Contemplative Photography & Reflections

Category: Mindfulness

Climbing the Stairs

Climbing the Stairs

So many lessons and reminders can be extracted from time spent with babies and young children if you pay attention. Right before little Ava started climbing the stairs this morning, I wondered: What will I write about next? Within minutes, I had my answer.

Ava’s mom (my daughter) left Ava and me downstairs in the family room and disappeared up the stairs to take a shower, which of course is something of a luxury for mothers of little ones, especially when you’re in transition between homes in an environment that hasn’t been babyproofed and don’t have access to the various aids and equipment that make life with newly mobile babies easier. (Back in the day, the original Exersaucer made it possible for me to take showers!)

As soon as she saw her mother disappear up the stairs, Ava lost interest in the toys she had been exploring and started crawling toward the stairs fueled by a burning desire to be in her mother’s presence. In addition to reinforcing the strength of the mother-child bond, she taught me that…

If you want to get to the top of the stairs, focus only on climbing the stairs. And keep in mind why you want to get to the top of the stairs. (Maybe because when you get there, you will be nearer to your mother, and won’t it feel great to hear her voice and see her smile!) Pay attention to where your hands are, where your feet are, how your weight is distributed, the sequence of movements that get you successfully from one step to the next.

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Focus on one step at a time, and give it your full attention and effort. And be patient! Let love, curiosity, and the feeling of your wish fulfilled propel you forward. 

Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by sounds or wondering where other people are or exploring tiny pieces of leaves (with both your hand and your mouth, of course) or turning around and looking behind you because multitasking compromises your concentration on the task at hand, and looking back might throw you off balance and send you tumbling to the bottom of the stairs! That’s not to say there’s no value in pausing to explore a leaf if you find it intriguing, but don’t lose sight of the reality that you are perched precariously on the stairs and haven’t yet mastered your stair-climbing or balancing skills, both of which call for focused attention at this stage of the game!

Allow your determination and desire to attain your goal to overshadow any doubts you may have about your ability to succeed. Move confidently in the direction of what you love.

If you slide down a step, no worries. Learn from it. And trust that the Universe wants you to learn and grow and will support you, and there will be someone to catch you if you fall. Focus single-mindedly on climbing to the top of the stairs, and you will reach your goal.

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This morning’s mindfulness and manifestation reminder is brought to you by Ava (with a little Dr. Wayne Dyer and Abraham thrown in) and a couple grainy cell phone snapshots because she was moving quickly, like a newly hatched turtle intent on reaching the water, and I didn’t have time to grab my “real” camera. Wishing you a fruitful week of making progress toward whatever goal is dearest to your heart and having gratitude for all the gifts and blessings that are already in your life!


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© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2016. SHARING IS CARING, and I appreciate my work being shared with others! Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (River-Bliss.com). Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. In other words, I put my heart and soul into my writing and photography and want to be credited for it and have some traffic sent my way. It’s the high vibration thing to do!  🙂 

A New Day

A New Day

Today is a new day, and thank goodness for that! Yesterday was the first day of school, and I did not expect it to hit me so hard. Summer vacation is over, the tourists have gone home, and the locals have returned from their beach getaways. School buses are back on the road, and my Facebook feed is filled with first day of school photos. It is time to return to business-as-usual. And that’s the issue! There was a rhythm to my life as a teacher that has been broken, and not returning to it made me feel as if there was no ground beneath me, nothing to support me. A sleep deficit didn’t help.

I felt like a train wreck! Days like that come and go. And we can learn so much from them if we face them head on rather than flee from the discomfort.

Waves of emotion kept coming at me yesterday, and they were huge – and hurt when they hit! They knocked me off balance and dragged me under, and it felt as if I wouldn’t be able to come back up for air. But eventually the wave subsided, and I floated back up to the surface and could breathe again.

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And then another wave would come along sooner or later. So working with the waves became my practice. More specifically, I practiced remaining in the present moment with bare attention, without attaching any labels, storylines, interpretations, wishful fantasies, or romantic longings to whatever arose. It’s not reality that is a problem; it’s what we add to it! If we’re not mindful, we can wander into a very destructive place – a downward spiral that leads to a void we don’t want to be part of. And that is a gross misuse of imagination! I can think of a thousand better ways to channel my energy, imagination, and creativity! Why go there?

It reminded me so much of being in labor and working with the contractions, which were more intense than anything I’d ever experienced. The biggest lesson I took away from my childbirth experiences was to breathe into each contraction as it comes along and stay focused on just that. Don’t think about how many more contractions I would have to deal with or evaluate whether I was doing a good job or how much progress I was or wasn’t making. Don’t wish to be anyone else in the room. Instead, remain in the present moment, the wellspring of strength and power.

The mental imaginings also remind me of the speedboats that zip by and create a turbulent wake when I’m kayaking. Catching myself when I notice I’m indulging in a storyline – and deciding not to go into it – makes the speedboat slow down and pass by without generating turbulence. The water remains calm and undisturbed.

How wonderful to realize that we can set it all aside, push the reset button, and return to bare presence. It’s basic meditation instruction.

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Granted, it’s much harder to do that when your energy is low. Some days you just have to set all expectations aside and be gentle with yourself. Don’t board those fancy trains of thought and imagination that take you to dramatic places. Stay in the present, where you can hear the rich and rhythmic sounds of a late summer day, be enraptured by the geometry of morning glories and the brilliant design of airborne seeds, and engage opportunities that present themselves (or at least realize that opportunities do exist). Focus on the basics, like getting enough rest. And remember that this, too, shall pass. You’re just having a bad day, and your thinking is a bit delusional as a result.

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So that was my practice yesterday. And I learned a lot.

I was reminded of the importance of self-compassion and self-love and that the very first step is to get enough sleep.

I learned that you have to be that quality you most desire from others. Mine it from within. If you want to be nurtured, start by nurturing – yourself and others!

I learned to turn inward for salvation and not lean so much on this world that shifts constantly, like a kaleidoscope. It’s great to have people to reach out to. But they aren’t always available, and the reality is that we will have to let go of everyone in our life sooner or later. Such is the nature of mortality. So why not realize that the answers and the compass we need for this human journey are all inside of us – and lean into our own heart center and source of strength, which is more enduring and always available? Ultimately, everything we need is there.  And the natural world and its larger rhythms and cycles can be a great source of healing, as well.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not at all dissing the value of human relationships, which can be incredibly enriching and healing. But there is such a thing as being too nurturing and creating a dependency that hinders others from experiencing their own wisdom and strength. Likewise, there is a danger in becoming too dependent on others for guidance and a sense of well-being.

I learned that it’s more productive to believe I am fundamentally good and just having a tough time learning a particular lesson, rather than believing I am fundamentally bad or flawed and deserve to suffer. A more loving and compassionate view of oneself allows us to cultivate more love and compassion as opposed to further suffering. There is no value in beating yourself up or feeling sorry for yourself. Doing so is completely counterproductive.

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom emotionally to realize status quo is not working, and to jolt you into awakening and discovering a new way to proceed. The road less traveled. But there’s a tollbooth on it, and the toll required is to leave behind whatever weighs you down and doesn’t serve you. This includes the stories we cling to.

I learned that the feelings that seem so threatening and overwhelming – like tidal waves that threaten to pull us under – are invitations to grow. All the information we need is within those feelings, if we can lean into them and not run away from them. Every single wave that comes along is an opportunity to become stronger and more skilled – at feeling the waves crash over us, letting go of our baggage, keeping or regaining our balance, and then seeing the gifts the waves leave behind in the sand.

When you’re learning and practicing this right there in the water, such insights can make all the difference in the world and save you from drowning. When you hear it from the outside, it probably doesn’t sounds like much at all. What seems so simple can be so profound and full of wisdom when you find yourself in a real situation where applying it can make a difference. As I approach 50, it feels as though I am just learning the basics. It’s interesting how, as I get older, insights that seem so simplistic on the surface take on new meaning and depth.

Yesterday, I felt expendable and forlorn. Today I feel free and open to possibility. And that makes me smile. Thank goodness for a restorative night of good sleep and the gift of a new day. A day when I once again can notice and appreciate tiny wonders, such as the sunrise and its reflection on the river, captured in beads of dew on a spider web.

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The reality is that, although the rhythm of my life as a teacher has been disrupted, who I am at my core has not been touched. And I am still part of a larger rhythm of the natural world and the cycle of humankind. So I am neither lost nor broken, even on difficult days. And neither are you.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Through Day-Blooms and Beads of Dew

Through Day-Blooms and Beads of Dew

This morning, I didn’t start off in an ideal state of mind. I was consumed by thought and longed for circumstances to be different. I’m in the midst of making a major life change, and some days it takes more work than others to pull up the weeds of doubt and cultivate the faith necessary to “advance confidently in the direction of [my] dreams and endeavor to live the life which [I have] imagined,” as described by Henry David Thoreau.

I went outside to get my sneakers from the car so I could take a walk. The daisies and spearmint leaves were still covered with dew, and the chicory and daylilies were opening, for it was their day to bloom – their one day to open up and offer their vivid colors to the world, to attract pollinators and play a starring role in the circle of life. It’s the day they’ve been preparing for, the day they for which they were created. Daylilies take full advantage of their day in the sun by remaining in bloom for the duration, whereas delicate chicory flowers close around mid-day when the sun is most intense.

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I stopped in my tracks to listen to the advice the day-blooming flowers offered about making the most of a brief existence. They said:

Quick! Dry your eyes!
There’s so much living to do.
Get to it!
The day is young,
and the day is short.
Wake up and engage it.
Don’t waste a moment
Wallowing in longing or regret.
You have this one day to work with
the material of Here and Now
So make the most of it.

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How interesting that the Chinese name for the daylily, xuan-cao, can be translated as “forget-worry herb” or “the plant of forgetfulness” because it was believed to alleviate worries by causing one to forget. When I stopped to connect with the essence of the daylilies, I forgot mine!

Then delicate beads of dew clinging to the leaves of weeds commanded my attention. Their existence as a single bead of dew is even briefer than a chicory bloom. If you sleep in or rush past, you’ll miss them and never know they were there in the first place.

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For about a half hour, I was transfixed by beads of dew on common weeds and captured 80 thoughtfully composed images in all. It was my morning meditation.

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If someone were to walk by and see me gazing intently with my camera pointed at a patch of ordinary, green weeds, they’d probably consider it a bit odd. But if you were to look closer, you’d see the beads of dew clinging to the edges of the leaves and perhaps would find poetry in the shapes, contours, patterns, and reflections.

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Spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, explains that making the present moment the focal point of attention produces a shift in consciousness from conditioned to unconditioned awareness. Even something as small as a bead of dew on the edge of a leaf can transport you from an unconscious, habitual state of mind to spacious presence and stillness. It can bring you back to the present moment and free you from the tyranny of the incessantly chattering monkey mind.

“And then you notice a miraculous thing… You see aliveness and beauty around you that you didn’t see before. When you are in that aware presence, a deeper intelligence begins to operate in your life.”   -Eckhart Tolle

That deeper intelligence is where the juice is. It’s where life really flows. Tapping into that is like entering an alchemical dimension.

As a Four on the Enneagram, my default programming tends toward romanticized thinking and idealization of what is not available here and now. Transformation for someone like me involves releasing wasteful fantasies and romantic longings and connecting with what is here right now and allowing presence and gratitude to arise. Presence and gratitude are potent elixirs for an alchemical life.

Instead of lamenting over what feels unattainable right now or feeling anxious about the future, through my half hour with the blooming flowers and dewdrops I was able to become conscious of the present moment, connect with what is, and do what I love most (photography). As I see it, that is making the most of the moment at hand and following the advice of the daylilies. It is a first step in the direction of engaging the magic and transformed the quality of my energy.

And it doesn’t have to take a half hour. Awareness can arise in an instant when we pause to connect with the life that surrounds us.

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The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Take Me to the River

Take Me to the River

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

A few mornings ago, I experienced the worst case of anxiety I’ve ever experienced in my life. Overcome by what felt like an impenetrable sense of loss, I couldn’t stand the thought of being alone with myself. It felt like I needed other people to complete me and was really disturbing – especially since, in the vein of Henry David Thoreau, I am someone who normally craves solitude! There was so much energy coursing through my body, and I was about to spend several hours in a mindfulness group retreat. I felt compelled to exercise beforehand to release the energy because if I didn’t, it would be impossible for me to wind down and meditate during the retreat. So I exercised but still felt tremendously agitated. Desperate for a remedy or some kind of guidance, I took out my deck of Universal Cards, closed my eyes, and chose a card: WATER. Alas. Not the epiphany I was looking for.

An energetic shift began early on during the mindfulness retreat, which consisted of a beginning meditation followed by outdoor walking meditation, yoga, mindful eating, seated meditation, and group activities that involved eye contact and physical touch. Participants were expected to maintain silence and keep our eyes softly averted from everyone else during all but the final hour of the retreat. Amazingly, I was able to regain a calm, spacious state of mind by the time walking meditation was over!

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As the day progressed, the sensation of relaxation only deepened. I never would have imagined this would be possible given where I started!

Immediately following the retreat, I spent 2 1/2 hours kayaking on the creek, which transported me even deeper into gratitude and serenity.

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The natural symphony of the creek was hypnotic and soothing.

Every day since, I have spent a couple of hours after work either kayaking on the creek or balancing stones on the Battenkill River, where I spent a lot of time over the winter.

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I’ve been making a beeline from work to either the creek or the river. It’s a blessing to have something to look forward to, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect!

Floating on the creek is the deepest therapy imaginable. Among the red-winged blackbirds, painted turtles, and nesting geese, I feel like myself again: spacious and buoyant. Steeped in harmony and reverence, I feel completely interconnected and at one with life.

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My body smiles. In the pit of my stomach, there’s such delight. It’s an expansive feeling, which is in glorious contrast to the stabbing, contracted feeling of not being in harmony with the energy around you – the sinking, shrinking feeling. The natural energies of the creek environment uplift me and raise my vibration. The trees and wildlife make no demands. When I feel like paddling, I paddle. When I feel like floating, I float. When I feel like observing turtles, I inevitably hear the sound of them plopping into the water, no matter how carefully I approach them.

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Another great thing about the creek is that cell reception is spotty, so I can’t receive messages or phone calls in many areas. That helps me to break free from the tug of technology and enter the spaces where I feel complete and connected in a deeper sense and realize that I have everything I need to navigate  this human existence. I perceive life’s challenges from a higher vantage point and am profoundly at peace. I bring my phone with me nonetheless to make voice recordings when insights arise. Listening to the recordings later brings me back to the peaceful, spacious space.

Today I decided to balance rocks on the river rather than float on the creek.

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Originally, I had intended to do both but became absorbed in the meditative nature of stone balance art, and the next thing I knew, two hours had passed. Balancing stones with my feet in the Battenkill, listening to the sound of the river flowing was every bit as relaxing and therapeutic as kayaking, only different. On the creek, insights tend to arise when I enter stillness, whereas balancing stones facilitates focus and balance.

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If there’s anything that throws me off balance, it’s the fearful belief that there is no safety net and nothing supporting me. But on the creek, that seems to be the greatest delusion of all, and I remember that I must be a fastidious caretaker of my thoughts because they create my reality. Perhaps the sensation of being supported by the water is ultimately what is so appealing about floating.

In hindsight, the WATER card probably was the best guidance I could have received that morning when I was overcome by anxiety. It was the road map back to where I want and need to be. I feel like a sun that is shining again – and that benefits everyone around me.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

To Awaken and Return

To Awaken and Return

Oh, what a long, dark, cold winter it has been – and not just in a literal sense. But spring always returns! The natural world awakens. We awaken. And speaking from personal experience, when that happens – after however long we’ve been unconscious or distracted – it is the most joyous return! It’s like a homecoming, and as if unseen voices are cheering us on. It’s like hearing the sound of the soul clapping or the jubilant sigh of a flower blooming. It is empowering.

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Some words, sights, sounds, etc. are like flashes of awareness that (re)awaken us to the present moment like the smack of a Zen teacher’s stick. It might be just a few words in the middle of a conversation that remain with you and seem to work on you like medicine even as you sleep. I am grateful to the people and situations that remind me to lean in to the present moment when it feels as if the ground beneath me is shifting and there is no steady, stable place to stand. When the sense of loss feels nearly overwhelming.

Rather than grasp for steadiness and stability, perhaps it is better to become a river or stream in springtime. Be fluid and flow with a fresh sense of adventure.

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I believe we carry inside us everything we need for this earthly journey. We just need to return to ourselves and access the wisdom and healing potential that is there. Just as the sap runs in the maple trees at this time of year, we can tap into our inner resources.

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It doesn’t matter how long you were unconscious. What matters is returning – again and again – to the source of your strength and wisdom, which is always available. Befriend this moment. Befriend yourself. Be aware of what is really happening, here and now, without adding anything to it – no filters of past, future, or thought. No shoulds. Listen to the voice that arises from stillness. Listen deeply and with presence to the person in front of you rather than perceiving him or her through clouded layers of personal history.

There is nowhere to go but HERE. You don’t need to spend any money or travel far away. You don’t need to do anything but return your attention to the present moment. That’s where the road map is. It’s much like mindfulness meditation, in that it’s not about eliminating thought but rather bringing attention lovingly back to the present moment when it gets carried away by thought. In life as in mindfulness meditation, you can strengthen the habit of returning, noticing when you’re caught up in distractions or flights of fantasy so you can return to a clearer awareness of what is happening right now. There is so much power available in the present moment!

Return, return, return! Thank everyone who reminds you, everyone who guides you back. Thank circumstances that bring clarity. Thank the fall that jolted you into awareness when you hit the ground. When we have hit rock bottom, how exciting to wake up and remember – and to realize we have been dreaming!

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Steeped in Joy on An Ice Coated Morning

Steeped in Joy on An Ice Coated Morning

Last night, freezing rain drizzled all night. This morning, there was such beauty outdoors, in spite of the unrelenting grayness!

I walked around outside in awe of the ice covering the tree branches and everything else. All was quiet except for the gentle, soothing sound of melting ice dripping on the crusty snow, punctuated by the occasional cracking of ice in the trees. Then I stood still and heard church bells ringing faintly in the distance from the church on the hill. The tune was Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, which was so familiar and made me think of my mom. It was as if her voice was calling to me in the stillness of this beautiful moment as a resident woodpecker climbed the pole of the basketball hoop, and a bright red cardinal darted by. It was a moment of transcendence and peace.

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All around the yard, even the most delicate blades and pine needles were coated individually with ice. (Doesn’t the ice formation in the picture below look like underwater coral – or baby ginger?)

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Some of the ice formations were so delicate and lacy, and if I hadn’t been there at that moment, I’d have missed them altogether because earlier they would have been too hard and frosty, and soon after, they would have melted. You have to catch them at just the right moment.

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After 18 days off, I have to return to work tomorrow, and the wish popped into my mind for freedom to do this all the time without having to work around a schedule that steals my free time during all the daylight hours at this time of year. I know I’m missing out on so much splendor when I have to be at work all day and am not free to observe and notice the transient wonders and magnificence of nature. But that wishful thinking takes me out of the moment.

When you’re immersed in the fullness and beauty of the moment, you’re in a state of blissful interconnectedness – flow. Then you think, “But I want more! I want to be able to do this all the time!” And that is where the trouble begins. Why not be content to do it now? And then go live your life. As a result of doing it now, you will bring more vitality to whatever it is that requires your attention. Taking the time to immerse yourself in what you love, in whatever dose you can manage, enriches your entire existence. You don’t have to be able to do it all the time. You just need to bring the vibrance and joy with you into your life. Doing so makes you feel more alive and engaged, and your enthusiasm may create a ripple that inspires and awakens others. It begins by steeping yourself in what fills you with wonder, awe, and/or joy.

Dive in, savor it, and make it part of you.

The photographs in this blog (except for those attributed to other owners) and in my Flickr photostream are available for purchase as prints or cards through my Etsy shop by selecting a “custom print” in whatever size you prefer and indicating either the name of the print or the blog post and order in which it appears.

© Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material, including all text and photos, without express and written permission from this website’s author/owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Susan Meyer and River Bliss Photography (river-bliss.com) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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