Cards for Kindness with Line and Wash!

You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” — Maya Angelou

During the past year of the pandemic, seniors in assisted and nursing homes have been protected from the virus with no visitors allowed. While that policy protects them, it has resulted in loneliness and isolation from family, friends and each other in the senior homes.

One of the ways I thought of to help brighten a senior’s day is to create what I love and give it away! At the beginning of the lockdown, I discovered YouTube watercolor tutorials through Let’s Make Art and painting quickly became a passion! After filling my portfolio with several pieces of personal art and learning basic techniques, I really wanted to find a way to share it in the community. A local senior center advertised in our high school newsletter for pen pals, so I simply asked them if they could use some inspirational cards. The answer was, “Yes!”

Here is a quick, colorful way to create cards to brighten another’s day. It’s called Line and Wash!

Quick Wash [10 min.]. On a small piece of watercolor paper (I used 3″ x 4″), paint some areas of colors; literally blobs of colors! I used Winsor & Newton watercolor paints: phthalo blue and purple (mix of phthalo blue and alizarin crimson) for the flower petals, yellow ochre for the flower center and a few touches of alizarin crimson while the paint was still wet. Let dry thoroughly.

Quick Line [10 min.]. Using a micron archival ink pen (or other waterproof ink pen), loosely draw flower petals, seeds, shading, petal lines, stems and random dots. The key is loose – it’s a quick line drawing to give the impression of flowers and stems.

Splatter [1-2 min.]! With a bit of paint on your brush, dip into your water cup and tap the brush on a straight finger or another paint brush to put a few splatters in the white areas surrounding the flowers. You can use just one color, or a few. Have fun with this!

Make the card [5 min.]. Using a glue stick or a tape runner, adhere the flower painting to the front of folded colored cardstock paper. On the inside of the card, glue a piece of white card stock or any white paper on the inside right page, for easier message writing.

Options. You can set up an assembly line of paper so you can create a few at a time. Use a gold or silver metallic permanent paint pen to draw accent lines or dots. Add a piece of vellum with an inspirational word on it.

Have fun being creative and try new designs with each card. Your thoughtfulness will be sure to brighten someone’s day!


#cardsforkindness #inspirationalcards #watercolor #lineandwash #share #create

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Connecting Across the Miles

This past year, we have all had to find ways to keep in touch with family and friends from a distance, whether they are across the world or down the street! For some of us who live far away from family, the distance will continue beyond the pandemic and we will still rely on creative ways to connect across the miles.

Here are some creative ways that I have found to keep in contact with others! I hope they are inspiring when you need to connect.

Heart Drops! I have always loved doing this — the idea comes from author, Karen Ehman. “We can become skilled at tuning our ears to the heart-drops of those around us and then responding with a thoughtful gesture. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gift. It can be a kindly spoken word. A handwritten note. A loving text or encouraging comment left on social media. A shared heart over a cup of coffee. A brief moment where we put ourselves to the side for a moment to pause. To notice. To respond.

  • I dropped some flowers and a little note at a friend’s front door for Valentine’s Day, who had lost her husband a couple years ago and her son wasn’t able to drive home due to the snowy highways.
  • I paint cards and send them in the mail as a surprise. I also donate handmade cards to a local Senior center, hoping to brighten someone’s day.
  • I sent trivia card decks to a couple of friends for their family to have fun at the dinner table.

Read Books Together! This has been a wonderful way to connect and create discussion.

  • Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I read this with my mother and we would chat on a video call after reading each chapter. It’s a wonderful journey of a woman’s observations of the different stages of life.
  • Focus: How One Word A Week Will Transform Your Life. I am reading this with a dear friend – one word per week and then each month we reflect on the words and questions through a video call.

Family Trivia Game! Our family on the other side of the world moderated a trivia question competition where family teams from various places participated through WhatsApp chat. This was super fun — friendly competition, lots of joking and laughter!

FaceBook Groups. I found wonderful watercolor painting tutorials through a company called Let’s Make Art. I joined the FB group to share paintings, learn from and inspire others from all over the world.

Nature Journaling: Sketching in the field and noticing the details of nature has become a passion and a great relaxation activity! I joined The Nature Journal Club FB page and have met other nature enthusiasts from all over the world — learning, sharing and supporting each other!

  • I made bird seed ornaments and dropped them off at a couple of neighbor’s doors for the kids, hoping to inspire them to observe the birds and ask questions: what kind of birds visit, how many, how close can I stand to them without them flying away? With all of the remote learning on the computers, I hope I inspired them to take a nature break!
  • I volunteered to teach an introductory nature journaling for relaxation Zoom class to our local community. I think it will be a great way to inspire others to get out into nature and I look forward to meeting more residents in our area!

I hope you got some new ideas to connect with the loved ones in your life! I’d love to hear in the comments how you are keeping in touch with family and friends.


#connecting #sharing #inspiring #acrossthemiles #naturejournaling #reading #heartdrops

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Guest Post: Keeping in Touch Across the Distance

My long-time friend MJ is my guest blogger today! MJ finds creative ways to keep in touch across the miles and bridge the gap.

2020 brought with it challenges for so many of us. Keeping an active social life and staying in contact with those we can’t visit required all of us to find new and innovative ways to stay in touch. For most of us, being social is an important aspect of our lives. It was even harder, I believe, for those whose health is compromised, or live alone, or the teenagers and young adults who are at the most social time in their lives.

Daniel See, an old friend and work colleague whose photos I have used for blogs, including this photo.

Having lived overseas for over 7 years now, and far away from friends and family back in Canada, as well as having made many friends here who now live far away from me, I found 2020 great for inspiring new ways to keep in touch despite where we live in the world. I must admit, many of these came about through the suggestions of others such as my sisters and friends, or they just grew organically between myself and the other person.

  • Reading A Book Together and Discussing It: Though I am an avid reader I hadn’t really thought to read books together across the kilometers. GiftzbyKaren suggested this as her and her mom read books together.
  • Zoom and Loom: My sister had suggested that for Christmas we set my mother up to weave a wall hanging. Suddenly it turned into something we did together, my mother, sisters, daughter, and my eldest niece (my 1-year-old and 3-year-old nieces just aren’t old enough yet) participated and I hope we do another one someday now that it isn’t so experimental. This could be done with any craft you enjoy; it doesn’t have to be weaving – but of course you would need to change the name.
  • Trivial Pursuit on a Video Call: My sister set this one up for our Christmas call. It was great. The entire family was on the call. My two sisters and I came up with questions. Then my eldest sister broke us up into teams so we could actually talk with each other. Each team came up with their answers together. We then went back together on the call to discuss the answers. Everyone at every age enjoyed it and we plan to do it again.
  • Pictionary On A Video Call: This one came about when the Dutch government said we could only have 2 visitors per house per day. We have another family we get together with regularly and we each have 4 people so we divided up between our houses. The parents together in one house, and then our 4 children together in another (though they are not children, they are young adults really). The kids set it up and we managed to find a Pictionary word generator online, as well we used white boards on the computer so each house could see what was being drawn. Thankfully the adults could use their finger on the white board, the kids had to use the mouse – that didn’t work so well.
  • Blogging: This one has been a surprise. The response of people to my blogs has been fantastic. Communication with family and friends has really improved. In fact, with GiftzbyKaren it has turned into a learning experience we have shared. With Karen we now discuss ideas, and write blogs for each other, just like this one. She has also been very helpful with the technical side of my blogging. I am not that tech savvy and she noticed things I needed help with. In addition, I’ve reached out to other friends and family to discuss future blogs. My twin cousins even coauthored a blog on their running philosophy with me.
Photo by and of my twin cousins
  • Doing a Course Together: My sister suggested a course that is currently offered free on Coursera called The Science of Well-being. It is said to be Yale’s most popular campus course and the online version is revamped to allow more people to take the course. I was skeptical of the course but thought it would be fun to do this with my sister. Turns out the course is better than I imagined and it’s fun to share notes. I would love to do another one with her, or a friend, if another interesting course comes to my attention.
  • Supporting and Motivating Each Other with Our Goals: Again, this one includes one of my sisters. Her and I were discussing our exercise and health plans for 2021 after she read my running motivation blog and she suggested we support each other with our plans for 2021. It has been a wonderful way for her and I to know more about what is happening in each of our lives. It actually brings about conversations that we would have if we were living closer, but it just hadn’t happened in the years since I left. It has made me feel so much closer to her and I really appreciate the support.

Keeping in touch with friends and family is so important and can be so difficult right now. I think we all need to find ways to make these connections. If any of you have other ideas on how to bridge the distance gap, I would love to hear them and try them out.


#keepingintouch #socialconnection #motivation #bookstagram #books #booklover #reading

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Phenology: The intersection of art & science!



the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant and animal life.

I learned a new word! I have been admiring several amazing phenology wheels through the Nature Journal Club FB group and found it a very interesting way of noticing a tidbit of nature each day.

Phenology is basically nature’s calendar! Scientists use phenology to track life cycles of plants and animals or the effects of climate over time. NASA’s MODIS satellites in space measure the amount of sunlight reflected from the earth’s surface. We have been using phenology all our lives without even realizing it! We track our health in allergy season, we plan farming crop seasons or home gardens, we track weather events or temperature fluctuations.

A phenology wheel can be created for daily, weekly or monthly observations, depending on how often you want to record your observations.

I created a daily phenology wheel and here’s how you can, too!

It took about an hour to sketch the wheel, but a very enjoyable activity involving drawing and a bit of math!

  1. Using a drawing compass, draw the outer and inner circles. I used a 9″x12″ piece of watercolor paper, but you can draw the circle size according to the paper you have.
  2. Draw 2 straight lines inside the circle, intersecting at 90 degrees to each other, creating 4 quadrants.
  3. To calculate the angles needed to split each quadrant into 7 slices (since February has 28 days, there will be 7 slices in each quadrant), divide the total degrees of the circle, 360 by 28. Each slice will be approximately 13 degrees.
  4. Using a protractor, line it up on the intersection of the 2 lines, mark a dot every 13 degrees on 1 quadrant.
  5. Draw lines from each dot, from one quadrant to the opposite quadrant through the center intersection to the edges of the circle.
  6. Repeat for the remaining 2 quadrants.
  7. Outline the circle and lines with black marker.
  8. Insert numbers for the days of the month.
  9. Decorate with the title, or anything you want to label or describe the wheel.
  10. Each day, observe a tidbit of nature and sketch what you see in the slice for that day.
  11. Fill in with color and a label!

It’s a great way to get outside for a breath of fresh air and observe nature!

#naturejournaling #notice #wonder #observe #phenology #nature

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Hornet Nest Road of Discovery!

An interesting home decor item inspired a morning sketch session of learning and researching all about a hornet’s nest! My father has a hornet nest hanging in his home that he found on a walk and hung it up with grapevines and attached things he found – monarch butterfly, leaves and feathers. I thought, what an unusual decor, but it is so fascinating to me because we are both so interested in nature!

Once I sketched and painted the nest, I decided to find out more about hornets; their size, what they eat and how their stinger works. Unlike bees, hornets (part of the wasp family) have barbless stingers that can sting repeatedly without losing it! Their size is 1 – 1.5 in., which is a bit smaller than the murder hornets (Asian giant hornets) at 1.5 – 2 in., recently discovered in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

You never know what will spark curiosity and take you down that road of discovery. It reminds me of the book I read to my boys when they were young, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie! One idea leads to another… and another… and another!

#wonder #discovery #curiosity #naturejournaling #hornetnest #sketching

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A Podcast, A Coffee, A Good Day!

Podcasts have quickly become a regular source of inspiration for me! Not so long ago, I wondered how I could possibly find the time to listen to podcasts, especially any ones that were over 20 minutes. 

I found “pockets of time” to try a few and have found that I can pop in my Samsung earbuds and listen while I cook, clean, drive or work on creative projects. It makes some tasks so much more enjoyable!

Now that I have found solutions for listening, I am hooked!

Here are my favorites!

  1. Journaling with Nature with Bethan Burton. Every episode inspires me and it is the reason I recently got started with nature journaling! It is a very relaxing, calm, inspirational podcast (45-60min each).
  2. Live Happy Now with Paula Felps. Shorter episodes (less than 30 min.) makes this one a great listen in the car since my trips are fairly short these days. It seems almost every guest has an interesting book to talk about so my wish list keeps growing!
  3. Unlocking Us with Brene Brown. Lots of real content here which compliments Brene’s work on courage and vulnerability. Some episodes are on topics of less interest to me, but I’ve learned a lot about subjects I otherwise wouldn’t have researched.
  4. Dare to Lead with Brene Brown. Conversations with guests who are innovating, creating, and daring to lead. 
  5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts with Susan Cain. Incredibly important information about understanding and empowering quiet kids. Great for educators and parents! I read Susan’s book and watched the TED Talk of the same name. All are excellent!
  6. Lady Carnarvon’s Official Podcast with Lady Carnavon of Highclere Castle. Charming guests include staff members (butler, gardener, beekeeper, gift shop and more) that run Highclere Castle which is a working home, business and farm set amidst 1,000 acres of spectacular parkland.
  7. Grand Rounds with Cascade hosted by Dr. Rian Shah. Fascinating range of health and wellness topics and she’s also a big fan of Brene Brown!

On my radar!

  1. Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert. Lots of discussion about creative living!
  2. Crafting & Coffee with Amy Latta Creations. All things crafting! I have learned so much about hand lettering through Amy’s book Hand Lettering for Relaxation!
  3. Hard Times & Hope by Jule Kucera. Lots of interesting topics about overcoming a difficult obstacle. 
  4. Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris. 

There’s a lot to learn out there and keep us inspired if we just get creative with our time! Let me know in the comments if you enjoy any of these podcasts!

#podcasts #learning #coffee #happy #inspire #journaling #listen #nature

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Maple on my Mind

Who knows what this is?

Every year, when I take down the ornaments from our tree, I love to ponder each item as it sparks memories from the person or place it came from or who created it. This unique item reminded me of my Canadian roots and wonderful memories of the making of maple syrup!

This is a spout that is pounded into a tap hole in a maple tree in early spring so that sap can drain from the tree! The sap drains into a system of tubing or directly into a pail for collection and transferred to a sugar shack where it is boiled down to make maple syrup. The sweet, sugary smell of a sugar shack is one you will never forget!

Growing up, we had farming neighbors that collected sap and boiled it down to maple syrup (it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup!), so I got to see the process first-hand. One of my fondest childhood memories is snowmobiling to a sledding hill on the farm. Our hosts had boiled down the sap a little thicker than syrup, then drizzled it onto the snow to make maple taffy! We eagerly grabbed it with our fingers directly off the snow and dissolved the taffy in our mouths; what a delicious treat!

One of my favorite blogs featured the beautiful Canadian Maple tree this week! Lady Carnarvon of Highclere Castle in England wrote about the connection between Canada and England as they planted a new maple tree (gift from Canada) in celebration of the 4th Earl of Carnarvon and his contribution to the birth of Canada during his life time in politics and specifically in Disraeli’s Cabinet in 1866.

It’s nice to feel that connection across the globe and I am determined to visit Highclere Castle one day. Maybe I will seek out that newly planted maple tree and dream of the sweet, sugary aroma of maple syrup!

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A Book, A Coffee, A Good Day!

I usually always have 3-5 books on the go at once and a stack in a couple of rooms so I can pick up a book and read in my “pockets of time” wherever I am in the house! I seem to be fairly random with my reading in 4 categories – fiction, biography, travel and inspiration/self-help. I also get easily distracted by “shiny things” like a book that catches my eye and I just have to start reading it, therefore the reason for diving into multiple books at once!

This is the stack that I have lined up for the start of 2021. There are 3 fiction, 2 inspiration, 2 biography, 1 self-help and 1 travel; a nice mix! I have been on a “rereading” kick lately, so the top 3 on the stack are books I have read before. Here’s why I’m drawn to each of these books!

  1. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. I love the emphasis on the importance of mother-daughter relationships in parallel with learning about how amazing memories and family are to elephants! I am reading this together with my Mother across the continent which helps to bring us a little closer. My good friend and fellow blogger MJ is also reading this with her Mother across the globe! And, I have read all of Jodi’s books and met her!
  2. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. This is an enchanting fairy-tale with beautiful winter descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness and wildlife! I like to reread this every winter.
  3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. A fantastic, whimsical book to support and encourage creative living. It contains my favorite quote on creativity, “Most things have already been done, but they have not yet been done by YOU!
  4. The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. For a nature lover, this is a very interesting perspective that showcases trees as living entities that are able to communicate with each other, defend themselves and feel!
  5. Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by The Countess of Carnarvon. A wonderful journey back in time to an amazing young lady that married the 5th Earl of Carnarvon (they only met in social situations about 6 times before getting married and he was present at and funded the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb!). This time period parallels the series Downton Abbey!
  6. Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. I have read all of Brene’s books except this one. They inspire confidence and give you the tools to get back up after a setback! My favorite book of all-time that I continually re-read is Brene’s The Gifts of Imperfection!
  7. Not in a Tuscan Villa by John Petralia. A retired couple moves to Italy and through all the ups and downs, discover what’s important in life. I love books about folks who step out of their comfort zone to try living in another country or give up all their belongings to travel around the world for a year. Lots to learn during travel; it’s an education unto itself!
  8. No Time Like the Future by Michael J. Fox. As a fellow Canadian, I admire his resilience and humor through a difficult health journey. This gift from my brother will be treasured!
  9. The World of All Souls by Deborah Harkness. This will be a fun, detailed dive into the world of A Discovery of Witches book trilogy (and also a TV series – season 2 release is Jan. 8!) I have read the trilogy and the prequel, Time’s Convert – a very enjoyable journey into a world of witches, daemons and vampires which I didn’t know I had an interest in, but it’s a fun series!

One of my New Year’s wishes is to replace endlessly scrolling through social media with reading books, watercolor painting or nature journaling!

I would love to hear in the comments what you are reading or if you have read any of my book picks!

Here’s a reading challenge and book list to check out on my good friend and fellow blogger’s latest blog post, A Random Walk with MJ!

#readingchallenge #books #coffee #booklist #fiction #biography #travel #selfhelp #inspiration

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Guest Post: 2021 Book Reading Challenge

My long-time friend MJ is my guest blogger today! Although we are across the miles from each other, we both have a love for reading and her latest blog post is a great resource for reading challenges as well as inspiring interesting ways to track books you’ve read from around the world! On my next post, I’ll be sharing my list of books that I am planning to read!

2021 Book Reading Challenge by A Random Walk with MJ

2020 has ended and we are all happy to be heading into a new year which, I am sure, we are all hoping will be a lot different than 2020. Though, I imagine the 2020 situation gave some of us more reading time than we might have had if the year had turned out differently.

With the coming of a new year many of us set out our annual book challenges or plans. Maybe you do this through Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, or goodreads annual Reading Challenge, or something from the master list of reading challenges at However maybe you create your own idea of what you want to read going into 2021.

MJ’s 2021 Reading Challenge!

Several years ago, I started using the goodreads challenge. At the time I wondered how many books I actually read a year. Turned out to be more than I thought and, even when I set the challenge, higher than previous years, I almost always end up reading the same number of books each year. This challenge is great for keeping track of what you read.

In late December 2019 I decided I was going to make up my own reading challenge. I only put 8 books on the list but they were the books I really wanted to make sure I read (plus, I didn’t want to turn my joy of reading into a chore). The list was an easy task to complete and even though a couple of them were not really to my liking, others turned out to be better reads than I imagined – The Testaments by Margaret Atwood being one of the unexpected enjoyable reads.

In 2020 I learned about the World Reading Challenge from my friend Rachel. The goal is to read a book set in or by an author from each of the UN countries. On excel I made up a list of these countries and quickly realized I had read from more of them than I imagined – at least 32. I also realized my reading habits really do lean toward Canada, the US, the UK, Ireland, and the Netherlands. Shockingly Nigeria is high on the list of countries I have read a number of books from too and all very enjoyable. I would love to hear recommendations from those of you who are doing the Read the World challenge or live /have lived in countries I may not have read from.

During December 2020 I laid out my reading plans for 2021. One item I am adding to my challenge is to read more world books. Another goal is to read books with my mother (I must admit my sister and my friend Karen are partially responsible for this idea). The distance between us is huge and hopefully reading books with her will make it feel smaller.

Below is my list. It is mostly made up of books I really just want to make sure I read at some point.

MJ’s Reading Challenge for 2021

(in no particular order)

  1. The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abe Dare
  2. Brother by David Chariandy
  3. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  5. Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
  6. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  7. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – Ghana
  8. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  9. The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk – Estonia
  10. Milkman by Anna Burns

I would love to hear about your 2021 reading plans, or if you would like to read along with me, that would be a lot of fun. I know Karen and I are already reading a book together with our moms and we will be sharing our thoughts with each other.

I would love to hear about your reading plans for 2021.

Happy New Year everyone,


#readtheworld21 #bookstagram #bookworldtour #booklover #randombookswithmj #bookclub #reading #books #readtheworldchallenge #readingchallenge2021 #readingchallenge @jsaauthor

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The Drawing Room

The name Drawing Room is derived from the 16th-century term withdrawing room, where after a dinner party, the ladies gathered for conversation, leaving the men at the table with their cigars and brandy or port. The men would later withdraw from the dining room and join the ladies in the drawing room.

While reading the fascinating book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, I came across a reference to other social activities that took place in the drawing room. “The aim was to ensure she was well read and could fulfill the social skills required for ‘the drawing room’, which meant music, dancing, singing and sketching.” (p.34)

Wait… sketching, or drawing? I was excited to hear that artistic activities were important during social time, and perhaps the Drawing Room was named partly because of the sketching and drawing that happened in this room.

Today, we tend to draw and sketch as a solitary activity, but why not create and learn from others! For now, we have to do this with friends in the Zoom room, but when we can gather, I think this would be a fun after dinner or social experience!

I had such an enriching experience nature sketching with my son during the holidays on a sunny, crisp day. Focusing on the plant details, colors and sounds of the forest was a great distraction from any worry!

My ‘drawing rooms’!

Today’s drawing room can be anywhere we find peace, reflection and inspiration. My ‘drawing room’ is the greenbelt in my backyard or our ‘craft room’ which is also the sauna room, workout room & my office! Whether it is outdoors or around the table after family dinner, trying something new might just inspire a new hobby of drawing and sketching!

#naturesketching #drawingroom #social #drawing #naturejournaling

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