CreatingLively Hand, photo and all text ⓒ Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:That Lively Hand 

When asked to conduct a River Of Words forest workshop for eight children aged 3-6 years (not my usual crowd) I called an expert—my sister Robin, a retired Waldorf  kindergarten teacher. What activity could focus such a wide range of attention spans?

She suggested modeling with air-drying clay. I liked it— minimal prep, no measuring, cutting, or gluing, easy clean-up and appropriately earthy.

So yesterday, after I rang my centering bell and read my new children’s book, Forest What Would You Like, my charges and I took a nature walk. In addition to thrilling fauna–“A Wood Louse! I love these!” cried one girl–pebbles, bark, pine cones, clover blossoms and other treasures were squealed over, popped into paper cups and reverently born back to the picnic table, to be embossed or embedded in clay.

It’s great to be around raw creation. Children create as happily and naturally as spiders spin webs and when they don’t like a creation, they just squash it and start again. No emotional tug-of-war, no judgement. Just trust in an infinite supply of clay.

Did it matter that before the day was out, the clover would droop on the little clay mountaintop, the tiny wild strawberry drop from the unicorn’s eye?

No. By then they’ll all be making something out of something else.

Time is the clay in which our creations dry. What never droops or ages, dies or dries is that lively hand within us.


Incidentally, for a rewarding look at pure and beautiful creativity practiced by five-year-old Helen (one of yesterday’s creators) you may enjoy visiting her blog (!) Her mother told me about it, and I found it most inspiring.


Old Rail

        Ol’ Rail, photo & all text ⓒ Irene O’Garden, 2013

To listen to this post, please click here: Derailed and Rerailed

derailment occurred on MetroNorth last week, the commuter train that I and thousands take in and out of Manhattan. Happily, there were no injuries—it was ten cars full of garbage–but it happened at the very narrowest, rockiest section of the railroad, blocking passage for three days. Yet by Monday everything was back to normal.

How on earth did they do it? You can see in a video The New York Times called “surprisingly fascinating.” I’ll share with you what interested me.

Using a huge crane, they lift a big freight box off a derailed car and settle it onto another car on the parallel track. It was almost like the old “15” puzzle, with only one small useable space.

What was most revelatory to me was how they made that useable space. They dismantled a section of tracks! Seeing the rails and crossties all undone amazed me. Why? Because the railroad seems permanent. Not unlike certain systems of belief, which take our minds from place to place.

Even though we forget, both are made of components which can be disassembled when we get derailed. When our trains of thought are not smoothly conveying us where we want to go, we can jump the rails, or even reroute our whole journey.

It’s also grand to see how people of clever vision working together can accomplish what looks impassible and impossible.


What’s gotten you back on track?



Intentionally Blank, iPad art & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

 To listen to this post, please click here:Intentionally Blank

“This space intentionally left blank.” Did you ever get this delightfully ridiculous notice on a piece of paper, say with a credit card bill? Laughed heartily the first time I saw it. Empty space disturbs some people. Blank? Somebody clearly made a mistake.

I’ve recognized fear of white space since an agent took my first book, Fat Girl, which I wrote as a 60-page narrative poem. After twenty-two rejections, my friend Jean–whose commercial sense is as fine as her literary taste– asked if I would consider taking the white space out of the piece.

Disguise poetry as prose? Same words, same order–why not?  It promptly sold. (Of course, when it came to designing the book…“It’s so poetic,” said my editor. “Would you mind if we made it look that way?” They broke up lines and added back white space. Poetic justice, indeed.)

Nowadays, we have webaddressestwitterhandleshashtags. We’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing words run together, to running our own lives together with thing after thing, event after event, that the idea of blank space—why, who even has a blank pie-wedge on the clock to think about it?

Seemslikewe’rebeingsoefficient, but it actually slows down the one thing we don’t want to slow: comprehension. At times like this, it’s good to remind ourselves that things have meaning by virtue of the space around them. Words  need  space  to readily distinguish them.  Music  needs  silence. Speech  needs   breath.  Even   f i n g e r s   need   space, or hands would be clumsyasmittens. Which would really molasses-up tweeting and googling and posting on Wednesdays.


What are you making space for?



Sweet Irony: A Writer Wednesday Post

July 10th, 2013 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (3 Comments)


Ro and Ree at 101Ro & Ree, photo © Mark Muenster, 2013, all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Sweet Irony

Some folks can write posts in advance when they know they’ll be out of town, but my life is rarely so accomodating.  Today’s comes to you late in the day, for I’ve just returned from another trip.

Last weekend I planned to attend a two-day retreat given by renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg. The focus was “Lovingkindness,” that powerful, appealing practice found in Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and other traditions, which helps us cultivate happiness and compassion for ourselves and others. My spiritual mouth watered at the prospect of abiding in stillness and contemplation, especially after recent trips to Minneapolis and Michigan.

Cue the occasionally melodic strings of irony. After several months of high stress–packing, showing and selling her Oregon house–my sister Robin (whose words you have read in these pages– see Rogue Thoughts) and her husband moved into their new home last Wednesday. She needed my help.

Sit in clouds of thought and meditation sending good vibes to the world, or get out there with lovingkind elbow grease? Such opportunities are one reason we sit still. If we can hear lovingkindness call our name in stillness, it’s easier to hear it call us in the bumbly din of daily life.

You can tell from this photo of us in her new garden it was as much a gift to me as to her. (Full disclosure: she’s one of my favorite people on Earth.)

Life’s at her best when we can bring our aspirations right into three dimensions.


Have you had such a wonderful chance lately?



Good Brood Thomas’ Michael in Thought, photo & all text, Irene O’Garden, © 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Angel Sighting

Angels resist photography. They resist capture in imagery of any kind, and it takes a special person to coax them into three dimensions. My immensely talented friend Thomas Donahue has done so, and last Sunday we were privileged to attend the dedication of his “St. Michael of Port Austin” in the cemetery of St Michael’s Catholic Church in Port Austin, Michigan.

Blue MichaelSt Michael of Port Austin, photo © Irene O’Garden, 2013

It is a superb monument, with the powerful, protective bronze angel atop a three-tiered stone structure. Two years ago, Thomas asked this farming community to collect stones from their fields. He then built a pedestal which is also a columbarium.  The monument is 16 feet high, and is at once traditional and modern. Important local symbols surround St Michael: corn, lumber and regional grindstone. His wings were inspired by the Michigan Sandhill Crane.


BehindBehind the Angel, photo ©Irene O’Garden, 2013


Isn’t it miraculous this angel was so recently created? He looks as if he has been there forever, but here he is below, hoisted by human wings on to the stone. The artist is on the right with dear friend Mark Lacko, left, helping.


Crane Lift


Awhile back, Thomas helped restore the Statue of Liberty. In the following photo you can see her influence. I love to think how long this monument will stand, how many troubled hearts it will ease. While St. Michael bears the scale of justice,  you’ll see he rests the hilt of his sword on the scale. “In advocacy of the soul,” says Thomas.


SlantbetterBeneath the Angel, photo, © Irene O’Garden, 2013


I’m honored to know people who make angels, and people who help put them in place, and people who help artists keep their heads in place during the stress of creation. Here’s Thomas next to me, his beloved partner Mark and my beloved husband John. We all help keep each other’s heads on.

Us Angel


Should you visit the thumb of Michigan, plan to visit one of the finest adornments on the whole hand. If not, take heart knowing such fine things are still being made.







Seen any angels lately?

1show current page