Sand Dollar

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… you’re invited to reflect upon what this means to you.

Watch me paint “Living Sand Dollar” in a minute (time lapse)

“I saw this living sand dollar in the touch pool at the Marine Science Center, but I’ve also seen many sand dollars at the beach. The living ones are dark and pop through the sand during low tide. We are not meant to take those, as removing them from the ocean will kill these special creatures. One time I saw a woman with a full bucket of living sand dollars and I felt grief stricken. But, when a sand dollar is light and dry (bone white and brittle, or turning that way), it is no longer living, and may be collected as a wonderful beach treasure souvenir.

The sand dollar is a fascinating simple sea creature with markings that have deeply religious and spiritual meaning for many Christians, and are especially meaningful at Easter. There are markings on the front and back, and “doves” inside (discovered only when a sand dollar is broken open).For many, the sand dollar represents the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ:

1. Five slits in a configuration may represent Christ’s wounds while on the cross

2. Markings look like an Easter lily with a star in the middle, symbolizing the birth of Christ

3. On the opposite side is an outline of a poinsettia, or Easter lily

4. Tiny doves of peace and hope are inside (white bird shapes that were once the sand dollar’s teeth)

Besides all of this, sand dollars are special to me because my dad brought one home to me when I was a child. He had been to Savannah for a military training exercise and had found the sand dollar on the beach. He told me that I needed to go one day, that I would love it. Dad died from cancer at age thirty-seven, after having beat it once before when in his twenties. He had served two tours in the Vietnam War. I had recently turned sixteen years old when he died. Many years later, I not only got to visit Savannah, but I now live here, and hope to make it my forever home.

When I found my first sand dollar on the beach, I held it up to the sky and said, ‘This is for you, Dad.'”

from book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

The art in the second video “Angel Releasing Dove” probably looks to you as if I was painting my sand dollar story as it relates to me holding a sand dollar to the heavens for Dad… but my conscious mind wasn’t aware of this connection until now, when putting this blog together. It was simply another painting project.

At the time, I’d found a bit of a broken shell that looked like an angel’s wing, and the idea to incorporate the actual shell into a painting of an angel was born. The “dove” idea came later when I realized that it was the right size to add to the painting. But really, it was just about using cherished treasures from a beautiful day at the beach with my family, especially my daughter who was walking with me when I found the broken shell and agreed with me that it looks like an angel’s wing.

So, it was new memories, not old, that inspired the angel and dove painting. And yet, obviously, it looks very much connected when I see the previous sand dollar story next to the angel and dove video. In this way, I once again see how our past, present and future are always connected- even when we can’t see it.

Sometimes that connection is seen easily by outside eyes, while we are oblivious to it. But does our unawareness made the connection disappear? I think not. Someday, we may see it. When that happens, it doesn’t make the reality suddenly reappear, it simply means that we are aware of it. Our awareness, recognition, admission, or approval of reality is unnecessary for truth to exist.

Nor do we need to understand serendipity or natural wonders, for those miracles to exist. And that brings me to a timely point to ponder:

If the religious meaning that some assign to a sand dollar is offensive, could a sand dollar be “banned”? The sand dollar is a living creature. Only when it is dead does it become a “thing” to possess and reassign to our own significance. The reality of the sand dollar’s life or death is not altered by the opinions, beliefs, passion, appreciation, or malice of humankind.

I invite you to ponder what happens when the free will of people to determine for themselves those thoughts that are kind or unkind to share, the words that should be said or left unsaid, and when the power of language that may hurt another may be considered a weapon; is controlled, stifled, and enforced by entities who perceive themselves as a moral authority over thoughts, ideas, words, and the association, distribution, possession and communication of these concepts. What happens? Is the truth altered? What is changed? Is the world a better place?

Is the sand dollar living or dead? If people no longer believe in religion, as is the wish of a very large movement (which is, of course, in itself a religion, though they are blind to it), for the “good” of the planet, will the sand dollar’s markings fade? Will they be erased? No, of course not. We cannot remove all traces of symbolism or reminders of what humankind believes, thinks, or feels that is “wrong”.

The sand dollar is a primitive living creature who is in many ways more free than we are. It is allowed to simply “be”… except when opportunistic beach goers collect these fragile beings while still alive, thereby killing them. The reasons for controlling other living beings may be scorn, condemnation and the prevention of influence and ideas that entities do not like… but sometimes control is about possessing another being, even if that possession denies them the freedom they need to thrive… or survive.

When I posted my Easter show yesterday, I named the video file “spring show”, because I wanted to avoid censors that blacklist the term “Easter”. Whatever your feelings about religion, politics, and other causes, I invite you to ponder what affect it has on us when entities control our freedom of thought, and our ability to share our thoughts with others.

Just as a sand dollar can never be “banned”, we are alive-imperfections and all- and are meant to be free.

New Painting + Show!

Surprises, inspiration, and celebration!

My new painting is revealed, and the story behind it (told through captions and music). You’ll love my special guests, but not as much as I do!

I’m posting this show (the above video) with enough time for you to share it with your family and friends ahead of this glorious joyful Sunday. You may visit my Painting Shows page for past events.

Subscribe to my blog to be notified of new posts. Never miss new paintings!

Power of Steam

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss your challenge invitation. Do you accept?

Watch me paint this seascape in 2 minute time-lapse. It was my first time painting on a canvas this large.

“The Steamship Savannah was the first ship to cross the Atlantic by steam. What a happy, exhilarating feeling it must have been to stand on the shores, watching this pioneering ship set sail…
When anything is possible, everything is. May we be inspired by those who took this maiden voyage and showed us how to dream and achieve.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

I’d planned on more voyages of my own. After our return from living in Ireland, there was no reason for the adventures to end, but our travels were ill fated. The only places we were “going”, were through the spirit of discovery of the mind.

Pioneering new ways to think, create, and share is a bit like the power of steam. Steam power was invented as a solution to problems, namely as an engine to pump out flooded coal mines. We too often discover something new through the “power of steam”, an innovative solution to a problem that sets us sailing on an unexpected and exhilarating adventure.

Natalie Buske Thomas at Celtic Sea Coast

Tomorrow is the launch of my pioneering oil painting adventure, using technology in a way that no artist has ever done before. I’ve seized the opportunity to try Amazon’s new feature to embed video into e-books, and the book will be offered in a free promotion that should get a lot of attention. I’m ready!

This spirit of discovery wasn’t quite the thrill I’d been pining for… for years now I’ve wanted my art to “come alive” as viewers read my books, but it’s a grand start! For the first time, the technology exists to pioneer merging books and art in an innovative way. As time goes on, I plan to step up my game and create the illusion of a story coming alive as its being painted.

Because my file sizes are enormous for e-book format standards, today’s technology (available to us average yokels) doesn’t yet have this capacity. I could only choose one moving picture (one video to embed). The others had to be linked to. Viewers must click on the link and watch my painting videos hosted on my own independent website. But, in one glorious part of the voyage, my art “comes alive” inside the book, or so it should… if the reading device works as expected.

Another somewhat disappointing bit is that the video doesn’t spontaneously play. It seems that viewers must click play. I also had to downsize my 100+ images a little bit. They are still high resolution though, and such a very long way from the early days when a single image would crash an entire website! Now we can put sharp, full color, massive images and VIDEO into digital books.

Wow! I’d have eaten all of this up when I was a child bookworm. But who says I can’t be excited now, in 2021? Aren’t we all still that child inside? Embrace the thrills of the future! What can we do tomorrow? What can we do TODAY?

When life took an unexpected turn of unemployment, hardship and grieving the loss of a parent I was the caregiver for, my reaction was to flee. I escaped with my family into a whole new life of travel and adventure, selling most of what we owned, and leaving it all behind. But that journey ended abruptly and with no hope of continuance.

How would I solve the problem of being “grounded”, perhaps for years to come? Like the power of steam, a solution to one problem may lead to an exhilarating voyage. I turned my desire for adventure inward, and made intellectual, creative, and spiritual discoveries.

I challenge you to do the same. Perhaps you’re already sailing on new seas, and just need encouragement to keep going, or maybe you’re still standing on the shore. Your hopes and dreams are at reach, believe it! And when we think we’ve reached the end of who we are, we realize that we’ve only just begun.

My lifetime goal:
ONE THOUSAND finished paintings

Preparing the Way

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss a guidepost that could change your direction.

Watch me paint “Lenten Flower” in under a minute (time lapse)

“I mentioned earlier about learning something new, during our Easter experiences at our new Southern church … I’d been focused on Lent being about the past- repenting, letting go, pledging to change. What I hadn’t spent much thought on is that when we let go of something it makes room for something new …
The depressing and sometimes challenging process of examining our lives and deciding what we need to change is only the beginning of the journey. We do this to prepare the way for something better, something new. It may require a leap of faith, and the journey is bittersweet, but the destination is beautiful.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

The world has changed dramatically since I painted “Lenten Flower“. The reflective journey that millions of people take every year is now forced upon us, as the world remembers global events unfolding during the spring and Easter of 2020 that would alter the lives of nearly everyone on the planet. Because of this, the process of examining our lives and paving the way for positive change has become a universal challenge.

This could be nothing more than a temporary cultural fad and a sign of the times we live in… or, it could be much more. Are we entering an age of enlightenment? Possibly.

But regardless of what everyone else does, we are not a “collective” (who we are), but we can work collectively (what we do). As unique and wonderful individuals, we can focus on our personal journeys. And in doing so, we will then collectively elevate the whole.

Now, let’s grab a cuppa (coffee, tea, hot chocolate?) and reflect on how to prepare the way for change with a focused scientifically-measured plan. I can assure you that a serious effort works. No matter how intangible our goals may seem, we can find a way to measure our progress and hold ourselves accountable.

Oil painting "Lenten Flower" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas
“Lenten Flower” oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Physical goals are often easily measured by numbers. Math doesn’t lie, but sometimes it doesn’t tell the full story, so always look at a variety of factors. We can measure body weight (weight gain, loss, or stable), body mass index, cholesterol levels, the amount of blood sugar in our blood, and much more. Harder to diagnose conditions such as allergies, eczema, and immune system disorders can be measured by keeping a diary of symptoms, and numbering the severity of each.

When we measure our progress scientifically, we achieve objectivity. We become an observer, a witness, and an analyst who studies our own lives in order to create positive change. When we start with a physical goal, it is easier to see how to address our intellectual and spiritual needs.

After a physical goal is set (perhaps a simple plan to get more vitamin D from the sun into your week by committing to 15 minutes outdoors every day for six weeks?), you can then decide how to measure your progress, such as keeping a diary and assigning a number from 1-5 of how strongly you experience symptoms such as skin problems, fatigue or depression (whatever pertains to your situation). This process of setting a goal and measuring it can then be applied to intellectual and spiritual goals as well.

But what if we don’t know what we want to change? Then that’s where we start. Our goal could be “discover what I’d like to do to expand my thinking”. We could commit to spending 15 minutes a day browsing through books, articles, and blogs, looking for ideas for what we’d like to study. Try this search string: “interesting topics to learn about”. If truly serious about enlightenment, we’ll find our passion.

When we discover a path we’d like to explore, then the process for intellectual change is similar to a physical journey. Set a measurable goal. Use math as much as possible. For example, “I’m taking a 6 week course”, or “I’m spending 30 minutes a day reading about this subject”.

Keep a diary to measure progress that is less tangible, such as how much energy you feel at the end of the day when you commit to expanding your thinking (assign an energy number, from 1-5). Journal your progress: how is expanding your mind in one small way leading you to new ways of thinking in bigger ways?

Spiritual change can follow this same pattern: explore what we want to change, create a way to measure our progress, analyze our journey. The good news is, once we are practiced and disciplined in this type of reflection, we do it intuitively. We don’t need to measure, track, or record our progress. It is simply how we live.

Some of us arrive at this place after life-changing trauma. Others are “born older”, wise souls from birth. But many just have to find their way. Regardless of when we start, or how many times we must begin anew, the journey is for each of us, uniquely and wonderfully ours.

Reflection doesn’t mean condemnation, but forgiveness, mercy, and letting go of the past. Judgement is unproductive; examination is helpful. Change your words, change your life. All of these things sound like cliques, but these are concepts that work.

That’s why people say the same things. Not only do these methods work, but our journey never ends. No matter how enlightened we are, we can always be “more”. And from time to time, the words from others will hit us at the exact moment when we are ready to being a new quest toward positive change.

Maybe that day is today. Do something good for yourself. When you push toward bigger things, you bring all of us with you. Whatever your heart desires, I wish you success and happiness.

Quiet Joy

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… Put the kettle on, then lose yourself for a few minutes in this blog. Don’t miss your invitation to quiet joy.

Watch this garden come alive in 2 minutes (painting time lapse)

“That’s me, on the swing. My real life swing is actually a rather cheap, much smaller, version of this, but I enjoy my time on the patio. The morning glory vines along the top were real, but we later yanked them out because birds were perching on it and pooping on the swing! The birds don’t usually come around all at once, but all of these do visit our patio in the places I’ve painted them. The bluebirds visit seldomly, while the cardinals and hummingbirds are here every day and I’ve begun to think of them as my friends!”

– from book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Updates to the above story…

My potted red roses are already growing again this season. The roses that I painted in this picture have turned out to be a surprise. Apparently this plant is a climbing rose variety, very hardy and blooms abundant flowers all season!

A couple of weeks ago I “trained” the climbing rose vines to grow through the arc and neighboring lattice (where the bluebird is perched). Now the vines have fresh spring leaves on them and the rose buds will quickly follow. The roses will be very tall and sprawling this year, some will rise above the arc and lattice! That will be such a beautiful sight. I didn’t expect any new surprises, yet here we are. Of course I’m taking this as a positive metaphor for how life is going (“growing”).

I invite you to let this metaphor about my roses settle into your spirit. Could it be that something you’ve started years ago could become more than you expected? Is there something you could “plant” now that will surprise you in the near future?

I meant this as a spiritual boost, but I also meant this literally… why not plant something new? May I suggest a butterfly tree? I’ll share with you the kind that I have:

Notice the potted “butterfly tree” on the right?  It has the hummingbird feeder on a shepherd’s hook in the same pot. Why? Because this bush really does attract hummingbirds and butterflies, as the advertising tag claimed it would. When I saw a hummingbird snacking on these flowers, I knew we’d be able to keep these delightful little birds as our patio friends if we put a feeder in that same pot.

And it worked! From the first return of the hummingbirds until fall settles in, they visit us every day. This little tree can remain in a pot, and it’s apparently easy to create new plants from it (I’ve not done this yet but I plan to).

Watch me paint these butterfly tree flowers in under a minute (time lapse). Visit the butterfly flowers art page to learn more about this type of tree.

This is how my work station looked when these bird paintings were in progress: bluebird, hummingbird, cardinals, goldfinches. We also get the ruby throated type of hummingbird, the glorious painted bunting, blue herons, and even the occasional eagle!

The herons and eagles drop by because of the lagoon in line of sight from our little yard. We don’t feed them, they go fishing for themselves. It’s always exciting when we see them catch a big fish!

Feed the birds, you’ll not regret it. Many of you probably already do this, and need no encouragement. It’s one of life’s quiet joys that we can have even if our circumstances are humble, stressed, or infirm. All we need is a window, and someone to help stock the feeder if incapable of that task.

We see other types of wild birds, but I won’t give any spoilers because I haven’t yet painted those.

Light House

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss my philosophical questions for you.

Watch me paint this lighthouse in a minute (time lapse)

“My dad’s one and only painting in his life was of a lighthouse. Decades later, I was inspired to paint one, after seeing this lighthouse both from the road on the way to Tybee Island, and then later from the sea while on a dolphin boat tour.
This lighthouse is located two miles west of the tourist attraction, Tybee Island Lighthouse, and is actually on Cockspur Island. The first Cockspur Lighthouse was built in 1849 to mark the entrance to the south channel of the Savannah River. Because it wasn’t working adequately, it was later rebuilt in 1857. To preserve this historical marker, the lighthouse isn’t open to visitors.
What do you feel when you look at this painting? Hope, above a sea of unknown depth & profound sadness? Do we focus on what lies beneath, or look to the Light? Art says something different to me, depending on the moment, even if the painting is my own work. So, my answer to how this lighthouse makes me feel will be different depending at where I am in life’s journey, or what my mood is at that time.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

It never occurred to me that Dad’s lighthouse painting was probably inspired by a real lighthouse that he’d seen. His painting was almost sketch like, not detailed. But when I was researching for an upcoming project, I stumbled upon images from where Dad grew up. I was surprised to see that there was a lighthouse in that area of upstate New York. Why did I never know this? Or maybe someone mentioned it and I didn’t remember? Why hadn’t he ever taken us there, or did he? Could we have driven past it when he was showing us his childhood places?

If so, why didn’t I remember? Was it because the tour through Dad’s places was during his last visit home, when he knew he was terminal? He was told he had only two months left to live and some of that time had already gone. I had a hard time listening to what he was saying as he gestured out the car window. I couldn’t even tell what he was pointing at sometimes, and I didn’t know some of the people he talked about. I also couldn’t see much from the backseat and I was likely nauseous, as I hate traveling in the back of a small car.

For all of those reasons, and possibly others, I may not remember having seen Dad’s lighthouse. But it’s also possible that he never showed me. A third possibility is that I’m wrong about the inspiration for his painting, but on this third point I feel the most confident about. I do believe the lighthouse near where he lived is likely his painting inspiration. The rest, I don’t know.

My philosophical question to you is this: does the truth matter? I can’t prove one way or another if Dad ever told me about that lighthouse. It’s been too many years, and most of the people who may have known are also dead. Is the truth dead also? When does reality no longer matter? Does it have an expiration date?

What if the truth was never known in the first place? Maybe Dad never mentioned the lighthouse inspiration to anyone. If truth is never known, does it matter?

What if I’m wrong, and there was no particular inspiration for Dad’s lighthouse? Maybe he painted it on a whim from his imagination, which is what I’d always assumed. If something never happened in the first place, yet people believe it does, does truth matter?

What creates reality, our perception of truth, or the actual truth? Dad didn’t know what I thought about his painting, or that I’d one day paint a lighthouse of my own. I don’t know what inspired his painting, or if it had personal meaning to him. I do know that he felt a deep connection to lighthouses spiritually, as a symbol of his Christian faith. I am remembering that as I write this.

So, as I’ve now finished the last sip of my coffee and I’ve been taken off guard by that memory of Dad’s faith connection to lighthouses, I’ll end with these thoughts… I’m calling this blog post “Light House” instead of Lighthouse. Are we seekers of a light house, or do we house light? Do we seek a house of light in the darkness, in a storm, and when we need to find our way back home? Or do we cast the light that others seek when they are lost?

Light house, or house light? Whether we are lost and seeking our way, or housing light to show the way to others, fate is only one factor. Much of what we do is manifested by our thoughts and desires. Even when we are in the darkest storm, destiny may prove us as both the traveler and the lighthouse keeper simultaneously.

See previous blog post that mentions this lighthouse painting: Painting Seascapes

I hope you’re enjoying my blog series, “Stories that Inspire my Art”. If you prefer not to check back to see if there’s something new, please subscribe to my blog to be notified when there’s a new blog post ready.

Eagles Fly

First, two oil paintings, then the story behind both… make sure you don’t miss the challenge I’m offering you!

Watch me paint Eagle and Dove in the video above, and Eagle takes down Owl in the video below, in two minutes (time lapse)

“[during the painting of ‘Eagle and Dove’] light began dancing on the canvas (32 second mark, when I’m painting the sky), moving where I was trying to paint. It definitely got my attention because it was distracting to paint while that was going on. My guess is that the outside hummingbird feeder was swaying from either the wind or overzealous birds, and the light bounced off of it into the house, creating a light show on my canvas. However it happened, the result was light on my painting. When unexpected distractions occur while creating, an artist may choose to take a break from the work, or work through it. Regardless of what path is taken, disruptions and detours change our experience, and potentially the outcome of our art. Self-actualization can make the difference for whether or not the outcome is positive.”

– from blog series Compare 3, “Painting Light”, by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

Here, I was only talking about distractions that happen when trying to create art (and applying those momentary lapses in control to an overall philosophical pondering about life in general), but what I was not addressing is the type of distraction that occurs at the inspiration stage of art (or any type of planning, even if deciding whether or not to have a second cup of coffee).

But if I were to consider these two paintings more carefully, Eagle and Dove and Eagle takes down Owl, I’ll remember that I was influenced by outside events and other people when I was inspired to create these art compositions. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. As I shared earlier in the Compare 3 series, blog article “Painting Music“, new work benefits from collaboration, and that was true of “Eagle and Dove”, which is also known as “Peace through Strength”. But obviously people wouldn’t be able to find my eagle paintings unless I offer a title with the word eagle in it, so I have since created an alternate title that I now use.

This is another example of distractions and outside influence. I changed the title of my work- and that’s far from the first or last time doing this- because I’m responding to what words people need in order to find and connect with my art. It’s good to be flexible and make sound marketing decisions if one’s goal is to share art and make connections. Compromise in the area of cooperation is healthy. Compromise in the area of vision and values is dysfunctional.

Eagles fly. I was looking back at my pictures of eagles. I took this very sad one, of a caged eagle who was being rehabilitated after a gunshot wound. Look at the information sign mounted along the fencing, in the second photo.

Caged eagle (for rehabilitation) at Wesselman Nature Preserve 2017 in Evansville, Indiana USA

Eagles are meant to fly. After surviving a horrible ordeal, it may be rehabilitating to be caged for a short while. But it’s always important to return to the wild as quickly as possible.

I’ve experienced positive exchanges through the modern age of instant worldwide digital communication. Even the negative experiences have helped me grow (and this includes when I was targeted by terror groups). I don’t regret life’s winding road, and how it leads me to where I should go. But, when does a road become a hindrance, a detour, or even a dead end?

When we become aware of how much influence others have over us, we may realize that we are no longer flying. We are grounded, caged, or even dying. When our will to live is slowly whittled away, we may not even realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Humanity thrives on creative spirit, freedom, and unhindered access to nature, quiet, and God.

There may come a time when social media is recognized as dysfunctional and abusive. Has that time come for you? It did for me. I closed most of my accounts and I’m not active on the few that remain. As a result, my art has changed. I didn’t realize the influence of social steering on me, as I felt I was capable of rising above it. But awareness of restricted freedom does not set one free. Awareness alone is not enough. One must break the chains. I don’t regret painting art like “Eagle takes down Owl“; it was a reaction to world events and the culture of the time. I’ve often contributed to the historical time capsule, and I’m honored to do so. But a balanced life quickly counter balances when influence is too heavily weighted on the spirit.

As humans, are we meant to be caged? Should we chain ourselves to our screens to the outside world? What about our connection to our inner selves, and our spiritual channel to God? What happens to us when we ground our solo flights through life? What happens when our every thought is influenced by other people, events as portrayed by other people, and agendas that are presented with skewed or even manufactured perceptions by other people?

Healthy communication is about sharing. It frees humanity to speak from the heart, without restricting how many words it takes to say it. Short, clipped words are dynamic, powerful, and addictive, while also more prone to miscommunication and hostility. It often takes more time to say something that is healing and beneficial, while one word can tear down a soul. 

This is what I wanted to present to you as a challenge today. May I suggest that you stop reading and posting on social media for one full week, or as long as you’re willing to last? Perhaps begin with a single day. An afternoon? An hour? Try what you can handle and see how you feel. If you accept my challenge offer, you may be surprised at how freeing it is to be released from the influence of so many voices in your ear.

Playing with Lambs

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss the most joyful 2 minutes of your day, a video of us playing a game with our real life lambs!

Watch me paint “Spring Lambs” in under a minute (time lapse)

“I mentioned earlier that we used to own a hobby farm [in rural Minnesota]. We had two little Babydoll Southdown lambs named George and Harry, after the Bailey brothers from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. They were sweet and lively. They loved playing hide and seek and chasing after pumpkins- that they’d then eat. We spoiled them with treats and they’d bleat for us to give them food or spend time with them.
One day, when my youngest was about seven years old, George- now a fully grown and heavy sheep- blocked the gate so that my daughter couldn’t leave the pasture. He hated when she was done playing and didn’t want her to go. He was stubborn and even treats weren’t enough to persuade him to move. I had to push and prod him from outside of the fence. Finally he resigned himself to her leaving and took the treats I offered.
When we moved down South, I didn’t expect to see this specific breed of sheep again, or any sheep really, but there are nearby family farms that raise Babydoll Southdown sheep and other breeds. Rural areas are less than an hour’s drive from the heart of Savannah metro.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

Selling our hobby farm was one of the saddest days of my life. Government policies led to entire companies moving out of the country, which ghosted little towns like the one we lived near. My husband lost his job, and our dream farm that we’d worked many years to build by cleaning up old homes and working very hard to sell them, by scrimping and doing without things we wanted and needed… all to have to give it up and give away our precious animals… and move to a city, to rent a small house, no pets allowed, and only a patio plot to be outside… where the sounds are no longer the winds across the prairie grasses, the coo of pheasants or the bleat of lambs… but the roar from the nearby airport and freeway, booming car stereos, and the endless delivery and service trucks slamming doors and revving engines.

At that time, my mom had also just passed away, and my role as her caregiver was over. I’d also lost my job as a the teacher and director of a small private arts school, as my studio was in the house we were selling. In addition, my firstborn was leaving home for college.

All of these changes and losses were piling up, but right around the corner a new journey was in the making. I hadn’t looked at my happy videos of our hobby farm and our beloved lambs in years, as I didn’t have the heart. But today I dug through them to find this little gem to share with you (the short video below), and I am relieved by how I could enjoy the memories without feeling the loss. Those were good days, yet many good things in life are fleeting. The temporary nature of things that we may pine to be “forever” should never destroy the joy we experienced, and will always have; should we choose to focus on the enduring legacy. Every loss carries with it the gains from each chapter in our lives, and those are ours forever.

Watch me and my daughter play a game of tag with these adorable lambs!

I hope you’re enjoying my blog series, “Stories that Inspire my Art”. There are many, many more stories to tell! I’ll post these daily, but if you prefer not to check back to see if there’s something new, please subscribe to my blog to be notified when there’s a new blog post ready.

Patio Friends

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss the footage I took from my patio.

Watch me paint this hummingbird in under a minute (time lapse)

“This is a little guy that visits our patio feeder regularly. I get so much joy from seeing birds. It’s hard to explain why it would even matter to see these tiny creatures, but it feels like a gift every time …
We have several varieties of hummingbirds and sometimes they fight. I call their battles “Humming Wars” because their flight patterns and the whoosh/zoom noise they make reminds me of Star Wars’ special effects. Sometimes one of them will blitz by our heads if we are in their flight path.
It’s a privilege when the hummingbirds interact with us. When they’re just peeking inside the glass to beg for their feeder to be filled, it’s not a high quality conversation, but there have been rare occasions when they’ve communicated with us without apparent self-serving motive. I was sitting on the swing one evening with my husband. We were quietly talking, when a hummingbird appeared. He looked directly at me, and then zipped toward my head, and hovered only a few inches from my face. It was a bit unnerving, as we made unwavering eye contact for several seconds. Then, I guess his curiosity was satisfied because he left. I could exhale again, whew! I thought he might have tried pecking at my nose for nectar.”

– from the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

My phone app alerted me that animated gifs were automatically generated from my photo albums. My pictures of one of our patio friends have now made this ruby throated hummingbird a movie star, debuting right here on this blog! (see gif below)

Hummingbird feeders take up very little space and you can enjoy them on a small patio or balcony. When your circumstances restrict you from a big garden, you don’t have to deprive yourself of patio friends. When we feed the birds, they visit us, and they are delightful company!

Roads Unseen

First, the oil painting, then the story behind it… make sure you don’t miss the update below.

Watch me paint “Road Unseen” in under 2 minutes (time lapse)

“This was my view while driving the van with my three kids in it. They were young at the time. I was on my way home, on a country road in rural Minnesota, where we once had a hobby farm. I didn’t hear a voice, like some people say that they do. It was more like very strong intuition, but was ‘like’ a voice because the thoughts felt like God talking to me. Saying something like, “Slow down- it’s just over the hill. You are needed.”
I couldn’t see what was over the hill- that part of the road was unseen to me at the time. If I hadn’t slowed down when ‘asked’, I would have passed right by the car alongside the road, probably without noticing the woman standing beside it, who was looking distressed. It wasn’t a car accident, just a breakdown, but something felt very wrong. I stopped, put my window down and asked if she was OK. She was an older woman, who looked me over, and noticed my young kids- apparently she realized I was just a mom, and no threat to her. I saw she was a person in trouble, and my gut said she was not a threat either, but a person in need. Mayo clinic was about 45 minutes’ drive from where we were, and many clinics that offered specialized medicine were much closer, about 15 miles away. She was headed for an appointment at such a clinic, and she was agitated about missing it. Neither of us had a cell phone and she wanted to ring her daughter. So I offered her a ride back to my house to call her. Her daughter came to get her, but I didn’t see her- she was in a hurry to get to her doctor appointment or she’d have to reschedule, which would probably not be easy/fast to do. I thought of that woman the whole day, and wished I’d gotten her contact info. I worried about her getting to her appointment and I hoped she made it. She was a total stranger though, and had only been passing through via the rural stretch from town to town/city. The odds of ever seeing her again were near nothing. Or… Divine intervention…. serendipity… fate…. Just a few hours later, my family decided to go to dinner in the next town over (NOT the town where the woman had gone to her appointment, but in the opposite direction). We ate out seldomly, yet we went out on that particular day… I walked in and couldn’t believe it! The woman I’d found by the side of the road was sitting right there! I did a double take, thinking that maybe I’d imagined this recognition, and she was someone else, but no…. she too was doing an astonished double take. It really was her! She then told her family, “See… she’s not dangerous”. Her family had given her grief about riding with a stranger back to her house, and my family had given me grief about picking up a stranger with my kids in the car, and taking her back to my house. But, both families were instantly reassured…and I found out that she made it to her appointment! She was very relieved about that. It was for medical tests and I didn’t pry. I felt my role in this was over. I was only meant to help her get where she needed to go. Sometimes our ‘road unseen’ is a very small part to play, but important. Sometimes taking a leap of faith is necessary when the symbolic/metaphorical road is ‘unseen’. When we feel strong intuition to make a certain decision, go somewhere, do something, call someone, say yes, or say no, reflecting on these times can remind us of synchronicity. When feeling disillusioned, we can remember what God’s done before and feel hope, certain of God’s personal invention in our lives.”

– from book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

Years later, my husband and I had moved to a new city in a different state. He was scheduled to have surgery and was anxious. I tried to be a reassuring force for him, but what he really needed was to see a familiar face. But that was impossible. We were living in one city, while the hospital was in another one, and we were new to the state in general. The odds of seeing anyone my husband knew were near nothing.

We checked in and went through all of the stations. Finally we were in the room where he would await surgery. It was time for me to leave him there alone. But before I left, the nurse assigned to him came in to introduce herself. 

Both my husband and his nurse laughed in astonishment. How could this be? She was one of his regular customers from work- located several cities away from the hospital, where it turned out she also lived. She was commuting for a while. The nurse told everyone on the floor about the bizarre coincidence, but I knew it was our “road unseen”.

When they wheeled my husband off to surgery, he was in animated conversation with the nurse, laughing with the staff, and completely distracted from his fears. The surgery went well, and his results were typical. One familiar face at the right place, at the right time, made all the difference.

Sometimes we’re strangers, sometimes we know each other, but if we’re open to being or receiving a traveler on roads unseen, we may be overwhelmed to realize how loved we are. Science and math cannot account for how the laws of probability are broken when we are afraid. When help serendipitously finds us against all odds, perhaps it is sent to us.