Love In Action





a column by

Elizabeth Hill

Elizabeth Hill is an artist, teacher, nurse, and mother of three grown daughters.

Her early work in pediatric nursing inspired her international award-winning sculptures, which led her to live at a spiritual and eco-conscious community called Findhorn in Scotland for four years.

There her art became community-based, which ultimately led her back into nursing.

She now finds the two careers have merged in her teaching as well as creating therapeutic products for people with minimal mobility.

Read Love in Action 2016


And Love in action 2018



Resurrecting The Grail

Oh Gilded Cauldron!

Teach me your many secrets

Keep for me Wonder.

In 1995, I was in the process of building The Grail, a seven feet tall sculpture gilded with white and yellow leaf. It was the third of seven autobiographical works—each inspired by family photos—in a series called The American Votives. The series itself came to me through writing short poems, which were composed in the syllabic rhythms of haiku. These poems served as maquettes for each of the sculptures. 

Throughout that spring, I had made and cast all the components of what would become The Grail. By the beginning of summer, my house in Philadelphia had sold, and much of what I’d collected over nearly thirty years was either given away, sold, or carefully stored. 

I’d been offered a semester as visiting artist at SUNY Binghamton University in upper state New York. Though plans beyond Binghamton were unclear, I had learned to trust the guidance I was receiving through making sculpture.

At the time, I was reading Grail pilgrimage stories from various cultures, and I became fascinated by the similarities of these mystical journeys from around the world. They were, in fact, archetypal depictions of a seeker’s process toward enlightenment. The Grail represents a cross-road, a sacred vessel of magic, rebirth, spiritual transformation, alchemy, and feminine power. 

With all that was happening at that time, it was clear my life was at a cross-road. Happily, two of my students from UArts volunteered to help me in finishing the large sculpture. 

Since I would be leaving for Binghamton in August, I moved into my parents’ house for most of the summer. There, I set up an outdoor studio in the backyard, where the students and I gilded and patinated surfaces. 

Oh Mighty Vessel!

Let me share your sweet warm nest

Take my drink from you.

Neighborhood children became curious as to what the sculpture would look like when all the parts were put together, and suggested we have a party when the gilding and patination were completed. 

Both the students and I were very excited by their suggestion. We decided to call the event “Raising The Grail.” I notified the local newspaper. They interviewed me, set a date, and wrote an article inviting readers to join in on the fun.

The week before the event, my Mom—who was 87yo—and I prepared favors, foods, drinks, and readings for each person who volunteered to participate. She and I were like a couple of giggling teenagers as we wrapped up mini plastic grails, each containing a tiny rose quartz stone. 

The top piece of The Grail was a large gilded lotus blossom; a symbol of life. It took two people to carry it, and also two ladders to raise it up and secure it onto the fingertips of the female figures. Both “raisers” would simultaneously climb up the ladders while holding the not-so-lightweight lotus.

The big day came, accompanied by torrential rain. Our little processional event was to start at 4pm. Friends and neighbors called, asking if we would cancel. However, because I was so completely convinced that this event was meant to happen, my answer to each call was, “The rain will stop long enough for us to raise The Grail.”

People started arriving, most of them under umbrellas. But, I kid you not, fifteen minutes before we started, the rain suddenly stopped! 

Several helpers brought the pieces outside and assembled them all but the lotus blossom. One of the neighbors was documenting the sculpture’s vertical growth with his movie camera, As he did that, the sun suddenly poked out of the grayness and a beautiful beam of light illuminated the entire not-yet-complete Grail! 

Oh Mystical Cup!

Help me see beyond today

Shine a light for me.

As each volunteer moved into prescribed places, the bagpipe marching music commenced, as our mini procession started up the driveway. It was led by two neighbor children carrying red roses and white lilies, symbolizing the cycles of life. Two other children carried the aprons—embroidered with a four season design—that would ceremoniously be put on the two sculptural figures as a blessing of the natural order. Next came an adult carrying sparkling Rose’ and pink lemonade for toasting the sculpture, while another carried pink salmon, representing wisdom.

The young son of dear old friends enthusiastically volunteered to carry a loaf of bread, representing sustenance. And, through many years afterward as he grew into a handsome 6’3” man; anytime we would meet, he would flash his fabulous smile and refer to himself as “the bread man!” 

Bringing up the rear of the procession was the gilded lotus blossom, carried by two of my childhood friends. Each of these symbolic items were then received by Mom, who arranged them on a table and gave each carrier one of the favors she and I had prepared. 

As the gilded lotus blossom approached the sculpture, one of the student assistants and I ascended the two ladders. Just as the lotus blossom carriers were about to hand the gilded lotus to us, the bagpipe music stopped, and was replaced with Aaron Copeland’s rousing “Fanfare to The Common Man!”

As the music reached its triumphal heights, the gilded lotus was placed and secured onto the fingertips of the two figures. As the music waned to its finish, we respectfully tied the two aprons onto the figures and then came down the ladders. 

It was grand, even “over the top!” What I loved most was that everyone was mingling and having fun while they enjoyed the food. This first event opened my eyes to the importance and potentials of community-based art to be inclusive, healing, and community-building. 

It changed the trajectory of my life and sculpture work. Though I hadn’t yet realized it, my heart was aware that my spirituality was expanding, but my ego had not yet understood that the two would eventually need to integrate.

For the next few years, I continued to make sculpture within the competitive gallery system, even though community involvement became increasingly necessary for me. Eventually, I left the gallery system entirely. 

In 1998, while living in Scotland, several of my large sculptures were traveling around the US in an exhibition based on Art in healthcare. There was a road accident, and two of my sculptures were badly broken. One was The Grail.

Recently, it’s become clear that my life is again at new-and-exciting cross-road. The time has come to repair this sculpture, knowing that my next steps will become clearer through reconnecting to my old wise and magical friend, The Grail. 

Ruminations From the Yellow Brick Road

...Birds fly over the rainbow, why then oh why can’t I. 

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why oh why can’t I?

~ Dorothy

This summer marks the 80th Anniversary of MGM’s film premier of The Wizard Of Oz. The original novel titled “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written in 1900 by L. Frank Baum, who later wrote fourteen Oz adventure sequels. Baum’s stories were written as allegories. His characters, environments, and situations each symbolize deeper meanings and conditions of human experience.

Year after year, I have gone out of my way to watch The Wizard of Oz on TCM. Every time I see it, I come away with more questions, amazements, and a deep feeling of gratitude for this timeless and magical what my youngest daughter would call a heartwarming melodrama.

Both the book and movie have generated countless elaborate theories regarding the symbolism of the story. The range of theories span the gamut of political, spiritual, atheist, psychological, even monetary.

For instance, some folks interpret The Wizard of Oz as depicting the downfall of the Populist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. In it, Dorothy would symbolize the common citizen, Tin Man, the industrial workers, and Scarecrow, the farmers. The Cowardly Lion stood for one particular politician who was seen by many as all talk and no action. The Wizard was thought to represent the President during that time, namely, Grover Cleveland or William McKinley. The Yellow Brick Road stood for the gold standard, and Oz which is an abbreviation for the ounce may have represented the standard for measuring gold, while Emerald City represented the dollar. The Wicked Witch of the East was considered to be a stand-in for the banking industry; and her sister, The Wicked Witch of the West, who met her demise by water,was thought to be drought. This theory, first introduced in the 1960s, has been mostly discredited, though some still hold to it.

Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

~Dorothy Gale


Through the years, many Christians have interpreted the Wizard of Oz as an allegory of faith, sometimes referencing it in sermons. In this version, The Yellow Brick road stands for the path to enlightenment, on which the characters encounter good and evil, temptation, and sin as they advance toward The Emerald City, aka Heaven. Some Christians interpret Oz, in its entirety, as Heaven. And, in the end, the Wicked Witch of the West is killed by water, suggesting baptism.

I’ll get you, my Pretty, and your little dog too!

~The Wicked Witch of the West

Ironically, there is also an atheist interpretation that utilizes the imagery of the religious allegory, but interprets them in an opposite direction. For example, the Wizard representing God here is not real. Behind the curtain, there is just a man. He pretends to be concocting spiritual magic, but it is all a scam. In fact, the original novel was more aligned to this version of Oz as a place of duplicity and illusion. Further, in the book version, the Emerald City only appeared green because the Wizard required that everyone wear green eyeglasses. When the original book was published, some fundamental religious groups tried to get it banned for suggesting that human gifts are manifested from an internal source instead of being given by God.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

The great and wonderful Oz has spoken.

~ Wizard of Oz

Additionally, the film has been thought to be a feminist allegory, as the only characters that have any power in Oz, namely Dorothy and the Witches are female. All the males are missing something they crave; such as a Wizard without power, a Scarecrow with no brain, a Tin Man without a heart, and a Cowardly Lion lacking courage. To me, this is very interesting, because L. Frank Baum was deeply involved in the suffragette movement. His Mother-in-Law, Matilda Joslyn Gage, was a colleague of Susan B. Anthony. Baum not only served as secretary of the local Suffrage club, he also edited a newspaper that strongly supported the women’s rights movement.

You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.

~ Glinda the Good Witch

Personally, my love of the film is mostly in sync with a psychoanalytic Jungian interpretation. Here, Dorothy is a dreamy and orphaned innocent on a quest to self-actualization. She desires to transform her wounded inner child into one that is healthy and self-sufficient. It is a coming of age story to which most of us can relate. Toto, whose name means “everything,” is with her as she embarks on her journey to Oz, and also as she returns home. Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion stand as male archetypes within Dorothy, representing her mind, her heart, and her power. The Wizard is an archetype of the Mediator, full of spiritual bluster. Glinda, the Good Witch is the archetype of the Mother; Toto, the Trickster; and The Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys, are what Jung called the Shadow, a repressed and possibly dark side of the young seeker’s personality. Interestingly, it is The Wicked Witch of the West who proves to be Dorothy’s most important teacher because she is the one who had the biggest effect on her soul’s expansion. As Dorothy prepares to leave Oz, the last of the three companions she to whom she bids farewell is Scarecrow. The quote below tells us that Dorothy has learned the importance of keeping a healthy balance between her mind and her heart. 

Scarecrow, I think I’ll miss you most of all.

~ Dorothy to Scarecrow

Apparently, Salmon Rushdie is such a big fan of The Wizard of Oz, he wrote a book on it. In it he speaks of the weakness of adults in this story, such as Auntie Em and Uncle Henry who were unable to save Toto from impending demise. Also, the powerlessness of The Wizard made it so that Dorothy had to do her own growing up, while, in the end, The Wicked Witch “grew down” as she melted.

I'm melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!

~The Wicked Witch of the West

In my way of thinking, there is a metaphoric Yellow Brick Road for each of us on which we can choose to grow and expand our humanity, or not. That said, The Wizard of Oz remains as relevant today as it was in 1900. It invites us to open our hearts, minds, and spirits to treasure and care for ourselves, each other, and the Home on which we all live.

There is no place like Home.


Photo Credits:

Poster, MGM:

Oil Can, Kate Hill Cantrill

A Bowl of Cherries

Life should always come with hot fudge, whipped cream,

and a cherry on top.

~A.D. Posey

At first glance, it made me smile. Everything about its squares-and-circles composition felt simple, calm, essential. Though I scanned the gallery that was full of photos and paintings created by three individual artists, this little wabi sabi bowl holding five cherries had already taken its place in my heart.

I decided to purchase it. However, before I could hand the cash to the artist, my dear friend of seventy-one years—whom I was visiting that weekend—had already paid for it! Looking at her with surprise, she grinned and said, “It’s your birthday present, just early!” How super sweet is that?

She and I both have our birthdays in December. I’m delighted to have a few months to enjoy this beautiful gift as I approach a new finer vintage. For now, the photo sits on my bedroom bureau, making it the first thing I see when I wake up. 

I continue to be mesmerized by the calm and quiet composition of the five cherries being held in a beautifully imperfect round bowl. Contained in a solid black stable square frame which not only presents the minimal colors and forms, it also grounds and protects the elusive roundness of the bowl. When I squint my eyes, the shadow underneath the cherries begins to look like a hand puppet of an animal head many of us might have projected onto a wall when we were kids.

Cherries—in a variety of cultures—have come to symbolize immortality, youth, good fortune, femininity, beauty, and also the cycles of life. In religious art, the Christ child is sometimes depicted holding cherries, symbolizing a sweet spirit and the sweetness of Paradise.

Cherries can also be symbols of healing, as they are well known for their health benefits. Both tart and sweet cherries are full of antioxidants, which help prevent heart disease, cancers, and many other diseases. Tart cherries also contain melatonin which can improve sleep, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. More than all other fruits, tart cherries reduce inflammation that can relieve arthritic pain, gout, and balancing the body’s pH.

Throughout my life, I’ve been strongly drawn to symbols. Every sculpture I’ve created is based on symbols, as they are a visual language that are often more universal than words. For this reason, symbols have power. They can create order, and bring people together. Conversely, symbols can also be instruments of division, fear, and violence. 

Symbols of fear—and its offspring, hate—have recently become more visible across our land. Divisive rhetoric from certain elected leaders also spreads through the internet and social media. It most certainly is no accident that domestic terrorism continues to escalate in our now assault-weapon-infested America. We must not let this become “normal.” 

I implore those of us who treasure diversity and embrace the notion that all people are created equal to ban together to do whatever we can to quell this travesty. If we are complacent now, are we not part of the problem instead of the solution?

It may seem a bit trivial to some that I celebrate this photo of a bowl of cherries as a tool to keep hope, beauty, joy, and kindness alive in my mind and heart for the days ahead. If each of us hope to be part of building a better, peaceful, more sustainable future for our world, we will need to grow and nurture new expansive Love energy in our hearts in order to overcome the tired old dense energy of Fear. 



          ~ Emily Dickinson

Cherries of the night are riper

Than the cherries plucked at noon 

Gather to your fairy piper 

When he pipes his magic tune: 

Merry, merry, 

Take a cherry; 

Mine are sounder, 

Mine are rounder, 

Mine are sweeter 

For the eater

Under the moon. 

And you’ll be fairies soon. 

In the cherry plucked at night, 

With the dew of summer swelling, 

There’s a juice of pure delight, 

Cool, dark, sweet, divinely smelling. 

Merry, merry, 

Take a cherry; 

Mine are sounder, 

Mine are rounder, 

Mine are sweeter 

For the eater 

In the moonlight. 

And you’ll be fairies quite. 

When I sound the fairy call, 

Gather here in silent meeting, 

Chin to knee on the orchard wall, 

Cooled with dew and cherries eating. 

Merry, merry, 

Take a cherry; 

Mine are sounder, 

Mine are rounder, 

Mine are sweeter. 

For the eater 

When the dews fall.

And you’ll be fairies all.

Original Photo by Gary Bergel

Photo of original by Kate Hill Cantrill

You and Me

There’s a land that I see

where the children are free...

~Bruce Hart

July 4th, 2019 weekend has now past. Across this land, Americans of many diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, lifestyles, sexual orientations, abilities, and cultural  backgrounds celebrated the birth of our Nation. Like many other countries around the world, our United States were formed through conflict and bloodshed that nearly annihilated the Indigenous people who first inhabited this land.

For some years now, my daily practice has been to consciously notice and appreciate simple things that bring joy into my life. Though I must keep informed about what is happening in our country and around the world, lately it’s become essential to quell anxieties and fears that inevitably arise by caring for and strengthening myself in body, mind and spirit, in order to increase my capacity for gratitude and hope. 

I think many would agree that our county’s current state of affairs is different than during the fifties and sixties. However, the underlying fears, mistrust—and hatred that festers and is escalating among our people now—reminds me of those long ago turbulent times.

Have we Americans not made any significant progress toward unity, equality, justice for all, embracing diversity, and welcoming those who have escaped horrendous circumstances and risked everything in their desperate though legal right to petition for a better life here in the USA? 

The crisis at our southern border is a shameful travesty, with families torn apart—many permanently—and encaged in dangerously overcrowded squaller. It seems to me that systemized intentional cruelty does nothing to make America greater. In fact, it diminishes us all.

I refuse to succumb to fear and chaos that currently threatens our democracy, and potentially even our very existence on this planet. The tasks ahead in building a more loving and sustainable way of life will most surely require that humans evolve into a higher consciousness.

We are here to awaken from our

illusion of separateness.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

I envision Hope as an armature on which a better tomorrow can be created. Perhaps too, Hope can be manifested and nurtured through acts of kindness—both individually and collectively—to help those in need.

No act of Kindness,

no matter how small,

is ever wasted.


If we really love this nation as the land of the free and the home of the brave, now is the time to join together in preserving, sustaining, and expanding the Soul of America.

Free to Be...You and Me  ~The New Seekers

There's a land that I see where the children are free

And I say it ain't far to this land from where we are

Take my hand, come with me, where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we'll live

In a land where the river runs free

In a land through the green country

In a land to a shining sea

And you and me are free to be you and me

I see a land bright and clear, and the time's comin' near

When we'll live in this land, you and me, hand in hand

Take my hand, come along, lend your voice to my song

Come along, take my hand, sing a song

For a land where the river runs free

For a land through the green country

For a land to a shining sea

For a land where the horses run free

And you and me are free to be you and me

Every boy in this land grows to be his own man

In this land, every girl grows to be her own woman

Take my hand, come with me where the children are free

Come with me, take my hand, and we'll run

To a land where the river runs free

To a land through the green country

To a land to a shining sea

To a land where the horses run free

To a land where the children are free

And you and me are free to be

And you and me are free to be

And you and me are free to be you and me

Songwriters: Bruce Hart/Stephen Lawrence

Links for Donations:

The Hills of Nova Scotia

“No matter where I roam, 

Nova Scotia will always be my home.”


Every summer it happened, and every summer I tried again, though my efforts were always for naught. We were approaching the Nova Scotia border at Amherst after two long days of our parents driving the six of us north from New Jersey in our way-too-small, pale green, forward-backward 1950‘s Studebacker. It was there that all three of my brothers scrambled to stretch an arm as far as possible out an open window in competition with each other to be the first to arrive in “Novie!”

Of course, being the youngest and stuck in the middle back seat, I was always out of reach of the front windows though I still felt compelled to join in the game!

We’d get out of the car to walk around a bit at the Welcome Center, there greeted by a Piper in full tartan regalia, playing bagpipes. That sound transported me to a far away time and place, making my heart race as if it recognized Home.  

The excitement at the border charged us up for the final two hours ahead on the Sunrise Trail to Westville, where Grandma and Grandpa Ross lived. 

As we turned into the unpaved road in front of their farmhouse, the air became full of lusciousness from Grandma’s kitchen. Every day, she made fresh bread and warm, moist, fluffy biscuits that—even before they were slathered with fresh butter and black strap molasses—would make us all drool. 

On the porch, Grandpa would be waiting for us on his rocking chair, or his hammock that was tied up between two trees across the dirt road in front of the house.

On the property there was a big red barn, a henhouse, and a shabby old garage that housed an ancient Model T Ford, whose crank had long ago robbed Grandpa of the top half of one of his thumbs. I can still remember how that garage smelled of old dry leather, mouse droppings, and dust. 

One day, when my brother Don was eight or nine years old, Grandpa offered to help him learn how to target practice with a bebe gun. Just then a bird perched itself on the roof of the barn, which appeared far enough away from where they were standing so as not to cause harm to the bird or the barn. Don was a total novice at such things, so, as instructed, he took aim and pulled the trigger. To his utter shock and horror, the bird fell to the ground, dead. Grandpa was as surprised as Don, for whom it was an unexpected life lesson, hard learned.

Our two older brothers, Ross and Dave, spent most of our vacation at our Aunt Lilla’s and Uncle Albert’s farm—a half hour drive from Westville—in a place called Black River. The boys helped around the farm, chopping and stacking wood for the stove and fireplace, and also riding with Uncle Albert as he delivered the daily mail to the area farmers.

Uncle Albert was a tall, ruggedly handsome man with huge hands that were always working. He chewed tobacco, loved to play cribbage in the evenings, often did the hog-calling at the weekend Ceilidh dances, and was the traveling barber for many of the local farm boys.

One day, Uncle Albert was delivering the mail while all of us Hill kids were visiting. Along with our cousins, we all climbed into the back of the pickup truck, brother Dave seated behind the driver’s side of the cab. All the roads were unpaved, so the old pickup bumpity-bumped through the entire route. Without warning, Albert spat his chewing tobacco out the window. It landed smack dab on Dave’s face!

Aunt Lilla—who was my Mom’s younger sister and the second of the five Ross daughters—was a school teacher with a wry sense of humor and a strict code of rules for us all to follow. She, like Grandma, made fresh bread every day in her wood stove, and got water from a pump next to the kitchen sink. She grew all the vegetables they ate as well as jarred and ‘put up’ enough in the cold cellar for the long winters. 

Every morning, Aunt Lilla would wake us up by walking through the upstairs hallway hollering “U-Up Time, U-Up Time” with a sing-songy emphasis on “Up”! We’d all get dressed and oftentimes slide down the steps on our dungeree-d bums so as not to miss breakfast! 

Everyone on the farm—including their three daughters and any visiting cousins—had chores assigned like milking the cows, tending the chickens, gathering eggs and the daily veggies for supper. 

Until sometime in the fifties, the house had limited indoor plumbing. I remember when Uncle Albert finally gave in to having an indoor bathroom put in. To him, the outhouse was the proper place for all unsanitary business—not inside the house—but the women won. 

There was a water hole on the farm where we and our cousins often went swimming. Standing on the one-car bridge that spanned the river, the water appeared as dark as night, for which the area was named. There were lots of fish as well as muck and slime on the bottom, and we’d have walk through the cow pasture to and from there. 

I once walked barefoot through the pasture, accidentally planting one foot squarely into a fresh, warm “cow pie” that oozed up between my toes! While my brothers teased me and laughed out loud, I ran the rest of the way up to the house so I could wash my foot off with the outside water pump.

Sometimes, when we returned from the water hole, we’d have leeches on us. There was no big fuss made about this. Uncle Albert simply held a hot match stick to the bloodsuckers, and they would just fall off. 

Playing hide and seek in the barn with my big brothers was fun because Ross was so easy to find when the hay made him sneeze and sneeze! 

As we got older, our family and all our cousins’ families would rent cabins down at Toney River, the beautiful beaches and fishing wharfs on the Northumberland Strait near the town of Pictou. Instead of sand, the beaches were are covered with small rocks, the water was clear, and the waves were gentle. Often, we’d see schools of dolphins out farther in the deeper waters. 

“Smell the sea, and feel the sky,

let your soul and spirits fly.”

~Van Morrison

As we promised both our Mother and Father many years ago, they were laid to rest in their beloved Pictou County, Nova Scotia. 

The last time my brothers and I were together in Novie was more than a decade ago. The four of us have led very different lives, two out west and two on the east coast. Like many other families, we sometimes disagree on various topics. Quite recently, all four of us spent a wonderful few days together celebrating a wedding in Phoenix, Arizona, where Dave and his family have lived for over fifty years. 

All four of us Hills are now in our seventies. I think perhaps there is one thing on which we can all agree—Nova Scotia feels like Home.

“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs

and returns home to find it.”

~George A. Moore

Photo Credits:—

Sepia collage — Emily Cantrill 

Don, Dave, Elizabeth, Ross —Stephen Hill

Cup and saucer — Kate Hill Cantrill


Why fit in when you were born to stand out.

~ Dr. Seuss

Throughout my years in nursing, children with special needs have enriched my life in ways I could not have anticipated. Being a home care nurse, I’ve cared for many youngsters who not only have special needs, but are also medically very fragile. Unlike nurses in hospitals, we get to know our patients in their homes and schools over many years. Essentially, we participate in each child’s growing up process.

I’ve noticed that many kids with special needs tend to live closer to the spirit world than most “regular” kids. I’ve watched youngsters follow unseen “visitors” around a room, often smiling and sometimes interacting with the being. Kids with profound cognitive and physical conditions such as blindness, deafness, paralysis, or combinations of these conditions sometimes act like “energetic barometers”. These children—often non-verbal—tense up when approached by someone who is very negative, angry, or mean spirited. Conversely, these same kids laugh, get excited, or calm down in the presence of someone who is friendly and open-hearted.

As I now move toward retirement from nursing, I work only with one child. Like many other children who live with profound differences and medical fragility, she is 100% Love. Though not verbal in a traditional way, she communicates with—what I would call—a language of Love using sounds and body language that takes us so-called normal folks patience and empathy to understand. 

This beautiful preteen has a way of eliciting—from those around her—better versions of themselves. Like other kids with special needs, she is not to be pitied or ignored for her differences. Rather, she is to be treasured as the Heart and Soul of her family, her caregivers, and anyone else who takes the time to really know her.

With these thoughts in mind, I’d like to introduce Chelsea Werner, an extraordinary woman who was born with Down’s Syndrome. Though she did not suffer from medical fragilities that often accompany this condition, doctors told her parents that she would have low muscle tone throughout her life, and that there would not be much they could do about that. 

Nevertheless, in an attempt to help their daughter build strength and coordination, her parents enrolled Chelsea—at age four—into a toddler gymnastics class. 

Chelsea really liked gymnastics, and her parents noticed that the exercises were increasing her muscle tone. By age eight, Chelsea was training for Special Olympics. She loved being part of a team and performing for people. After a few years, her parents thought Chelsea would benefit from more advanced training. 

I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.


They researched local gymnastic facilities looking for a trainer who might be interested in coaching someone with Down’s Syndrome. That’s when they met Dawn Pombo. 

A woman with high expectations, Dawn coached Chelsea in same way she trained all other gymnasts. Coupled with her unbounded determination, Chelsea proved to have more than enough dedication and chutzpah to endure endless hours of practice to master each new routine. 

Eventually, the gymnastics program where Chelsea lived was dropped by Special Olympics. But that didn’t stop Chelsea. She started competing with USA Gymnastics, where her training—still under the tutelage of Dawn Pombo—became much more intense.

On the National level, Chelsea continued to compete with Special Olympics and won the US National Championship four consecutive years. She also continued training and competing with her non-differently-abled teammates in USA Gymnastics. 

With time, hard work, and diligence, Chelsea added two World Championships to her gymnastic accomplishments.

Now in her twenty-seventh year, Chelsea has found a place for herself in modeling as well, and has walked the runway twice during New York Fashion Week. With her enthusiasm and gregarious nature, Chelsea continues to inspire people everywhere. 

Chelsea has certainly made a dent in outdated misconceptions that still exist in society regarding people who are born different. She is an outstanding example of what can be accomplished when expectations are high, open-hearted and open-minded support systems are in place, and opportunity is available.

And though she be little, she is fierce. 


Please enjoy getting acquainted with Chelsea by clicking these two links:


A friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.


I admit it was mostly my fault. My friend Michelle and I had cooked up the whole ridiculous idea which—to us at fourteen—seemed like an exciting secret adventure even though it was a bit out of character for two goody-two-shoes girls like we were. In order to pull it off, she stayed overnight at my house. The house was very small, so to be allowed to have a friend stay over was, in itself, a very rare event.

It was warm outside that night. Michelle and I stayed in my room and pretended to be asleep until my parents settled down in their bedroom next to mine. Once Dad started snoring loudly enough to cover our whispers—sometime after two a.m.—Michelle and I tip-toed into the kitchen and filled up the hoods and pockets of our summer jackets with apples and oranges.

Our plan was to walk ten miles south to the town where two of our regional bused-in classmates lived—one boy named Rich—with whom Michelle was completely smitten, the other, a short-term crush for me.

Once ready with our fruit and flashlight, we snuck out the back door and into the night. Giggling much of the way, we crossed town, dodging in and out of hiding every time a car passed by. We successfully made it through the business district and nearly to the opposite end of town where we would get on the main thoroughfare- less than a mile and a half from where we started.

It was then that a police car pulled up next to us. The officer got out of his car and asked us what on earth we were doing, being out at that time of night! As he began to lecture us about the dangers of the night, I could see that his patrol car was rolling backwards down the slanted street where he caught us.

With a bit of sing-song teenage attitude I yelled, “Your car is running away!” Obviously embarrassed, he bolted to the vehicle, and managed to get inside to pull up the emergency brake. When he re-emerged, it was clear he was annoyed! He ordered us to get into the car, and then took us to the police station.

Michelle was totally silent, and her eyes fought back tears. Foolishly, I continued to act tough, answering every question the officers asked me with a chip on my shoulder.

Meanwhile, they called my Dad. It was three o’clock in the morning. Suddenly, I too, was scared.

Dad arrived a few minutes later, his hair askew, his face like stone, and his pajama pants sticking out from under his trousers. He spoke to the officers and thanked them for having picked us up.

To Michelle and to me, he said not one word.

Later in the morning, Michelle went home. Feeling guilty, she made up her own punishment by grounding herself for two weeks as she told her parents what we had done. I never did have a talk with Dad about that night. I just knew there would be no more sleepovers. Perhaps compared to my three older brothers, who were often reeking havoc of one sort or another, my one and only middle of the night mischief may have seemed tame. That said, the best result for Michelle and me was that our friendship had been sealed. From that day forward we had a story to tell: “We got arrested together!”

At eighteen, Michelle and Rich were married, and I was thrilled to be their bridesmaid. It was a match made for always and forever. They would still be together today had it not been that Rich suddenly passed away at age fifty, just after he and Michelle returned home from their oldest son’s wedding.

Now solidly in my seventies, I find that women friends have become more important to me than ever before. Though we all have the usual scratches and dents that come with aging, we do our best to get together—or at least stay in touch—as often as possible.

I have spent much of my life caring for children, many whose lives are shorter than most. These special kids have taught me that the length of time in a life is not nearly as important as the amount of Love that life has shared.

Michelle has been on my mind and close to my heart in recent days, as I just learned that she is now in hospice care. She has always been a shining example of someone who built a life jammed packed with Love. She gives and receives it freely with every breath.

It takes a long time to grow an old friend. ~John Leonard

My dear old friend, this one’s for you...

Dance Everybody Dance

“If spirit is the seed, dance is the water of its evolution.”

― Shah Asad Rizvi

We were teenagers at the time, and that evening the church hall was filled with people of all ages. My best friend and I didn’t know what to expect. We’d been invited there by a mutual friend who was a member of this Armenian congregation. As the unfamiliar music began, everyone came together, forming a large circle—each person linking pinkies with their neighbors—both right and left. Except for my friend and I, everyone else knew the words to the song being played, as well as the simple dance steps that were being demonstrated by a few of the people in the circle.

Gradually, we mastered the steps and came into sync with the rhythm. Though we couldn’t sing the Armenian words, we hummed along as the circle of pinkie-linked people gently danced forward in circular unison.

Each dance continued for several minutes, long enough to feel a sense of calmness and belonging with each new dance and song. Not only were the people welcoming, but so too were the dances.

Our small suburban home town included a number of Armenian families—most of whom were related to each other. Since no one talked about it then, I didn’t realize until more recent times that the Armenians of my parents’ generation had to escape a horrific genocide in their native country to find asylum here in America. It’s seems only natural that, once they arrived in this country, refugee friends and relatives would settle near each other like they did in the villages of their homeland. Looking back, I wonder if the folk dances they knew in Armenia might have taken on a different meaning after having survived their flight to safety?

At the time, the only other community-based dancing I was familiar with was Scottish square-dancing, which I’d enjoyed every summer when my family visited our relatives in Nova Scotia.

In later years, I learned about—and came to love—Sacred Dance. Dances from many cultures around the world came to Findhorn where I was living via guests that graciously shared their country’s folk dances, each adding to the community’s treasure trove of dancing diversity.

Many of these dances are circular, while others are linear, moving around the space like a snake with participants gently holding on to each other. These dances build community. They can deepen connections with the natural world and also generate healing energy that helps dancers connect body, mind, and spirit.

Dance, alone, can not heal all the darkness that lives—and too often tries to hide—in the minds and hearts of Humankind. However, I like to think it can be a vehicle for bringing diverse people together and perhaps raising consciousness when approached with an open heart.

“The dance is a poem of which each movement is a word.” —Mata Hari

At times, I’ve experienced circle dancing to be similar to a walking meditation- the words or humming, like a mantra. Most profoundly, I’ve found it heart-warming to greet each passing face as the circle continues round and round.

In these present times of unbridled fear, mistrust, and emboldened racism, I’d like to share the following lovely words as an invitation for each of us to join into the dance...

“Spirit is a child, the tune of dancing feet its lullaby.” ― Shah Asad Rizvi

Click on this link to view Sacred Dancing at Findhorn:


“The beginning is perhaps more difficult than anything else,

but keep heart, it will turn out all right.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

“It’s a squamous cell carcinoma,” said my Dermatologist over the phone. She explained that my lesion was small, and that larger ones usually itch. She also said that mine—because it had already gone through the top layer of dermis—could not simply be zapped off with liquid nitrogen, but would require a surgical procedure called Mohs.

Had that news come to me about a lesion somewhere on my body that is almost always covered with clothing, I would not have been the least bit anxious. But no—this little unwanted visitor had planted itself in the outer fold of my beloved, perfect, and fully visible—left earlobe.

As I write this, I confess to feeling a bit ashamed of how this news unearthed my ancient body issues that I thought had been fully processed years ago: As a teen and all through my twenties, I struggled with anorexia. It wasn’t until I was thirty and had started running long distances regularly that I began again to eat properly.

Mohs surgery is commonly used to remove basil cell and squamous cell skin cancers. It is a technique that involves scrapping off layers—one at a time—immediately examining the tissue samples under a microscope with each layer and repeating the process until all cancer cells are removed. Dermatologists that perform Mohs surgery are highly trained, usually by plastic surgeons.

The earliest appointment I could get for surgery was more than a month away. Though I was told that squamous cell cancers do not grow very fast, I was not sure just how long this lesion had been on my ear, nor how much cancerous growth might happen in a month.

About a week into that month of waiting for surgery, the lesion on my ear started itching–a lot!

As I often do when circumstances seem fuzzy to me—I meditate—this time focusing on my left ear. As I meditated, an image of the lesion sprouting roots came into my mind’s eye. In response, each day I continued to visualize sending love to these cancer cells—helping them on an energetic level to open up and receive extra oxygen—which might slow the chaotic overgrowth that is cancer.

Additionally, I’ve read that CBD oil can shrink and even heal cancer cells, so I started taking two doses a day. After only one day’s doses, the itching stopped completely! I felt encouraged by this.

On surgery day, my eldest daughter and I entered the Dermatology waiting room—filled with people of all ages—most of whom had bandages taped on them somewhere, apparently waiting for lab results. After signing in, we sat among the others. All afternoon, every ten or fifteen minutes, a person would be called to the surgical side of the office—later emerging with a bandage on some part of themselves.

The staff and the surgeon were fabulous, and worked together like a well-oiled machine.   One of them told me that seventy percent of people needing Mohs surgery are free of cancer cells after the first go-‘round under the knife! Everyone was upbeat and reassuring throughout the process—lacking only a catered buffet and lounge chairs for napping!

Ears, in general, have very little excess skin to lose gracefully if the cancer cells have gone deep into the underlying layers of dermis. Although I do not take lightly any type of cancer that people have to deal with, I admit to being relieved to learn I was one of the lucky seventy percent that only needed one surgical swipe.

As a teenager, my girlfriends and I would lay on the beach at high noon, having coated ourselves with a mixture of baby oil and iodine, essentially basting ourselves like a Thanksgiving turkey! My pale-peach-with-freckles skin never tanned—only burned, blistered, and peeled.

Even after scientists discovered that the protective Ozone layer was breaking down due to climate change, I continued to run long distances for many years in the blazing sun—having lathered only my face, neck, and shoulders with sunscreen. I ask myself now, “How is it that I never thought to protect my ears as well?”

In writing this, I hope to encourage others to be vigilant in protecting your skin—the body’s largest organ—from sun damage. For those of us who have ancient sun damage, please do yourselves a favor by seeing a Dermatologist regularly, especially if any mole, tag, or other skin lesion changes, or especially if it bleeds.

To celebrate my ear’s recovery, I’ve been window-shopping for groovy hand-made sterling silver ear cuffs.

I’ve changed my dressing three times so far, and my ear already looks like it will eventually heal with just a slight crack of a scar. And, like the precious Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi, the crack or imperfection in all things is the most beloved because that’s where the light gets in...

A Ladybug’s New Year

To what do I owe

the pleasure of your visit

little ladybug.

~David LaSpina

The first thing I see when I wake each morning is “My Gratitude Wall.” This wall, which faces me about four feet from the foot of my bed, brings me out from under the covers each new day with a smile in my heart. Every single item on this wall carries a personal story. Most are handmade, many given to me as gifts over the last couple of decades.

The sweet ladybug image you see here is my wall’s latest addition, given to me this Christmas. It is a trivet made from a drawing by a very dear child named Megan, who was just five years old when she drew it. 

The past few days, I’ve been mostly confined to bed due to a nasty virus. As I sit here writing, Megan’s lovely Ladybug—having arrived here in the nick of time to usher in 2019—fills my heart with a dose of hope for the days ahead. 

Unlike many other insects, ladybugs are friendly workers and protectors in gardens, as their favorite food are aphids and other bugs that destroy crops and flowers. Ladybugs’ life cycles are similar to butterflies. They begin as an egg, advance to a larva stage, and then to a pupae stage from which emerges a lovely adult ladybug. Once full grown, they can live up to a year, depending on their environment. 

Ladybugs’ symbolism is commonly considered to be good luck and prosperity in life and love. In spirit animal traditions, ladybugs are seen as messengers of promise that reconnect us to the joy of life. Ladybugs are thought to teach us how to release fear in order to restore faith, trust, and love in our spirit. Some people say that when a ladybug appears, it is asking us to get out of our own way and allow our spirit to guide us. 

Personally, this week’s time of rest-due-of-sickness feels like a cleansing of body, mind, and soul at the end of a most challenging year. For so many people around the world, 2018 was a year of confusion, injustice, mean-spiritedness—and for way too many—danger. Though these things continue to exist and fester in our world, I am heartened by new grass-roots and cooperative creative initiatives popping up in many areas around the world. 

For this New Year 2019, I’m placing my hopes on ladybugs and the entire natural world to help awaken humans who will actively participate in co-creating a more sustainable, kinder world for all beings. 

Until you spread your wings

you won’t know how far you can fly.

~Author Unknown

Image by Megan, photo credit- Kate Hill Cantrill

Click on this link for some lighthearted ladybug fun:

Choosing Hope

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perch in the soul

And sings the tune without the words

And never stops at all…

~Emily Dickinson

While in art school, I was assigned to make a sculpture inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Pandora, who was given a locked box and warned not to open it. Needless to say she did open it—releasing pestilence, sickness, death, and all manner of strife into the world—leaving only one thing inside it—Hope.

Not wanting to make something that would focus on the harshness of the Pandora myth, I carved an image of my hands in white alabaster—both palms together with fingers entwined. One finger lifts itself upward—free from the entwinement—as a personal symbol of Hope.

This sculpture showed me that my natural inclination as a nurse wanting to soothe and heal pain would also be the foundation of my work as an artist.

Small Seeds of Gratitude will produce a Harvest of Hope.

~Author Unknown

Last weekend, a dear friend invited me to a play in Philadelphia called “Every Brilliant Thing.” We entered the intimate theater-in-the round, no bigger than an average grammar school classroom. As we took our seats, a man—who turned out to be the play’s singular actor/narrator—gave us each a post-it note with a number and a word or words on them. He instructed us to speak out the words when our number was called.

The actor’s character was not introduced by name, which made the story seem as if it were his own autobiography. He was hilarious, and very much at ease, spontaneous, and welcoming with audience participation.

The stories were loaded with intense and ultimately tragic circumstances. His childhood had been often disrupted by the consequences of a loved one’s depression, despair, and even suicide.

Early in his life, this boy started writing down things that made him feel happy and for which he was grateful. Over time, this carefully numbered collection became obsessive as his “brilliant things” approached a million notes.

As did everyone who’d been given a post-it note as the play started, when he called the number on mine, I shouted out—“Batman!”

All of this was delivered with heartfelt empathy, compassion, life-affirming humor, and humility.

As the audience left the theater, the actor shook each person’s hand. On top of that, inside each playbill was an invitation to write and share our own “brilliant things.”

Downstairs, at the street level exit, people were writing their own Every Brilliant Thing on post-it notes—then sticking them among thousands of others that already covered the walls from prior audiences.

A statement from sums up the power of this play-

“We come away with more love for life.”

Both my friend’s family and mine—along with so many others—have had to deal with the mental health issues portrayed in this play. Both of us felt its message to our cores.

It seems to me, this is what the Arts do best. They can heal, enlighten, celebrate, honor, and humanize us in times of deep stress, grief, uncertainty, and even tragedy.

Perhaps—truth be told—in practicing Gratitude we are choosing Hope.

Enjoy Playing for Change song around the world at this link:

Of Home

Every heart to love will come
But like a refugee…

~from “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

The date on the official certificate is August 7, 1953. I was seven and that particular day I sat next to Mom in the County Courthouse. She stood up when her name was called, was sworn in with her hand on a Bible. She answered a few questions, and what I remember most vividly was her reciting The Pledge of Allegiance.

Stoic as she was, I could see she was upset as we left the courtroom. It was the only time in my childhood I ever saw her cry.

At the time I didn’t understand that she had, that day, been obliged to give up her beloved Canadian citizenship to become a naturalized American. After all, her four children had been born in the States, and dual citizenship was not allowed in those days.

Having grown up in Nova Scotia, Mom never appreciated the Mid-Atlantic climate. As a kid, I remember her cursing the summer heat by calling it—and I quote— “Damn New Jersey!” She said it so often I thought “Damn” was our state’s first name!

That being said, my Mother—like most Americans of European ancestry—was one of the lucky ones. She wasn’t ripped from her Homeland because of her skin color, trafficked under deplorable conditions to America, or sold as a slave. She did not have to flee in desperation to America as a refugee or a migrant escaping genocide, war, or poverty. She never had to risk life and limb in a crude dingy boat trying to cross a vast ocean in search of safety. 

She came here voluntarily as an immigrant because she had married my Dad—a native Bostonian—who had found shipbuilding work here in New Jersey when WWII started in 1939.

Except those with Native American heritage, all other Americans have, in their ancestry, stories of immigration.  Do any of us really own this land? Should any of us have privilege over other people who look, speak, worship, or love differently than ourselves?

Last weekend, Art as Advocacy came here to Collingswood, New Jersey for one spectacular evening of acoustical music from none other but Emmy Lou Harris, Jackson Browne, Shawn Colvin, Jerry Douglas, Lila Downs, and Steve Earle!

The six artists were seated on simple folding chairs that had been set next to each other across the front of the stage.  One by one, sometimes harmonizing with the other artists and the audience, they each contributed their unique and diverse instrumental and vocal songs of exile, resistance, longing, family, and home. Stories, too, were shared in this relaxed, informal, and intimate atmosphere that felt like being wrapped in a cozy quilt of many patterns and colors.

Throughout October, The Lantern Tour artists performed five separate concerts across America—all benefiting the Women’s Refugee Commission—whose mission it is to protect the lives and rights of women and children seeking asylum at the US border and in detention centers. 

I’d like to share Leonard Cohen’s hope-filled refrain for those who may be feeling a need to tuck it in their heart pocket for the days ahead…

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in

Enjoy “Anthem” in its entirety by Leonard Cohen here:

Spiritual Smorgasbord for Soul Sisters

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.

~ Matsuo Basho

I arrived more than three hours later than scheduled that Thursday evening, after the flight from Toronto to London Ontario was cancelled due to an air traffic control issue.

Amidst some chaos at the re-booking counter, I was told the next available flight would be the following day. The only same-day transport to my friend Nancy’s place was to catch two separate train rides that would take me to Central London.

A young Polish woman named Maggie asked me if we could go together, as we would need to hurry to make it to the first train, and our instructions from the airline person were rather vague. We power-walked almost the full length of the terminal, zoomed across moving walkways—our wheeled luggage in tow—then pretty much jogged up escalators to get to the first train. It was packed, we were pooped, but we both got seats.

I’m telling this because, the whole time Maggie and I were kickin’ up dust, I felt certain (to borrow a phrase from Findhorn’s founder, Eileen Caddy) “All is very, very well.” In fact, the travel delay allowed my friend Nancy to complete her workday, plus Maggie and I not only got a great workout, we also became instant friends, exchanging contact information so we can stay in touch.

Nancy picked me up at the train station, and then we headed to a restaurant she had recommended. Before exiting the car, we took a moment to express gratitude for this weekend we had planned together, and also to invite the energy of The Transformation Game to be with us throughout the weekend.

Nancy and I first met while living at Findhorn in Scotland. It was from there that The Transformation Game was created. Over time, it has become a treasured globally recognized tool for fostering personal and group growth, awakening insights, and assisting with decision-making. Produced in numerous languages, it is available at the following link:

While eating dinner, a fly kept circling around us both. It was not really bothersome, though persistent in announcing its presence. Rather than shooing it away, Nancy smiled and said, “ Well, Spirit takes many forms. It looks like our Game has started already.”

Nancy and I spent the next day in a lovely culturally rich town called Stratford. One particular shop/gallery was filled with Native Canadian arts of all kinds—hand-made woolen and leather goods, moccasins, and jewelry. In the back, there was a gallery of Inuit and other Native stone carvings. Most were animal images, many of them in playful dancing positions or carrying their young.

These creations—carved from a variety of colors in alabaster and soapstone—made my heart sing! Most of them had a language of form that was essential, direct, and infused with the power of less-is-more.

Not surprising to Nancy or me, our “spirit fly” visited momentarily at least once each day.

We were blessed to be able to see two stage plays. Both were powerful enough to warrant an essay of their own, which I’ll save for a future Love in Action column. So, please stay tuned…

Sunday morning we walked a labyrinth at nearby Brescia University College. Called Circle Labyrinth, is has a Sycamore tree at its center. Sycamores are exceptionally adaptable, known to grow where others cannot. They are thought to promote relaxation, while raising energy and reducing lethargy. They also have many medicinal usages, and some believe they bring success and abundance.

Nancy entered the labyrinth a few yards ahead of me, each of us walking alone and in bare feet—very slowly and deliberately—with mindfulness of where our feet landed and what they felt on the path.

When I reached the center, I touched the sycamore with both hands. It felt very welcoming. There were many pieces of fabric tied around the branches from previous walkers. I didn’t have any fabric or ribbon, but felt drawn to make a gift for the tree. I gathered up a few longish dandelion-like leaves and tied them end-to-end around its branch.

Walking out from the center, I followed the winding path, which eventually exited me at the place where we’d begun. I turned around just outside the labyrinth, and motioned a “Namaste” to the sacred space.

Once back at Nancy’s peace-filled home, we prepared The Transformation Game board and its accessories. First, we each wrote our intention on which we would focus throughout the process. All afternoon, we were completely immersed in the game. There were surprises—some painful, others healing and inspiring. There were even a few tears of sheer Joy! Both of us came away feeling more confident about our next steps, and grateful for the care and loving support from the energies of the game and each other.

The whole weekend was an exercise in how sharing fun, play, and creativity feeds souls. Our unbridled laughter—blended with a few sweet tears—along with evenings of listening to Nancy play guitar and sing her inspired songs, all were sacred moments that lifted us both from the sometimes heaviness of being human.

And yes, in case you were wondering, our “spirit fly” reappeared one last time at the London Airport, while I was nearing check-in for my trip back home. With a wave of Love and Thanks for a job well done, Nancy and I bid farewell to our tiny winged friend!

Nancy Jane Small albums for purchase at:

Photo Credits: Gameboard Nancy Jane Small; ‘Young Labyrinth’ Brescia University College.