Raindrops and Heartfelt Lyrics

photograph vision

I am going to tell you all about the State I’m In.  But wait for it…

We’re in that famous wind-down, awaiting Easter.  I have been living a completely doughnut-free lifestyle.  Since March 4th, its been a stretch of Dunkin’ Donuts-free days.  And, no latte.  I still have a lot of faith-lifting underway before Sunday.

Finally… my long overdue photo project from last Friday.  I was on rain-delay but promise this Friday’s project will be published on time!

Last Friday’s project was the easiest in the history of this series.  I hope you have a beloved photo that you have been intending to honor in a big way.  It all started with this picture….

Photo Credit:  Amy Bruss, Thistle & Muse

Photo Credit: Amy Bruss, Thistle & Muse

It perfectly captures the essence of this girl.  With the help of my friends at Office Max, I printed the image (18 x 24) on lovely matte photo paper.  Big photo, small investment ($15).  I used a 18 x 24 inch scrap piece of wood and applied black spray paint to edges, creating sleek sides.  The wood base simply provides a hidden frame.

A light coat of photo spray adhesive sealed the deal: attaching the big beautiful print to my wood base.  In the past, I would have used Mod Podge, but I am discovering that spray adhesive creates a smoother finish.  Try this project!


A peak at the edge.


The finished piece.


I recently ordered and received an iPhone macro lens from Photojojo!  In one morning, this $20 investment delivered more joy than a new concert t-shirt.  I was outside for hours on Sunday: crawling and climbing and searching for the most spectacular raindrop.


I didn’t notice how cold I was until I was forced inside when my battery died (to set the scene: it was rainy and 40 degrees).  This tiny lens rekindled that elusive childish wonder: at least for an hour.  No worries about muddy knees or frozen fingertips.  Just pure bliss.

Macro magic

I can almost see the whole lake within this raindrop.

I can almost see the whole lake in this raindrop.


Coming full circle back to my opening comment about the State I’m In!  We are celebrating the release of Rivers in the Wasteland, NEEDTOBREATHE’s new album today!  If you are new here (welcome!):  to bring you up to speed, I find a tremendous poetic joy in NTB’s lyrics and sound.  Through April 19, 2014 you can pick up the cd for $7.99 at Best Buy, when using the this coupon (valid both online and in stores).  Download the savings here.  To sample the tracks, hop over to the band’s website: NEEDTOBREATHE.com.  Promise me you will listen to the final track: More Heart, Less Attack, first.  Stop everything and listen to this song.  This one little song just might change the world.  Listen for the raindrop reference!

Here is a lyrical sampler:                     More Heart, Less Attack

Be the light in the crack
Be the one that’s been there on a camel’s back
Slow to anger quick to laugh
Be more heart and less attack  

-Lyrics by Bo Rinehart & Bear Rinehart, NEEDTOBREATHE

Tune into Ellen on Friday (4.18.2014) for a live NEEDTOBREATHE performance!

See you back here Friday!  In the meantime, I would love to hear from you!



Coming Clean: DIY Photo Soap

Jack Bartosz quote

I haven’t mentioned Jack for a few months.  Of course I still think of him often.  Sometimes its with an ache of sadness and other times a word or song emerges out of nowhere, carrying a memory or his wisdom.  And, boy was he wise.  Jack’s limitless positive philosophy about cherishing every moment is imprinted on my heart.  He showed us it is possible to live honestly and happily despite the obstacles in our path.  We all miss his wonder and enthusiasm.  Grateful that Jack’s lovely mom sent me a photo of baby Tommy, Jack’s baby brother for this project.


Original photo on left, credit: Amy Bruss, Thistle & Muse

I printed Tommy’s photo on transparent paper (think overhead transparency).  In the middle frame, the translucent photo reflects the light via this backless frame.  In the far right, I embedded the transparent photo to create Tommy soap!


Are you planning a baby shower?  Need to gift for a new mom?  Just want to honor your photos in a clever way?  This is a simple DIY!

The supplies include:  clear glycerin soap (I bought mine at Hobby Lobby for $6 since its original $10 purchase was reduced with my 40% off coupon), a clean recycled glass jar (I used a Ragu jar) and soap molds (also available at Hobby Lobby or perhaps a cupcake pan would work).

soap collage

I started with one cube for the first layer, melting the cube for about 15 seconds in the microwave.  Watch carefully to determine the cook time in your microwave.  Careful as the glass jar might be hot when you remove it.  I added a tiny bit of Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue fragerance to the melted soap.  I quickly poured the first layer and allowed it to “set” for a few minutes before adding the transparent photo.


Next, I melted another cube and poured it onto the photo creating the top layer of soap.  Each mold needs about an hour to cool.  Once set, turn upside down and apply pressure until the soap pops out. Wrap in plastic wrap for storage.

Let me introduce my next model, an adorable friend of Tommy’s.

mariread collage

Photo credit: Thistle & Muse photographer, Amy Bruss.


I printed her photos on transparent paper.


This one is still in the mold so you can see what the mold looks like: flexible plastic.

This one is still in the mold so you can see that the mold is constructed of flexible plastic.

Another twist, submerge a tiny toy inside the bar of soap.



One Little Word: First Quarter Check Up

ramtha quote divine right
Well here we are… 25% into 2014.  Time seems to move like the fast forward button on an old cassette player.  Remember when music lived on tapes?  Or perhaps you are too young?!!  Oh, how I loved making mix tapes and then mix cds.
mix tape photo
“Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they add up to the story of life.”
― Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mix Tape
Now that the curtain has closed on the first quarter, how is your year unfolding?  Did you select your word of the year and how are you honoring it?  My word of 2014 is…
I am trying to live with intention and deeper purpose.  Some questions about my intentions still lead to deer-in-the-headlights silence.
Try, rinse, repeat.

Maybe I would have found my divine purpose if I hadn’t spent so much of the first quarter watching Downton Abbey.  One can only speculate.  Do you love the show?  If so, take this quiz to see which character represents you.  Click here.

One thing I am learning is to trust more of what makes my heart happy.  It is like a sign that I am skipping along on the right path.  I tell my teen daughters that God placed a dream in their heart and gifted them with special talents that they are uniquely here to give.  Finding where their dreams and their “calling” collide is the magic of life.  And, yet here I am still fine-tuning my own path.
I almost found my purpose last week during a series of house mishaps that began with the beep of the septic system alarm.  It was followed by an unrelated furnace crisis and ended with a tiny flood in our utility room that required a plumber’s repair.  While the septic expert was here, he diagnosed the plumbing issue.  Later I carefully explained the problem to my hired plumbers, who told me (for real) that I would make an awesome plumber.  It was a Seinfeld moment.
 I did honor my word in a couple ways.
Let’s Be Still:  I officially realized that my current purpose will not magically reveal itself with all the monkey chatter in my mind. It is a dead-end path.  To counteract, I created more space for yoga.  I also listen to the Head and the Heart song, Let’s be Still constantly.  That counts, right?  Tune into the song here.
Living Creatively:  I read a tweet by artist Brian Andreas recently where he said something like… Make a lot of things and then give them away.  It is the path to creative improvement.  I can’t find his precise and clever tweet, but I carry the message.  I have been creating and gifting with purpose.  Sometimes anonymously.
creating + giving = happiness
Isn’t the season of spring the perfect time to begin anew?
live with intention quote
I hope that you are already there.
I hope that you are living in the happiness zone:
confident, thriving, giving and living in the moment.
I will leave you today with a song, dedicated to YOU and your dreams.
Recorded by:  Keane
Written by: Writer(s): Timothy James Rice-Oxley, Tom Chaplin, Richard David Hughes
It’s time to make a start
To get to know your heart
Time to show your face, time to take your place
In every speck of dust
In every universe,
When you feel most alone, you will not be alone
Just shine a light on me, shine a light
I’ll shine a light on you, shine a light
And you will see my shadow on every wall
And you will see my footprint on every floor
‘Cause when your back’s against the wall
That’s when you show no fear at all
And when you’re running out of time
That’s when you hitch your star to mine
intention quote
I would love to hear your update!
Keep calm and dream on.

Witness the Light: Shine On

let our light shine quote

Last week I was privileged to watch my friends shine.  Isn’t it a marvel to see people share their gifts and authentically pour their heart and soul into something?  Of course I know that to make it appear effortless there is an enormous amount of work behind the scenes, probably with a few shadows of doubt.  It just seems that I witnessed so much divine soul work recently that I have to tell you about it (and by work I mean volunteering, hobbies and traditional work leading to a paycheck).

Maybe I am being dramatic or over-analyzing.  Yeah, probably.

But if you saw the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of An Iliad, you know what I am referring to.  If you missed the play, here is a very watered down recap.  It is a one-man show with the talented James DeVita embodying 24 characters.  In one scene, he contorted his body to portray Hector’s wife.  In the scene she is holding a baby and I swear I heard that baby cry.  It was that perfect.  In another epic scene, DeVita lists every bloody war in history in such rapid fire succession that the names tumbled like vocal gun fire.  He began with the war of Alexander the Great and ended with modern-day Syria, all delivered with machine gun precision.  The tears just spilled as my brain tried to process this historical path.  I couldn’t breathe.  And five days later, I haven’t stopped contemplating this masterpiece of theater and its message.  If you saw the show, message me.  We need to talk!

Another friend shined her light in a serene yoga studio.  She is training to become a yoga instructor and I participated in her first class.  Privileged to absorb her wisdom and witness her gifts.  Definitely divine soul work in action!

Cue the drumroll…. my friend is releasing his first ever album (or should I call it a cd?)!  Hop over to his website and sample his music.  After years of gently encouraging him alongside his family and friends, I am so proud that his honest songs will find their way into the world.  The album is pure joy.  It’s a beautiful extension of his life’s purpose: spreading musical inspiration, faith and love.  I know he poured his heart and soul into every note.

midwestern music cd

I wrapped a candle with the album cover for the CD release party!

I watched my daughter dance at a local performance last weekend.  Her dance team turns music into joyful motion.  They unveiled a new dance and the song has been haunting me ever since.  I just reviewed the lyrics.  Of course they fit perfectly into today’s message.

Read All About It


You’ve got the words to change a nation
But you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence
Afraid you’ll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?

So come on, come on
Come on, come on

You’ve got a heart as loud as lions
So why let your voice be tamed?
Maybe we’re a little different
There’s no need to be ashamed
You’ve got the light to fight the shadows
So stop hiding it away

Yeah, we’re all wonderful, wonderful people
So when did we all get so fearful?

And now we’re finally finding our voices
Just take a chance, come help me sing this

I wanna sing, I wanna shout
I wanna scream ’til the words dry out. *

Since today is Friday (Friday posts are all about photo fun here on the blog), I honored a photo by creating a watercolor portrait.  Full credit to Nancy at Do Small Things with Great Love. This project was featured on her blog and if you click here you will see her terrific tutorial.  I just implemented her idea!

watercolor project photo ordinary creative

photo by Amy Bruss, Thistle & Muse

watercolor ordinary creative photo

Maybe if we trust our soul whispers and follow where they lead, we will find our divine gifts.  I hope you harvest more of what makes your heart sing.  I guess today’s reflections are my way of examining the light of this past week.

 And, I had to imprint these two words.


The metal stamps work best with silverware that is old (silver or nickel).  After imprinting the letters, use a black Sharpie to fill the embossed space making each letter more legible.  If you have been following this blog for a while you might remember when I tried metal stamping before.  Click here to read my Oh Joy post.


Follow your heart path.

Apply what you practice,

Step out of the shadows

And leap fearlessly!

Yours truly

Yours truly

Shine on, friends.  Shine on.

I will be cheering for you.



* Read All About It:  Writer(s): Tom Barnes, Emeli Sande, Peter Kelleher, Stephen Manderson, Iain James, Ben Kohn
 Copyright: Sony/ATV Music Publishing (Uk) Limited, Emi, Bucks Music, Stellar Songs Ltd. (Source)

Polka Dot Photos

ansel adams quote

If you were to ask me to name my favorite photographer of all time, I would likely talk in circles but never arrive at a definitive answer.  My idols don’t fit on a neat top ten list.

But, I just might start by mentioning Ansel Adams.  His sheer genius captured nature like no other.   Just typing his name conjures up vast black and white landscapes.  Did you know Mr. Adams tried to capture what you “see,” believing that photos should have crisp focus, because of course, that is how our eyes view the world.  My favorite Ansel Adams photo is Tetons & Snake River because of its moody clouds.  It brilliantly demonstrates the use of leading lines to guide your eye to the primary subject, a composition trick you are likely familiar with.

Leading Lines

Just in case this technique is new to you, consider using a boardwalk, sidewalk, playground equipment or a row of lights to tell your story or draw a connection between two objects.  My amateur attempts appear in the next series photos.


Does your gaze follow the fence to my hipster subject?



But all that talk about leading lines only points you to today’s project!

Polka Dot Photos!!!

PicMonkey Collage

Did you happen to see this on my Instagram or Facebook page this week?  I featured these images.

In case you are wondering how to make your own…

st patricks day boston terrier

The Formula!

1.) Hop over to PicMonkey.com to use their complimentary online photo editing tools.   Select “Design” (*t icon).  Create a square canvas and choose an awesome color from the palette. Click apply.

2.) Click on the frame options and select “Rounded Corners.”  Drag the corner radius bubble to maximize the radius (as you drag to the right you will see your circle emerge).  Place a check in the box next to “Transparent Corners.”  Click apply.

3.) Select the butterfly icon (it sits above the frames icon).  Select “Your Own,” which will allow you to insert your photo.

4.) After inserting your photo, “select” it (the image will have a white outline when selected).  Click on the eraser option in the overlay pop-up box.  Choose your eraser size and begin erasing elements you want eliminated (in my case I erased all background elements leaving just my dog).   You will notice that if the edges have a lot of detail, a smaller eraser brush size will be more effective.

The eraser literally makes elements of the photo disappear.  Abracadabra not required.  Just a steady hand.  Here is a screen capture of the erasing process..


Selected photo and eraser option.

boston terrier pink bubble

Click here for a detailed tutorial straight from PicMonkey on using erasers.

Doesn’t everything look adorable sitting on a polka dot.

boston terrier party girl

Now, what can you do with these dots?

Enhance a child’s t-shirt with an iron-on transfer, perhaps?

IMG_4282 IMG_4259

Hip to be Square

how wonderful life is quote

Bernie Taupin’s lyrics and Elton John’s voice are on replay in my mind today.

Your Song is simply pure lyrical poetry.

I know it’s not much but it’s the best I can do,
My gift is my song and this one’s for you.

Aren’t we all here trying to do our best?

How wonderful.


I found these blocks at Target after Valentine’s Day (75% discount!).  My initial reaction? A $3 investment would be the perfect display for 18 photos.  The transformation went like this…

1.) I applied a couple of coats of flat black spray paint to the set of blocks.

2.) After a literal cut and paste, my photos found life outside the box they were sitting in!

3.)  Just to break up the photo monotony, words and lyrics cover a few sides.  Of course, the wonderful lyrics made the cut.

block photo project three blocks




A dear friend and talented photographer delivered big news to me this week!  Have you heard?

[Insert drum roll please.]

Walgreens is printing square photos (4×4 or 8×8 options).  The perfect news to motivate me to finish this project.

Join me in a happy dance (consider Ewan McGregor & Allesandro Safina’s version of Your Song from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack).

Anyway the thing is what I really mean 
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

I think YOU are wonderful for following this journey to creative bliss.

Creative… with Poetry

maya quote writing

Do you know writers who can pour their words directly into your soul?  As if they actually turn the proverbial light on. Or perhaps they bring you to the brink of tears or ledge of laughter?  Writers whose words weave into a story, poem, lyric or simple “aha” sentence that comes out of nowhere but leaves an imprint?

The list of rock star writers whom I admire is likely a mile long. Holding the current number one spot is Anne Lamott.  I am on chapter three of Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.  Have you read this brilliant gem of a book?  Here’s is a peak inside via a direct quote.

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”  - Anne Lamott

My current blog idol is Shannan, the author of Flower Patch Farmgirl.  Here is a teaspoon sampler of her magical way with words:

The beauty is that God can turn us right around at a moment’s notice. He can shove us out of our Anthro daydreams, beyond our decorating magazine pipe dreams, and push us into the glare of everything else, everything that we were always too busy to notice before. He can make our hearts break a million times in a million ways. And he can do it all without you or me.  He’ll light a spark of willingness in my spirit and tune my strings to the keys of brokenness and grace.”  Interested in more?  Pop over to her blog!

John Legend stopped me in my tracks today with these lyrics.

‘Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I’ll give my all to you
You’re my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I’m winning.

- John Legend, All of Me

And don’t get me started on my admiration for John Green.


I enrolled in a writing exercise workshop through Red Oak Writing with the brilliant Kim Suhr, Red Oak’s director.  I finally made the connection that just as training for a marathon requires miles and miles in my running shoes, so to the more you write, the more focused your writing becomes.  And let’s be honest, I could use some focus.  See how my word of the year influences action?  If I aspire to write with intention and string together anything of value, I need to write (a lot).  The class meets in the serene setting of the Delafield Art Center.  If you live in Southeast Wisconsin, check out the offerings of Red Oak.  They have helped thousands of writers find their voice through classes, workshops and roundtables.  I am a work in progress.


I refer to poetry as the Mt. Everest of writing.  Magnificent but elusive.  In a recent Red Oak session, our instructor cleverly asked us to write a few sentences.  Then we linked them together to create a Pantoum poem.

Familiar with Pantoum?

Brought to the West in the 19th century by Victor Hugo, Pantoum is derived from a much older Malaysian form of folk poem, built by interweaving repeating lines. It circles around a memory to tease out implications and meanings.  This gentle back-and-forth motion gives the effect of a series of small waves lapping on a beach, each advancing a bit farther up the sand until the tide turns and the pantoum wraps back around itself.  -Source, Wikipedia

The Pantoum Poem Recipe

Stanza 1: A B C D

Stanza 2: B E D F

Stanza 3: E G F H

Stanza 4: G C H J


Here is my first attempt creating a phantom poem.

The Tunnel to Grace

pantoum poem

Did you know April 24, 2014 is designated as Poem in Your Pocket Day?   I celebrated the holiday back in 2012. Click here to see my running poem if interested.  Or don’t.  Yeah, probably don’t.

“Start writing, no matter what.  

The water does not flow,

until the faucet is turned on.”

- Louis  L’Amour


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