Birthday Gifts


Blue Bison Study, Watercolor, 4″ x  8″ original, NFS

I had the nicest birthday recently. Is it boring to everyone but me to say I feel gifted? It started with an extravagant 3-dog cuddle and ended with The Good Wife and a glass of wine. In between, a muddy walk with sweet girlfriends laughing and playful dogs zooming, a card from my dad that made me sob happy tears in the kitchen, a shrine of other birthday greetings that won’t come down until I close the house in December, a phone call from Birmingham, a 12-year-old roller skating party pic from Memphis, a voice message from Switzerland, a latte from my favorite coffee and pottery joint, and a romantic-ish dinner in the basement of a historic hotel in Three Forks Montana. And some fabulous love and surprises sprinkled throughout the day, the evening before, and days yet to come (so I’ve been told)(I have no reason to doubt it)(I love birthdays that linger…).

Just one of those surprises (before all the parentheses) was a set of paintbrushes – in a case with a zipper in a box with a bow. From Pat Bond who never cares about his own birthday falling two days before mine. We don’t really exchange birthday gifts and he doesn’t do the shrine of cards, so imagine my surprise this year with a humbly wrapped set of Teflon frying pans to share between the Airstream and home, and a set of long-handled sable brushes sleekly packed like chef’s knives. For me. With love.


Mouthy Bison Study, Watercolor, 6″ x 8″ original, $50

When the next day’s horse ride into the woods was cancelled due to windy, sloppy, miserable conditions, I spent the morning at the ranch and then headed home to stoke the fire and unzip the brushes. Hours flew by and 3 bison appeared, which I will also consider birthday surprises (seeing as they are a direct result of a birthday gift and this birthday is still in effect for at least another few days). As they took shape and color, each with its own personality and oddities (that middle guy’s mouth in real life is jacked)(perhaps I exaggerated how crooked and disproportional it is, but not by as much as you think), a mental list of thank you notes I will write for birthday gifts also formed itself:


Backyard Bison Study, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, NFS

Dear you know who you are, thank you so much for the:

  • Delicious vanilla candle and stripe-y handbag that looks like me to you
  • Weather forecast that kept me home this afternoon
  • Ability to move these brushes and mush this paint into shapes that make me so happy
  • Wonderful friends – the ones who remember this date on the calendar and those who don’t
  • Brother who is da stank and the parents who love me more than I could ever deserve or return
  • Good and beautiful bottles of wine in my cabinet
  • Desire to create food that is beautiful and nourishing from ingredients I can trace and appreciate
  • Job that lets me see people at their most generous and most inspired
  • Endless supply of paper towels and amazing lack of scarcity in my life
  • Mid-afternoon cuddle between paintings #2 and #3, complete with tail wags and that jellyfish thing you do where your bones disappear and you sink into my crook (your ears stink by the way)
  • Sale on dog food
  • Blankets in three varieties that help Mac the Horse stay warm and dry enough to keep weight on in this weather and keep me from dying of guilt every time the weather turns
  • Sunflowers and alstroemeria that will keep my kitchen bright and birthday-centric for the rest of the month
  • Birthdays past, spent with people I don’t see anymore, for mile-stoning changes of mind, heart, spine, and location
  • Gift you give every time you read these words, look at these paintings, ask me questions, answer mine, and share this art with me.

Happy gifted birthday indeed.

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Old Dog, New Trick


Rainbow Bison, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original, Not for Sale (yet)

Tonight Linus and I are home alone. Pat left today with the Airstream and the two brown dogs for some pheasant hunting. My dearest college friend left with her two beautiful daughters for Memphis. I am catching up on commercials, leftover brownies, laundry, outfit planning for the coming week, the Mindy Project, and posting a painting that has been sitting in the closet since last Sunday. Meanwhile Linus is napping next to me, twitching occasionally, and breathing loudly and slowly like an old, old man. Which he is. It is strange and sad to have the house to ourselves, but while the dryer hums and the television just makes noise, we are kicking off our time together with some quality cuddles under the comforter. We have big plans for the next few weeks. Want to hear them?

  • Paint (me)
  • Wobble (him)
  • Build fires (me)
  • Sleep a LOT (you get the system here)
  • Visit, ride, and eventually move Mac to Bozeman (me)
  • Go to the bathroom OUTSIDE (stay with the me-him rhythm or this is going to get weird)
  • Work
  • Drink and drool
  • Keep up the yoga momentum (still with me?)
  • Keep out of the garbage (him)
  • Be patient
  • Be cooperative
  • Stay away from the treat drawer (both of us)
  • Stay alive

Linus is 16. He is stinky and obstinate, incontinent and mostly deaf. He flails in his sleep, poops in the house, and walks in a circle when he wakes up in the morning before his back legs have a chance to get warmed up and under him. He is lumpy, oily, itchy, underfoot, slow, sweet, sometimes visibly confused, often annoying, and almost always thirsty. His head is in my lap right now and every so often he opens one eye to make sure I’m still here. He still wags when he’s happy, runs to my car when I drive up after work, loves a ride in the pickup truck, eats like a champ, and does a full-body snuggle that is more therapeutic than any session you’ll ever schedule with a professional anything. He is powerful medicine and a lover of all creatures. Except UPS men.

Our deal is this: I will keep the house warmer than I normally would, I will come home at lunch every day even though he will wait to go potty until after I am back at work, and I will spend my evenings within a few feet if not inches of him so he can occasionally open one eye to make sure I’m here. All I ask of him is to not rub his nasty, yeasty ears on the bed and to please wake up every morning. I will pet him and paint and he will annoy me and ruin our house one room at a time. It’s our way. I know it can’t last forever. Nothing good ever does. But if you could see his perfect white chest or his cloudy brown eyes, or watch how excited he gets over a bone or the blow dryer, or hear him breathe or feel how soft he is, you would know about loving an old dog. The title is misleading; there is no trick. Time. Patience. A little help on the stairs. LOVE. Lots of paper towels and slow walks around the neighborhood. Years and years of adventures and loyalty and whispers and tears and miles and hugs. And big plans for more.



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Muted II, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, SOLD

This may be the last original watercolor I sell through this Cheap Art channel for a while. I know I keep changing the system, but I like to keep you on your toes. And as a Libra and a woman I have the prerogative to change my mind by the time I post this so you should probably just stay tuned.

The West Yellowstone Public Library has been asking me for years if I will show my work with them during one of three summer art exhibits. For years I have been MEANING to paint, or WANTING to paint, or AVOIDING the paint, but I finally said yes. Next summer they will SO kindly host a one-woman show of my art, so I need to actually create, keep, and frame some real work. So there’s that.

Then a few nights ago Pat asked again how much I’m charging for these little originals. When I told him he shook his head, told me I should be asking four times as much, and that I should at least change the name of my website to “Reasonable Art.” I’m not in love with the way that rolls off the tongue, but I am in love with the man and his sentiment, and the incredible compliment paid by his gentle reprimand. I recognize high praise from Pat Bond when I hear it.

I’ve had a little formula for figuring out the price to ask for these small pieces, a dollar amount times the square inches of each painting with a little wiggle room for magic and timing and charity and fate. Now I’m questioning my inventory or lack thereof, my name and approach, AND my formula.

So I’m just going to paint for a while and see what happens, see where the spirit leads, see how my budget is looking, and see what hoarding vs. sending art out into the world feels like. I’m thinking of offering prints in some way shape or form while the originals are off the market, but I’m not sure just how to coordinate that yet. If you have an idea, I’m yours. If you have a complaint, I’m still yours. If you have a suggestion for a subject, website name, price structure, or way to share art, I’d love to hear from you.

No reasonable offer refused.

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Hooky In Five Parts


Un-Muted Bison, 6″ x 8″ original, SOLD

I. On the back of my office door at work hangs a sign in a font meant to look like handwriting. The corners are starting to curl and the paper is starting to tear where the scotch tape meets the wood. Most people don’t notice or see it due to the direction the door opens and the size of the office, but my coworker, office-mate, and friend Erika and I see it every time we turn around, every time we grab our keys and head to the ranch or home, every time we get a drink of water or run out of envelopes. In its manufactured scrawl the sign says:

You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do?

You should go do them.

II. I’ve always had a thing for bathrooms. As a young child I insisted on going to restrooms in coffee shops, libraries, and theaters just to see them. I have not outgrown this; I haven’t fully experienced a restaurant until I’ve seen the dessert menu and the ladies’ room. Bathrooms are sanctuaries from loud parties, windows into the true style of a place, opportunities for self-check-in and clean hands, and of course there’s the whole ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh factor when it’s nature vs. mere curiosity calling.

III. I spent half of Monday at the State Capitol in Helena, Montana. It’s a beautiful building. I lugged a card table that does NOT fold and a hefty cardboard box overflowing with brochures, sweet treats, and other promotional materials up the stairs of the rotunda and set up my station at the end of a tiled hallway painted a historic green with filigree details. I was there to convince state employees to include our nonprofit in their charitable contributions this year. Roughly 99 other representatives were spread out across the 2nd floor with similar paraphernalia, so by the time the browsing pizza-party guests made it to my station, they were full, overwhelmed, and mostly decided on where their donations are going to go in 2016-2017.

The event planner asked participants in the registration materials to wait until 2:00 to break down tables and pack up, so that all visitors would have the same opportunity to see the nonprofits and eat the Snickers bars. No leaving early please. She must have known what would happen after about 12:30. We had already been shoving treats and Pick Me Propoganda at people for three hours at that point. Come to think of it she even mentioned in her notes that we could leave our tables unattended, so she REALLY must have known about that last hour and a half.

Once the line for pizza dwindled, I noticed a lot of people with name tags from pet rescues and watershed conservation outfits milling about, making the rounds. I realized leaving my coffee cakes and caramel corn unattended in the name of networking was indeed the thing to do, so I toured the other 99 tables and took note of what interested me. Turns out I’m a pretty simple consumer of nonprofits; I like the same causes in charities I’m drawn to in real life – horses, dogs, wildlife, wild lands, water, housing, young people, and justice, not always in that order. After returning to my corner of the capitol with a handful of brochures and saying hello to another dozen tire-kickers, I decided to play hooky from my table AGAIN and visit the 3rd floor House and Senate Chambers. The quiet, the chandeliers, the light through stained glass, the rich old wood, and the artwork that graced the walls and arches, not to mention the views from picture windows of the Montana landscapes in every direction, moved me.

IV. I’m convinced the best things happen when you leave your station. I am not advocating irresponsible behavior, a poor work ethic, letting important tasks go undone, half-assedness in any form. I’m saying if the organizer explicitly says leave your table unattended but please don’t take it down yet, you should absolutely walk around and see what you see. When will you find yourself in the capitol again? And why hurry to pack up and use the restroom at the gas station on your way out of town when there is a historically preserved, gracefully feminine, black & white tiled, gorgeous ladies room with a sunlit antique wooden bench and huge porcelain sinks beckoning? Despite the grandeur of the dome and the largest Charlie Russell mural of the artist’s career hanging behind the Speaker of House, of course this little restroom was my favorite part of the building. I never would have seen it if I hadn’t played hooky. And it makes me think about all those other things I want to do and see and paint and taste and visit and go for.

V. I really should go do them.

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Muted Bison, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original, SOLD

Remember when you were in 8th grade or so, loved your church youth group because the older kids had to be nice to you AND every week you got to sing songs about love in 4-part harmony with choreography, and at least once a year a LOCK-IN at the fellowship hall and auxiliary youth building seemed like a good idea? Remember how exciting the concept was, though in reality you hated spend-the-night parties and had you stopped to consider what you would eat, wear, or look like by 8 a.m. the next morning you would never have considered going? What grown-up EVER sanctioned these?

Last night I attended a lock-in for adult photographers and friends. It lasted all of 2 hours and 5 minutes, and I was there for work, not to sing, pray, or flirt with boys who never liked me to begin with but had to follow the acceptance rules of the youth group and the social norms of the South. There were no locks. It was a relatively interesting Fall Photo Festival hosted by Yellowstone National Park and the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, and the only real similarity to a lock-in besides feeling like my breath was getting worse by the minute and being fully dressed way past my bedtime was the feeling of being completely trapped. That is not nice to say when several of the slide shows were presented by personal friends and the final series was absolutely worth waiting for. I had to step out of the room during the next-to-last presentation into a dark, rainy, uncomfortable night just to prove to my face and my aching head that I was NOT locked in and to keep from yelling “SHUT. UP!!” at the man talking way past his 5-minute allotment about nothing and himself. As the representative of one of the hosting entities I could not yell shut up, which I don’t even say in real life, to a presenter at my photographic lock-in. It does make me wonder how many Sr High youth wanted to scream that at 13-year-old me.

Here’s the thing (don’t you know there’s always a thing). The guy who was last should have been #10 of 15 or 20 presenters. In truth he should have been first but didn’t sign the list when he arrived. He drove 2 hours to get there early, has to work this morning 2 hours from here, and sat through EVERYONE else’s photos wondering why he didn’t get introduced when it was his turn. When the mistake was realized and he was finally up he was cheerful, funny, warm, and delightful. Maybe even delighted. Certainly unfazed. He didn’t need rain on his face to mellow his mood and he wasn’t on fire with the injustice or exhaustion of being trapped and last. He even spoke with me before the shindig started about how he doesn’t really need photo credit for his pictures if they are promoting a cause he believes in. How do you remove ego so completely from creating? How do you keep your moods from going to your head or your mouth or your way of being with other people? How is he so mellow?

My newest goal – besides 14 consecutive days of yoga and digging my electric toothbrush out from the bottom bathroom drawer – is to maintain a level of warmth and love despite circumstances and surroundings. Mellow despite mood, considerate no matter considerations. I love a worthy goal almost as much as a youth group and I love a muted bison in blues and browns. We’ll see how it goes but it can’t hurt to mute a few raucous colors and soften a few edges. If the whole point of a lock-in is to love and sing in harmony and accept bad breath, and the point of fall is to trade in golds and yellows for greys and whites, then waiting to be last should not be a problem and yelling shut up should never cross my mind. A little snow and rain have put out the burning wildfires. I think a little patience and compassion can mellow my harmonies and choreography.


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Rain Dance


Junior, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original, SOLD

This morning I did a rain dance in the woods. Not to bring the rain but to celebrate the four sprinkles I felt on my head. I do not know how to do a rain dance nor do I know enough about the beautiful and deeply held beliefs of those who do, and I hope my ignorance will not come off as disrespectful or stereotypical. MY rain dance was just a thank you to the sky that dripped water on the wildfires, that tamped down the dust on the road I was running, that fell in small drops just long enough to make everything smell different. There was quite a bit of kicking, some hopping and some spinning going on, and I called the dogs to me so they could wag and spin too. The music in my head was more of a hymn than a rhythm, and if the whole thing sounds beautiful you’ve got it all wrong. It was awkward and graceless, joyful and breathless, but not beautiful. Not a dance that would make the cut for reality TV, the Psalms, or any rain god who happened to be up and watching at 6:55 a.m. on a Thursday.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. I’m thankful for woods to kick and hop in, and I’m thrilled it rained today and may rain more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. A wet weekend would normally ruin my golden September but this year would send me off on a damp, grey spree of cartwheels. This is Dallas Jr., a horse I hadn’t planned on painting, but in this off week I’ve been having he’s appeared in pieces over the last few evenings, comforting me and surprising his sweet owner Carla. I don’t know where raindrops and paintings come from. I don’t know how to summon them. I’m graceless and breathless fairly often. But I know enough to celebrate when there’s something to be thankful for and to welcome what comes with a dance.

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Neighbors, Watercolor, 6″ x 6″ original,  SOLD

Everywhere I look there’s advice. Most of it is good. I can’t argue with drinking more water, getting more exercise, recycling plastic, taking the stairs, remembering to breathe, and driving the speed limit. Who doesn’t want to arrive alive? Offering hospitality to strangers, prisoners, hungry and sick people gets a little harder, but I get it, and turning the other cheek, well, maybe I’ll pick that back up again in September. I saw this list the other day and liked it enough to keep it: Show up early. (Check.) Think less. (Are you sure?) Feel more. (Is that REALLY a good idea?) Ask once. (Ok.) Give thanks. (Got it.) Expect the best. (Oops.) Appreciate everything. Never give up. Make it fun. Lead. Invent. Regroup. Wink. Chill. Smile. And live as if your success was inevitable, and so it shall be. I’d say this week I’m earning a solid C- if you’re judging by these criteria.

It’s all great, it is. I appreciate the tips, and sometimes it’s just the permission I need to carve out my own free time (because no one else is going to create it for me), or to go to bed a little earlier (because I’ll be a better AND more beautiful person with a full night’s sleep). Sometimes though, and maybe it has everything to do with the late August angst I mentioned in my last post, all this helpful suggestion business just tangles my way and obscures my view. You can’t exactly tell a motivational cocktail napkin or refrigerator magnet that you’re doing the best you can so will you Please. Lay. Off. Thank you preachy t-shirt, I’m being as kind as I can be today.

I am determined to start September without advice, sayings, lists, and tips. I have decided the key for me will be to do one thing at a time, and do it as well as I can. For the next month I will not muddle. Especially in the summer, which is probably why it wins every time, I do too many things not well enough simultaneously half-heartedly without finishing anything and wonder why no one is impressed. I will DO what I DO with gusto and clarity. I will RUN in the mornings even if it’s smoky and I’m lazy. I will not stumble along and play a Scrabble word with my mom while the dogs run ahead. If they are limping or I am sore, we will all walk together, on purpose, deliberately. No one will need to remind me to breathe or be present or wink or smile. When I’m driving I will DRIVE, and when I’m at work I will do one small task AFTER another until my list and my desk are clear. Not one task in the midst of another or instead of another. I will RIDE. Paint. And turn that other cheek if the occasion presents itself. Which I have to wonder about – maybe if you’re not doing 16 things in a C-minus manner, you never feel slapped in the face to begin with.

When I showed these cows to Pat some mention was made of kelp. Cows swimming in kelp. He was kidding, and likes the cows, maybe more WITHOUT the leaves in the foreground but likes them. A perfect portrayal though of how July and August have felt to me. One or two people who read Cheap Art have asked if I’m ok. If I’m sad. They sense a melancholy in my writing. Perhaps, but I don’t feel sad. I feel sleep-deprived, strung out, worn thin. I need more yellow, more oxygen, more clarity. I need less muddling and more focus. Welcome September. Cows weren’t meant to swim in kelp or take advice from cocktail napkins. I’ll let you know how clearing out the foreground goes, and if it opens my way to do better.

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True Colors


Wild Herd Series III, Watercolor,  6″ x 8″ original, SOLD

I find myself humming little bits of this old Cyndi Lauper song lately, or singing odd lines while I’m thinking other thoughts. “I see your true colors shining through – almond butter or cashew butter – I see your true colors and that’s why I love you – rats I meant to text Megan back about hemming her pants – so don’t be afraid…” and then I realize I’m full volume in the grocery store for no apparent reason.

I heard a Maya Angelou quote quoted last week, and it resonated enough to write it down. Got your pencil handy? “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It speaks to the part of me hurt more than once by the same person, the same behavior, the pattern I should have seen or paid more attention to. I’ve been cold-shouldered, overlooked, and seen the same ugly side of the same few folks enough lately to feel Ms. Maya’s truth: Fool me once shame on you and so on. I believe given enough time people will show you, perhaps over and over again, who they truly are, and sometimes those true colors, lurking all along, are not so pretty.

BUT. Last week I attended the most beautiful baptism in San Francisco. The bishop spoke of forgiveness and rebirth, of old ways dying and new shared values creating a “beloved community.” He reminded me that some colors we choose and some choose us as we try, perhaps over and over again, to get them right, to make them shine, to become more vivid or more subtle or both. That it’s less about the finger-pointing Aha! moment of true colors exposed and more about the forgiveness and grace of true colors accepted. Maybe you’ve got a red streak or you tend to be blue. I’ve got this thing for yellow. It occurred to me that if someone shows me who they are repeatedly, because we’re not always the same and we’re not always pretty, I can work with the way their colors blend. I call myself an artist after all. There’s no shame in fooling me twice or three times if I keep believing in and loving every beautiful attempt. Wild herds and beloved communities are messy and colorful, and we can’t know them with one glance or only one chance. I think Cyndi might have this one right: we’re beautiful like a rainbow.

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Wild Herd Series I, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, SOLD

Just so you don’t think I’ve fallen off the artwagon and worry that three more years will pass before I paint again, everything is fine. July and August had to mostly come and go for me to find my rhythm again, but I’m fine, you’re fine, the artwagon is fine. Three separate cross-country trips, record visitation in Yellowstone with ripples felt in town at work and on every road I drive, the daily dog horse and dinner show, two solid months without oxygen due to pollen and wildfire smoke, and I think we can call it. Summer has kicked my ass again. Every year it happens, and every year I promise it won’t happen again. I see it coming, I know better, I will be proactive, I will spend time with my friends, I will balance work and home, I will ride and run and do more yoga, I will make time and homemade pie, I will devote myself to being efficient effective and present. I will be sweet. I will take one day, one task, one breath, one sneeze at a time, and I will appreciate every face, every morning, every trailhead, every day. I’ve done most of these things all summer with the exception of more yoga, and summer still won.

I have several friends who get sad when the days become noticeably shorter, when weekends left to ride can be counted on two hands with fingers to spare, when morning frost nips at vegetable gardens and noses. I understand. I get that winter is a much more formidable opponent than summer for many of my Montana crew, and the first frosty exhales and parting geese are like the scary music that foreshadows the head-spinning demon in a horror movie. I don’t watch those movies and no one I know would admit facing down another winter scares them, but that little niggle of “I’m not ready!” when the grasses change from green to gold is involuntary and universal.


Wild Herd Series II, Watercolor, 4″ x 6″ original, SOLD

I saw my first yellow aspen leaf yesterday. Yellow has always been a happy color to me, a sunny welcoming color. My room growing up was yellow, and when I paint with all its versions it feels like Easter eggs. This yellow leaf was bright and quivering, and signaled summer’s triumph over my silly human efforts to outpace it, and welcomed the beginning of a slower, calmer season. Less green, more yellow, more time, more artwagon. Ready or not here we come.

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Why The Long Face?


Long Faced Cow, Watercolor, 6″ x 12″ original, SOLD

Lots of bad news floating around out there. One story bleeds into the next, literally. Lots going wrong, lots of sadness, anger, fear, pointed fingers, long faces, tense bodies, curled mouths of hate. Why does a long face denote sadness? Is it the tug, the gravity, the womp womp womp of a face stretched downward that speaks of sorrow? Hey Cow, why the long face? In this case, it’s simply because her nose is too small and a little off-center, which from my point of view would be cause for celebration. My perspective was off when I drew her, and now she seems sentenced to eternal melancholy and slant. Don’t worry – turn that frown upside down: I have sent her to a happy home where her face will be toasted and her flaws embraced. A sweet shift in perspective and she’ll live out her watercolor days in joy and southern light.

A week ago I was cooking up something in my head about how we can maybe love each other through crazy times, how our everyday kindnesses and offerings can perhaps shift our perspectives and sustain us in small and beautiful ways, but Anne Lamott said it better, first, and to a slightly broader audience. Read her here. She took the words right out of my mouth. And then actually crafted them into a gorgeous, warm, delicious-smelling gift of homemade goodness that I could never have baked for you. Really. Read her here. I’d love it if you’d come back after, but if you don’t I will completely understand – I have trouble leaving her too. HERE.

Last time I wrote I admitted to throwing away an imperfect (if we’re being generous) painting. This time I’m sharing one. It’s all about the shift. The psychological term for it is “noncomplementary behavior,” though you may know it as turning the other cheek or loving your enemy or killing with kindness. It’s about changing your mind, changing the pattern, turning the tables with unexpected and opposite behavior. It’s responding to hostility with joy, meeting a challenge in a new and different way, finding a loving home for a flawed face instead of tearing it in half, or lowering a man on a cot into a house because you can’t fit him through the front door. Leaving lettuce from your garden for neighbors you don’t know, donating something you actually like and hate to part with to a cause that matters, taking the time to look and answer and think and thank. Anne says go band together and serve up hope; I say go find a home for something crooked with some sweet southern light. Either way, lose the long face, greet the sneer with a smile, finish what is half-baked and pass it on, and don’t be surprised at what happens next.

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