Photo from Wes Bruce –


A friend of mine holds onto several mantras for his life. He repeats these phrases and has let them take hold as best he can.
It made Betony and I begin to ask ourselves, what are our own mantras? What are the sayings that stay with us or that we keep coming back to or that we need to keep reminding ourselves of?

Here are just some of the mantras we’ve adopted. What are yours?

Always be kind,
for everyone is
fighting a great battle.

Be Open to Whatever
Comes Next

The world will never
lack for wonders;
only wonder.


Live a Better STORY

Love God, love people


Featured Artist: Chris McLean

Chris McLean

Bio: Christopher McLean is an artist who works mostly in oil, ink and mixed media. His work incorporates a precise technical style that is influenced by Art Nouveau and Pop Surrealism.  The goal of McLean’s art work is to create images that are captivating from a purely aesthetic viewpoint, but also contain much to ponder in terms of content. He sees his art as successful when it comes together to create a complete visual identity without presenting his subjects as closed. Perhaps most importantly, while some very specific ideas can be culled from his images, McLean is careful to leave a generous depth of space for the viewer to explore and develop their own interpretations of the work, resulting in art that can be viewed again and again, always offering some fresh insight.

More of Christopher McLeans art work can be seen and bought at

From Chris:

Painting My Tiger Gold

I can tell you what went into making this piece of art for the September almanac.  I could tell you that I painted it on reclaimed wood from a platform, which sat at a home that housed all of my hopes and dreams.  I could tell you that at the time of its commission, I knew that the meaning would be quite significant.  I could tell you that as I stained each stripe and carefully drew each line, that I was in the process of figuring out how to become just what the theme was meant to be.  Because of this, it is easier to explain this piece by sharing my journey while creating it.

This year has been the most difficult time of my life.  It is almost impossible for me to figure out how I have been able to get through what I already have, but almost equally impossible to figure out how to walk down the road ahead.  For a while, I thought that the answer was being tough.

I tried looking tough, keeping an even demeanor, acting as though nothing was wrong.  If anything gets in my way, I will simply be…tougher. Toughness, as I came to know it, was rooted in my fears. I was scared of what was happening to me, to my life.  Hurt by the things I could not control. Moving into unknown territories and having everything I had loved and become familiar with evaporate.  I was, I am scared.

In this dark place I found out that this heavy armor of toughness was not going to help me find my way, and in fact, it was wearing me down.  I had placed myself on mute and coasted across the landscape afraid of company. I had begun to rely on being something that would never allow me to heal.

You see, while I wanted to hurt, trying to simply be tough forced me to extinguish my emotions, my problems, my mistakes and my pain. Tough wanted me to be scared, because the second I let my guard down, well, that is when life gets you…or so I believed.  Tough wanted me to be scared and all the while brave let me be scared and I learned the difference.

Here’s the truth about bravery.  It makes you want to throw up. It makes you cry. It makes you lose sleep and weight.  Being brave means you are scared. It’s ugly and messy and not at all heroic looking when it’s happening. Most of all, brave wants you to heal past pain and find joy again. It helps you reach each problem, turn it into a puzzle and with a deep breath, solve it.

In the end, this golden tiger represents my fears, my doubts, my restless nights and it was while I was painting it that I was learning about bravery.  I still have a long way to go on my current journey, but there are a few things that I know I must do.  Sing into my most terrifying moments. Avoid being alone, because we need each other.  Use the currency of joy wherever I must pay my tolls, but most important, be brave.

By Christopher McLean

Poem: Good Morning on a Monday

Mariah Foster is an amazing spoken-word poet in Greeley, CO.
Giants & Pilgrims requested to print one of the poems we’d heard her do on “bravery”. She sent the requested poem along with an original piece just for this Almanac as well! Enjoy these two poems here.<

By Mariah Foster
You are beautiful.

I hope you know.
You are beautiful like renaissance paintings
Hung crookedly,
like silence in the morning,
up to blueberry coffee and harmony,
Sunsets falling east.
I’m talking beautiful like bad dancing, horrible dancing,
But you’re smiling and laughing…
It’s just beautiful.
And yes, I am talking to each and every one of you,
So little girl, don’t stop listening, I know
You’re preoccupied, trying
To rebuild broken bits of self-esteem,
But little girl, you are beautiful,
Don’t stop listening,

And little boy, don’t stop listening,
Don’t stop listening
Even if you’re afraid to be beautiful.
I promise you have the strength to be vulnerable.
I know
Because I know you.
Don’t you remember?
I was the star that shone the night you were born,
I was the heart worn on your sleeve.
I’ve been your love muddying convictions,
I’ve been the earth that washed you clean.
Little girl, don’t stop listening,
Little boy, don’t stop listening,
I’ve been the wind whipping,
Trees clawing at your window,
But don’t let it be so frightening.
Don’t let me be so frightening;
I was just reminding,
Just reminding,
I hope you know.
Don’t let it be so frightening,
And don’t question me when I tell you that you’re beautiful,
I know.
Don’t question you when you tell you that you’re beautiful.
I hope you know.

Little girl, I will mold your shattered self-esteem,
making a mirror, reflecting,
making a mirror, you’ll see,
You’ll see.
You’ll see, and I won’t need to say anything.
We won’t need to say anything.

Little boy, I will place the world on your shoulders
So you will realize you are strong enough to be vulnerable
You will realize you are strong enough to be beautiful.
Little girl, don’t stop listening,
Little boy, don’t stop listening
The world is whispering,
I am whispering
You are beautiful, You are beautiful.
We need to keep listening,
Always listening,
Keep teaching each other that we are beautiful,
Telling shouting screaming
We are strong enough to be vulnerable.
We are are strong enough to be beautiful.
We are strong enough to be beautiful,
To be beautiful,

To be beautiful.

To be beautiful is to be you.
I hope you know

Adventure: Capes and Crowns

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Capes & Crowns
When Lucy was a baby, one of her outfits had a tiny
hidden talk bubble on it that said
“This is the begining of something beautiful.” 
This adventure is about speaking mantras into childrens’ lives.
Items Needed:
Free fabric samples (perhaps thrown out from a furniture or
design businesses) or other scrap fabric/felt
Plastic jewels
Hot Glue Gun
For the September theme of “brave” you’ll be making capes and crowns for kids. Keep a couple for your family or children you know, then donate the rest to a play area of a woman’s shelter or a waiting room at a doctor’s office or somewhere you know they’ll be put to great use and play.
First, cut the fabric samples into the shapes of capes and crowns while using the hot glue gun to add bling in different patterns. Add ribbons or elastic strips that make them wearable. These can be as simple or as elaborate as you would like. Have sewing skills? If so, reinforce the designs with stiches for extra durability. There are some great templates online you can use as a pattern for the crowns.
When you’ve made some working items take the sharpie. Here’s the important part:
Hide messages into the capes and crowns. What do you want spoken over your kids? Your friends’ kids or nieces and nephews? The children at the place of donation? We suggest mantras like You are Strong. You can do this. You are loved. Great wisdom and strength is found in you.
And so on.
They may never read the message but these sentiments, like small prayers, will play over them as they dawn these dress up items; these capes and crowns that encourage feats of bravery in their stories.

Autumn Leaves Playlist

Autumn Leaves

There is a change in the wind that happens come September. I think the trees are the first to recognize the chill and they respond accordingly. I respond by collecting songs that depict this season’s change from the heat of summer to the cool of autumn. 

Autumn Leaves • Nat “King” Cole
Autumn Serenade  • John Coltrane
Great Pumpkin Waltz • Vince Guaraldi
Forever Autumn • Moody Blues
I See Darkness • Johnny Cash
Leaves that are Green • Simon & Garfunkel
Autumn Shade • The Vines
Last Days of Summer • The Cure
Autumn in New York • Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
The Boys of Summer • Don Henley
Sun it Rises • Fleet Foxes
Autumn Leaves • Ed Sheeran

Recipe: Banana Bread with Chocolate

To me the taste of fall is found strongly in sweet breads- dense and wonderful loaves of pumpkin or zucchini or banana. The smell of them baking in the oven can make a house into a home.

This banana bread recipe is one that Betony often makes come autumn. And the warmth of a slice provides great contrast against the continuing crisping days of September. Enjoy.

Makes 1 loaf

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt
(not low or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F.
Grease a 9-by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray or butter.
2. Melt the butter on the stove or in a microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and whisk well to combine. Set aside.
4. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.
5. Bake until the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to an hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil.
6. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing. The loaf freezes well wrapped in plastic wrap and again in foil to protect from freezer burn. This is great eaten warm out of the oven, but also delicious grilled in a skillet on both sides with some butter. Yum.

September Poetic Intro: Brave

Our Almanac theme for this month is “brave”. Since September holds beginning of the fall and school and new projects after summer it lends itself to a need for courage.



September is a courageous leap

into the trial,
the unknown,
the new
all the unexpected that

demands an answer

of courage
and bravery

After this harvest, this last run
the days will begin to shorten

And the adventure of fast days and darker hours
found in this crisp autumn
will require your best energies

Just remember

that which quickens your pulse
reminds you best
of how alive you truly are

Branches Online Art Show: Feature # 2

Happy September! We are excited to share the second installation of our “branches” themed art show with you. All last month we asked artists to submit pieces on this theme and we had a really wonderful turnout. Enjoy these lovely interpretations!

tree_up view_betony

Betony Coons



Brittany Schmidt


Brittney Maddox

Brittany Maddox



Garrett Leonnig


Celtic Table 5

Nancy Lynch


Thanks to everyone who submitted! For a peak at the first feature go here.