer self or my inner soul.

As I spend the rest of today in G-d’s grace, I’m hoping He will show me which direction to take at this Ash Wednesday crossroads.

Is a Stay-Cation Right for You?

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After 9/11 there was a national phenomenon that was dubbed nesting. It wasn’t planned; it just happened. No one wanted to leave their homes; we, as a nation stopped going out to dinner; we cooked more, and specialty food markets began cropping up in the next year or so. We rented movies instead of going to the theatre. The Kindle market exploded and birthed an entire industry.

This, rising gas prices, and two economic downturns later have given us a new term for leisure in our modern world: stay-cation; the vacation that you spend at home.

Our first personal experience with a staycation happened for us in 2009. Our family unexpectedly had one when our car’s transmission stranded us on the highway three weeks before our planned summer getaway to Niagara Falls. We couldn’t afford to fix the transmission and go on vacation, and obviously, the car was our priority for our limited funds. With everything else going on in our lives, we really didn’t want to disappoint our kids who were looking forward to their first real vacation in their memory.

That first year we used the money we would have spent on gas and hotels and had a couple of nice family days locally, choosing to go to places we wouldn’t ordinarily go to because in our everyday budget, they were simply too costly. (In our case, a brewery restaurant in the capital and an Aqua Duck tour). As I said, it was a little more expensive than what we would normally do on a weekend, but for us this was more than a weekend; it was vacation. Sort of.

Over the years, as our income stagnated (or went down due to health insurance and health care costs increasing and the cost of raising three growing kids), we’ve continued to have our own version of staycations; of concentrated family time during mid-season school breaks and summer recess at those times when we weren’t visiting extended family or had other things scheduled.

I’ve found that as much as kids, and adults say they want free time, that they just want to sit around and rest and relax, they (and we) get bored very quickly. It becomes the same old, same old and that’s when the fighting starts. He took my…. She touched my…. He’s looking at me! My daughter in particular will find her way into the kitchen, snacking on everything from cheese sticks to corn flakes, both of which she typically scoffs at. It is sometimes a little frightening, reminding me that as far-fetched as a zombie apocalypse is, she will be ready to eat anything. Anything.

Or they spend all day wired up to the Disney channel or their tablets. While tablets have their good points, learning-type games and library e-books, the school’s website even, it is sometimes too much screen-time, even for me: a recovering TV-holic.

Everyone likes to have planned activities and obligations interspersed with relaxation, and the stay-cation is the perfect avenue for that. Unlike a vacation, there isn’t that pressure to get things done because we’re spending so much money on having fun and relaxing. Have fun! Now! It becomes stressful, not to mention kids’ behavioral issues that are perfectly normal at home will add on a significant strain when the wall next to you is shared by another family trying to get away from it all, or worse yet, a business traveler. The constant behaving your best is not relaxing; for anyone.

Being home has its benefits.

Some of our fun can be adapted in anyone’s neighborhood including:

Food Tastings– choose a few foods that the kids have never had or have been asking to try, and try them. We’ve tried donut peaches, pink grapefruit, anchovies, Ugli fruit, blood oranges, yellow tomatoes, prickly pears, plums, dates, mandarin oranges, avocado, homemade guacamole, and the list goes on and on.

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Let’s “Go” to the Movies – Lights out, DVD, popcorn, a packet of M&Ms. We recommend Despicable Me (both movies plus the Minion shorts), Guardians of the Galaxy, Brave, Cars, and Netflix is always a good investment especially during summer vacation.

Chuck E. Cheese – it’s free to get in, the arcade is for all ages, they offer discounts on tokens, always have coupons online and they make an excellent pizza if you’re in the mood to spend money on lunch.

Your local library almost always has special programs scheduled for Winter and Spring breaks. We’ve gone to readings for service animals, science experiments, cooking classes for kids, not to mention taking out books that interest your kids and just getting out of your own four walls. (Not to mention, during the summer months, their air conditioning is free.)

Last summer, we did a typography project at the dining room table using fabric, buttons, charms, glue and pushpins on a thin corkboard (four for $5 at Target).

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AAA is an excellent investment, if only for their roadside assistance, but they also provide maps and tour books free. Every year, I go back for the updated book of my state. They also offer discounts on admissions and retail shops. We live near the capital so there is always something to do, but we also live near the National Bottle Museum and the Museum of Firefighting, smaller venues that we might not see if we went on vacation.  Remember that your vacation destinations are someone else’s local attractions. Check out what tourists are coming to your area for, and you might discover something amazing in your own backyard.

Speaking of your own backyard, scavenger hunts and nature walks are a perfect way to get outside and enjoy the sunshine in any kind of weather, including snowy. Afterwards, you can bring in your bounty and glue collages or make table centerpieces by arranging nature in a clear bowl or vase.

When my kids were younger and we lived in an apartment, we put together a sand box for them to play in. It was inside a plastic bin, and much less expensive than Little Tykes or Fisher Price that you’d need a backyard to enjoy. It was also portable for trips to Grandma’s.

Baking bread, cookies and apples are also good ways to spend the day. Delicious, too.

Plan it out like you would for a traveling vacation. Put the effort in just like you did when you drove two hundred miles or visited the biggest ball of twine; or the Corn Palace.

Whatever your budget, whatever your interests, a stay-cation can be for anyone.

Half a Century and A World Ago

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Today would have been my parents’ 50th anniversary. They were married on February 5th, 1965.

My mother is in the center, wearing the pink suit with my father to her left. Deanne and Gerald.

Just to her right is my grandmother, Sadie and over her shoulder is my grandfather, Richard or Mo as he was known (short for Moshe), her parents. Going out right and left from her are my father’s parents, Stanley (who was from Canada) and Celia (whose brother I’m named for), and the short woman closest in the picture, I believe is my great-grandmother, Bubbi.

In this picture her hair looks reddish, ginger, but I honestly have no idea what her actual hair color was. I think it was brown, but I never saw it. Growing up she dyed it (what we thought of as crazy colors, but nowhere near the “crazy” of today, and she wore wigs. Wigs and headbands; they were a very popular accessory in the 70s. I know that a lot of her friends did the same with their hair.

This is one of two or three pictures that I have from their wedding day. They were married in Laurelton, NY at the Jewish Center and the reception was at my grandmother’s house. I don’t remember that chandelier, but we were at that house every weekend (and the other half of the weekend was spent at my other grandparents, my father’s parents.

Visiting my grandparents seems like yesterday; it’s hard to believe that this photograph is fifty years old.

We lead a very different life now. Our kids see their paternal grandmother once or twice a year instead of the once or twice a week that we saw ours. There were family gatherings with more extended family than my kids can imagine. We had “cousins” and I still have no idea how we’re “related”. Cousins of cousins, aunt’s siblings’ kids’ kids. We went to dinners and birthdays.Next week, we are traveling a couple of hours for my cousin’s daughter’s sweet 16, and for a few hours it will feel like thirty years ago despite the missing faces.

I am Facebook friends with my Dad’s best man’s wife.

My Mom’s favorite aunt and uncle are in their nineties, long retired to Florida, and married over seventy years.

Just last year, we celebrated my Dad’s brother’s 70th birthday. In fact, he turned 71 two days ago.

My parents would have been 77 and 72 on their next birthdays.

These are one of those bittersweet days, remembering the joy and the fun and the sadness that they aren’t here to celebrate this momentous milestone.

Mom & Dad's wedding reception - 1965

This second picture is the walk back from the wedding to my grandmother’s house for the reception. It looks like my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Carl leading the way with Bubbi and my parents, newly married pulling up the rear.

I can’t get over the hats, the cars and the eyeglasses.

It all makes me smile

.Mom & Dad's wedding Mom & Dad - my wedding - 1994This third photo is from my wedding in 1994.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Always together and missed everyday.

A Blog Audit

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Last week I pushed the wrong button and accidentally changed my theme, so I spent two days looking through, and decided on this one. I wanted the color green and I like having a sidebar. It forced me to change whether I was ready or not. Sometimes, a good thing. I’ll be keeping this one.

As for other aspects of the site, what I’m looking to do is create more of a website feel rather than a blog. I have a few pages and I plan on adding more. The pages are for information and links. I currently have the opening page as my posts, but once I set up a Home page, I’m going to redirect to that static page rather than the posts which are listed in the sidebar anyway.

I’ve started an index divided into subjects so readers can find what they’re looking for.

I want it to be my original writing and photographs with helpful or informative reblogs. Simply, I want it to be mine.

I want the site to be a resource, to use what I know, what I learn and to share my experiences, especially the things that have changed me: depression, parenting, equality, spirituality; perhaps make someone else’s journey just a little bit easier and give them company on the road.

I’m still not sure how to join it together and bring out my best, like a tapestry woven with many layers and hidden threads. But I’m happy to experiment.

Welcome.

Groundhog’s Day

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This is one of our family’s favorite holidays. To celebrate we got about a foot of snow and a snow day from school. Here are some other ways to enjoy today:

Watch a movie: Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray

Read history of the day

Read a book: Will Spring be Early or Will Spring be Late by Crockett Johnson

Our you could go directly to the source: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club

Within Thirty Minutes of Waking…

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I don’t always realize that I have a morning routine until I get a prompt like this. Or try to deviate from it.

Whatever time I wake up, whether it’s 6am or Noon (rarely that late), I always begin (and end) with my Kindle. I use it for everything, and my morning routine only proves that.

Free is good. I head straight to the Amazon Appstore and check on the Free App of the Day. It’s usually a game, but I’ve also found some great professional apps there, like Office Suite (with Word) and Informant (awesome calendar/task app).

I move on to check my social media – Facebook, Tumblr, like and reblog anything that doesn’t need thinking about, and check my email. I generally delete about sixty emails just upon waking. I really need to unsubscribe from many lists. I barely read most of these.

I read a couple of the blogs that I follow on WordPress that immediately catch my eye.

I continue using my Kindle Fire to check my bank’s app, and then balance my checkbook on Spensa.

If I’m not running late, I try to take a few minutes to read Give Us This Day – the daily saint or revered person and the reflection. I bookmark the Evening Scriptures for later. If I don’t have Mass, I read the daily mass from The Word Among Us periodical. I sometimes hold off on this until later in the day when there isn’t any rushing out of the door or errands to run.

I check my daily list and get a feel for how my day is going to go. I make sure that my daily post goes up on WordPress or that it’s ready to go.

I take notes on what other writing I’d like to do this week or add to my Editorial Calendar, which is literally a calendar book from Mead that I’ve found overwhelmingly helpful.

And that’s about it.

I take a shower and get dressed and head out to Mass three days a week. It vaguely changes on the weekend, but not really. It all depends on the family.

Sometimes it takes thirty minutes; sometimes ninety. I never know until I get through the list, but I do find that it helps get me focused on what needs to be done so I don’t forget anything important.

On occasion, I get brain fog, and I need much more rigid lists, but lists are good for me. And when all the items are checked off and not deferred to the next day, it’s a feel good like no other.

The Last Picture I Took: The Mockingjay

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Simply, I took this photo because I was writing a post about the book/movie Mockingjay (Movie, Part 1) and I needed a photo for the post.

That particular mockingjay was an impulse buy at a huge Toys R Us sale. It had that as well as a couple of amber stones and a bow with two arrows. Two Thanksgivings ago, I lost my silver bow and arrow that I’d had since the 90s, from when I was studying archery in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). I wanted the bow and arrow, and I’m a fan of archers – Robin Hood, Merida from Brave, Hawkeye from The Avengers, Green Arrow, Katniss; all of them. Soon after I finally watched the Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and I was drawn to those movies in a way that I hadn’t enjoyed a movie since Harry Potter. My son and I couldn’t wait for the Mockingjay movie to be released (as I’ve mentioned before) and I really got attached to the character and the symbols. At another sale (this one at FYE), I found what looks like a convention pass with a larger Mockingjay coin-like charm; trinket.

I am lover of trinkets.

Talismans.

Stones.

Medals.

So while the picture itself was really a simple thing, the overall meaning for me is the balance that a related photo or drawing brings to my writing. It brings in the more visual readers, and I’m also a big fan of symmetry; duality. Sort of like the blending of the jabberjays and the mockingbirds that give us the mockingjay.