Purveyor of Beauty

img_8740As I circled beautiful little Lake Tomahawk for the third time (four times around is approximately 2 miles, I’ve learned), I paused yet again to snap a picture of the gorgeous red leaves against the blue sky.img_8743 Simg_8754ure, the picture-taking limited the effectiveness of the exercise, but who cares? Given the glory of the scene before me, how could I not take a picture? How could I not try to share the rich colors of the fall foliage, the smell of sun on pine straw, the glimmer of light on the water?

“Are you a camera person?” asked a friendly man who watched me interrupt my walk to clumsily frame a scene. I said yes, but, really, I’m not much of a photographer, and my iPhone 5s is showing its age. What I am, I decided, is a purveyor of beauty.

I liked the sound of that phrase–“purveyor of beauty” –but later, seated at the coffee shop with my café au lait (I liked the sound of that phrase, too), I looked up the meaning of “purveyor,” just to be on the safe side. What a blow: “purveyor” didn’t mean what I thought it did! I had confused “purveyor” with “surveyor”–someone who takes stock of the situation or assesses the value of something. “Purveyor” actually means someone who is endeavoring to sell or trade something: it can also mean someone who is trying to promote a view or idea. Reveling in my felix culpa, I realized that the real meaning of “purveyor” fit much better.

After all, if I wanted to soak up the beauty for myself, would there be a need for picture-taking? Maybe: I don’t trust mere memory to capture experiences. Memory is fickle and tricks me up with dates or blurs similar experiences. How many falls have I lived through now? How many achingly beautiful autumn scenes have I tried to pin down with camera, verse, prose?

So I suppose I am taking the pictures to remind myself of what a wonderful walk I had, smiling pleasantly at the other folks doggedly rounding the lake along with me, some with dogs in tow. But, even more, I want to share the beauty with you, dear reader–with you, who couldn’t be with me to watch the ducks dabbling in the water near the bridge; with you, who couldn’t count the peaks of the Seven Sisters off to the right.img_8744img_8751

Because beauty kept to myself feels like hiding a joyful secret from someone. Beauty shared is so much better, especially if the other person gets as excited about trees turning from pale-green to vivid yellow as I do. Strangely, though, I kind of like my morning walks alone (alone, with a dozen other people out for their morning constitutionals). If I’m walking with someone, I’m talking or listening. If I’m walking alone, I can let my thoughts float free. Or I can try to notice details that might escape me: the watercolor brush of colored leaves on the lake’s surface; the leaves slowly somersaulting to the ground, the little island with its air of sanctuary, the cross-section of shoe prints in the dirt trail, the half shorn tree hinting at the season’s progress.
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Enjoy the beauty of fall in Black Mountain–and purvey it along!

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Judge Not: Meditations on a Missed Blogiversary

Last week, while celebrating one anniversary early — my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, no less — I missed a less important anniversary here at WordPress: sappyasatree@wordpress.com celebrated its birthday on June 16, 2015, with no fanfare at all. Belatedly, I posted about my missed blogiversary on my other blog, which was set up at the same time but had no posts until September 2014. I decided to reblog here, with apologies to the generous readers who follow me at both sites. (I did add a couple of photos to the reblogged post.)

What oft was thought

Back in my brief blogging heyday, I felt baffled and abandoned when a fellow blogger would vanish from my Reader. Not only did I miss the blogger’s words or photos, but I felt concern: had a crisis or illness prevented the blogger from posting? Sure, I could see skipping a few days or even a week, but to disappear completely from the WordPress landscape, without a word of farewell or explanation? That would never happen to me, I resolved with the smugness of a self-righteous newbie.

An unintended photo An accidental photo, reflective of my unintended hiatus from blogging

Fast-forward several months, and I have become one of those bloggers who dedicated herself intensely to blogging for a few months and then dropped out of the blogosphere abruptly, quietly, even unintentionally. How can it be that blogging — the refuge and sanctuary for those who toil through dreary days with little outlet for…

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Finding Words for Spring

Baker_Street_CD_CoverIn the 1970s, I had in my possession a Broadway cast album of the musical “Baker Street.” Yes, THAT Baker Street, and, yes, there was a musical about Sherlock Holmes, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” and featuring a romance between Holmes and Irene Adler.

Why I owned this obscure LP is the real mystery. I did like reading mysteries, so maybe that’s why my mother — the greatest of all bargain hunters — bought the record for me or my older brother? My brother initiated me into the sleuthing world with the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown; eventually, I graduated to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Father Brown, and the like. We found at least one use for “Baker Street”: an instrumental segment from “Finding Words for Spring” served as background music for our “radio” play, “Murder Man,” a long-term project. With our neighbors, my brother and I intermittently recorded the play on my parents’ tape recorder. (Before you get too impressed with our creativity, we borrowed the concept of the “Murder Man” play from an Encyclopedia Brown story.)

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We loved mysteries, and we loved musicals: how could the album be anything but a hit? Devotees of Sherlock though we were, the songs seemed more laughable than laudable.  Was it because we were kids? Maybe we were more discerning than I realized, if reviews of the album are to be believed. Did Broadway patrons agree with us? “Baker Street” hasn’t been revived yet, and, as far as I know, hasn’t been made into a film. The songs weren’t particularly catchy, and Inga Swenson’s rendition of “Finding Words for Spring” was the sort of soprano warbling that sent adolescents running in the opposite direction.

Even so, a fragment of this song floated into my thoughts as I admired the azaleas lining my driveway: “Finding words for spring / Is no easy thing.” Soon, I was flipping through my stash of LPs, but the album wasn’t there — which is just as well, since my turntable stopped working 10 years ago. Maybe my parents have the album? Thanks to YouTube, I was able to listen to “Finding Words for Spring,” as sung by Swenson, and a nostalgic rendering by songwriter Ray Jessel. Surprisingly, the song isn’t about spring or natural beauty; it’s about the difficulty of articulating romantic feelings:

P1080030 (800x600)Finding words for spring

Is no easy thing

Still, I’m sure I’d find a few.

What words could be right

To describe the night?

Somehow, I would find them, too.

P1080035 (800x600)How can one explain

Love’s sweet splendor?

The most tender words won’t do.

You must fall in love;

Then you’ll find that love

Will explain itself to you.

Should you want to praise

Lazy summer days,

I could find a phrase or two.

As for love, mere words —

P1080040 (800x600)Though they’re clever —

They’ll just never, never do.

You must fall in love;

Then you’ll find that love

Will explain itself to you.

Did I misremember the song? The title “Finding Words for Spring” seemed to promise a song about the inexpressible freshness of spring — not a love song. Honestly, it may be more difficult to describe a landscape than to describe one’s love.  At least you can use images from nature as symbols of love or of the loved one’s perfections. But how to depict with mere words the wonders of spring?

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It has been a glorious spring here in North Carolina. Dogwood blossoms have graced my backyard with a snowy whiteness; daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips have added brilliant colors — yellows, blues, oranges, lilacs, reds — to the greening grass. The azaleas have flamed crimson and scarlet and so many shades of pink against an even greener background. Even my teenage daughter has remarked on the abundance of chlorophyll. Now the rhododendrons are coming into their own, with purply-pinks against glossy, dark-green leaves. Soon it will be time for the roses to fulfill their promise.

Whenever I get a free moment, I find myself rushing off for another stroll at the Biltmore Estate. We treated ourselves to season passes this year, partly because of the “Dressing Downton” exhibit that runs through May. There have been afternoons of pure happiness, riding bikes alongside the river, or hiking up a gentle slope to the house, or slowly strolling through the Azalea Garden. Meanwhile, our passes to the North Carolina Arboretum are good through September, so we can enjoy the beauty of spring blooms there as well.

IMG_3971 (800x600)Why am I even sitting at my computer, when I could be outdoors? Spring in the southern United States is beyond beautiful, especially in the early evening, which seems to be the time of most of our Biltmore jaunts.

IMG_3898 (800x600)So, if anyone has wondered why I’m not writing much, I would say, “It’s springtime, silly!” Alas, I am not a gardener myself, but I can enjoy the fruits of other people’s labors at the Biltmore and the Arboretum. I’m thankful that the people who built our house planted so many azaleas, rhododendrons, and dogwoods. Benign neglect has been our policy so far, with remarkably few ill effects.

With the end of the school year upon me, I am unlikely to blog much in the next month. I’m a slow starter, but I like to finish strongly. This is one homeschooling mom who kicks into gear in the second semester, and especially in the final months. “What? We’re not going to get through the one-year American history curriculum? Says who?” Fortunately, my youngest son likes history.

Look for me when it starts to get hot again. My blogging anniversary is coming up in June: I cannot remain inactive until then. And I still have Doug’s challenge to fulfill: five stories about five photos in five days. Can it wait til spring is over?

For now, I’m off on a final April expedition. (Or not. Now it’s raining. The other side of spring.)

Writer’s Quote Wednesday: Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Woman?

The Arnolfini Portrait. Artist: Jan van Eyck (1434 ). Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk  Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Some scholars believe that Jan van Eyck’s famous Arnolfini Portrait includes a self-portrait of the artist within the mirror.

“Every man’s work . . . is always a portrait of himself.”–Samuel Butler

Not long after I started blogging, I had an eye-opening conversation with my mother. This blog is the first public writing that I’ve done since college, and she was happy to see me exploring a creative outlet.

My mother explained that she sees my blog as a way for my children to know me better — the real “me,” that is, not just the mom who chauffeurs them, or washes their clothes, or makes sure they do their schoolwork. Her next remark took me by surprise: “You may not realize how much of yourself is in your posts.” Hmmm. Now I felt nervous, wondering what I had unknowingly revealed about myself in my newly minted blog.

The point that Samuel Butler makes here — “Every man’s work . . . is always a portrait of himself” — is one of the reasons that I’ve been wary of writing fiction. What if I unwittingly incorporate real people into my fictional world? If my fiction is to be lifelike, can I avoid using people I know for models? And (shudder) what if those people aren’t portrayed in a flattering light? There is a thin line between the world of reality and the world of fiction: I don’t want to be like fellow Ashevillian Thomas Wolfe, unable to go home again. No satirical descriptions of my hometown, past or present, thank you very much.

But, if Butler’s observation is right, fiction isn’t the only medium that could give me away. This very post will betray something about me — about what I value, what I believe, what I fear, what I love. Am I okay with that? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe I should change this site’s name to The Tentative Blogger? (I suspect that name is not in high demand.) It’s not as if hordes of readers are flocking to my posts, but someone might stumble upon a part of myself that I try to conceal. Have I unintentionally bared my innermost self to the public eye?

Even when we try to play our cards close to our chest, we may give glimpses of a King here or an Ace there. Any creative endeavor will reveal something about the artist’s personality. There are so many nuances and subtle choices behind a photo or a painting, for instance. What color palette did the artist choose for the portrait of his wife, and why? Fiction, with its need for believable characters, still seems dangerous to me: one’s judgments will surely creep into seemingly innocent descriptions. But is prose any safer? How can you write about the life you know without writing about the people you know?

self-portrait 2015In the end, the blog world is no place for the faint of heart. Neither is the world of literature, of course. The semi-autobiographical work for which Victorian writer Samuel Butler is best known, The Way of All Flesh, was not published during his lifetime, by Butler’s own wish. George Orwell praised Butler for his courage, but how courageous was Butler, if he didn’t want his novel published while he was alive? Perhaps Butler was uneasy not only about his criticisms of Victorian society but also about his self-revelations. The older I grow, the less charm I find in mirrors. Should that distaste carry over to the unconscious mirror of my words, spilling heedlessly onto the screen?

This dialogue begs the question, “Why are you afraid to expose your innermost self ?” Fear of criticism? Fear of self-discovery? Reluctance to accept the face that timidly peers back from the mirror? I am not the person that I wish I were, or the person that I hope to be. If I don’t want the world to get a glimpse of the woman behind the facade, I should stop writing blog posts.


This post was written as part of Silver Threading‘s Writer’s Quote Wednesday event. Thank you, Colleen, for continuing to host this event, week after week. I first encountered Butler’s observation in my son’s English language book. After writing this post, I discovered that the quotation had been abridged. The full quotation reads, “Every man’s work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself, and the more he tries to conceal himself, the more clearly will his character appear in spite of him” (Chapter XIV, The Way of All Flesh).

A Blog Bog

Sunrise, 2015 (Virginia Beach)

Sunrise, 2015 (Virginia Beach)

While Uncle Remus’ stories of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit, and Brer Bear have fallen out of fashion, the Tar Baby incident illustrates my sentiments about this blog since the start of 2015. In this tale, Brer Rabbit allows himself to be trapped by a Tar Baby — a figure that Brer Fox has fashioned out of tar and posed in the road, knowing that the sociable Brer Rabbit will attempt to strike up a conversation with the Tar Baby. When the Tar Baby fails to respond, Brer Rabbit eventually gets frustrated and strikes the Tar Baby — only to find himself caught in the sticky tar. Of course the wily Brer Rabbit outwits his captor by manipulating Brer Fox into tossing him in the briar patch, but, for a time, Brer Rabbit is entangled with the ooey-gooey figure of tar, unable to extricate himself.

I took a break over the holidays — partly to enjoy time with my college kids and working son, partly to celebrate Christmas, partly to visit with extended family. On returning from a week at the beach, where we shared a very large house with other family members, I had amassed quite a few photos and was mentally planning a couple of posts. I still hadn’t figured out how to juggle time spent on my blog with time spent on my daily responsibilities, but the creative wheels were beginning to spin. Then I read an article in The Daily Post recommending that I “optimize” my photos before posting them, and — wham! Just like Brer Rabbit, I was entangled in a mental mess, unsure how to proceed.

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Horseshoe crab’s shell

IMG_3508 (640x480)The reasons for “optimizing” images — which, as best I can tell, means to resize them — were good ones: smaller photo files load more quickly and take up less space. All well and good, but I began to feel as if I had plunged a foot into a murky bog. Here was another process to factor into the time it takes to put together a blog post, and I already had difficulty justifying the time spent on my blog(s). At the very least, it would take at least five minutes per photo to resize and save it; for a post with ten photos, that’s nearly an extra hour. And I’d have to be careful to save the resized photo as a new file, so that I didn’t lose my original high-res file. I might even need to install a new program on my over-loaded computer.

Guess how many blog posts I wrote after reading that article? Zero. On my other site, which is more abstract in orientation, I found that, even with one foot bogged down in the mire of indecision, I could still write Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday posts. But here on sappy as a tree, where I wanted to write a couple of posts with many photos, I was stuck.

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Part of the tail of a skate

I had plenty of time to think about blog posts yesterday as I drove my daughter to an out-of-town audition: she had been up past midnight the night before at a homeschool formal, so she needed to sleep in the car. I could have listened to music or an audiobook, but I decided to keep things quiet. I muted the GPS, kept an eye out for cops, and planned blog post after blog post.

Up to now, I had felt proud of myself for not accumulating many unpublished drafts in my Dashboard; for this site, there are only three unpublished drafts: no guts, no glory, right? But I realized something as I drove down the road: I’ve been drafting posts all along, but, mostly, they never get out of my head and onto WordPress. Now, with the weighty issue of image optimization dragging me down, I was less likely than ever to transform my latest ideas into posts.

All week long, we saw many egg sacs of skates along the shore.

We saw many egg sacs of skates along the shore.

It’s not that I have to optimize images, you understand, but I’ve been on the readers’ side, waiting for the images to upload. I can see that this is the way of the future, and, for this post, I will experiment with resizing my images before I upload them to the library. Or I could just beg Brer Fox to throw me in the briar patch? P1070759 straighten (640x469)

Ginger All the Way

My children's Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house, November 2006

My children’s Hansel and Gretel gingerbread house (November 2006).

For 22 years, the Grove Park Inn has sponsored a gingerbread house competition: these edible creations take gingerbread architecture to a new level! Many hours of planning, baking, assembling, and decorating go into the construction of each gingerbread “house” — and, usually, some heartbreak as well. Aside from the base, all components of the house must be edible.

Little House in the Big Woods gingerbread cabin (November 2002)

Little House in the Big Woods gingerbread cabin (November 2002)

Despite my lack of domestic skills, my kids have entered houses in the competition three times. I learned the hard way that, yes, you can get food poisoning from Royal Icing. My older daughter’s Little House in the Big Woods cabin even made it to the Top Ten in the children’s category one year!

As you can see from the photo taken in our kitchen the last time a Fleming entered the Grove Park Inn competition, making a gingerbread house wreaks havoc on your actual house. The kitchen chaos is more than repaid by the fun of finding creative ways to use candy, crackers, pretzels, cereal, and, of course, marzipan.

My daughter's rendition of the arrival of Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarfs at Beorn's Hall

My daughter’s rendition of the arrival of Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarfs at Beorn’s Hall from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (November 2010).

She ran out of time, so several plans for embellishing Beorn's Hall had to be abandoned.

She ran out of time and had to abandon plans for embellishing Beorn’s Hall. All 13 dwarfs are rendered with correctly colored capes, however.

Beorn's bee hives, on the other side of the hall.

Beorn’s bee hives, on the other side of the hall.

With several out-of-town guests here to see my younger daughter in The Nutcracker, we decided to make the trek to North Asheville to view the winners — and the non-winners, which are often just as impressive — of the 2014 Gingerbread Competition.

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My photos are a sampling of the teen, adult, youth, and child entries in this year’s competition. If you’d like to see even more gingerbread houses, you can watch a video of the Grand Prize winner or check out photos from the judging at the 2014 competition. The wonderful smell of gingerbread permeated the Grove Park Inn!

And now, back to wrapping those presents . . .

Pack Your Bags: Virtual Blog Tour Award!

Christmas at the mall

You know you haven’t been decorating your house when you have to use a photo of mall decorations.

 

After my post about readying hearth and home for Christmas, you may be surprised to see me here. ‘Tis the season not only for being jolly but also for passing out awards! The thoughtful and creative author of The Grizzle Grist Mill has nominated me for the Virtual Blog Tour Award, which humbled and surprised me. I have enjoyed her reflections on life, her photographs, and her poetry.

photo

My daughter prefers for me not to watch her rehearse, so I’ve been respectful of her wishes. She made this photo from a video — hence, the poor resolution.

One unusual feature of the Virtual Blog Tour Award is that nominees are assigned a date for publishing acceptances. My date is December 15. Once I’ve posted my responses to the award questions, I will return to preparing for Christmas and readying my house for the out-of-town guests who are coming to see my daughter dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker” later this week. (Did that just slip out? Yes, I’m a proud mama.)

virtual tour

Here are the rules:

1. Pass the tour on to up to four other bloggers. Give them the rules and a specific Monday to post.

2. Answer four questions about your creative process. Your answers will help other bloggers and visitors know what inspires you to do what you do.

  • What am I working on at the moment?
  • How does my work differ from others in my genre?
  • Why do I write or create what I do?
  • How does my writing or creative process work?

3. Compose a one-time post which is posted on a specific Monday (date given from your nominator).

So, here goes:

DSCN0691Four bloggers whom I nominate: 

1. Heather Publishing

2. Perspectives On . . .

3. Glimpses of Beauty

4. Trees of Transition

If you accept this nomination, please respond by posting on Monday, January 5. (If it is more convenient for you to post on December 29, that is fine.)

Here are my answers to the questions (which make me realize that perhaps I am not enough of a Writer with a capital W to merit this award):

What am I working on at the moment? As far as blogging goes, I plan to take a break. I need to recuperate from three months of intense blogging that began with September’s Blogging 101 and continued through November’s Photo 101. Yesterday, I posted the final theme, “Triumph,” on my other blog. Eventually, I will review my Photo 101 pictures and put together a gallery of ten favorite photographs, but that can wait until after the holidays. Photo 101 was supposed to stop after Thanksgiving weekend, but, because I was so slow, it continued into mid-December; Photo 101 has crept into Writer’s Quote Wednesday posts and into Stream-of-Consciousness posts. Going places without a photo theme in mind will be strange, but I need a respite from thinking constantly about what to post.

This weekend, I read an excellent post on stepping back for a broader perspective. Blogging has insinuated itself into nearly all of my leisure hours — and some of my working hours. I need to assess why I’m here on my blog so often and whether that is an appropriate use of my time and energy. While I plan to take time off from posting, I hope to continue writing privately at 750words.com, which has been a great resource for online journaling. I’ve contemplated re-taking Blogging 101 in January, since I never finished the second half of the course. And I’m sure I will continue to take photographs through the holidays!

How does my work differ from others in my genre? Many bloggers seem to write fiction — novels and short stories — and poetry. Aside from one haiku that I wrote this fall, I have not written poetry in years. The last poem I remember writing was when my ballerina-daughter, who spends many hours a week in pointe shoes, took her first steps! I have realized that the most productive time for my writing poetry was during my college years, when I was reading quite a bit of poetry in my classes; I also had far more time for solitary contemplation. As a homeschooling mother with two students to educate, I am unlikely to expand my writing beyond essays at this time.

I illustrate posts with my own photographs, but that is not unusual in the blogging world, particularly with blogs that are travel-related (as mine set out to be). Literary allusions sometimes work themselves into my posts, but I see similar references in other bloggers’ posts.

Why do I write or create what I do? When I started this blog, my goal was to share my experiences of hiking, mostly in local places, and of traveling. We had just returned from California, and I had many photos and memories that I wanted to share, particularly with the children who weren’t able to accompany us on that trip. While I have rarely kept a journal of my daily life, I like to keep a travel journal. The habit of keeping a travel journal began when my husband and I went to Pakistan for two months. Before we left, friends gave us a blank journal with Bible verses or quotations written at the top of many pages. Later, I was very thankful that I had a detailed record of our experiences.

Writing, for me, is a means of self-expression and of self-discovery. It is a way of filtering the beauty of the world through the beauty of words. Writing is also a way of preserving the past and of creating a visual record, through photographs, of the places I’ve been. Some day, I hope to write something of more permanence than a “blog,” which seems such a flickering and insubstantial medium. I once envisioned myself as an author of children’s books, but my creative spark would need to be rekindled first.

How does my writing or creative process work? I prefer to write in response to an internal prompt: an idea or observation will start germinating; then, suddenly, I must sit down at my computer and write. I do not make a written outline, although I have a mental outline of what I want to say and how I plan to support my points. Once a draft is written, I will rearrange sentences and paragraphs or add transitions. I have to cut out many “extra” words, sentences, and, if I’m feeling strong, paragraphs. If I can get one of my daughters to read my draft at this point, I am a happy woman. Other eyes always catch things that I miss.

Blogging events and courses are more difficult for me creatively. I find it intimidating to write a post on a Photo 101 theme or a Daily Post prompt, with hundreds of other people responding to the same topic. I try not to read other responses until I have finished my own: if someone else takes an approach that I have considered, I move on. “There is nothing new under the sun,” but I find it easier to participate in an event like Silver Threading‘s Writer’s Quote Wednesday, in which each blogger brings her own prompt. There is less risk of duplication.

While I find it harder to respond to an external prompt, once I get going, the writing process is much the same. I prefer to do all my writing on a post in one or two sittings. When I am “in the zone,” I would not notice a herd of elephants stampeding past me, much less one of my children trying to get my attention. It is dangerous to interrupt me at such times; yes, my family is very patient.

It might be wise to wait a day before posting a completed piece, but I like to be done with a post. A half-written draft gnaws at me, so I try to finish drafts while the drive is there. It is a rare post that gets published and remains unedited. The day or so after I publish a post, I keep coming back to fix a sentence, cut an adverb or adjective, or change a caption. After a couple of days, I let the post go. I enjoy editing a piece that is still warm from the oven, so to speak, but revising an old post is like eating a piece of stale bread.

End of the questions! Good luck to my nominees (should they choose to accept this award).

Look homeward, angel

Look homeward, angel.