Walking in Skunk Creek

Skunk Creek starts well North of Phoenix, somewhere Northeast of Black Canyon and then carves its way through Glendale, Peoria and South to Phoenix, joining other dry riverbeds along the way. These riverbeds show up as blue rivers on maps, but when you go there, they are dry. Arroyos. They can fill fast, even on a sunny day. If it’s raining upstream, the water will come.

No clouds, just puffy blossoms.

This is the time of year I love to hike along arroyos. They hold interesting wildlife (including rattlesnakes, road runners, red tail hawks, and the super-cute

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail (with the little bobbing feather on their heads). Starting around the end of the calendar year,  some trees start to bloom.

You also see some things that make you wonder.

We tie down our river rocks. When an arroyo fills up, the water rushes at amazing speeds.

Close up of river rocks held in place by wire mesh.

The round river rocks begin to roll, and pile up, creating water crests, street blocks (streets here run through arroyos), and rock damage. A fast-moving flood that rolls rocks can divert part of a river into a neighborhood.

You can see the wire edge at the lower left corner, and the end at the top third of the photo.

Wire mesh holds the rocks in place, sometimes for long stretches. It helps the water run in an even stream and directs it into the center of the arroyo, to keep it from crawling up the side and eroding sidewalks and roads.

Most of the big arroyos have packed dirt or sidewalks. This section has sidewalks, and they divide them for walking and biking. The sun breaks down the striping, and for all the world it looks like someone is trying to erase it.

Erasing the guidelines.

All I needed was a huge Sharpie to practice handwriting along the lines and guidelines.

You never know what you’ll find along the creek beds, and walking at this time of year is what we go through July and August for!

-Quinn McDonald lives in Valley of the Sun. She’s a naturalist and an art journaler who brings creative thinking into businesses.

Day 19: The Work of Writing

Day 19: What’s turned up for you as you write? (or, start with the first post in the series.)

Ink and watercolor pencil on paper.

Wisdom from the comments:
From Dawn Herring: “Yes, we need to pause and pay attention to the wisdom we hear as we write in our journals. It can be rather forthright, definitely intuitive, and sometimes obvious without our realizing it.”

From Marjorie: “. . .more often than not, I go back and read one or two (or more) of my prior posts before beginning to write. It helps me orient myelf, but I also notice things I’ve written that I hadn’t noticed while writing them. Or I’ll see what I’ve written in a different light than when I wrote it.”

From Daien: “After getting off to a great start, five days in I did what I usually do, which is to stop. What was different was that I continued to read your posts and everyone’s comments, as well as continued to count myself one of the sojourners. But I wasn’t writing, and I wasn’t walking.”

*     *     *     *

Like Daien, I haven’t been writing every day. I’m still trying to find the time to write without interruption. In the morning, which is really a preferred time, things need to get done. If I put it off, I lose East Coast time–the time when the East Coast is awake and starting the business day.

I’ve been walking later in the day–at lunch–because the weather is perfect, and this is the time of year I want to walk and know I’m in the desert. January is a time when Brittlebush and a few other trees bloom. I want to experience those subtle desert seasons, so I have to build in a time to walk in the dry riverbed of Skunk Creek.  I’m trading working early morning for a lunchtime walk. This won’t work if I’m teaching, but it works for when I’m not. So I’m writing when I get back from the walk. I have the most benefit of meditation then.

And I’ve made another switch. I’m writing on the computer. Shocking, I know. All that truth about having to hand write. And I still want to write in a journal. But I’m experimenting with writing on a computer. For several reasons: I type really fast, and can get more written down–process more. I’ve been touch-typing since I was 10, and I simply feel very comfortable typing. So comfortable, that I type my pages with my eyes shut. It keeps me from editing, and I can do what I was doing using a pen before–ripping through words down to meaning.

I separate journaling from this kind of writing. For me, journaling is a creative act that encompasses both visual expression and writing. And I do that in heavy-paper journals. I might do some collage, I might build a journal. But the pages I write after walking help me dig down into the creative well and make sure the stream that comes up from that is a fresh spring of ideas. That work is best done, at least for me, with a keyboard, an open heart and closed eyes.

What discoveries have you made? Have you quit, but still lurked with us? Let us know how this time is working for you.  It’s not about success and failure. You are exploring the wayward path of your wandering. Where have you walked and what have you seen?

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who is digging for her own creative source for 30 days in the company of some interesting people.

Chocolate Covered Orange Peels

Chocolate covered orange peels are one of my strong childhood memories–a treat for adults, with adult tastes. The orange peel was soft and slightly bitter, coated in a sugar syrup and then in dark chocolate. Aromatic, sweet and bitter, with a soft peel and brittle chocolate coating–it was always a treat.

Orange ready to go, still in tree.

Now I care for an orange tree, and the pesticide-free, organic oranges have the most amazing fragrance when they are ready to be picked–floral and dense, not at all what an orange tastes like.

So when we eat oranges, we save the peel to make chocolate-striped peel. Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients: sugar, clean water, orange peels, good quality dark chocolate (Belgian semi-sweet chocolate from Trader Joe’s works very well.)

Pick four large pesticide-free, organic oranges. Mine are navels. Wash and dry them. Score them from top to bottom (stem to blossom end) into four or six segments. Pull off the peel carefully. If it breaks, you can still use them. Eat the orange, this is about the peels. Cut the peels in long strips. Remove some of the white pith by using a sharp knife and cutting slowly, holding the knife flat and parallel to the cutting board. Do not remove all the pith—about half will do.

Orange strips with some pith removed.

4 oranges will yield about 2 cups of loosely-packed peel.

Put 2 cups of clean water in a small saucepan–about 2 quart size. Bring to a boil. Put the orange peel in, wait for it to barely boil again. Pour out the water. Repeat for a total of three times. This removes the bitter flavor of the peel.

Drain the peel. While it’s draining, make the sugar syrup. Use twice as much sugar as water. For the 2 cups of peel, about 2/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup water will make a good syrup amount. Pour the sugar and water into the same saucepan as before. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add in the cooked orange peel. Stir. Keep stirring until the liquid is completely absorbed. The sugar will form crystals on the bottom of the pan.

Immediately pour the peels onto a sheet of parchment or a large platter. Using a fork, pick apart the peels into individual pieces before the sugar coating hardens. The ideal peel will be soft and have a crunchy coating. If the sugar syrup remains sticky, you can slide it into a 200-degree oven for a half hour.

Melt about an ounce of chocolate (more or less to taste) by putting it in a microwave-safe container and heat it at high heat for 30 seconds. Stir to check for consistency. If it isn’t the consistency of sour cream, heat at another 10-second interval until it is. Using a small spoon pick up about half a spoon full and pour a stream over the orange peels. Using a fast back-and-forth motion, you’ll web the orange peels in chocolate. Let it dry and they are ready to eat.

Chocolate covered orange peels, ready to eat.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach, writer and artist. She’s a wicked foodie, too.

Day 17: Journal Listening

Read the first post in the series.
Day 17: Listening to your journal is a skill not a lot of people know how to do. We are used to writing, asking to be heard, seen–praying for answers. We often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s why we are journaling this way.

One of my answers that came when I listened to my journal. Ink on acrylic. © Quinn McDonald, 2011

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom greater than yourself. You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and dug up a truth.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Your pen may race on, while your mind hangs on to the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler who is on an exploration of creativity with a group of explorers on this blog. You can join us by clicking on the link in the top line, then starting a writing practice.

Healing the World

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is an odd sort of vacuum. The press and stress of the last few weeks suddenly is over–resolved or dissolved by Christmas. The pressure is off for now. New Year’s is a week away.

If you are a life coach or a creativity coach, you get a lot of sad, angry, abandoned, frantic, emergency calls over Christmas. Hurt feelings, damaged visions, tarnished hopes, disappointing families. Lots of witnessing, no fixing. I learned a long time ago, I can’t fix. I can witness. I can walk the path with someone else, but I cannot walk the path for them.

Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for "Heal the World." It's a requirement.

In the Kabbalah (the study of Jewish Mysticism) there is an injunction to “heal the world” —tikkun olam in Hebrew. I’ve always been fascinated with this idea. How can we fix the world? We can barely manage one life. The answer is a quote from the Jewish Book of Ethics: “You do not have to complete the task, neither can you put it down.”

We work at healing in small increments, in what is described as striking divine sparks. I love the idea. Of course the larger idea of tikkun olam is social justice, but I love the idea of striking sparks in the darkness, tiny fireworks of light and warmth.

In the studio today, I had a dried leaf that looked like a feather. I wondered if I believed it was a feather enough, I could use it to fly. It’s the same kind of certainty required to heal the world.

–Quinn McDonald is a seeker, who uses her studio to explore creation and creativity.

Day 15: Getting Work Done by Journaling

Day 15: What can you expect from a journaling practice? Answers.

Wisdom from the Comments.  Arlene Holtz writes, ” I am really enjoying doing a regular journal session. It’s not always a very profound entry, but it feels good to be expressing my thoughts and feelings on a daily basis anyway.

Krystyna Rawicz says, “This particular meditation and reflection thereafter has unlocked another piece of the puzzle and the mystery which is me for me.”

*     *     *     *     *
We create our own reality. Where we look is where we go. It’s very easy to believe that what drops in front of us is what we should do. Someone asks for help; we have to help, even if we don’t know what we are doing. Maybe that thinking isn’t the best way. A few days ago a lucrative job dropped into my lap. I own my business, and a lucrative job would solve a few problems. It would have been easy to think “the universe gave” me the job. And who wants to say No to the universe?

Left brain/right brain activities. Use the link at the end of the post to download your own full-size copy.

I journaled about it. How could I turn down a lucrative job? The more I journaled, the more I realized this wasn’t a job I could take. I accused myself of being lazy, of not working hard enough. I kept journaling. I went around in circles. Here was a job. Why wasn’t I jumping at it? I kicked myself. I journaled some more. And then I journaled my answer: do the math. My gut told me to trust my brain. And when I figured out the time it would take to do the job well, and the deadline, and the obligations I’d already agreed to, it would be foolish to take the job. It was a huge relief to know that if I looked beyond the money, I could see reality, nicely in focus.

Journaling does that for you. It gets to the heart of the matter. And the brains. And the combination is unbeatable.

Use this link to download your own version of the leftbrain/right brain mind map.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. She’s also a relentless journaler.

Christmas Lonely

In prison, he did not know what time it was, because the lights were always on. It could be any season, any year. Every hour looked the same from his cell.

No one waited for him, no friend, no relatives. His child didn’t want to know him or be like him. His parents were dead. So were most other people he had gone to high school with. Dead or gone on the other side of the wall.  He’s been in prison now for 30 years of his life. The crime that was half a lifetime a way was with him every day. Stupid. If he’d controlled his impulse. .  . but he hadn’t. This was his 30th years inside prison.

Three years ago, the last flicker of hope had gutted out. He’d placed an ad for a pen pal, just a voice on the other side of the wall. But no one had ever answered. Who would write to a prisoner? Who would care? People are put in prison to be punished, so who would think to extend a hand in friendship?

Sometime he had fantasies that there was no one alive on the outside world. Beyond the sweating gray block wall there was nothing. In his abandoned world, his life had shrunk to the routines of the prison. The one hour a day he was allowed to be outside, a roof over his head, so he couldn’t see sky. Standing in the steaming hot laundry room, loading and unloading uniforms. Eating meals scooped into the hollows of plastic trays.

There were days he went without talking. No need. He’d feel his teeth with his tongue to make sure they were still there, in case someone said something to him.

But no one did. The guards yelled, the bells shrilled, the door clanged. All on schedule. He had done something horrible 30 years ago. He knew his sentence would end when he died. He didn’t think he was innocent. He was just alone. Abandoned.  No lawyers to talk about appeal. No family to tell him he was missed. He deserved it. Except he would like to see a sky again. Know what it felt like to walk on grass. See a moon rise. To eat a meal someone who knew what he liked to eat had cooked for him.

A warden appeared at his door. “You got a letter.” He reached for the envelope. Who would write him? Who knew he was here? It was no one he knew. Someone who had seen the ad, which had been reprinted in a magazine. Someone who had written a stranger, knowing he was in prison. Just to offer some human communication. Someone who asked him about himself. Not what he had done wrong, but who he was, what he thought.

In that one instant, he had a life again. The outside world was not abandoned. Cars began to rush down streets in his silent imagination. People began to talk. Refrigerators opened and closed, factories roared to life.

And his heart beat in his chest, not as a countdown to his death, but knowing he could write back and know someone knew where he was. He was not abandoned.

It was a letter from a stranger who knew the loneliness of prison and wanted to make one spark of sudden light into the dark. Her description flooded light and color over him as he read. After three years, someone had seen the ad. He looked at the date on the letter. It was winter, December. He counted the days it would have taken for the letter to pass the censors. It was Christmas. And he was no longer alone.

Quinn McDonald wrote this story after a friend began a correspondence with a prisoner who will spend the rest of his life abandoned in Pelican Bay, a maximum security prison. She began to think about the real meaning of loneliness, and admired her friend for the example of true compassion.

Day 12: The Ritual to Get You Writing

Giveaway Winners: On Dec. 20, I asked you for your word of the year, and offered two stuffies for giveaways. Congratulations to Deb Prewitt of  lifeofdeb.wordpress.com and Marjorie from moonsilk-stitches.blogspot.com  Ladies, use the About tab to send me your mailing address and the inner critic stuffie will be on the way!

*     *     *     *    Day 12 slept past the one-minute past midnight auto-post by 18 hours, so today is going to be Day 12 and13:  If you have settled into a rhythm of writing, there is probably a set routine you’ve settled into. That routine is a ritual. Something you do everyday that creates an anticipation of journaling. If you write in the morning, it is the act that transforms you from sleepy-head to journaler.

Tea, coffee, hot water with lemon can all start your ritual.

A ritual doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated. It can involve just you or it can include making tea, watching the dawn, or feeding the cats. But your ritual cannot be casual, something to treat lightly. Your ritual carries you from one state to another–from not journaling to journaling–so focus is necessary.

To shape your ritual, turn your routine into mindful action. Get up, make tea? While the water is heating, notice the increasing heat in the kitchen. Take the tea leaves and breathe deeply the aroma of your tea. Use a cup you love. Heat the cup. None of this is done fast or without notice. Once your tea is brewing, get your journal and pen. Pour a cup of tea, settle into your writing space and begin.

Because writing is a spiritual practice for me, once I’m settled, I say a traditional thank you to the Creator for connecting my soul that wandered the universe at night,  to my body so I could wake up, and that I am ready to listen and worthy to create. Then I begin to write.

There are other steps that come first–I get up in the dark, drink some water while sitting on the edge of the bed, turn off my alarm, get up to go feed the cats. While the cats are doing their elaborate ritual of eating out of each others dishes and patrolling the patio, I sit down and write. I’m a coffee drinker, but it’s too early for coffee.

It’s too dark now to watch the dawn, but as the sun starts to move North and rises earlier, I will change the ritual and sit outside to write. A ritual may not be forever, but it is forever useful in starting your writing practice.

What ritual will you use to start your exploration?

Note: This weekend is Christmas Eve and Christmas. While I generally don’t post on weekends, I always post on Christmas Eve and Christmas for those who are alone and are looking for comfort. The days will continue.

Quinn McDonald is a writer who is exploring journaling with an ink-stained heart.

Book Review: True Nature by Barbara Bash

Day 11: Several people have noticed there dreams becoming more colorful and memorable. Have you noticed a change? Tomorrow we’ll talk about setting a ritual and intention for your journaling. What’s this sentence doing here?

*      *     *    *
Nature journals make me swoon with joy. I know they aren’t wildly popular, and I don’t care. I collect them, I make them, I love them. They capture the essence of life and time in one book. For me, it’s what art journaling is about.

Cover of True Nature by Barbara Bash

I also admire artists who create from the heart. Creating from the heart is the bravest work, because you have to trust yourself. Listen to your intuition. Choose with your soul. That’s a big risk. Particularly in a world of commerce and retail therapy, many artists feel pressure to make creative decisions through their bank account. “How much can I cut back and still have enough quality to sell well?” It’s a real question asked by many artists. It’s a realistic question to ask.

Loose wash drawing on pg. 45 in the "Summer" section

And then there are the artists who say, “I have a question in my heart that needs answering. That’s where I’ll be for the next while. Working. Making meaning.”

From the "Autumn" section. Bash asks, "Where does pressure come from?"

Barbara Bash has done both a nature journal and a work of the heart. She kept a nature journal for a year while doing a series of solitary, contemplative retreats. Her watercolors, pen and ink drawings and meditations are gathered in her book, True Nature. It’s a book of inspiration, of small, measured steps, of awe and wonder.

Bash's calligraphy, emphasizing her heart-felt questions of meditation.

It’s hand-written, with quotes and thoughts scattered throughout. Bash “enters the drawing world of endless time and curiosity” and, with meditation, “everything becomes worthy of study and affection.”

This gentle book would make a lovely gift for a meditator, an artist, a writer, or a naturalist. Almost everyone on your gift list. It’s a holding book, a page-turning book, not for the e-reader.  Oh, and don’t forget a copy for your bedside table.

Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and the author of Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art. The book is available on Quinn’s website with a code for free shipping. The code will expire in 10 days, so don’t wait.

Day 10: Dream Time Writing

Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

Day 10: Writing at night isn’t working for me. I liked the idea of letting go of my worries, but I learned something interesting–I’m busier than I thought at night. There is always one more thing to do, one more question to ask, one more email to send. When I do go into the studio, it’s a precious time devoted to exploring the topic for the next book.

The worries, which always got written on index cards and left in the studio, really do fill up all the time I want to spend writing at night.

So it’s back to writing in the morning. I’m glad I discovered this. I can spend the time early in the morning when I am waiting for the cats to finish patrolling the yard. Since I’ve started writing, I’m having more colorful dreams. And I’m back to remembering them more. Writing down dreams helps me remember them, remember parts I’ve dreamed before, and helps me figure out what they mean.

Writing them down in the morning helps keep the details clear. A few days ago, I dreamed I walked across a winter landscape and into a wikiup. The walls and roof were being held up by the people in this group–tall and curved, like people trees. From my vantage point, you  all were holding up the world. I woke up then. I love the image, and as I wonder about the meaning, I’m fascinated at the idea.

The first peoples of Australia say that our dreams are our real lives and our waking time is not the experience of life. This should make morning journaling interesting.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who is working on re-establishing the habit of morning walking meditation and regular journaling–using words as a spiritual practice.