“You are here!”

While revisiting a series of photos I snapped after an ice storm a few winters ago, I noticed this one, a close-up of a clump of sweet autumn clematis vines, frozen solid:

The seed head in the photo’s center caught my eye today. For some reason, it reminded me of those red stars you search for when you’re lost in some labyrinthine space and need to find your whereabouts on a locator map.

“You are here!” says the locating star.

What do you suppose would happen if, theoretically, you had to navigate your way through the labyrinth of vines in this photo? What a convoluted mess you’d face. To extract yourself from a tangle like this, how could you know which path to try first? With too many options and no one, clear road, you might freeze in your tracks, just like this seed head.

Life is like that. You wend along your merry way when, suddenly, you enter territory where no clear path is evident. You stop. You blink. You rub your eyes. You look around. Which way should you go?

You freeze.

You’re lost.

In my life, I’ve felt lost more times than I care to enumerate. I’ve felt lost in the company of those I clearly didn’t belong with, lost on the career path as I moved from job to job. Before I was ready to handle the deaths of those dearest to my heart, I found myself lost and alone in an endless maze of grief.

When it comes to feeling lost, there are hundreds of scenarios possible. Live a little while and you’ll plow straight into one or two, or several.

Today while I turned over in my mind the hypothetical plight of a traveler frozen in a labyrinth, the words of the poet, Galway Kinnell, came to mind:

the first step . . .
shall be
to lose the way. 

And there it is:

Getting lost is bound to happen because it’s part of the journey. The discomfort of feeling frozen in a place you don’t want to be is what compels you to make your next move.

I have no special wisdom to share about how to get through The Labyrinth of Feeling Lost. But I know this for certain: feeling lost is most assuredly not the end of the journey; it’s merely a part of the process of moving forward into your life.


If you’re feeling lost right now, go ahead, take a step. If you’re not on the right path, your innermost heart will know, and you can try again.

Remain true to your deepest self and persevere. Somehow, some way, you’ll get through this. Later on, somewhere down the road, you’ll glance back at the uneven ground you’ve covered and realize you’ve grown along the way.

As you travel, remember this: no matter how thick the tangle or unclear the path, there’s a way to get through, and you’ll find it.

“You are here!” says the locating star.

Don’t freeze up now. Go ahead, take a step.

Wishing you strength for the journey, and a light for your path.



a place of repose and inexhaustible beauty

On a brisk afternoon last November, I drove to the post office to mail a package. Walking back to my car, I spied a sycamore leaf on the sidewalk. Scooping it up, I examined its interesting form and delicate coloration. The leaf was something most passersby would likely overlook. To me, it was a botanical specimen, its unique shape rendered all the more interesting in juxtaposition to the angular stretch of sidewalk on which it rested. I ferried my little treasure home, traced its outline on paper, cut out the shape, and added it to my growing collection of leaf templates.

I began collecting leaf samples in the autumn of 2014, reasoning that someday I would enjoy having the outlines of real leaves to use in some future sewing or art project. My interest in leaf shapes over the past few years has made me develop a true reverence for them. The more closely I study the intricacies of nature, the more I’m enthralled. I think this has always been true of me. Nature whispers my name and bids me draw close, and closer still…

Because I wanted to preserve late autumn loveliness, I decided to design hand-beaded leaf ornaments as Christmas gifts for our children. Happy with the concept, I wandered around our property, plucking leaf-jewels from the grass, considering which kind of leaf would make the most fitting gift for each child.

A stalwart symbol of fortitude, a white oak leaf was my immediate choice for our youngest daughter, who moved far from home last August. The white oak is not only the state tree of Illinois, it’s also a reminder of our home, which nestles on a hillside heavily populated with oaks of various kind.

A red serviceberry leaf was my choice for our son and his wife. Like the white oak, the serviceberry is native to Illinois. When our future daughter-in-law first visited us in April of 2011, she and our son posed for a photo beneath the white-blossomed boughs of our serviceberry, an airy tree that forms a lacy canopy over our garden arbor bench.

I selected a yellow river birch leaf for our oldest daughter. While the river birch isn’t native to Illinois, it’s certainly a familiar icon of home. When our family moved to this house, we planted a river birch that has become the focal point of our front yard. Also, although many miles and state lines divide us, we and our oldest daughter both live beside the Mississippi. Because a deep flowing river connects her to us, a river birch leaf seemed just the right choice.

These hand-beaded leaves, traced from actual leaves gathered from around our property, were my favorite Christmas offerings to our far-flung children. I hope these small tokens of love will remind them of our strong family roots and encourage them to be attentive to nature’s loveliness…


My family and I redesigned our Christmas tree this year. We left in boxes the baubles of previous decades and invented a new, woodland tree. At the top, we hung a simple star of braided straw, and a graceful papier-mâché bird with outstretched wing. We tucked among the branches a fox, a deer, a raccoon, a pair of winter-white wrens, a glistening acorn. There was a delicate sprinkling of wooden stars, and a quiet cascade of wooden snowflakes. Gone, the bright-beaded garland of yesteryear. In its place, the soft glow of undulating gold ribbon, gleaming like late summer sun on the Mississippi…




Before Christmas dinner, my loved ones clasped hands beside the sparkling tree. All heads bowed to hear once again the familiar words of my mother’s lovely Christmas benediction. I read the words aloud for the first time without tears… Ours was a sweet, simple, natural, joyful, meaningful Christmas. I’ll cherish its memory always.


All too quickly, the holidays have come and gone. Our beloved children are back once again in their respective cities. As I write, freezing rain taps at the window. Glancing up, I notice our metal peace dove. She hangs from a prominent bough in our Japanese maple. With a coating of ice on her wings, the dove teeters precariously, just as peace seems to teeter in this uncertain world.

Braving the icy onslaught, our peace dove maintains a resolute southward gaze, as if focusing her vision on warmth, kindness, light, growth, renewal. In her beak she holds something precious: a leaf! It makes me smile… Her wings are spread wide, inviting me to rise with her above the heaviness of the fabricated world and soar free in the true one.

My true world is the real world: the world of nature –a place of repose and inexhaustible beauty where all are welcomed home.



Postscript: For those of you who enjoy reading my occasional musings, I apologize for posting them so infrequently. Since 2015, I’ve been studying embroidery, which has equipped me with a fascinating new means of expressing myself. I’m happy as can be with my needle in hand, but embroidering more has meant that I’m writing here less. I still have things to say, however, so stay tuned! If you’d care to connect with me on Instagram, I maintain a regular presence there. My account carries the same name as this blog: mypathwithstarsbestrewn .

My best wishes to all for a beautiful, nature-filled 2018! xo

tears without end

Today is the sorrowful fourth anniversary of the unspeakable horror at Sandy Hook, a moment forever seared into my memory. In remembrance of the many lives so tragically lost that day, I’m posting a piece I wrote just one day after the tragedy took place…


I am wakeful with the rain.

Beyond my window, our backyard oak lifts empty arms to a leaden sky; every tree holds a posture of profound supplication. Oh, please, please, let this not be so…

It’s getting late, but how can I close my eyes? Incomprehensible violence has visited Newtown, Connecticut, and sorrow keeps sliding down the windowpane. The rain began as evening fell on Friday, the day of the terrible shootings; it pattered on the rooftop all night long. Morning dawned grey, tear-spattered. I barely slept, if I slept at all. Rain continued all through the day, tears without end.

When the dreadful news reached me, my first thoughts were of the Holy Innocents. How could any person, past or present, look into the clear eyes of a little child and brandish a sword or pull a trigger? With the rest of the nation, I wrestled with my emotions. No, no… please, not the babies, not the little darling ones…

Later, a pile of letters to be mailed and other necessary errands put me behind the wheel. Renewed sorrow clawed my heart at Hamilton Elementary as I passed a line of parents sitting in cars, waiting to pick up their living, breathing, precious children. Gratitude and grief collided, welled up, streaked down my cheeks.

At Butterworth Center, I met a bright yellow school bus. I suppressed a half-crazed impulse to leap from my car to embrace every child on that bus.

As I turned down 16th Street, several parents were walking hand in hand with their children. A glance in my rear view mirror revealed a scattering of children walking home from school, a commonplace sight at this hour of day. But not everywhere… I thought of the sweet children who would never come home again and wept my way to the post office.

Next stop was the high school, where I was volunteering to set up for the next day’s Speech Tournament. I caught sight of one of my daughter’s friends at the end of a long hallway. I opened my arms to her and she came running, arms flung wide. I hugged that golden child to my heart. Dear God, make my arms a protective circle to surround all children everywhere…

But it was when I returned home again that I came entirely unglued. My son texted these simple words from Des Moines: “I love you, Momma.” Memories of him at age five, at age six, sprang to mind… my gentle, dreamy-eyed boy, now a young man. Reading his words, I paradoxically began keening over his sweet life as if he, also, had been lost. Never one to pose the question mathematical, I dared in that moment to multiply my love for him by twenty-six; the staggering equation of loss in Connecticut broke over me and swept me under. I sobbed again when our oldest daughter phoned from Minneapolis, yet again when our youngest phoned on her way home from work…

The woeful, grey day sank to its knees and faded to black while the rain kept its vigil, tears from a star.

How fragile we are…

Dust from the road


dust from the road 1

It’s mid-July already, and here in Illinois, wildflowers are out in abundance. Fence rows are embroidered with delicate medallions of Queen Anne’s Lace; chicory’s starry blooms form constellations in windswept grass; clusters of pale pink milkweed send up their bewitching perfume. It’s the height of summer’s sweet-petaled bounty.

I’ve always loved making bouquets of summer wildflowers that grow along the gravel road that lopes past Prairie View, our family homestead in Iowa. Picking roadside wildflowers is a pleasant pastime, but it’s not without its challenges. At any moment, a pickup truck or tractor may rumble by, and the whirr of wheels kicks up a cloud of dust that lingers in the air. If the dust cloud happens to catch you, you’ll be coated in chalky particulate matter that creeps into hair, eyes, nose, throat, and you’ll learn not to let this happen next time – that is, not if you can help it. When our children were small, I knew not to take them too far down the road to gather wildflowers. I’d keep a wary eye, making sure we all were within easy distance of the farmhouse lawn – our indispensable retreat from the choking dust of oncoming vehicles.

After a spell of hot, dry weather, the casual summer wildflower-gatherer at Prairie View might be disappointed by the dreary appearance of roadside blooms. A coating of gravel dust turns the clean white petals of Queen Anne’s Lace a dingy beige. It fades chicory blossoms to ghostly blue and conceals the blush of milkweed’s rosy cheek.

One morning last July, I perched on the front stoop at Prairie View, soaking up sunbeams, journal in hand. Just for the joy of it, I was recording how many individual birds I could distinguish within the full-throated chorus ringing in from surrounding fields. Red-winged blackbird, killdeer, barn swallow, I wrote… Canada goose, goldfinch, meadowlark…

Then, the growl of an engine. Raising eyes from paper to road, I spied a veritable mushroom cloud of gravel dust billowing up behind a fast-moving truck. Annoyed, I thought to myself, This driver lacks country etiquette. He lifted no hand in greeting as he sped by, neither did he slow down as he passed. On gravel roads, less speed means less dust, and slowing down to pass someone’s home is a gesture of courtesy. No such courtesy was shown this day. VROOM. Away he raced, and the dust of insensitive wheels hung in the air long afterwards. Good thing I wasn’t out for a walk just now, I muttered. And the poor flowers… another rude coating of dust to mask their summer loveliness.

Then it hit me.

Life’s hardships can come like a speeding truck on a gravel road. One minute it’s sunbeams and birdsong, the next you gasp for breath in the gritty aftermath of Things Beyond Your Control. It’s harsh and bewildering to be caught in a cloud of unforeseen adversity, but you can’t very well fall down by the side of the road, clutching your throat and raking your hand across your eyes. There’s really no logical choice but to trudge on, tears streaming, knowing the dust will eventually settle. Coated head to toe as you are with the soot of inescapable circumstance, your true beauty may not be readily apparent, just like roadside blossoms. Dust has a way of traveling with you. It might be a while before you’re able to stop and rest and rinse away the residue of what you’ve been through. It might take time before you look and feel like yourself again…

dust from the road II

As the careless driver roared away and vanished, I watched the pitiless after-cloud descend, covering everything in its wake with grit. I was quiet for a long time…. Then I wrote in my journal: Don’t be so quick to judge. What you see at first glance may be dust from the road.

love gathered softly to place in her hands

love gathered softly to place in her hands

It’s spring again, miraculous spring. Every street in town is lined with flowering dogwood, crab, pear – everywhere, boughs are in riotous bloom. In my gardens, something new unfurls daily. The woods are awash with wildflowers, and all along the driveway, violets gem the grass…

For me each year, the first violets of spring bear on fragile stems the weight of perennial tenderness. I stoop down to hook a finger beneath a bowed purple head. As I study the contour of this familiar face, I’m amazed by the power one simple flower wields over my heart and mind…

From the time I was old enough to toddle off to woods’ edge, I kept my mother in fresh-picked wildflowers. The first bouquets I carried home to her each spring always included several long-stemmed wood violets. One year, when I was seven or eight, Momma sent me off to the woods on a special mission to select only the choicest violets. I returned with dozens of flawless specimens. Together, we washed the flowers, a delicate task. We shook them gently dry and arranged them on clean white dish towels, taking care not to bend or bruise any petals. We snipped blossoms from stems. Then, after using tiny brushes to paint the flowers with a wash of egg whites and water, we sprinkled each one with a shower of sugar crystals.

Later, the house filled with the aroma of angel food cake pulled fresh from the oven. When it cooled, Momma frosted it with a white sugar glaze into which she pressed a pattern of sweet sugared violets. It was simply a vision, that cake, and young though I was, I was limp with the romance of a cake covered in violets…. (Alas, no photos were snapped of that eye-popping confection, but in my heart’s album, it glistens on a page all its own.)

Twenty years of violets bloomed and faded…

Then came a day like no other, a day I could never have imagined when I was a child wandering among the wildflowers – the day I held a newborn flower in my arms, a blossom fresh-plucked from heaven: our first child, our sweet Margaret, a precious baby girl newly home from the hospital, bathed and swaddled and dressed in a long white hand-smocked gown Momma had made for her. Margaret was just a day or two old when I looked from her face into Momma’s eyes and said, “I so look forward to all her firsts – her first smile, her first words, her first steps…”

My gentle mother had more poetic firsts in mind for her granddaughter. She said softly, so softly I barely could hear, “Imagine showing Margaret her first violet, her first star. . .” Momma looked at me, yet somehow right through me as the words fell from her lips. For a heartbeat or two, time stood still for me, just as it does when I chance to read a line of perfect poetry: the words ring and resonate – beautiful, mysterious, fleeting, bells in the wind…

When the snows of winter melted away to reveal Margaret’s first spring, I showed her her first violet with deep emotion. I showed her her first star. Sang her every beautiful song I knew, read her every good book I could find, pointed her toward every lovely thing I could think of, filled her days with as much beauty and poetry and joy and mystery as I could – love gathered softly to place in her hands, like the wildflowers I carried to Momma so many years ago…

As Mother’s Day nears, I have asked myself, what does it mean to mother another soul, to nurture another life? I believe it is to pluck from one’s surroundings the good things, the beautiful, the eternal, the true, and place them in another heart, like a bouquet of violets.

a grand public performance, admittance free

a grand perfomance, admittance free

Here in the little woodland hideaway I call home, each morning in April offers a grand public performance, admittance free. The concert hall is a deep ravine whose walls are embellished with the delicate laces of budding boughs. Springtime flora and fauna attend this event in droves – violets select quiet rear seating; showy lilacs drenched in fine perfume lean conspicuously from private balconies; girlish groups of daffodils in fluttery pastels flock to the front; fox squirrels in opulent red-tinged furs slide into the upper gallery.

Almost imperceptibly, the soft curtain of dawn lifts. The concerto begins with a solitary robin’s lilting tune. Sung sotto voce, the haunting notes rise from a darkened stage. This tenderest of melodies is soon joined by the clear, high notes of a cardinal, who repeats the well-loved refrain, “Sweeeet, sweeeet, sweeeet, birdie birdie birdie birdie!” (A tufted titmouse, anxious to assemble all latecomers, whistles with quiet urgency from a shadowy side aisle.) Next appears the simple majesty of plainsong, intoned first by the chickadees, closely followed by a sublime chorus of white-throated sparrows. Lightly layered between these familiar themes are the proficient trills and soul-stirring grace notes of goldfinches and wrens. A blue jay inserts a series of staccato notes. A woodpecker pounds on drums of oak and maple. In a poignant counterpoint at once somber, sad and sonorous, a mourning dove croons its minor descant, the oft-ignored warning that moments flee, days scatter, years vanish. On center stage at last arrives the moment worth waiting for – the house finch’s ravishing solo, delivered to perfection with the combined fervor of Caruso, Bocelli, Renée Fleming, and the fabled Jenny Lind. As the stunning aria fades into silence, the listener is left staggered, breathless, suspended midair in a moment weightless with wonder…

New leaves in the understory lift tiny green hands of praise, offer wave after undulating wave of applause; daffodils exchange nods of heartfelt approval amongst themselves; flowering crabs fling scores of congratulatory rose-tinged petals to the wind.

Right on cue, the rising sun brings up the house lights. With a sudden flick of tail or flash of wing, the stage empties. One by one, the performers take their bows and retire to mossy nests or leafy bowers to rest. Later, they’ll rehearse anew for tomorrow’s dazzling repeat performance.

(You won’t want to miss it. Shall I save you a seat?)