Visiting a conservatory is one of my favorite winter survival tools. It’s like going on a mini-vacation to the tropics without having to board a plane. When I entered the conservatory at the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens near Charlotte, North Carolina, the exotic perfume of blooming orchids filled the air.

Orchids were everywhere – in pots on the floor, nestled into tree branches, and growing up the walls of waterfalls.

prolific bloomers

I loved that there were no “Do not touch” signs. Like me, this little girl was drawn to the scent of a low-hanging flower from the Hong Kong Orchid Tree.

girl smelling blossom

It was a delight to bathe in vibrant colors – purple, lavender, yellow, orange, pink – so rare in nature during winter.

A red dot of color adds zing to the tip of a bromeliad leaf:

bromeliad leaf tip

A heliconia flower burns like a flame among green foliage:


It was not only the colors that were vibrant – even the shapes of flowers and leaves, the folds of petals, serrations of leaves, spikiness of branches, added vibrant life force. These orchids were mostly white with just a touch of yellow but the luscious, ruffled shape of their petals spelled complexity and romance:


Waterfalls added the bright sound of splashing water and enlivened the air with moisture:

purple orchids and waterfall

Strategically placed art work provided delightful surprises, such as this statue of vividly colored glass among the trees:

glass sculpture

Several photographs of orchid close-ups invited visitors to examine the hidden details of these mysterious flowers:

arbor and orchid pic

I just kept smiling, smelling, admiring and touching – a few hours filled with vibrancy at the conservatory.

The Daily Post’s Photo Challenge theme: Vibrant.

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Big Magic and the Creative Urge

When I was about half way through reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I realized that I wanted to remember the important parts of this book. The book called out to me: Pay close attention! So I started at the beginning again and took notes this time, consciously gathering the gold nuggets.

Liz introduces us to Jack Gilbert (no relation to her), a poet who just happened to have taught at the same University a few years before she landed there taking over his teaching position. She quotes him: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world” (p. 6). Jack encouraged his students to be brave and to bring forth their innate treasures. The “ruthless furnace” of the world; that expression really stuck with me. The world is churning, moving at a relentless pace, burning, flooding, and we are just such tiny cogs in the monster wheel of life. We can easily get crushed by the ruthlessness of this wheel, go up unnoticed in this furnace. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it!?

frog and red vase

So why don’t we all follow our creative urges and bring forth what’s inside of us?
Because of fear, that’s why. Liz lists all the possible fears – fear of not having talent, being rejected, criticized, being compared to others, of not being good enough. She mentioned that this was a bottomless list and that she had felt all of these fears intimately.

“We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun” (p. 13).

dried persimmon

Fear kills our creative urges. She suggests that, instead of fighting the fear, we allow it and creativity to co-exist. Because we can’t allow the fear to hold us back: “…the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small” (p. 27).


She talks about the need for us to acknowledge what we are: I am a writer, I am a dancer, I am a singer. No such thing as I am trying to be a writer!
She counters the fear of not being original enough, the fear that whatever we have to express has already been done: “…once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours” ( p. 97).

She asks that we don’t do what we are driven to do to save the world. Instead, “….[make] your art in order to save yourself, or to relieve yourself of some great psychic burden, rather than to save or relieve us” (p. 99). That is a relief, isn’t it – do this for me, with all my heart, honoring the need that drives me. If it is helpful to others as well, all the better. It is highly likely that others will relate and understand – after all, any human emotion or experience has already been experienced many times over, right?

two ducks in sparkling water

She addresses the paradox of art being both meaningless and meaningful. After all, art is not necessary for our physical survival. What is necessary is air, water, food, and shelter. The rest is the frosting on the cake. And, yet, our soul can shrivel up if we can’t do our art, so art becomes a meaningful motivator and activity in our life. Creative expression allows us to escape the routines and boredom of our regular life, lifts us into a transcendent space.

green marble

Liz talks about separating the soul’s need from the ego needs. The ego wants successful outcomes – money, fame, adoration, praise. But by allowing the ego to direct our creative impulse, we are stifling it, putting parameters on it that it cannot possibly fit into, even killing it. We must create for the sake of creation rather than the hope of becoming famous and making a lot of money.

bunch of ground cherries on the rock

What this book did for me: it freed me from wondering what will happen to my writings, my photographs, my ideas. It released me from the need to somehow make it amount to something important, something successful. It handed me back the sheer pleasure of self-expression. What does it matter how many blog followers I have by the end of the year, or how many blog posts I publish? The bread and butter of my creative expression is the freedom to play, to allow my spirit to dance and flow, to connect with like-minded souls, and to marvel in the Beauty of it all.

single ground cherry

Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert!

Posted in Artistic Inspiration, Musings | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Moths, Big Magic and Our True Colors

Is it a coincidence that I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and also made time to investigate a Moth exhibit this week?

Ist es Zufall dass ich Elizabeth Gilberts Buch, Big Magic, lese und zur gleichen Zeit zu einer Nachtfalterausstellung gehe?

Io Moth by Deborah Davis

Io Moth by Deborah Davis

Gilbert encourages us to move beyond our neurotic fears into creative living (you know, questions like “Am I good enough?” “Do I have anything important to say?” or “Am I ready to reveal myself to the world through my art?”). I love how Gilbert shares courageous vignettes of her personal struggles as a writer.

Gilbert ermutigt uns durch unsere neurotischen Ängste durchzubrechen und ein Leben der Kreativität zu gestalten (du kennst sie ja, diese Fragen: “bin ich gut genug?” “habe ich etwas Wichtiges zu sagen?” oder “bin ich bereit mich durch meine Kunst der Welt zu zeigen?”). Ich liebe es wie Gilbert mutig Vignetten aus ihrem persönlichen Kampf als Schriftstellerin mit uns teilt.

Tussock detail

The creator of the moth paintings, Deborah Davis, is similarly bold about her moths. These are not little bitty paintings. Her large breath-taking canvasses show the most intricate details: hairs on legs, fuzziness of antennae and the furry texture of the wings. Davis invites us to really look at these intriguing creatures, as she has done down to the tiniest hair.
How does she do it? She collects moths as they flutter around her porch lights at night, places them in the refrigerator to make them placid for the photo shoot, and then releases them. Afterwards, she gets to work and paints them far larger than life-size turning them into mysterious moth people, each with a unique personality.

Die Erzeugerin der Nachtfalterbilder, Deborah Davis, ist ebenso mutig mit ihren Motten. Sie malt keine kleine, winzige Bildchen. Ihre große atemberaubende Bilder zeigen die kleinsten Details: Haare an den Beinen, struppige Antennen und die pelzige Textur der Flügel. Davis lädt uns dazu ein, diese faszinierenden Geschöpfe genau anzusehen, so wie sie es gemacht hat, bis ins kleinste Häarchen.
Wie macht sie das bloß? Sie sammelt Motten die nachts um ihre Verandalichter flattern, steckt sie eine Weile in den Kühlschrank, damit sie zum Fotomodell dienen können und dann werden sie wieder freigelassen. Hinterher macht sie sich an die Arbeit und malt sie weit größer als life-size. Die Motten verwandeln sich zu geheimnisvollen Nachtfalter Personen, jede mit ihrer eigenen Persönlichkeit.

Banded Tussock Moth by Deborah Davis

Banded Tussock Moth by Deborah Davis

Unlike butterflies, moths are creatures of the night – which adds a certain mystique to their existence. Moth antennae are fuzzy and thick, while butterflies tend to have thin, slender and smooth antennae.

Im Gegensatz zu den Schmetterlingen sind Motten Geschöpfe der Nacht – das gibt ihnen eine gewisse Mystik. Die Antennen von Motten sind struppig und dick, während Schmetterlinge meist dünne, schlanke und glatte Antennen haben.


Butterflies can fold their wings back, while moths keep their wings spread out. Moths typically have more modest coloration (there are exceptions) while butterflies often display vibrant colors on their wings. But there is nothing modest about Davis’ moths.

Schmetterlinge können ihre Flügel zurückfalten, während die Motten ihre Flügel immer ausbreiten müssen. In der Regel haben Motten eine mehr bescheidene Färbung (es gibt Ausnahmen), während Schmetterlingsflügel oft mit leuchtenden Farben geziert sind. Aber die Motten die Davis malt kann man überhaupt nicht als bescheiden beschreiben.

luna moth by Deborah Davis

Luna moth by Deborah Davis

Symbolically, we love to use butterflies as signs of transformation (overused even as a cliché). Moths, on the other hand, are much more mysterious. They are masters of disguise and adaptation. Folk tales associate white moths with death. And, yet, some moths are pollinators of the night, and contribute to new life.

Symbolisch lieben wir die Schmetterlinge als Zeichen der Transformation (bis hin zum Klischee). Motten sind mehr geheimnisvoll. Sie sind Meister der Tarnung und Anpassung. Folkssagen verknüpfen weiße Motten mit dem Tod. Und doch sind einige Motten auch Nacht-Bestäuber und machen damit ihren Beitrag zu neuem Leben.

Banded Tussock Moth antennae

Banded Tussock Moth antennae

Moths seem to worship light and are drawn to it to the point of extreme vulnerability. Perhaps they are way showers nudging us to come out of the darkness, turn towards the light, and to show ourselves fully? That’s how they remind me of Liz Gilbert’s message.

Es sieht so aus als ob Motten das Licht verehren; so sind sie vom Licht angezogen, dass sie völlig verletzbar werden. Vielleicht zeigen sie uns damit den Weg aus der Dunkelheit, ermutigen uns in die Richtung des Lichtes zu gehen, und uns vollständig sichtbar machen? Das erinnert mich wieder an Liz Gilberts Botschaft.

Yes, stepping into the light of our creative fire makes us vulnerable. Showing our true colors can be scary and exhilarating all at once. The alternative is hiding in the safety of the night’s shadows.

Wenn wir in das Licht unseres kreativen Feuers treten, werden wir schon verletzbar. Sich völlig zeigen zu können ist sowohl angsterregend als auch anregend. Die Alternative wäre dann sich in der Sicherheit der Nachtschatten zu verstecken.

What do we choose?

Was wählen wir?

wing fold

Deborah Davis’ moth paintings are on exhibit through the end of February 2016, at the Frances Plecker Education Center, at the James Madison University Arboretum in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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The Spice of Life

I love spices – part of the allure of travel includes exploring another country’s cuisine with its different spices. For my own cooking, I use lots of home-grown herbs and spices: onions and garlic in baskets, dried basil, tarragon, sage, parsley, and oregano in small glass jars; powdered dried orange zest and basil pesto kept in the freezer. defines spice as any pungent or aromatic substance of vegetable origin (like pepper, cinnamon, or cloves), used as a seasoning or preservative; something that gives zest; a piquant or interesting element or quality; a small quantity or trace of something.

It is that “piquant or interesting” spicy quality I am enthralled by, the question “What is the spice of life?”

hot peppers

In the sci-fi series “Dune” by Frank Herbert, “the spice” (or melange) is an addictive substance that gives people longevity and psychic powers. It is very rare and extremely dangerous to harvest. Once you are addicted to spice, you cannot let go of it. Withdrawal will kill you. In Herbert’s world, spice is essential for interstellar travel and galactic commerce (Wikipedia).

So what is it that constitutes spice in our life? What adds that buoyant extra to our ordinary existence that we are all looking for – interest, excitement, mystery, adventure, marvel, awe, bliss? I suppose the degree of spice could range from something that gives us a good belly laugh to a peak experience of deep love or profound insight.

Spice packets

What happens when spice is lacking and we are facing the same tasteless dish every day – same old routine, same old faces, same old conversations? We grow bored, restless, dissatisfied, and probably depressed. We look for anything to lift us out of this almost unbearable dullness – a pill, alcohol, a sports event, TV shows highlighting other people’s fictional but exciting lives, a fast car or motorcycle, creating some kind of drama in our family or circle of friends – anything to escape the boredom of ordinary life.

clove flowers drying

Some people actually like routines, are comforted by them and would be reluctant to add spice to their life, especially an unfamiliar one. But for most of us, what would our world be like without that Marco Polo spirit, the courage to risk falling off the edges of the horizon?

spice rack

There are the truly large, once-in-a-lifetime adventures: Leaving one’s home country behind to move to a new place in the world; setting off on a walk across the continent, riding a motorcycle around the world, quitting a secure job to try a totally different lifestyle are just a few examples I can think of.

But we don’t (always) have to travel the seven seas or into outer space to add spice to our life. Small doses of spice often do the trick.

vanilla beans and baskets

For me, a walk in the woods and an occasional encounter with a wild animal are cayenne-pepper hot; exploring a botanical garden or a small stream spell ginger and coriander adventure; inviting a friend for coffee and exploring interesting topics or talking deeply about our inner experiences add cinnamon and clove warmth to my day; watching a sunset paint wild colors across the horizon sprinkles Italian seasoning on my evening; seeing my orchids bloom in the bleakest part of winter splashes my sun-deprived days with rose water and lavender perfume; losing myself in a really good book or exceptional movie adds Chinese Five Spice depth and complexity; following a meaningful discussion in my Facebook feed adds genuine vanilla flavor to my day; discovering an artist I’d never heard of before infuses my own creativity with the best garam masala.

basket of spices copy

Such experiences are some of my life’s spices at the moment. There have been other spices during earlier phases of my life and I suspect that moving into my elder years will surprise and delight me with others still unknown.

yarrow and choco inversion

What about yours?

Ailsa’s Travel Theme this week: Spice.

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Now – The Mystery Package

The package came yesterday, not too small, not too big. It was addressed to me and my husband, but only our first names. Huh?

cocoa and honey return address

The return address was Cocoa and Honey in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I only know one person in Nova Scotia and her name is neither Cocoa nor Honey. She had just sent me a Christmas e-mail and mentioned her cat’s name. What was that cat’s name again? Don’t think it came from her. Do I know an interracial couple in Nova Scotia – Cocoa and Honey, sounds so sweet.
But wait, what if this was camouflage and someone who doesn’t like me sent something dangerous? I have been opening my mouth a lot lately about certain political issues… what if? Nah, you are being too paranoid. Just open the box!

a box of chocolates

Oh my – a box full of chocolates! Not just any chocolate, but organic and fair-trade and handcrafted. Aha, Cocoa and Honey is an artisan chocolate maker in Halifax. Ok, but who gifted this to us?

merry christmas message

We figured it out, even though the sender’s name was misspelled! Thank you, Z.!

I couldn’t help play with these beautiful chocolates and make them look as gorgeous and tempting as they taste.

Posted in Artistic Inspiration, Weekly Photo Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments