Have you every asked yourself, “Am I good enough?”

I have a confession to make: I’m learning how to play the harp. At age 62 I’m also learning how to read music. Believe me, while practicing by myself in the window seat alcove, upstairs by the bookshelves, there are times when I feel frustrated and wonder if I’ll ever be good enough.harp, learning, motivation, music, self-worth, talent

Turns out, I’m not alone. There is a lovely harpist named Christy-Lyn who lives in South Africa. Every week she posts a video about playing the harp. Sometimes she shares a little life lesson. Last week, she addressed the topic about being good enough. It hit home. When the video was done, I sat still for a while, pondering.

What she had to say applies to learning new things. Even gardening.

Have you ever experienced this feeling of not being good enough or talented enough? Why is it that some people have green thumbs and seem to know a plant’s thoughts when others struggle to keep a single houseplant alive?

Then you wonder, “Why is it so difficult for me? Am I just not talented enough to be a good gardener, painter, cook, photographer or harpist?”

“So, here’s the thing,” said harpist Christy-Lyn, from her kitchen in South Africa (www.youtube.com/user/christylynmusic). “I think talent is over-emphasized. When you see someone else play, you don’t know what they’ve gone through to get to that point. Maybe it was an easy journey; maybe it comes naturally to them, but that’s not always the case.”

Same with tending a garden. Let’s say you visit a friend who has raised beds of gorgeous blue poppies, towering purple delphiniums and rows of multi-hued salad greens. You’re impressed, secretly jealous. You have no idea though, how many seedlings wilted under her care, how many times she had to re-sow carrot seeds because of forgetful watering, or how she struggled to grow enough rhubarb to make her first pie.

garden, blue poppy, grandis, meconopsis

Blue poppies (meconopsis sp) are a true, top-of-the-world plant. They bloom like crazy in my Kodiak, Alaska garden, to the point where I have to divide them every 3 years or so. (Marion Owen photo).

“We can’t control how much talent we have,” said Christy-Lyn. “But what we can control is how we view ourselves, how hard we work, and the expectations we place on ourselves.”

So, what makes a good harpist or gardener? There are probably a million ways to answer that question. I’d say it depends on your goals and why you wanted to play the harp or dig in the dirt in the first place. It’s simple, says Christy-Lyn. “We can measure levels of skill but playing the harp is not only about being skilled, it’s about enjoying the music and sharing the music with other people.”

And so gardening is about being around plants, co-creating with them and learning as you go. I didn’t pop out of the womb knowing how to grow great broccoli. I started from scratch. Like learning how to play the harp. The important thing is to not allow comparisons to steal your joy. “It’s not a competition,” says Christy-Lyn. “Comparing yourself to other people cannot be very helpful.” Music that impacts people, she says, is not always from the most skilled and the most perfect harpists.

It’s not the most complicated music or formal English garden that makes the most impact. Rather, it’s how we express our true selves, our God-given gifts, what’s inside our hearts. That’s what is most important in any endeavor you undertake.

Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk is famous for saying, “There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others.” Miles Davis felt the same way, saying, “Do not fear mistakes – there are none.” Ask any musician, everyone–and I mean everyone–makes mistakes during live performances. Everyone makes mistakes while tending a garden. A friend once told me, “Something goes wrong in the garden? Just toss it into the compost pile.”

More important than natural aptitude, skill or talent (which, by the way, is a term given to a unit of currency used by the ancient Greeks and Romans) is motivation. Christy-Lyn talked about growing up with her two sisters. They all grew up learning how to sing and play musical instruments. “But I’m the only one out of the three of us that ended up taking music as a career.”

Why the difference? “I don’t think it’s because I’m more naturally talented than my sisters,” she said. “I think the difference is because I’m more motivated.”

I’ll talk about photography for a moment. For some reason I’m more driven to improve and share my images with other people through MarionOwenPhotography.com, workshops and so on. That’s been my photo mantra for almost 40 years. Did I know how to take beautiful pictures of snowflakes when I was six months old? Of course not. It’s motivation, not just talent.

Please, don’t allow yourself to become discouraged about the difference between your garden and your neighbor’s. Or how your pictures compare with what you see on Facebook. Rather, focus on your motivation, your will, your drive, your desire to improve. Use that to move yourself forward and keep persisting. It might feel like two steps forward and one step back sometimes, but remember, practice makes progress and over time, you will see improvement.

“Everyone feels discouraged sometimes,” says Christy-Lyn, smiling to the camera. “We all have our ups and downs, but when you’re feeling down, don’t allow the ‘not talented enough mindset’ to set in. Don’t use it as a scapegoat for your disappointment.” Simply notice your discouragement; and then choose to keep going.

I want to say, however, that it’s also important to have a good strategy when learning something new, like gardening. Maybe your soil needs improving, maybe you need to research what makes rhubarb happy. Maybe your neighbor would love to share how to grow great broccoli.

Broccoli, vegetable, healthy, garden, organic

Having a little fun with broccoli and flowers

So, if you are asking yourself if you are talented to learn how to become a good harpist or grow great broccoli, then my answer is a resounding YES!

P.S. After writing this piece, I went upstairs to practice the harp. I opened the lesson book and turned the page to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Okay then, here we go!

Thanks for stopping by. Feel free to share this post or write a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts on “being good enough.”


Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska

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My favorite, natural solutions for controlling plant pests

While talking with a friend about indoor plants recently, we got on the topic of pests. “What are those little black flies that buzz around my face when I’m working on the computer?” she blurted. “They drive me crazy!”

I had to chuckle. I’ve written a weekly garden column for over 20 years and believe me, I never lack for material…

You might’ve experienced them, too. They buzz around your face when you’re eating dinner or, like my friend, when you’re working on the computer. It’s irritating, like dogs that bark late at night or finding an empty toilet paper roll at an inopportune time.

These itty-bitty flies are called fungus gnats.  They’re the size of sesame seeds and they eat eat like pigs. (I’ll explain shortly).

sticky trap, fungus gnats, garden pests, indoor plants,

Yellow sticky traps work wonders to attract fungus gnats.

‘Fungus gnat’ is not a pretty name, but it fits, because they live and graze, quite contentedly, in the soil of indoor plants.

The flying insects, the critters you’re most likely to meet, are the adult and final stage of a 3-week life cycle. Are you ready for a little biology?

Let’s start at the larval–little worm–stage, which takes place in the soil where they chomp on root hairs and decaying organic material. Don’t lose sleep over fungus gnats, though. They are more of a nuisance than trouble. But if left alone to breed to their hearts’ content, they can kill a plant.

If you suspect that fungus gnats have set up camp in your plants, here are three solutions:

1. Be a pest

Two can play this game. The object is make life uncomfortable for the little guys by allowing the soil dry out between waterings. Fungus gnats thrive on damp, decaying matter, so a parched desert-type environment is not where they want to raise a family.

2. Make a spray

Sprays are effective against all kinds of pests, including aphids, thrips, and fungus gnats.

plant sprays, organic garden sprays, pests

I use many natural methods for dealing with garden pests and keeping plants healthy, including marigolds (anti-aphid) and sprays (seaweed, kelp, epsom salts and willow water)

Soap and water spray
You can buy commercial sprays, such as Safer products, or you can mix your own. Here’s how: Add one tablespoon of liquid soap to two quarts of water. Use a soap that’s a pure soap such as Dr. Bronner’s, rather than one that contains chemical additives. Hand and body soaps generally tend to be safer for plants.

Essential oil spray
To a quart of water, add 1/2 tablespoon of peppermint oil, cedar wood oil and/or neem oil (also known as tea tree oil or melaleuca) and 1/3 teaspoon liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s), which also works as an emulsifier.

essential oils, garden, pests, doTerra

Essential oils + liquid soap + water makes a good garden pest spray.

Fill a spray bottle with a spray recipe of your choice and spritz the soil and the inside edge of the container or pot. Spraying the plant itself is not as critical because unlike aphids that tap into the soft tissues of leaves and stems, fungus gnats take flight (often when disturbed) and tip toe in and around the soil.

3. Sticky traps

Sticky traps are my favorite anti-gnat solution. They’re just a card, usually yellow, that’s coated with a sticky goo. You can buy sticky traps or make your own. It’s easy. Here’s how:

Color is the bait, and pests prefer yellow. The source of the yellow color is not important. So long as it’s bright yellow, it can be made of:

  • Paper card stock
  • Flexible cutting boards
  • Plastic or paper file folders or plates
  • Painted wood
  • Masonite
  • Glass

The base material: For indoors or in greenhouses and other protected garden areas, paper or card stock may be OK for one-time use traps. For outdoors though, make your traps sturdier. Maybe coating a rubber ducky would work? Thing is, with a little bright yellow paint, pretty much anything will do, from plastic milk jugs to aluminum cans inverted on a stick.

The sticky goo: If you can’t find commercial sticky coating such as  Tanglefoot, again, you have options. Simply apply a layer of petroleum jelly or a thin coating of motor oil to the base surface. The oil isn’t as sticky, but it’s sticky enough to capture pests. Just remember, sticky traps also capture beneficial insects, so check on them frequently).

After positioning your traps, in a few hours, you can start counting the casualties. Though I highly recommend removing the sticky trap from sight if you have guests coming over for dinner.

As for things that irritate you, I remember reading a story about a young man who was sitting in a circle with other students, listening to their guru-teacher discuss how to be “in this world, but not of this world.” As the night drew on, so did the mosquitoes. Soon all the students were waving their arms, swatting at the intruders.

“Why are you fidgeting so?” their teacher said sternly. “Is the whole world going to change for you? Change yourself: Be rid of the mosquito consciousness.”

Whoa, Nellie. Now there’s an interesting way to get rid of pests.

Thank you for visiting!

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

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Love at First Light: A photo essay from White Sands National Monument

Alamogordo, New Mexico: Marty and I rose at 5:00 a.m. and after oatmeal and coffee, we drove to White Sands National Monument. We turned into the gate and chatted briefly with the ranger, a brusque fellow who could have benefitted from oatmeal and coffee. The road into the park was white, so were the dunes. White Sands is home to the largest gypsum dunes in the world.

We pulled over and parked. A snowplow rumbled down the middle of the road, scraping the gypsum “snow” into a peaked centerline. I zipped my jacket against the chill, grabbed my sunglasses and camera, and stepped onto the cornstarch-like dunes in search of grasses, shrubs, animal tracks–something to put into the lovely light.

I love photographing like this: Being open to possibilities with no agenda. I feel big, expanded, guided, and filled with joy. Just my camera and me, enjoying God’s world. As you look at these images, perhaps you can feel the joy, too.

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Marty taking a picture of me and my tripod.

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Clouds bend down to meet the curve of the dunes and grasses.

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The sands have moved on, exposing this yucca’s roots. Soon it will fall over and die.

image, photo, composition, view, perspective, travel, white, sands

There are times when elbows make the best tripod!

B&W, yucca, portrait, landscape, perspective, white, sands, national, monument

A black and white version of the image above. Which do you like best?

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What looked like sea anemones are actually stubs of dead plants.

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A soaptree yucca plant shares the sky with clouds and light.

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When the sun poked through the clouds, it changed the landscape. Time to play with shadows.

May you have a blessed day.

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Winter hummingbird: My favorite photo of 2017

On Christmas morning, my sister sent me a photo from her iPhone. Not unusual, right? But when I tapped the screen, I froze and stared at my phone in wonder. In the center of the photo was the silhouette of a hummingbird, clamped onto the feeder hanging outside her kitchen window. Its wings were blurred while its body was fixed in mid-air, preparing to sip the sweet liquid.

The light appeared diffused and lovely; the air seemed crisp and washed. Christmas lights, twisted around the porch railing, sparkled below the feeder.

hummingbird, feeder, snow, winter, birding, iPhone, photo, photograph

Two things made the image so moving. First, my sister is not a morning person. Second, the setting: It had snowed on Christmas eve–rare for Edmonds, Washington–creating a background of flocked trees and rooftops. And here is this hummingbird, its claws gripping the rim of the pan, feeding for its life in the winter chill…

My sister, Mara, loves–I mean loves–Christmas. I could feel her joy in the picture. “I was excited that it snowed on Christmas eve so I got up early the next day,” she told me. “The morning light was soft and blue and when the birds started coming around at dawn, I sat near the sink to watch them come and go.

“But when I tried to get closer to the window, they spooked, which was weird because they usually don’t do that when I’m working in the kitchen.” To hide herself, Mara tried draping a blanked over her body, leaving her head exposed. But that didn’t work. Finally, she turned the kitchen light on.

“When the light came on, something happened,” she said. “Suddenly they couldn’t see me anymore and I could get right up to the window to take their picture.”

I remember reading this quote by Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.” So true. For me, if I prepare and plan, things tend to work out better. My sister, in her quest to photograph hummingbirds feeding on a wintery day, did her best to get ready: She charged up her iPhone, had a blanket nearby to use as a blind, planned different angles for getting the right background, filled the bird feeder a couple days before, and spent many hours studying the tiny creatures in flight while she did dishes.

“I loved the light that morning and I had a lot of fun. I took a lot of pictures,” she said. “It was worth getting up early.”

And that’s how a photograph of a hummingbird became my fave photo of 2017.

Thank you, Mara. 😉


Ending note: I hope you feel inspired by this little story. But, like me, you might be wondering how the heck do hummingbirds survive cold temperatures?

According to Birds and Blooms, it has to do with going into a state of ‘torpor.’

“There are many documented reports of hummingbirds that survive the snow and freezing temperatures.”  Hummingbirds sometimes winter in the state of Washington where they endure cold periods as long as they have food sources. How do these little birds survive? They are much hardier than you think. And they have the ability to go into a state of ‘torpor’: “a type of deep sleep where an animal lowers its metabolic rate by as much as 95 percent. By doing so, a torpid hummingbird consumes up to 50 times less energy when torpid than when awake.”


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Ditch the sugar: How to enjoy a healthy Halloween

healthy halloweenWhen I was eight years old, I was sick with the flu on Halloween night, hardly fit to hit the neighborhood up for candy. So, my brother offered to go Trick-or-Treating for me. What a guy. He left the house with an empty pillow case tucked under his arm and returned later with it slung over his shoulder.

“Look what I got!” he declared at my bedside, opening it up for me. I leaned over and tried to lift the sack of candy. I eased back into the pillows. “I figured we’d share,” he said. “Though it’s kind sickening to think of all that sugar.”

That was the mid-60s and the book Sugar Blues wouldn’t be published until 1975. Sugar Blues, by William Duffy, is considered one of the foundational books in the modern health movement.

Sugar is a prime ingredient in countless substances from cereal to soup, from cola to coffee. Consumed at the rate of one hundred pounds for every American every year, it’s as addictive as nicotine — and as poisonous.

Sugar BluesFast forward to October 17, 2017 when the headlines for the Anchorage Dispatch News read, “Percentage of obese Alaskans more than doubled since 1991.” And article goes on to say that 36 percent of Alaska 3-year-olds are considered overweight or obese. I’m sure the statistics echo from state to state…

It’s sobering headlines like these, and red flags raised by dentists worldwide, that cause many parents to think twice about handing out processed sweets to children.

Here are a few simple strategies and recipes to support anyone hoping, wishing, and praying that the commercial side of this holiday, that is, the push for us to buy candy, would simply go away. (Candy sales are projected to increase 5.5 percent in 2017, according to USA Today).

Plan ahead

You don’t want to take the fun of candy out of Halloween, but try to help the kiddos not overdo the sweets. (Remember, Halloween kicks off the holiday season which is usually filled with sweets and other indulgences).

On Halloween night, provide a nutritious dinner of vegetables, whole grains and protein-rich foods. A full belly helps reduce the desire to eat more, just like going to the store after breakfast or lunch tends helps us stick to the grocery list.

Throw a party

Serve a variety of healthy snacks like mini sandwiches, nachos, build-you-own pizzas, or tacos. And ditch the sweet soda.

Alternative treats

One year, I gave out fresh, garden-grown carrots, complete with the green tassels attached. A couple kids reacted with a what-do-I-do-with-this-thing look (as if they’d just received a “trick”), though most of them were surprised and jazzed. A couple kids even asked for a second carrot.

Once you start thinking away from sugar, ideas will come to you. For example, you can hand out fruit roll-ups, packets of roasted pumpkin seeds, raisins or Craisins, dark chocolate. Or consider handing out school supplies like crayons, pencils and erasers. Small toys, puzzles, Sudoku, paperback books, marbles and simple games are also appropriate in reducing the amount of candy children eat during Halloween.

Make your own treats

Carrot Cake Bites
This is one of my favorite snacks which uses fresh carrots from the garden.

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried apricots
  • 2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Unsweetened shredded coconut for garnish

Place the pecans, dates, and raisins in the food processor and process until everything is well broken down. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until it is combined. Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls and roll around in shredded coconut.

Oat-Cherry Bars
I discovered the original recipe in Delicious Living magazine, and though I’ve tweaked the recipe, they remain a perfect, on-the-go bar.

oat cherry bars, recipe, Halloween

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups crispy brown rice cereal (Erewhon brand is good)
  • 1/2 cup dried cherries, currants or raisins
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup brown rice syrup or agave syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper to create a 2-inch overhang; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine oats, cereal, cherries, chia seeds and shredded coconut; stir to combine. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine peanut butter, brown rice syrup and vanilla, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 8 minutes or until ingredients are softened and easily stirred. Pour syrup mixture over dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon to mix well. Pour mixture into prepared pan, and place a piece of parchment paper on top. Press down firmly and evenly (I use a small jar or rolling pin) on parchment with your hands to pack mixture into the pan. Chill for 30 minutes, slice into bars. Wrap bars individually to give away. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or in a zip-style, freezer bag for up to 3 months.

Have a healthy and happy Halloween! And I hope you enjoy the recipes year-round!

Marion Owen, photographer, organic gardener, Kodiak Island, Alaska



Marion Owen is co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, which is available through Amazon.



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How getting sick restored the value of rest in my life

In June, I was sick, very sick. At times the burning pain in my stomach was so intense that I could do little more than curl up on the couch and nibble on saltine crackers. Vomiting helped. “You’ve got H. Pylori,” my doctor said, after reviewing the results from my stool sample. “Two thirds of us harbor the H. Pylori bacteria in our guts. Normally it’s not a problem, but if it ‘blooms’ it can cause ulcers, even stomach cancer.” The good news? A 2-week series of antibiotics would kill it.

Hiking, rest, recreation, autumn, outdoors

But sharing my gut with H. Pylori wasn’t the only problem. I was tired. To my bones. Without going into details right now, I’d spent too many years not taking enough time for Marion. Not resting. H. Pylori was my body telling me to stop. While healing, a friend sent me a book called, Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, by Wayne Muller.

In “Sabbath” Muller shares a story about a South American tribe that was on a long march, day after day, when all of a sudden they would stop walking and then make camp for a couple days before going any further. They explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.

Isn’t that a beautiful thought?

In Alaska, autumn provides that time of rest, for our summers of long days encourages us to overfill our waking hours with too much activity, often to the point of warping natural rhythms.

We do not gauge the value of the seasons by how quickly they progress from one to the next. Every season brings forth its bounty in its own time and our life is richer when we can take time to savor the fruit of each.” ~ Wayne Muller

Sabbath, Muller, restIn fall, we smoke salmon, split wood, harvest potatoes, rake leaves, prepare our home for the winter, and hopefully give thanks. In winter, we, like plants, are dormant. It’s a time for reflection, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, birdwatching, inner endurance and looking for light in the midst of celestial darkness.

In spring, we shift activities: We prepare the soil for planting and start seedlings. We prune what has died or withered and take delight in the first crocus bulbs that bloom through a blanket of snow. In summer, we match the longer days by amping up our busy-ness once again: Tending the garden, thinning weeds, hiking, fishing, delighting in flowers, tidepooling, stand with faces to the sun, and welcome visiting family and friends.

When it comes to gardening, photography, and getting back to reading a good book, autumn is my favorite time of year, though the autumnal equinox yanks me back to reality. It’s not summer anymore. Still, I welcome the change, and as I search for exquisite light in autumn’s sunrises and colorful landscapes, it gives my camera purpose. It reminds me of something that the late Galen Rowell, one of my favorite photographers, used to say:

“The edges of nature are where you’ll find dynamic light and landscapes.”

I’m also a garden writer, producing a column every week, so I often relate many of life’s experiences to plants, soil, hands, and weather. In a recent column, I connect my need for rest with lessons from the garden, specifically a plant’s ability to survive freezing temperatures, and lesson from Mother Nature. See what you think…

How do plants survive a freeze?

When frost is in the air there’s no need to panic really, because freezing temperatures don’t always spell disaster in the garden. For example, when the temperatures dip a little below freezing, the air is moist enough for water vapor to condense (in the form of ice crystals) on the ground as well as on the plants. Then, when the water condenses, it gives off just enough heat to warm the air around plants. This warm envelope acts like a protective micro-climate.

On the other hand, when temperature falls more than a few degrees below freezing, frost can damage leaves, shoots and flowers no matter how humid the conditions are because water, whether in lakes, ice cube trays or cells, expands when it freezes. So as water within plant cells freezes, it ruptures the cell walls like a water balloon bursting under pressure. (Wouldn’t that be amazing to see in slow motion?)

forest, tree, spruce, Kodiak, Alaska, rainforest, hike,

Not all plants are created equal though, and different plants and parts of plants have different freezing points. Pansy and nasturtium flowers for example, might wilt like wet paper bags at 31 degrees, but their leaves remain firm and undamaged. Then there’s kale, with cold-tolerant leaves that can survive unharmed under a blanket of snow… or Sitka spruce trees that, armed with a natural antifreeze in their sap, stay green all year.

We can learn a lot from Nature. Leaves falling around tree bases provide a protective—and nourishing—layer. In the garden we can protect plants by emulating nature. A 3 to 6-inch layer of leaves, compost, seaweed (or a combination of all) around the base of shrubs, trees, and perennials insulates like a down quilt. (Distribute the mulch toward the trunk, but not up against it. For perennials, mulch is usually applied directly on top of the plants later in the fall, after the main plant dies back).

Let’s go for a walk…

As for resting, it also helps to follow Nature’s cue. Remember the South American tribe that camped for a couple days so that their souls could catch up with them? Consider applying this kind of rest the next time you go for a walk. It’s a technique I learned from Muller’s book, now a classic, that was recently reviewed in the Huffington Post.

For 30 minutes, walk slowly and silently. Make it an amble or a stroll. Simply walk without any purpose. Simply let your soul catch up with you, as Wayne Muller would say. Let your senses guide your walk. If you are drawn to a leaf, a stone, a color or the fragrance of the tall grass, simply stop and linger. Thoroughly experience the moment with all your senses. Then, when it feels right, when it’s time, simply move on. When you are called to stop, stop and investigate. When you’re called to begin again, move along. That is all.

“At the end of thirty minutes,” says Muller, “Notice what has happened to your body, your mind, your sense of time.”

Today I’m feeling much better. I take time for tea; to watch eagles soar by. And I’m becoming a better listener.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your day with me.

Cheers to you,
Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer



You might also enjoy:

Life with a flip phone in the 21st century
My niece Tina, a senior in high school, realized she was addicted to social media. To break the habit, she began by trading her iPhone for a “slower, dumber flip phone.”)

How a medical emergency launched my new love affair with plants
It all began when my husband Marty had a mini-stroke while we were RV-ing in Utah)

Libby’s Story: Fighting Cancer with Food
When Libby McClaren was diagnosed with cancer, the doctor recommended immediate surgery to remove the tumor from her bladder, followed by chemo and radiation treatments…

Posted in Diet and health, Essays and inspirations, Life coming full circle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Life with a flip phone in the 21st century

My niece Tina, a senior in high school, realized she was addicted to social media. To break the habit, she began by trading her iPhone for a “slower, dumber flip phone.” After a few months, she wrote about her experiences for the school newspaper. Her insights beam wisdom like a lighthouse sweeping away the darkness. Here is Tina’s story…

Up until a few months ago, social media had always been a big part of my life. I was obsessed. I would go on Instagram everyday, I had more than ten snapchat streaks at a time, and I would take pictures purely to post on my Instagram spam account. I was among the majority of people my age who look at their phones more than each other and count texting as a quality form of communication. As millennials, we are born into a world where a person’s social media accounts are judged more than the content of their minds.

iPhone, social media

This summer, I tried to break the status quo and go off of social media. To venture even further into a world before the internet, I decided to trade my fancy iphone, for a slower, dumber flip phone.

I quickly realized how spoiled I was for being able to instantly get directions to wherever I needed to go. I always thought of myself as someone who had a good sense of direction so I didn’t think it would be an issue, but it was. Within the first day of not having a smart phone, I asked countless people for directions to places I assumed I would be able to find on my own. I had been completely reliant on Google Maps. The first thing I learned from having a flip phone was how to read someone’s address and figure out how to get there using only my knowledge of the city. Yes, sometimes it took a few minutes longer, but I have never felt so self-sufficient.

Without anything to stimulate me, I had to do something I always thought only crazy people could do, just sit.

Aside from the trivial issues like not having Google Maps, Spotify or a decent camera, the biggest struggle was moments of waiting, the few minutes before getting picked up by a friend, or while waiting for something that’s only a few minutes away. Without anything to stimulate me, I had to do something I always thought only crazy people could do, just sit. I started noticing things about the places I spent most of my time that I never noticed before. I watched leaves fall off the trees and observed as bees floated from flower to flower. There were so many beautiful things I had never taken the time to pay attention to because my eyes were so preoccupied with the new snapchat filters or whatever meme was trending on Twitter. I had missed out on a large part of the real world because I was so heavily invested in the fabricated world of social media.

I found the strength in myself to match everyone’s kind comments with the words of self-love that so many people my age crave, and believe they will find in apps like Instagram.

When it comes to Instagram, it can feel good to have someone comment, “so cute” or “*heart emoji,” but this summer, I learned that some relationships now are only as significant as taking a second to comment and like someone’s instagram picture. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but after going months without the comforting chatter of kindness coming from the comments section and the reassuring hum of likes that cushioned my ego, I realized I didn’t need it. I no longer sought the approval of other people. I didn’t derive my sense of beauty and joy from the mindless comments of other people. I found the strength in myself to match everyone’s kind comments with the words of self-love that so many people my age crave, and believe they will find in apps like Instagram.

I knew going without a smartphone wasn’t just a test I wanted for a summer…

Toward the end of the summer, when I would tell people about my flip phone, their responses changed from dismay to some sort of admiration, as if I was doing something groundbreaking that they always had wanted to try. The first text my new phone ever received was from my uncle, who was my sole ally during hours of bombardment and ridicule from family members after they heard about my new phone. “I think it is great that you are getting away from your phone,” he said. “I wish more people would/could do this.” After he sent this to me, I knew going without a smartphone wasn’t just a test I wanted for a summer, it was the best gift I’ve ever given myself, and it only cost $15 and the Instagram account I ultimately didn’t want anyway.

Tina Prekaski is a senior at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Washington and originally wrote this article for The Roosevelt News.

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Photo essay of Quonset huts and a prayer to end all wars

On a nearby island, a boat ride away from my home on Kodiak Island, is a “village” of Quonset huts. These buildings once served as barracks for soldiers fighting the Aleutian Campaign during World War II. But today their corrugated metal shells succumb not to enemy fire but to falling trees, heavy snow loads, and perpetual moss.

One summer day, I stood in the middle of the village, surrounded by Sitka spruce trees and Quonset huts in various stages of decay. Other than an occasional chickadee’s chirrup, no manmade sounds reached my ears. Everywhere was moss: Evergreen, lush, and patiently muffling the clamors of war.

War is not someone else’s fault. We are all responsible for creating the misunderstandings that lead to conflict. An angry thought, ill will, fear, worry, jealousy, restlessness… it’s a long grocery list.

If I had a prayer to end all wars, it might go something like this:

Beloved God, who reminds us to live in harmony with our neighbors, help us to replace the age-old habit of war with compassion, empathy, and love. Keep us mindful that we are united, each by an equal measure, of the divine spark that flows through and binds all things. May we, by our actions each day, strive to become instruments of peace so that present and future generations may be blessed with relationships governed by faith, kindness, respect, and trust. Amen.

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

Its back long broken, this is probably my favorite Quonset hut in “the village” on Long Island. I stood here for quite sometime in the silence of the forest. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, ferns, corrugated metal, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

I love the juxtaposition of ferns and twisted metal. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, stove, Long Island, prayer, peace

A stove pipe pokes through a Quonset hut’s roof, or is it sinking down into the building? (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, orchids, Long Island, prayer, peace

A small forest of tiny, Twayblade orchids, each one smaller than your little pinkie’s fingernail, stand tall in front of a sagging Quonset hut. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

I guess you could call this a rooftop garden in the making. (Photo by Marion Owen)

Quonset, WWII, World War 2, Kodiak, Alaska, moss, spruce forest, Long Island, prayer, peace

Oops. Looks like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. When snow is falling, this becomes one of my favorite Quonset huts. Photo by Marion Owen

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When a bumblebee is caught in the rain

After three days of rain and fog I went out to the garden to inspect the damage. Clumps of parsley, once proud mini-forests, were flattened to the ground. Carrot tops were tangled into one…bad…hair…day. I walked, squish-squish, over to a clump of yellow calendulas whose petals, heavy with moisture, drooped like basset hound ears.

Then I saw the bumblebee.

She was huddled in the center of a flower, motionless. “Water bombs” covered her body and pasted her wings against her abdomen. She looked as though she’d been in a mud fight.

As it was late afternoon, I knew she wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight. Question was, would she survive the night away from her cozy hive?

bumblebee, bumble, bee, macro, rain, metabolism, flower, God, tenacity, courage, will, Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer

The next morning, I went outside to investigate. I found her, just as you see in the photo, hanging vertically with each claw embedded in the soft petals like a climber holding ice axes to perform a self-arrest while sliding down a slope. At some point in our bumblebee’s slide, her abdomen came to rest on a leaf.

I set up my camera and tripod and took a number of shots, all the while thinking, “Is she still alive, or dead, and thus mechanically ‘frozen’ to the flower?”

I focused my lens on the antenna by her right eye.

It moved…she was alive!

I’d read about a bumblebee’s metabolism, that it’s 75 percent higher than a hummingbird’s. And that they can survive in temperatures which are too low for them to fly. To warm up, they shiver their flight muscles, much like we shiver when we’re cold. Blah, blah, blah…

I was not thinking about all that science stuff while lying on the wet grass watching a little bee come back to life. Rather, I was astounded by the bee’s built-in tenacity. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would deal with a life-or-death situation, let’s say, bobbing around the Gulf of Alaska in a life raft?

I gently brought my mind back to the here and now. As the bee activated each leg and slowly pulled her body up and into the saddle of the flower, I thought: If a bee is provided with the ability to overcome a night out in the rain, surely we are endowed with the courage, will power, and determination to help us overcome life’s obstacles.

Just something to think about…

Thanks for stopping by to read and share. Cheers and blessings,

Marion Owen, Kodiak, Alaska, photographer


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On green bananas and how to avoid regrets

It’s a guessing game to decide what fruit to set out for our B&B guests. Apples? Not many people indulge in apples these days. Grapes and cherries? They’re usually appreciated. Bananas? Ugh. Bananas bring out the fussiness in humans. If a brown speck appears on the otherwise flawless, yellow peel, the banana sulks in the fruit bowl, ignored and dejected, as it becomes more speckled by the minute.

So the other day I asked our B&B guests from Minnesota if they liked bananas. “Yes!” they replied in chorus. “But I had a friend,” one added, “that didn’t like green bananas. He was an older guy who said he didn’t have time for them. ‘I might die before they ripen,’ he said.”

banana, green, regrets, garden

That got me thinking about why we hesitate to do things. We avoid a complicated recipe or balk at learning how to read music (that’s me!) because we think it takes too much time. “Summer’s almost over,” an acquaintance told me yesterday. “So why bother planting more lettuce?”

To do nothing is the easy way out. Dad always said, “If you don’t ask or don’t try, the answer’s always ‘no.’” And if you don’t at least try, you’ll end up with regrets at the end of your life. More on that later…

I used this “why bother?” theme in one of my weekly garden columns. True, our summers on Kodiak Island’s temperate rain forest come and go in a blink, but I tell readers that you never know when the snow’s gonna fly so why not keep growing to the end? Gardening–like many endeavors–doesn’t require a lot of time, effort, or money if you make a focused effort. Rain or shine, there’s always something you can accomplish. So in my column I offered 10 tips for things to do on sunny days and 10 for cloudy days. I followed with 10 things to do every day to avoid those regrets I mentioned earlier…

When the sun is out, so are we. But some garden are best left for cooler weather. Below are a few excuses to play in the sunny garden. (Substitute tasks for your climate):

  1. Sow a salad: The best time to get seeds in the ground is when the soil is relatively dry, but right before it rains.
  2. Mow the lawn: Set your mower at its highest setting.
  3. Water new transplants or big plants drooping from heat exhaustion.
  4. Dead-head flowers to encourage more blooms.
  5. Pick berries (see #7 in next list).
  6. Increase ventilation in greenhouses and hoophouses.
  7. Go on aphid patrol: Carry a bottle of neem oil spray. Inspect tips of plants and under leaves.
  8. After mowing the lawn, make compost with the clippings by mixing them with leaves, kelp, kitchen scraps, and old manure. Moisten if needed.
  9. Dig up dandelions and other weeds in your lawn.
  10. Pour a glass of iced tea, grab a book, and put your feet up.

Overcast and rainy days provide special windows of opportunities for getting things done in the garden that plants appreciate more than on sunny days.

  1. Transplant seedlings and move perennials.
  2. Pull weeds: When the soil is moist it’s easier to get the whole plant, root and all. And when weeding around small seedlings or root crops, working in moist soil doesn’t disturb the roots as much. See #3.
  3. Thin carrots, beets and other root crops. Sprinkle with water when done to help them “settle in.”
  4. Rinse out used plastic trays and seedling containers.
  5. Fertilize the lawn, organically!
  6. Turn on the music and catch up on housework.
  7. Make jam.
  8. Go on slug patrol: Pick slugs, bait slugs, whatever it takes. A friend in Anchorage trapped hundreds of slugs overnight with a solution of soy sauce, oil and water. If you see a leaf a whole plant perforated with slug holes, leave it alone (at least for the time being) and treat it like a sacrificial plant.
  9.  Tend to indoor plants, who are often ignored during the summer.
  10. Take photographs of your garden. Not just flowers and dew drops, but bees, leaves, kids playing.

Sigh. We tend to go about our days as if we’ll live forever. But we’ve only got today. At the end of our journey on this planet, the last thing you want to possess is a bunch of regrets. Please understand, I’m not trying to finish on a depressing note. Rather I want to encourage you to follow your dreams now to avoid regrets later.


  1. Do more for “you”
  2. Don’t work so hard.
  3. Don’t hold back your thoughts and feelings.
  4. Stay in touch with friends and family.
  5. Be happy.
  6. Care less what other people think.
  7. Be a warrior, not a worrier.
  8. Take better care of yourself.
  9. Be grateful.
  10. Live in the moment.

Finally, buy green bananas.

banana, green, regrets, garden

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