Reflective Garden Walking … a therapy

A Path Through the Garden touches on the value and benefit of reflective walking while exploring a garden, meadow, or naturally forested area.  Many of us can remember a special day we enjoyed out in the fresh air when our minds developed an idea from nowhere, an idea that grew in resonance and supported a strong feeling for a plan of action. The idea was positive and meaningful and may have contributed to a whole new life path.

In Japan, this notion of walking through a garden or forest for inspiration is not new. Called shinrin-yoku, it literally translates to forest bathing or an immersion into nature and is recognized as being similar to natural aromatherapy.  Think about how the fragrance of spring, fall, Christmas, vanilla and cloves sends your thoughts dramatically to all kinds of events simply from the sense of smell.  Walking through a garden or forest brings the benefits of essential oils released from tree bark, plants, and flowers that enhance immune function and lessen stress and lower blood pressure.

Those undertaking forest bathing visit a forested area for relaxation. The science part is when visitors breathe in wood essential oils called phytoncides as they walk the forest. Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile compounds from trees and other plants.

Leyla Jo in A Path Through the Garden walked her magical meadow and sought solutions to life-absorbing challenges. If you need solutions to problems served up by life, why not consider forest bathing?

Check out Reflective Garden Walking presented by Ruth McCaffrey ND, ARNP at the Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida. The program incorporates the Morikami Stroll as part of a Well-being program, and how to begin a meditative practice by creating a program of garden walking using reflective readings and journaling opportunities.

Leyla Jo would love it!

Hands-on Archaeology lab at the North Carolina Museum of Art

Both my stories, Nardi Point and A Path Through the Garden include storylines rich in archaeology. Because I write what I like to read, I enjoy sharing what I’ve learned about ancient peoples who walked this earth thousands of years ago. That interest led me to volunteer at the NC State Archaeology Office in Raleigh where volunteers were trained in the proper handling and processing of valuable ancient artifacts. To hold a pre-historic relic in your own hands is such an amazing rush! museum

So, that’s why I’m looking forward to the Hands-on Archaeology lab presented by the North Carolina Museum of Art’s staff archaeologist Caroline Rocheleau. Planned for the lab is an artifact-handling orientation, a hands-on study session of classical ceramics, and a short overview lecture. Even a pair of white gloves worn when handling the artifacts will be provided!

I’m smiling because if you’ve read my stories, you know Leyla Jo will be there in spirit. Perhaps she’ll even whisper a new story into my ear. If she does, you all will be the first to know!

Ahhh, the writing life.

Therapeutic Gardens

Leyla Jo from Nardi Point and A Path Through the Garden, honors and seeks natural, alternative remedies for the daily challenges of life. Her clinical background and intuitive receptiveness creates a unique exploratory lifestyle that she shares in a quiet, thoughtful way.

In A Path Through the Garden, Leyla Jo encourages Hal to investigate and participate in nature as he works to regain his health.  One of the activities planned is a visit to a nearby horticultural exhibition. The planned outing engages Hal and enlivens his interest in events apart from his recovery. She is pleasantly reminded that Hal uses plant life as terrain indicators in his role as archaeologist tipping him off to wetlands and other environments an archaeological dig may offer. Also at the exhibition, Leyla Jo meets a Horticultural Therapist who synchronistically provides useful seeds of therapeutic garden design which Leyla Jo enthusiastically embraces.

Never heard of a Horticultural Therapist? These therapists use gardens to provide verifiable health benefits for their clients and the public. Therapists are trained to effectively design, manage and evaluate gardens with an eye to employing gardens as healing landscapes. These landscapes become exterior therapeutic environments for senior communities, healthcare facilities including assisted living and Alzheimer residences, long-term care facilities and continuing care retirement communities. There is also focus on the anthropological uses of plants found within the garden design.

If you would like to discover more about such programs, the Chicago Botanic Garden offers a Healthcare Garden Design Professional Development Certificate Program in May 2014.

Leyla Jo will be there!

Meadows are everywhere!

May meadows are special fields of fragrant spring wildflowers and new life. There’s nothing like a sun-dappled meadow first thing in the morning or at late afternoon for inspiration.

I looDordogne 2013 Sunday 52613 071k for meadows wherever I travel.  This one is at Chateau des Baudry near Monestier, France. Not only flowered with yellow, blue, white, and pink flowers, it’s filled with bright bird song, madly buzzing bees, and crickets. Over the treetops off to the West, you can make out the spire of the Eglise or church in Monestier.

Of course I asked Monsieur Francois if by chance there were any suncup wildflowers. Those would be the ones Leyla Jo searches for in A Path through a Garden.  From Monsieur’s puzzled face, I immediately recognized the value of knowing the Latin names for plant species. Because Jed is an archeobotanist in Paths, he told me the proper Latin name … Oenothera biennis. Monsieur then smiled, but answered, “Non.”

C’est la vie!

Reunited and it feels so good ….

Yup! Wayward bags met up with us at Manoir de la Malartrie, Vezac, France near La Roq Gageac. Leyla Jo and Hal from A Path through the Garden travel to Rome, visit the Pantheon, enjoy the lovely Hotel San Anselmo, and never have a problem with luggage. Considering how often this does happen perhaps it’s more realistic to write that in? Dordogne 2013 Friday 0517 018 I’ll have to take that into consideration. Mme Ouaffa at the Manoir de la Malartrie was so kind and helpful and as it happens all worked out well.

La Roq Gageac nestles alongside the Dordogne River and has for centuries. Facing South, earliest man found the rock maintained the sun’s heat and provided warmth. They dug into the rock, forming cave like living areas and eventually built stone  homes that backed into the rock. You can see the row of rock houses set inside the cliff below.

Dordogne 2013 Friday 0517 La Roque Gageac Dordogne 


Perhaps the most beautiful rock gardens were those Mme Ouaffa tended at the manoir.  There was a wonderful calmness walking the garden  where  the playful sound of the water fountain added to the garden’s tranquility.


Of course, I find gardens remarkable places of sanctuary and respite.  A Path through the Garden releases July 3 … the awaited sequel to award-winning Nardi Point. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to share the continuation of Nardi Point! PathGarden_Cover

Our next stop is east of the Dordogne … all the way to Entraygues-sur-Truyere to the Sweet French Cottages. Entraygues means “between the waters” and sits at the confluence of the Lot and Truyere rivers.

Without any more worries about luggage, we’re making good time and enjoying our path!

Ahhhhh the sweet writing life …

ImageI met with a reader of Nardi Point over a coffee recently. She’d finished the story and enjoyed it even though when she first began she had mixed feelings. “What do I have in common with a gal who drives a Porsche sports car and wears designer clothing?” she’d asked.

But then as she read deeper, she bonded with Leyla Jo and the story became a richer and more satisfying read. This wonderful reader took notes and wanted to explore the characters and gain insight into their motivations. This level of interest is what makes writers’ hearts soar!

And here’s where our meeting gave me chills. This dear reader had selected two quotes that especially rang true to her. These were the same words that as I’d written them, I respected their meaning fully. I guess you’d say I was inspired to write them. And to receive affirmation that these words had been received was amazing. I thank and honor this dear reader with a very happy heart.

I’d love to share any feedback readers would like to share about Nardi Point! I welcome your comments! Feedback helps shape and mold current stories and the issues the stories explore.

And, A Path through the Garden, the sequel to Nardi Point, releases July 3, 2013! I’ve heard from others that they are waiting anxiously to follow Leyla Jo’s story and what comes next. You won’t have long to wait!

Story Soundtracks …

While waiting on edits from my publisher for A Path through the Garden, I’m gathering storylines, plots, characters, and locales for my newest work in progress. To be completed toward the end of the year … its working title is Yellow Pansies in a Blue Cobalt Jar.

The story involves new main characters, Rhose Guerin, a fifty-something Bibliotherapist and her husband, Bruns. Rhose has extensive clinical experience and a thriving private therapy practice. Bibliotherapy utilizes novels, movies, poetry, and music lyrics to help treat clients. So I wondered about what soundtrack/background music might work with this latest story. Many writers select a collection of tunes specific to each story. The music can inspire moods, pivotal scenes, and emotions.

The other night, Thom and I visited the North Carolina Museum of Art for Valentine’s Day. The museum cafe, Iris, presented a wonderful three-course menu, flowers, excellent local organic chocolate, a live music combo, and photos to commemorate the evening. The special Paths through the garden PRevent menu featured a guided tour participants could follow before or after the meal, to view art associated with love. And of course, we had a photo taken before character  Laurinda Elliot of Nardi Point’s favorite painting, A Garden Parasol.

I wondered what might be playing in the background as we enjoyed the evening. Something joyful and fun and I tried to grab at titles and match them with tunes. Not easy to remember titles! For Rhose’s story, I have two selected already but it’ll be interesting to see what others may bubble up.

I like inserting audio into a story, as one more sense to layer into the world my characters inhabit. I’ll have to see what tunes synchronistically come my way as this new story develops!

Balancing the inner creative process with reality!

Writing is a balance between the inner creative process and reality. When I’m writing from the inside, I find affirmation visits me in surprising ways.

My first novel, Nardi Point, sat in my head for a good while, like most first novels seem to do. In the very first stages of story inception, I felt drawn to explore how past cultures led to where we are now.  When writing a first novel there is the luxury of time. No deadlines, polite reminders from agents or publishers, just time to write and yes, rewrite that first chapter. The story idea, the characters, and setting build slowly until suddenly a rush to paper pushes it out into the physical world.

I write what I like to read. Stories where I learn things along the way are especially satisfying, whether that be a travel location, archaeology, alternative medicine, the metaphysical world, or art and design. I honor and take cues from synchronicity, those seemingly haphazard events that take on special meaning for me … if only I listen and pay attention.

Ask writers about their dreams and you’ll be enlightened at how often that world pollinates a manuscript. For me, a dream of two words, NARDI POINT crystalized my story. The words appeared against a white background. Maybe it was a page, but I couldn’t identify that at the time. Of course I Googled it for hours without an answer.

I’ve always been one to pay attention to dreams and right-brain messages, but was still without insight to the entry. It couldn’t be found on Google, then what was it? What could it be? I tried an anagramming strategy, rearranging the letters any way possible and the results stopped me dead. The letters formed INDIAN PORT, exactly what my story would involve, artifacts from nearly 10,000 years ago from the Native American Woodland Period.

And how did Nardi Point correspond to Indian port?  Why certainly it sounded like a housing subdivision, surely that was it. Nardi Point would be a new subdivision where artifacts were discovered on a home building site during construction. The surge was growing. A subdivision would be where a young couple might go to find a new home, perhaps their first home. Home construction is notoriously pressure-producing particularly, on a young couple. How would it affect their relationship? Their lives? Would the past, bury their future?

But the encouragement for the story was not over yet, not by far. I chanced upon a small appeal for volunteers discreetly positioned in the local papers. Where were these volunteers needed? At the State Archaeology offices. I opened my cell and with adrenalin-fueled enthusiasm pushed the numbers. And what do you suppose my project at the State Archaeology office was? Not only cataloging Eighteenth Century ceramics … but washing and preparing sherds of Native American Paleo-Indian artifacts … over 10,000 years old! I processed these sherds in my very own hands!

So then words poured out from the inner world and met real constraints. What would my story’s physical “container” be, meaning how many chapters? How many scenes? How many words? What about genre? The story couldn’t be Romance because there was a greater story about conserving prehistoric archaeological sites and discovering a cultural heritage, than just gal-meets-guy and lives happily ever after. I analyzed and overthought it all, but the momentum couldn’t be stopped. And finally, the manuscript was completed, that first dirty draft. I still struggled with loving it, getting chills when I worked on it, and at the same time having my critical editor-self cast disparaging comments when I faltered. It was my first story after all.

Then came the magical, fairy tale, third-times-the-charm event. We visited an upscale golf club subdivision near Charlotte, North Carolina. Part of our visit included a promotional sales event for the golf community’s subdivision.  Accompanied by the realtor sales agent, we walked past a section of woods where yellow plastic tape had been posted. I felt chills. I looked at the wooded area and asked the realtor, knowing what he would say, why the land had been posted. His response? “Aw, some Indian artifacts were found there. We can’t build there. These things happen in North Carolina.” My head swam, my heart flipped against my chest, and I submitted my manuscript the very next morning!

The small signs along the way gave me the confidence to start the Nardi Point sequel, Paths through the Garden.  I look forward to many flower-filled meadows coming into my writing life!

A good story like a new pair of shoes needs a great “sole”

My work-in-progress, Paths through the Garden is the sequel to Nardi Point. Leyla Jo Piper and Hal Jared are on a personal quest which leads them to Rome, Italy. I’m here today doing research and fact checking. They are exploring the greatest archaeological dig of all times … ancient Rome.

Leyla Jo’s favorite historic site is the Pantheon. From the moment she walked into the amazing space, she felt the spiritual significance. Originally dedicated to all Roman gods or Pantheon, it has long since been transformed into a Catholic Church.

As I “walked” with Leyla Jo I found these great brogue shoes and couldn’t resist! But all good stories must have a great “sole” so what could I do?

Leyla Jo’s Pineneedle woven basket

One of Leyla Jo’s most cherished belongings is the small, artisan basket hand-crafted from North Carolina longleaf pine needles. The beautful basket features a small pine cone handle at the top and open weaving at the bottom. The basket was the only piece of her heritage, one lovingly passed to her by Aunt Beatrice.

“Will anyone come for me?” Leyla Jo asks.

Aunt Beatrice takes a small round basket made of coiled dried pine needles and places it into her small hands. Leyla Jo knows she is being given a treasure, even then, and recognizes it’s a connection, a link to another time. Aunt Beatrice hastily wipes away tears, the only tears she remembers the dear old woman shedding, then pulls her protectively into her arms. The summer sun edges down behind the pine-covered foothills of Robeson County. That night, Leyla Jo’s small makeshift bed tucked next to Aunt Beatrice’s room, becomes comfortably permanent. She loves the safety its warm pinecone patchwork quilt provides.

Whatever Leyla Jo placed into the basket was special. “She went to the book shelf, removed the small coiled pine needle basket and sat on her practitioner’s bench with it. Her spirit leapt as she opened the basket. Three pottery pieces rested inside. She reverently lifted each one and her heart beat faster as she relived the spell.”

Barb Dedrickson of Somethin Country in Clay Center, Nebraska, talked to me about baskets like the one Leyla Jo loves. If you enjoy collecting beautiful handcrafted objects, contact Barb at