Yesterday was so cold, I closed the blinds to conserve heat in the house. Then I retired to the lower level and turned on the small room heater. No trips outside of home, not even the mailbox for me! Today is not much different, ice-cube cold temperature, blinds still hanging low, heater humming. Howard was running the recyclables to the street… would he pretty-please bring in the mail from yesterday? Just the normal handful of mail, most of which is tossed back into the recycle bin. Standing alone from everyday unsolicited mail and advertisements was a thinnish brown paper package, held together with brown tape, addressed in a fine, elegant penmanship to Mrs. Sharon Furner.

Grabbing the dull orange Friskar scissors….you know the “utilitarian” ones that cut open bags of lawn fertilizer, clip coupons, pry open stuck lids on recalcitrant jars, scrape gum off of shoes, snip open mesh bags of onions and potatoes; anyway, they will do nicely to clip into the brown tape on the mysterious package with no return address.
It then occurred to me that this was a very CLEVER, PRACTICAL, BROWN (think GREEN) packaging. Ho-hum, I had thought I was the clever one wrapping everything in The Baltimore Sun newspaper cartoons bound with kitchen twine! This was a grocery sack, folded over and over, making a perfect wrap for a mailing package. Yay! Brown. With each unfolding rotation of the sack I was curious: where did this come from? Who was thinking of me? Definitely needed photo-documentation!
With the last turn of the paper, out tumbled an envelope the color of manila folders and a brilliant peacock blue diary. Oh, someone who knows I love love love paper products! And the most gorgeous blue ever, with beautiful silver clasp buttons.
This was too much fun! Who was the mysterious “gift giver?”
The giver with an elegant feminine script was dear sweet Ellen Williams, my dear DC friend who now lives in Hawaii.
Ellen has been travelling solo in India, a long held dream and adventure unfolding day by day. Then came an unexpected phone call relaying information that her husband, Steve, who was serving a military tour as a dentist in Iraq, had health issues. Her trip was cut short. She met her husband in Germany, at a medical facility. They are now in Hawaii, where Steve recuperates and is doing well. And Ellen is sending out thoughtful packages to friends.
In Ellen’s card she expressed having visited a cooperative in India where beautiful paper was created. Synchronicity must have been crackling in the air. As she looked at the beautiful selection of papers and products, for some reason she thought of me, and purchased this beautiful book. The gift has been transferred to welcome hands and heart. I already know what I will do with it, after this blog is posted!
Thank you and Aloha dear Ellen.

Empathy Labyrinth, Washington, D.C.

TENTS OF HOPE: one last thought.
As though the Tents of Hope project wasn’t inspiration enough, in the middle of all of those beautiful tents was a labyrinth. Each year I enjoy the privilege of walking the National Cathedral Labyrinth. Walking the circular maze one slips like a soft glove, deeper and deeper inward, to one’s spiritual core, one’s essence. The Empathy Labyrinth at the Smithsonian Mall also allowed for this experience. But there were differences. The Empathy Labyrinth has been created by Marc Weiner in response to the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s seminal book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Nonviolent communication is described as “the language of the heart.” The premise is to awaken one’s empathy and honesty, to connect with the human spirit, in each person, in any situation, allowing everyone’s needs to be equally valued. More on his book and work at http://www.cnvc.org/

Marc Weiner designed his labyrinth to encourage heart-to-heart connections within one ’s self and with others. One starts with the premise to identify the situation/conflict in which you would like to foster a heart to heart connection. While walking the labyrinth one is encouraged to open their heart, and create compassionate connections with everyone. The labyrinth becomes a tool to learn non-violent communication by better understanding one’s own motives, patterns, ego, thoughts and judgments. I felt like I was walking through a dictionary of emotions, starting with negative thoughts like: discombobulated, disturbed, self-conscious, exhausted, animosity, vulnerable. The next circle used words that connoted needs like: security, inspiration, freedom, integrity, purpose, so forth. Reading all of those written words which formed the circles was Mind-Spirit expanding. The apex of the labyrinth was the center where chairs were placed for contemplation.

Marc Weiner has taken this program, (translated into many languages), about the world. It is used in all of the third grades in Israel. http://www.theempathylabyrinth.com/ will give you much to CONTEMPLATE. Howard and I sat at the center of the Empathy Labyrinth with its blowsy white net curtains billowing in the gray sky. Imagine a world of COMMUNICATION based on empathy, understanding, nonviolence—it indeed would be the “THE LANGUAGE OF THE HEART."

Tents of Hope, Washington, D.C.

"I wish for the whole world to have strawberries and good food."
Sunday we drove to DC to participate in the last day of the Tents of Hope interfaith weekend of prayer and action for Sudan. Communities across America and abroad transformed canvas refugee tents with liberal doses of paint and love into unique works of art that express compassion and desire for peace for the people of Darfur and surrounding areas.
We walked out of the Air and Space Museum to view a magnificent panoramic sight. Over 350 tents, lined up like colorful soldiers, stretched down the length of the Smithsonian Mall grounds. One speaker noted, “We are only passing through, this world is our family.” Looking at the colorful tents, this is our family, this is our world, and these are our people. And some of our people live desperate lives.

Dr. Clements, “…so when genocide is happening and we stand idly by we are part of it.” Within view of the stage where the speakers and entertainers stood, is the Native American Museum. This is an American genocide. Three blocks south, stands the National Holocaust Museum. In Rwanda, I have written to four different women, one year each, all directly affected by that genocide. Kosovo is the same. And in each case of unfettered genocide the world stood idly by, taking action after thousands had died.

It is difficult to imagine entire families living in these small tents, which barely give protection against the winds and heat. Tiny patches of vegetables, scratched out in the parched soil, cooking fires, flirting with the flimsy canvas, this is real life.

Many displaced, refugee camps have been systematically destroyed by Omar Al-Bashir’s forces. Each sign represents a village that is gone, vanished, destroyed.

One citizens group is making efforts to provide solar cooking panels to the camps and teaching people how to use them. This helps to reduce the need for gathering firewood, which often results in the women and girls being caught and raped. The men do not go out for wood because they are killed, girls are sent because they are raped and not killed. ( I suppose that depends upon what you consider death.)

These are a few of the beautiful tents painted for the refugees. At the end of the day they were dismantled, wrapped and ready for shipping to Sudan. Money raised over the weekend was to help defray costs of shipping.

Visit http://www.savedarfur.org/ to learn more about the Sudan. There is a web stream slide show of the entire weekend. Also on this website you can sign an e-postcard. The goal is to collect one million signed postcards to present to President-elect Obama on April 26th. President Obama will be 100 days into his presidency, the coalitions to stop genocide, will invite him to the Smithsonian Mall and give him the million post cards. You can do it on line if you would like to lend your voice.

It was a spiritual experience to walk amongst these tents, thinking of those who painted them and who would live in them; focusing on this event which shouldn’t be happening; putting a face to those who have committed untold hours and dollars to help these people who suffer; watching the youth lead; our country is in good hands with this new generation of compassionate, vocal, intelligent younger adults. These men and women will be the generation who provide strawberries for those who are repressed.

President Elect, Barack Obama

The Power of One, One Vote, One Step multiplied by millions, a new President Elect Barack Obama; our planet is quivering with excitement, seismic change, can you feel it?
Repeating my last words on previous post: May we blend RED and BLUE and create a NEW COLOR to represent THE COLOR OF AMERICA! Barack Obama stands as his own METAPHOR, for here is a man who is product of a WHITE mother and BLACK father, the blending of two colors. Perhaps this is one reason why he is a natural conciliator and has his bold vision of COHESIVENESS and COMMONALITY.
This is a man who is fulfilling his destiny, a man who represents the transitional figure of:
Today, the first email in my mailbox was from Simon Rose, partner in the Cortes Real Art Gallery in Portugal. He sent his congratulations and hope for the future. Pretty cool, right?
What I Want to Remember from last Night: I am grateful to be an American; the sea of faces at Grant Park and elsewhere so joyful, so emotional, so hopeful and so eager to restart their own commitments and open their hearts to inclusiveness and the forging of a healthier America; the beautiful smile and support of Michelle Obama and their daughters, standing so proud beside their father; John Lewis, Black Senator spilling forth with emotion as he recalled the ugly face of American racial prejudice and history and his gratitude for this historic occasion, a dream he never thought he would live to see; time standing still as the clock struck 11:00pm, television screens flashed, ‘Barack Obama has won the presidency’ and in that second a president was confirmed; John McCain’s very gracious concession speech to America and his supporters, a remarkable offering of conciliation and working together for the common good of America; and finally, Obama’s own historic acceptance speech which will go down in history as one of America’s most eloquent and important declarations on how we will become a Unified America—a message of HOPE for us and other countries.

Historic Election Day

All the news coverage suggested voters would stand in long serpentine lines, for many hours waiting their turn to vote. We went prepared! Large satchel: one thick book on Darfur (seemed appropriate choice), one newspaper, one ballot, large bottle of water, Halloween candy, tissues, driver's license, notebook and camera with which to record and document this historic event.
We arrived at Meadowvale Elementary School around 10:00 am. Our neighbor, Paul Martin said he was going later when it wouldn’t be as long of a wait. Driving past the ambulance center, we noticed it was packed with cars, banners and balloons. When we drove into the school parking lot, further down the road there were few cars. First to greet us was a very happy man, quietly holding up an Obama-Biden banner. We waved hello and returned his smile. We parked next to a red car with a smiling daddy and daughter getting out. Both of these men were African American, walking tall and smiling large.
Standing near the door were a few very senior, senior citizens animatedly talking! Hmm no line outside. Line must be inside the school, good wouldn’t get cold while waiting. To our great surprise the hallway was empty! Where were the people?
We walked to the cafeteria that was set up with voting stations, tables with election volunteers eager and ready to help. No line. No wait. No Questions. Register and vote! Now how easy is that?
We were in and out in ten minutes. As we left, a few more voters were mingling in the hall way.
Howard and I have never missed an election. But no election competes with this one for excitement and enthusiasm. Hmmm, there was one election that was very special. Matthew Howard Furner was born on the day that Richard Nixon was elected president.
This is a historic election whether one is Republican, Independent or Democrat. This is an election where an African American senator, and a 72 year old, war-hero, senator are running for the highest office in the land. Sarah Palin, a relatively unknown woman from Alaska could potentially become president. Everything is a study in contrasts. This election of “firsts” is completely amazing. This election will rewrite the way all future elections will be conducted and won. Millions of people who for one reason or another have never voted today they can say “I voted, my vote counts.” My vote is as important as Donald Trump’s vote! It seemed important to document this historic election in this blog. Today I read some words spoken by Maya Angelou. She was asked, “What does it say about the country that Barack Obama is a candidate to be president?” In her wise, deep voice she replied, “The country is growing up and confessing to something we’ve known all along…and I was taken back to slavery. If you will have a person enslaved, the first thing you must do is convince yourself that the person is subhuman. The second thing you have to do is convince your allies so you’ll have some help, and the third and probably unkindest cut of all is to convince THAT person that he or she is subhuman and deserves it……..well people found it very difficult to admit that human beings are more alike than we are unalike…..but to admit it, you have to stop saying: because this guy speaks another language, because their eyes are shaped differently from mine, because they’re first-generation Americans from Eastern Europe, then they don’t count. I don’t have to consider them. With this election, the country is finally able to see through complexion and see community. This is just one reason why this is a historic election. We voted for Barack Obama. He hadn’t been my first choice, it was Hilary Clinton. She is the woman who really broke the glass ceiling in politics; was instrumental in shaping Barack the Democratic Party nominee; and has done all she can to support him and elect a Democratic president. When I think of the Black men and women I had the opportunity to “rub shoulders” with in Baltimore, I am so happy for them. They have to be walking proud, as are the rest of us. And those who are supporting John McCain, it is the same. These are two very capable men of serving as President. No matter who wins, it has taken us a long time to come to this place of great weariness and almost a deep seeded hopelessness. Neither man can rectify immediately what has taken so long to disintegrate. We will all have to be patient, vigilant, and do our part. Perhaps we can find our way to “get off the couch” and give something to this country. Certainly the energy and enthusiasm is paving the way. It shouldn’t all fall upon the shoulders of the new president. Tonight we will know!
May we blend Red and Blue and create a NEW COLOR to represent our COUNTRY!

Butterfly Kisses

Let’s face it, children are amazing artists. They don’t deliberate over their swishing of color over expanses of white paper. They paint “in real time.” Brushes, fingers, sponges and toes…there is no “perfect-have-to-own-it” painting implement. Subject matter simply arises from the creative well which hasn’t been diluted or tampered with. Fear, oh me oh my, why painting is pure joy, what is there to be fearful of. All that it takes for creative flow to move is opportunity, abundant supplies of paper and squishy brilliant paint. They say children’s art is “naïve” painting at its undiluted best. Naïve painting is simply painting from the soul where creativity bubbles in effervescent eruptions. There is no plan, no agenda, just pure expression.
I paint for children. The whimsical name, Lah de Dah Designs is meant to reflect the carefree nature of painting with children in mind. How does it stack up against the real thing? It doesn’t of course. My “mother-mind” has long ago evaporated from the inner, unfettered world of carefree color and imagination.
But I try. Why paint for children? Why not? It is pure fun to sit with a brush load of color and decide how to best put it on canvas hoping it adds to a child’s own imaginative pleasure. For me, art painted expressively for children is a form of storytelling, a painted narrative, a story without words. My goal: set enough of a stage and let a child tumble in.
Painting for children has become a very large, highly targeted and profitable market. I have had my opportunity with licensing art for children. I have painted countless murals, furniture and canvases for those who have the luxury of purchasing art for their child’s room. It has all been fine, a wonderful experience. But the pleasure really comes in the delight of painting without so many rules and expectations….painting from a child-like point of view.
Butterflies flirt and flit, skitter about taking a bit of dew and pollen here and there, no grand plan, no major ambition, just freedom, color, creation and touches of Butterfly Kisses along the way.
Drop by www.sharonfurner.com to see this fall's newest paintings for children and those with child-like hearts.

Something is Wrong

I grew up in a conservative, hard-working, honest-as-they-come family. When life got hard, they just worked harder. Self-reliance, integrity and loyalty were hallmarks of their moral compass. My grandparents lived through the Great Depression and two World Wars. Still they had faith and hope in a brighter future and a better life for their children. Three of their four children received college degrees. My father was true to his military profession; order, organization, self discipline, freedom of country, service, loyalty and honesty were his deeply held convictions. Sometimes I wonder: Is my DNA threaded with these same convictions and idealisms? What is today’s reality? Where is our future heading? How can a single election loom so large and make us all feel so vulnerable? Somehow we seem to have lost our way. Like Alice, we, as a nation, have tumbled down an enormous black hole. We have misplaced our moral compass. This past October 28th marks the 6th anniversary of the Help America Vote Act. Now, four years and $2billion dollars later, both officials and voters wonder whether it isn’t time for more comprehensive election reform. The television is filled with images and words creating fear and doubt in the reliability of voting machines, ways to cheat the system, disenfranchised voters and long lines. We have no choice. We must deploy the Power of One voice, One vote. The paths we walk, the converging of ideologies, the alliances we forge, the wars we end and enter, our economy and health care system and the compassion we show for other countries are all markers for who we are as a nation. This is what is on my mind as I prepare to vote: Something is wrong when right-wing politicians blur the distinction between church and state. Something is wrong when teachers are leaving in droves from their profession due to salary, administrative and No Child Left Behind constraints. Something is wrong when our children lack basic educational skills and we can’t compete in the world. Something is wrong when entertainers and athletes make ENORMOUS amounts of money and we don’t raise the wages of teachers, public health workers, firemen, policemen and public works personnel. Something is wrong when those who can’t afford health insurance are turned away from emergency rooms, or even dying for lack of urgent treatment, and/or deplete their savings for medications and care. Something is wrong when billions of dollars are spent on political campaign advertisements, while 24 million Americans still go to bed hungry and millions more sleep on the streets or overflowing shelters. Something is wrong when presidential candidates deliberately mislead the public with outright lies, misleading information and distortion of facts to win an election. Something is wrong when mainstream media promote and give credence to the above and/or spew divisive talking points masquerading as “news.” Something is wrong when cities like New Orleans are swamped with natural disasters and our government agencies are not equipped to step in and alleviate/rebuild the natural disasters. Something is wrong when greed, ambition, hubris and murky ethics bring down an entire country, which rolls like a tsunami over the rest of the world. Something is wrong with these banking/financial gurus leave with millions in their pockets and no responsibility. Something is wrong when a country runs a rogue prison at Guantanamo Bay and the President of the United States declares there is no torture. Something is wrong when right-wing zealots dictate our immigration and marriage policies. Something is wrong when we know more about the twists and turns of entertainment celebrities than we know of the heart-wrenching stories of fellow humans in Darfur, Chad, Congo, Burma, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Georgia. Something is wrong when we can’t repair our own infrastructure: highways, bridges, tunnels, public buildings, levees and dams. Something is wrong when our great country is RICH in resources, human intelligence, creativity and compassion but impoverished in honest management. Something is wrong when our leadership and international authority have been severely diminished. Something is wrong when we are going to have to spend the next four years cleaning up the past eight years of messes. MY HERITAGE IS ONE OF OPTIMISM, INTEGRITY AND HARD WORK. FAITH IN OUR COUNTRY AND COUNTRYMEN WILL PREVAIL. We will all vote. We can all make a difference. We can then put our “shoulder to the wheel” and do our part, One by One to raise us out of Alice’s hole. These words seem filled with pessimism, but in reality I can and will write a list of “Something is right”…… But first let me vote!