The People You Meet on the Street

Living on three acres for the last 17 years, Halloween night brings zero trick or treaters in our neighborhood. Quiet and secluded, it’s far from an inviting atmosphere for children seeking candy.

Restless and ready to do something different this Halloween, the dogs and I hopped in the car, and met the hubster at a quirky coffeehouse on historic Main Street in St. Charles. Picasso’s was the perfect spot to watch the kiddos in their cute Halloween costumes parade through the streets. There were original costumes for sure, but more interesting were the people we met on the street.

Young children, Millenial hipsters, and baby boomers with dogs stopped to greet our friendly canine fur babies, as we sat at the quaint café table sipping cappuccinos.

Bordeaux, our Bernese Mountain Dog/Aussie mix, whined as a beautiful Spaniel came into view, with its owners. Our mini Aussie, Sabrina, approached the dog cautiously. A few quick sniffs of the dark chocolate and cream Spaniel met with her approval.  Bordeaux was more than happy to lock snouts with the pooch in an all-out sniff-off.

Holly and Tom, the dog’s owners, pulled up a couple chairs across the entrance to Picasso’s to chat with us. A lively conversation ensued, initially centering around the topic of dogs.

Their Spaniel, Jasper, was included in many of their outings, since they were empty-nesters. I shared with the couple, we weren’t so lucky to have children, but the dogs and cats were our spoiled-rotten kids.

We talked about a lot of things, and eventually the conversation lead to favorite vacations, and the perks I’ve come to enjoy writing for a travel magazine.

I expressed my love for Michigan, and they let me in on a secret about Seattle and the San Juan Islands. They mentioned I should visit Reno and Lake Tahoe, and I wouldn’t shut up about islands in the Caribbean.

I discovered they were florists, whose family had been in the business for more than 85 years. Turns out, we even know some of the same authors. Their greenhouse, Parkview Gardens, hosts an author event in September. They suggested I drop by the shop for a visit when I’m in the area.

Chatting for more than an hour…the conversation flowed naturally. Time passed quickly, and the sky morphed from yellow-orange to blue-violet. Lights entwined on nearby trees twinkled and shimmered on cobblestone streets.

Holly and Tom graciously acknowledged it was time for Jasper’s meds, and they should probably head home.

While my conversation was coming to a close with the couple, my husband was actively engaged in a talk with the male patron at the next table. Over coffee and a cigar, the man spoke about his third round of chemo — his battle with cancer. The hubster shared with the man, our friend Dave’s story – diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. With three months to live, three years ago, Dave beat cancer – a walking miracle. The man occasionally scribbled in his notebook as the two talked. Later, hubby learned he was a writer.

Part of talking is listening. If you listen, you’ll realize there’s more to the person on the street than meets the eye.

Sometimes I’m guilty of not listening. But I’m working on it.

So take the time to listen to people’s stories. From their words and stories, you might just find off-the-beaten places to explore, like funky coffeehouses or restaurants, and their love of animals.

Who knows, you may find a deeper connection with this person, and learn about their quest to stay alive.

“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” 

Andrew Zimmern

Some people I’ve met on the street….

Jean Cruguet, Triple Crown/Kentucky Derby Winner, jockey for Seattle Slew.Met in Lexington, KY

DSC_0567 Jean Crugeut and me copyr

Lukas, a sand castle builder. Met in Sunset Beach, NC

DSCN0848 Lukas and sandcastle

Skully, an Australian vet, who walks in support of the “Run for the Wall” event originating in Rancho Cucamonga, California, ending in DC. Met in Wentzville, MO

DSC_1128 skully copyright

 

 

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Proud to Be in Proud to Be: Volume 3

Last week I received my contributor’s copy of PROUD TO BE: Writing by American Warriors, Volume 3. 20141202_110742 cover volume 3

I am so proud to be included in this volume, edited by Susan Swartwout of Southeast Missouri State University Press in collaboration with the Missouri Humanities Council and Warrior Arts Alliance.

Proud to Be is a way for veterans, and families of veterans to share their personal experiences through essays, warrior interviews, fiction, and even photographs.

Apparently, this year there were a record number of submissions for the Warrior Arts Anthology.

The anthology is dedicated to the writing veterans, military-service personnel and family members.

My First Place win for Photography graces pages 66 and is titled “jimmie (pier). My photo was judged by Bradley Phillips, professor of photography, Southeast Missouri State University. A second photo and an interview with Jimmie was accepted for inclusion into the anthology, as well. I was extremely blessed to win this award, for the second year in a row.

jimmie (pier)

jimmie (pier)

But more than that, all the contributions in this book touch on raw accounts of life, war, warriors, emotions, and more. And deserve to be read, and noticed.

So if you get the chance, pick up a copy of Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors, volume 3 for a veteran, a family member, or a friend for Christmas. It’s a great gift.

~~~~~~~~

 

A Photography Award, a Warrior Veteran, and Proud to Be

Last week I spent traveling through Arkansas for an upcoming story for AAA Southern Traveler and AAA Midwest Traveler. Along the way, I tasted food of all kinds – BBQ, pancakes, the most tender porkchops I’d ever eaten, and some good old-fashioned German chocolate pie with pecans (pronounced pe-cons not pee-cans according to Arkansonians) (did I say that right?).

But nothing surprised me as much as the letter that I received from the Missouri Humanities Council when I arrived home after a week of being on the road.

As I opened the envelope, I thought that it might be the contract for my November 8 workshop with veterans titled “Using Photographs to Tell a Story” at the Central Library in downtown St. Louis. I was mistaken.

Unfolding the letter, a rush of adrenalin overcome me. I let out a shrill scream. I think I scared my husband!

I was awarded First Place from the Missouri Humanities Council for my winning photograph of Jimmie, a Vietnam Vet, fishing on the pier at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. The photograph will be featured in Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors; Volume 3. The judge was Bradley Phillips, professor of photography at Southeast Missouri State University.

This is the second time I’ve won First Place in this category from the Council. Last year I received the award for my inspirational photograph of Russell, my husband, penning his thoughts in a journal located at the Kindred Spirit Bench in North Carolina. The judge last year was Destinee Oitzinger, Art Director of the National Veterans Art Museum.

I am honored and thankful for this wonderful opportunity. I’ve also discovered that Sunset Beach is soon becoming MY Kindred Spirit….a peaceful respite….a quiet oasis….my love affair and good luck charm….

Below are the two award-winning photographs….

James “Jimmie” McInnis is a three-time Vietnam Vet, and recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart who I met at the Sunset Beach pier in North Carolina. As a hero in action, he unthinkingly pulled four men from an ammo dump that was blown up by a v-device in Vung Tau. Jimmie is a testament to all people everywhere that love this country.

DSC_1606 Jimmie (pier) black and white - by Sheree K. Nielsen copyr

DSCN0300 Russell, flag, Kindred Spirit blkwht copyr

A Radish Lady, Coffee, and “A God Thing”

DSC_1721 cappucino art design 1 crop copry

This past October I taught a workshop titled “Every Picture Tells a Story” at the Jefferson Barracks Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Louis.  During the two classes, I met amazing veterans – one I will call Sally.

Fast forward to this week. The last few days brought me medical testing – CT scans, ultrasounds, and biopsies.  By Friday afternoon I was spent.

Although Sally’s week was just as stressful as mine, she sent an email saying, “I’m going to say a special prayer for you, and will continue throughout the day.”  That brought a smile to my face.

A friend of Sally’s gifted her a book,“Coffee with God”.  She mentioned that I should pretend the book was called “Cappuccino with God” (because cappuccinos are my favorite coffee drink.)

The author, Sarah Arthur, reflects with God, prays and explores ways God transforms us through our regular routines in a 365-day devotional.

Sally mentioned the book was instrumental with her New Year’s resolutions – she quit smoking.

The devotional for January 10 was titled “PESSIMISM AND WOBBLE”

I won’t go into detail, but the bible verse that Sally cut and pasted in the email references Philippians 4:6 – “Don’t worry about anything, pray about everything.”

That sentence hit me like a ton of bricks. Not because I was unfamiliar with this bible verse, but because it was my daily creed.  Whenever a friend is having trouble, I share this verse, recognizing it helps me through my trials.

I decided to go to Sarah Arthur’s website and read more about the book. I hopped onto her blog and noticed a comment she left on a particular day. That day just happened to be my birthday. Feeling like this was not a coincidence, but a ‘God thing’, I searched Amazon.com and ordered the book immediately.

The series of events from the minute I met Sally, all led up to yesterday afternoon.  God’s plan was in motion long before I met her.

Here’s the string of events:

At the Missouri Writer’s Guild Conference three years ago, I met Deb Marshall from the Warrior Arts Alliance. Deb recommended I teach the “Every Picture Tells a Story” workshop at the VA Hospital. At the workshop I met Sally. The students asked hubby and I to return and teacher another class. Sally, hubby and I conversed after the workshop outside and joked about the parking situation. I gave her my business card. She emailed me. I emailed her. We kept a string of emails going.

Yesterday, her kind words and thoughtfulness lead to God’s plan. He reassures I’m in HIS care and grace.

My angel-messenger from above, Sally, despite her hectic life, took time to be caring, thoughtful, and positive. And isn’t that what we all should strive to do? EVERY DAY!

Thank you Sally for being there when I needed someone. I’ll try and heed the words from Philippians 4:6.

And by the way ‘Radish Lady’, you’re a fabulous writer!

2013 in review – Sheree’s Top Five Blog Posts

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for my blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,600 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Community News, an award, and a pinch of inspiration

I’ll make this one short and sweet.

In November, I won an award from the Missouri Humanities Council and the Warrior Arts Alliance for a photo taken of my husband on Bird Island, North Carolina titled “Dear Kindred Spirit”.

The Kindred Spirit Bench is becoming my safe place, my inspiration, the ying to my yang….you know what I mean.

Here’s the story behind the photo and the award.  Hope you enjoy.  The photo is on display at the St. Peters Cultural Art Center, St. Peters, Missouri.

Comm News 12-4-13 Sheree copy

Thank you Missouri Humanities Council and Warrior Arts Alliance!

Thank you Missouri Humanities Council and Warrior Arts Alliance for telling the story of my photo “Dear Kindred Spirit” on your website.  And thank you for the First Place Award in Photography – I can’t wait to meet all the veterans and families at the book launch on November 15 for “Proud to Be: Writings by American Warriors Volume II” at the University of Missouri St. Louis.

Hope you like the story behind the photo.  Click on the link below and scroll down to the 7th page.

P2B_Cover

MO Humanities Council Proud to Be Vol 2 backstory

Every Picture Tells a Story

Students have given photography permisson

Students have given photography permission

Last August, Deborah Marshall, of Warrior Arts Alliance and Missouri Humanities Council, asked me to lead a workshop for veterans with PTSD at the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital, in St. Louis.  I have to admit, I had a wonderful time teaching the importance of the photography role in writing, to the veterans.

This October, I was fortunate to lead two more workshops, titled “Every Picture Tells a Story” at the same location.

In the first class, I talked about capturing images on film as a child.  I built a pinhole camera way back then, and I’ve been taking pictures ever since. When I first picked up the pen, I found that photography helped me recreate the feeling of being ‘in the moment’, sort of like I traveled back in time.

Though freelance contracts, I’d find myself photographing a particular location or event – people, beaches, meadows, and even food.  This aided in story development.  The pictures helped me fill in the blanks and recap memories.

I shared a slideshow of photos from my travel assignments from AAA Travel and Missouri Life with the students, and expressed what each photo meant to me.

I stressed the importance of ‘show, don’t tell’, and how we need to tap all of our senses, thoughts and feelings when telling a story.  I urged the students to snap photos of anything – people’s actions, the sunlight on a rose, the soulfulness in a dog’s eyes. They could always go back and write about the images later.

I read from Anne Lamott’s bird by bird, the Polaroids chapter, and relayed the relevance of  ‘the big picture.’  During their first writing assignment in class, my hubby projected a photo on the computer monitor.  With written instructions, I asked the students to convey in writing what they were feeling and doing, the time of day, the season – all the little details pertinent to showing, not telling.

When the exercise was over, the students offered to share stories aloud.  I was amazed by the many interpretations just one photo could convey.  And I was proud.

We discussed the rules of writing, and writing tips.  Then I distributed another exercise, on overuse of words.  We applied this to a second writing exercise.

Once again, I was overjoyed by their answers and creativity.  They got it.  They truly got it.

I distributed a homework exercise in the form of an essay I’d written, accompanied by hubby’s photo of a ten-foot Caribbean reef shark, and asked them to highlight colorful descriptions throughout the essay that created visual images in their mind.  We’d discuss next week.

I looked at the clock, and realized two hours had flown by.  As I packed up my papers, computer, and class aids, the veterans shuffled past hubby and me on their way out the door.  They said they planned on coming back to class next week, eager to learn something new.

On the way to the car, one of the woman approached me and said, “You’re a great facilitator; can’t wait to see you again.  You made class fun.”

Funny thing.  I’d never thought about myself in that way.

So when Rita from the VA left me a voice mail stating most of the students were returning for the second class, I decided to create a new syllabus for “Every Picture Tells a Story – Part Two.”

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post and what we talked about…

Ocean Spirit Photography

DSC_0080 family bench by gate blk wht copyr

Some of you may know, I’m also a freelance photographer for a few major publications.

If you haven’t had a chance, check out our pics by clicking on Ocean Spirit Photography facebook page,  or click ‘like’ on the column to the right of this post.

As a matter of fact, I’m teaching a workshop today called “Every Picture Tells a Story” to veterans with PTSD at the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital in St. Louis.  I’ll recap last week and today’s class, and post highlights on my blog in a few days.

Hubby and I delved into underwater photography about ten years ago.  Add to that, our experience with landscapes, nature, and people.

We love what we do, and cherish meeting new people along the way.   If you sit and observe your surroundings, you’ll discover the coolest (or scariest) things about individuals.

On assignment on Eleuthera in 2011, we found a picturesque harbor while driving along the ocean road at Tarpum Bay.  While snapping photos of the weathered dock, the seagulls, and an elderly woman scaling fish, I heard a voice from behind.  As I turned around, a local woman clothed in dirty shorts, a tank top, wearing dusty sandals, scowled at me.  Shaking her label-less bottle filled with a caramel-color liquid, she declared, “I’ll have you deported!”

Of course, it was the Bahamas, and what she said really didn’t make sense, but I still have that image of what she was wearing, the location, and her demeanor forever etched in my head.

So, you see, every picture does tell a story.

Please enjoy the Ocean Spirit Photography galleries.  If you like what you see, we’d love to have you as a follower.

Feel free to follow my blog and comment, too.  I love new followers.

“Dear Kindred Spirit” – First Place Award for Photography

Elated, I received a call from fellow writer friend, Debbie Marshall, of the Warrior Arts Alliance and Missouri Humanities Council, to inform me I’d won First Place in the Warriors Anthology competition.  I cried tears of joy.  The winners in the anthology will be honored at a presentation on November 15, at the University of Missouri St. Louis.  Here’s a link to the SEMO Press website with more information.

My photo title “Dear Kindred Spirit” is very personal to me.  This is the back story I included with the photograph.

“My husband Russell Nielsen who served in the Air Force for eight years writes his thoughts in one of many journals that are kept safe by the Kindred Spirit mailbox.  He mentioned that when he was through writing, he thought of all the veterans that served our great nation, and all the people touched by this special place.

The legend of the Kindred Spirit is that an anonymous person close to 40 years ago, placed the mailbox and bench for passersby on Bird Island to leave their thoughts and prayers.  Over the years, hundreds of journals have been filled by people near and far.  Once the journals are full, local Kindred Spirit ‘helpers’ send the writings back to the secret originator.

Recently a flagpole was erected from donations. The flag is changed out on Memorial Day weekend in honor of all the veterans that served our country past and present.

The Kindred Spirit location on Bird Island, North Carolina is only accessible by foot or bicycle.”DSCN0300 Russell, flag, Kindred Spirit blkwht copyr

Dear Kindred Spirit…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMay 22, 2013

Dear Kindred Spirit,

It’s not a coincidence that God brought me to you.

In April, I visited Sunset Beach for the first time.  I heard how Bird Island was a hidden gem!

That day I meandered down the beach, and a little boy threw a bucket of water on me. His actions were followed by an apology…..by his mother.

Sitting on her beach chair, she relaxed reading a book.

We conversed.

“First time here?”

“Yes.”

“You should check out the Kindred Spirit bench on Bird Island.  People from all over the world visit the bench and leave their thoughts and prayers in the mailbox’s journals.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA salty tear trickled down my cheek.

Being here now is a peaceful feeling.  I’m sure it was meant to be.

As a writer, this spot moves my inner soul.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m here with new friends Jacqueline and Sandy who are so important to the Kindred Spirit.  Today, they hoisted a flag for Memorial Day and all the veterans we’ve lost over the years.  I call them the Kindred Spirit angels.  They retrieve the journals and send them back to their secret originator.

Jacqueline and Sandy with new flag

Jacqueline and Sandy with new flag

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m sure I’ll be back.

There are so many people here, now, sharing the spirit.  Everyone is connected to each other.

I pray that my lymphoma never gets any worse than it is, my marriage to grow stronger, and God to watch over my ‘child’ animals, family and friends.

So long for now Kindred Spirit,

Sheree Nielsen

Missouri

Jackie and Sandy with Max who hoisted the flag Memorial Day 2012.

Jackie and Sandy with Max who hoisted the flag Memorial Day 2012.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Publications in two anthologies dear to my heart

Just wanted to take a moment to tell you of two new anthologies I’ve been published in.

The Animal Anthologies Project has published my essay entitled “Purrs, Paws, and Cat Scratch Kisses” formerly in Whispering Angel Books Nurturing Paws Anthology.  The fourth essay in the book, it’s about overcoming handicaps and the positive energy my three-legged cat Tripoli supplies me with daily.  You can read more about The Animal Anthologies Project by clicking here on the Psychology Today link.

The other publication is Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors published by the Missouri Humanites Council and Southeast Missouri Press.  The stories and photos are from veterans or families of veterans.  My photograph “Army Mom” can be found in the book.   Click on Warrior Arts Allliance website for more information on how to purchase the book.