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I spy joy in Portland, Oregon

In late March of 2011 the Wall Street Journal released a study finding Portland, Oregon, to be the the 2nd most miserable city in the U.S.

I have found much evidence to the contrary. In fact, looking at photos I’ve taken in recent years for ISpyJoy.com and LicensePlateWisdom.com as well as images of the joy-spreading work of The Joy Team, it seems the Portland-Vancouver metro area is overflowing with joy, love and wisdom.

This video is a just a sampling of those images–all taken in the Portland / Vancouver metro area.

City of Roses, you are also the City of Joy, Love and Wisdom.

June 8, 2011   3 Comments

I spy joy (and love) in Renee’s heart

Renee's Heart

On April 30, 2011, at 7:55 am, my sister Renee became an angel.

Well, I suppose she already was one, but on that day it became official. Renee had been living with cancer for nearly 8 years. What started out as breast cancer, became liver, lung, and bone cancer; and then ovarian and abdominal cancer.

Although she lived in Montana and I in Washington, my kids and I were blessed to see her less than a week before she passed. We said our tearful goodbyes and Renee told my kids she’d be watching over them–their very own angel. I believe her. And I believe she’s my angel, too.

A small group of family and friends went to spread Renee’s ashes the day before the service. We went to Glacier, one of her favorite places to visit. After each of us tossing some of the gritty ash that remained of her physical form into the lake, the larger portion was released at the edge of the water. As the ash slowly dissipated into the clear, cold water, I photographed it, thinking what a beautiful view she has.

Several of us picked up a few rocks–mementos of the day. I looked for pretty rocks in shades of red, yellow and green. I found a sparkley green one that looked a little like a heart.  And then I found a ruddy red rock that looked exactly like a heart. Thrilled with my tangible reminders of this last bodily touch with my sister, I showed them to everyone there.

Yet this was just a trifle compared to what I was about to discover.

My purpose fulfilled, I began looking through the images I shot while the others lingered. When I saw the photo above I gasped, loud enough to draw attention. Where did this heart come from? Clearly shaped from Renee’s ashes, this heart formation was undeniable. And it was also unbelievable–it wasn’t there when I took the photo. I never saw it until I looked back through the images. How could I have missed seeing that when I took the shot?

Everyone looked at their own images.  Nothing. Neither did they see Renee’s ashes ever looking like that as they stretched out into their resting place. We were all nearly speechless.

Unbelievable. And yet undeniable.

Renee sends her love. And I believe a greater message even than that. Her final resting place isn’t a lake in Glacier Park, Montana. It’s in love. LOVE.

Love is what’s on the other side. Lots of it.

After all, underlying everything, that’s all there is.

L. O. V. E.

Rock hearts from Renee

May 18, 2011   19 Comments

I spy joy in a sign

God Loves You!

I have no religion.  I don’t attend church.

I consider myself to be a very spiritual person.

I don’t believe in hell.  Never have. I can’t even begin to fathom a God that would put anyone in such a place. It just doesn’t make sense.  I mean, I would never put my children in anything even close to hell.  My children have my absolute and total unconditional love.  Absolute. There is nothing–nothing–my kids could ever do to change that.  No matter what they do I want the very best for them. I want the best and highest of love and joy for them.

If I love my children like that, wouldn’t God?

So when I–a woman without religion– saw this man holding this sign, something clicked in me.

This man is wearing a nice, clean jacket; with a nice, clean, shaved face and cut hair.  Which is only to say, I can tell he’s not using this sign as a means to make money (like so many others on freeway ramps).  He needs nothing from me or anyone else who happened to be driving off the Mill Plain exit on I-205 in Vancouver, Washington. He’s just sharing a message. Of love.  And joy.

God loves you.

God loves you. Allah loves you. Buddha loves you. The Universe loves you.

You are loved and adored beyond belief. Beyond condition.


April 21, 2011   2 Comments

I spy joy in the I Love You Mom rap

My 7-year-old daughter came downstairs tonight and said, “Mom, I made something for you.” Then preformed this short but amazingly fabulous rap song. I just about fell out of my chair.

Way better than a Hallmark card could ever be. And it’s captured on my phone, so I can watch it anywhere, anytime. I’ve already watched it half a dozen times in the space of an hour.

I spy joy. I spy love. I spy one lucky momma!

March 14, 2011   No Comments

I spy joy in LOVE

Images of Love (photos by Michele M. Larsen)

Joy, love.  Love, joy.  I honestly don’t know if you can have one without the other.

In honor of St. Valentine, here is a little collage of images around the area expressing love.

Happy LOVE day.

February 14, 2011   No Comments

I spy joy in Taryn’s 2011 Vision Board

Taryn's vision for 2011

Mom and I have a tradition of creating vision boards each year on New Year’s Day. It’s one of my favorite traditions, and one I stick to closer than a turkey meal on Thanksgiving.

Last year the kids joined in. This year my son was out following his passion riding motorcycles–an equally fitting way to begin anew.  Taryn was home and picked up the biggest board she could find, which was 3 to 4 times bigger than the boards mom and I were busily pasting together.  She grabbed the jar of markers and quietly began creating her BIG vision for 2011.

After some time I walked by and saw this joyful, loving and empowering vision. And I nearly fell over into a pool of warm, fuzzy happiness.

All on her own, without any encouragement or prodding from me or anyone else, my daughter filled her board with thoughts of love, appreciation and joy. She’s 7. I find that to be pretty incredible. Down right awesome even.  Or auesome or asoum, in Taryn-ese.

My cup runneth over.

January 15, 2011   No Comments

I spy joy in water tower graffiti

Love Water Tower in Portland

The more I read, the more I confirmation I get that love is really all there is. Everything begins and grows from love. And love, just love, is the answer for everything.

The first few times I encountered this idea, I wasn’t quite buying it. But it’s really grown on me.  When I stop and think about it, and get to what’s at the core–the very base– of everything, love seems to always be there. It’s quite a comforting thought, actually.

And a joyful thought. For what is joy if not an expression of love? Seeing even the symbols, written or drawn, of love bring me joy.

Let’s put them everywhere, shall we?

This joyful site can be spied going east on the Burnside bridge in Portland, Oregon.

October 16, 2010   No Comments

I spy joy on a trash can

Spreading love in Portland

Graffiti is a word that carries a negative connotation in our society. But sometimes graffiti can be good.

Just a couple of days ago I was walking around Portland and saw this trash can had been tagged with a heart. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “love.”

Who would have thought you could spread love through garbage? Certainly not me, but there it was. Plain, simple, clear as day. Love. Love thy brother. Love yourself. Love your life.


June 21, 2010   1 Comment

I spy joy in a leap of faith

Leap of Faith

I was going through the saved photos on my camera and came across this lovely image. I can’t recall where or when I took the photo, but I think this might be a painting in the window of a store front. I vaguely recall something like that. Maybe.

The image alone is eye-catching to me. But I am also struck by the quote from Margaret Shepherd:  Sometimes your  only available transportation is a leap of faith.

Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.

The older I get the more I believe that faith is incredibly important. It is essential for the growth and development of the human soul to believe in something–to be able to believe and trust in something outside of ourselves–whatever you choose that to be. That belief, that faith, can act as an anchor.

I have faith in kindness and love. I have faith that there is good inside every single living thing, even if it’s really hard to see. I have faith that every experience we have can make us better, if we let it. I have faith in our ability to create meaningful, joyful lives. I have faith in the healing power of laughter and that a smile can work magic. I have faith that if we remain true to that which we believe in, miracles can happen.

April 11, 2010   No Comments

I spy joy in feeling beautiful

Kellen 12-09

Kellen 12-09

I often ask my daughter how she got to be so pretty.  Her common response is “I was just made that way,” which is what I used to tell her when her answer was, “I don’t know.”

Last week I asked my son, “How come you’re so handsome?”

“Because you made me,” he said.  Then he asked, “Mom, do you think you’re beautiful?”

Surprised, I answered, “Sometimes.”

“If you thought you were beautiful when you made me, then I am, too,” Kellen explained, and he went about doing whatever he was doing before.

I sat for a minute or two, thinking about what just came out of my son’s mouth; wondering if he intended to say what I think he said.

If you thought you were beautiful when you made me, then it follows that I am beautiful, too.

I had to walk away and write it down.  I have just begun to grasp this concept at 41. My son is 8 and he tossed this idea out as casually as he tosses his shirt in the hamper at the end of the day. (Note to self: evolution works.)

My brilliant son is so right.  Feeling beautiful is a symptom of loving yourself.  And anything we create when we’re in that place of kindness, confidence and love in inherently beautiful.

I am going to practice loving myself more–loving myself like I love my children: absolutely and without condition.  How beautiful would that be?

December 18, 2009   1 Comment