Chants, Lamentations and Veneration

From darkness into light…from monochrome into vibrant color… from winter into spring, an emerging opening and flow rather than a fighting. There is a gentle stirring of one’s spirit with words like hope, light and resurrection because they emerge from a dying. Intertwined within this are rituals and traditions which ground us, give meaning and create bonds of friendships and identity.

Good Friday Service

In the Greek Orthodox religion, the Easter season is one of the most profound and holiest times of the year so I decided to experience and get a glimpse into the rituals and symbolism of the Good Friday service. First, when I walked into the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Elkins Park, PA, the 6th oldest Greek Orthodox community in the US, established in 1901, I was struck by the hospitality and warmth of the women who welcomed me. I was a stranger and they wanted to make sure I felt comfortable, giving up a front row seat for me, explaining what would be happening. This hospitality was as beautiful as the gold Byzantine icons surrounding me. There was a sacred richness mixed with that Greek love for life and I was totally caught up in it! A key for me was when I couldn’t tell which child belonged to which mother…all the women there were their mothers, hugging, kissing and tugging on clothes and fixing hair. I need more Greek friends!

A Mother and Her Son

In the front of the church was a richly decorated and elaborately carved canopy called a Kouvouklion which represents the tomb of Jesus. The women had spent over 3 hours that morning decorating it with spring flowers of white, red and purple. The ceremony began with readings from the bible, ethereal chanting from the cantors and incense flowing freely to remind everyone that their prayers flow freely to God. Then, gathering around the image of Christ on the cross, the men reached up to take away the nails while young girls (representing the women at the feet of the cross) held the white cloth waiting to receive the wooden representation of Jesus in death. It was then taken behind one of the three doors separating the nave from the sanctuary and referred to as the Iconostosis. An elaborately decorated tapestry with the image of Christ prepared for burial, referred to as the Epitafio, was then brought out and carried around the church as all present bow in veneration.

It Is Done

Venerating the Body of Christ

Woman bowed in prayer

Prayer by the Kouvouklion

After it was placed on the Kouvouklion, people young and old then began to line up with gestures symbolizing a deep and abiding faith. The sign of the cross was made followed by bowing to kiss either the feet or hands of the icon. The priest stated the generally, one does not kiss the face of the icon. Once again, the sign of the cross was made and then many people got down on their hands and knees and crawled through the bottom of the Kouvouklion to symbolize their willingness to enter unto death with Christ.

Man approaching the Kouvouklion

Entering into the death of Christ

Man Joining With Christ

Someone is Always There

Light in Darkness

These rituals become the pathway to enter into a mystery of God and visibly show a faith and belief. Even though there are many paths, an abiding commonality is that there is hope in the face of fear, that there is life in the face of death and that love holds us, heals us and carries us forth to ignite the world with kindness. I am so glad that I stepped into this new experience and am so grateful to all the women who so graciously gathered around me and made me feel at home and to Fontina Moller who first taught me the meaning of Opa, I held you in my heart as I walked through your church. Now on to Easter!

A Day of Bridges and Connections

Yesterday, I received a message from Facebook reminding me that on this day last year, I was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. March 25th seems to be a day of bridging and making connections because yesterday I attended the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show and was able to cross worlds and cultures… Tibetan prayer flags, trains and planes, new friends from Morocco and becoming more acquainted with all that exists so close to home.

Russell Hannon

The celebrity travel speakers were Adam Richman, Rick Steves and Peter Greenberg, Russell Hannon and Angel Castellanos. “99 Ways to Cut Your Travel Costs – Without Skimping” was where I started off of course! Russell Hannon of breakthetravelbarrier.com suggested using the following on line resources: airfarewatchdog.com, farecompare.com, yapta.com to find less expensive fares. Airlines have started to set up bidding for upgrades now. Air Canada and Virgin Atlantic hold a bidding session at the gate using cell phones. Things are a changing!
Tingo.com for hotels and autoslash.com for car rentals will constantly search for better fares after you book and alert you when they find lower fares for the identical itinerary with an option to cancel your existing reservation and rebook at the lower fare at no extra charge. Hopper crunches historical data specific to a flight you want and show you the best price you can get now, whether it is likely to drop, when and by how much. One should try to avoid ATM fees and the Charles Schwab Investor Plus checking account is a no-fee account with a minimum 1 penny balance. The account includes unlimited free ATM cash withdrawls and reimburses you any ATM charges by third part backs. Gasbuddy.com is a GPS integrated app that shows all the nearby gas stations with prices by fuel grade and directions. I walked away from this talk with Russell’s book and started downloading new and helpful apps right then and there.

Johnny Jet spoke about how to travel like a movie star without movie star money. His website holds so many tips and tricks and he was so informative. He suggested taking bags of Hershey Kisses and giving them to those who check you in as well as the flight attendants. Don’t we all love getting surprises!? He suggested signing up for the following newsletters (besides his ): Pointsguy, Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Tour Gettysburg

After armed with so much useful information to feed my obsession for travel, I was off to travel the aisles of the convention center. Three local areas I must get to are the Hudson Valley Region of New York, Gettysburg and Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands

Exotic and Distant Lands


I have new best friends, Sharon and her husband, Ishmael who I spoke with at length for a possible photo tour through the exotic and amazing land of Morocco. (If interested, let me know!).

Travel for Impact is a unique and powerful new enterprise which arranges trips to Botswana that provide opportunities for the visitor to work side by side with locals on community initiatives and the women sell their art and crafts to further these initiatives. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful black and white beaded bracelet!

Botswana Travel

Going off to new lands to experience new adventures may sometimes be overwhelming. Tours By Locals.com has 1977 hand vetted guides in over 158 countries to help you customize your experience with 24/7 customer support.

As a plug for an excellent travel agent who can also set up the experience you are looking for, may I suggest to those who live in and around Philadelphia, Debbie Ryan of Springhouse Travel. She can provide a full service travel and leisure experience and is totally dedicated to providing excellent customer service!

If you are looking for a very unique experience in Europe may I also suggest, Untours.com .Untours pioneered apartment-based independent travel and has provided unique cultural vacation packages since 1975. They support the work and mission of the Untours Foundation, which funds green projects that fight poverty around the world.Use their vast knowledge base to design your own trip or allow one of their expert Culturists to give you a hand.

Throughout the day, there were presentations on classical Indian Dance, South Pacific Island dance, Bahamas and Botswana movement and music. From information, to new discoveries and immersion into global beats, the Philadelphia Travel and Adventure Show had it all.

South Pacific Beauty

Manimekalai Thiyagarajan

Now I am off to see Rick Steves at the Keswick Theatre. The Montgomery County Libraries are the sponsors and Rick’s topic is: “Broadening Your Global Perspective Through Travel” … a topic I totally embrace!

A Montage of Myanmar

A Montage Through Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

While walking through fields, traveling the streets and boating down lakes and rivers, I fell into the easy harmony of the day. Myanmar is a feast for the senses. I was alive to all that was around me. The light and the beauty became a part of me while photographing and in Myanmar, both are exquisite. Temples, markets, traditional crafts passed down from generation to generation are the sites to become immersed in. Everywhere I wandered, I was welcomed into homes and hearts. There is nothing better than laughing right out loud with a person who was a total stranger the day before. Shared memories gratefully tucked away that continually stoke that flame of wanderlust!

A School in Myanmar Bringing People From Around the World Together

As travel photographers, we try to capture the spirit of a place and usually end up falling in love with that spirit. Total strangers invite us in, share their lives and the beauty of their culture with us. They honor us and hopefully, our images will in turn honor our hosts. David Heath, a very gifted artist and photographer, allowed his spirit to merge with that of Myanmar. Its people, stories and culture, strength and landscape wove its enchantment into David’s heart and brought him back over 16 times. As the UK Daily Mail related, “Immersing himself into the rhythm and culture of villages that had never before been visited by a Westerner, the intrepid explorer managed to create a breathtaking photo series which acts as a tribute to the land clinging to its traditional ways, whilst aiming to embrace the new modern world.”

This photo series became a beautiful, leather bound book entitled, “Burma, An Enchanted Spirit,” The book notably includes a handwritten endorsement by renowned 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Burmese activist Aung San Suu Kyi, Chairperson of the National League for Democracy: “Truly an enchanting book – the pictures reflect the beauty and diversity of Burma faithfully.” A percentage of sales from each book sold are used to fund the building and development of schools in the city of Yangon. The Inwa School is the first of these. The Inwa School of Performing Arts is a new cultural high school in Mandalay that prepares young artists to perform Myanmar classical dance and music to professional standards. It provides continuity for excellence in classical arts and extends their reach to world audiences. The school connects master teachers with students in their teens who aspire to careers onstage. The Inwa School operates The Mintha Theater, where students and professional artists present spectacular dance repertoires nightly in central Mandalay. The Mintha Theater is a social enterprise that maintains quality and authenticity of the arts in a contemporary setting while preparing students for live stage careers. Proceeds from the theater benefit the school.

Inwa School, Mintha Theater, Myanmar from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The goals of the school are the following:
To provide opportunities for talented low-income students to train as arts professionals in the authentic traditions.
To create employment opportunities for teachers able to provide the rigorous training required for high caliber arts performance.
To develop an intensive course of study in Myanmar performance, dance, singing, music, and storytelling from classical sources.

Being able to travel to the Inwa School with David was definitely another highlight of my trip to Myanmar. As a teacher, I loved getting to know the very talented students and teachers and as a photographer, I loved the opportunity to witness their daily practice session. In one afternoon, I saw that beautiful continuity of cultural traditions across generations. While I was filming, I asked one student what the school meant to her and immediately tears welled up in her eyes as she related, “The school is most important in my life.”
“I want to become a dancer for myself and my parents and dance to well known works.”
“I want to be happy with the arts and my appearance.” In order to honor her privacy as she so openly shared from the depths of her heart, I did not include her name or that video footage but wanted to share in words one of the most powerful experiences for me. The Inwa School, its dedicated teachers and students are truly a part of a unique, beautiful transformation which is exactly education’s highest calling.

The New York Times Travel Show 2017

People started to line up a bit after 9. When the New York Times Travel Show opened to the public at 10am last Saturday, a very long, snaking line entered through the gates and the world opened up. Adventure, solo, family, LBGTQ, river or Caribbean cruises, seaplane adventures, learn a language and charge your devices with a solar panel…so many aisles to explore with insights galore. The New York Times Travel Show brings together those who are definitely in the know and those who want to know everything about travel. It is the largest consumer travel and trade show in North America with over 500 exhibitors representing 150 countries and over 23 focused conferences covering the latest products, services, destination information and trends from travel industry experts and I covet my press pass!

Taste of the World

Let me begin with one of the most experienced travel professionals I know, Pauline Frommer. According to Frommer, the best websites for airfares are: Momondo.com and SkyScanner.net. The cheapest days of the week to fly are Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. In order to receive savings, timing can be everything! Pauline gave the following advice: book on a weekend, book 57 days before travel for domestic tickets, 176 days before going off to Europe, 77 days before traveling to the Caribbean, 160 days before travel to Asia/The Pacific, book 144 days before travel to the Middle East and Asia and 90 days before travel to Central and South America. All will provide varying savings. She urged the audience to rethink loyalty and look into other airlines which are now offering discount fares such as Norwegian, WOW, XL, Thomas Cook, Eurowings and AirAsia. If you are a solo traveler, connecting with “Women Welcome Women” and Global Greeters Network which are sites where one can connect to someone who loves their city so much they have volunteered to provide a free tour will provide a “safety net” for those alone. It is a wonderful way to connect with locals. As far as cruises go, excursion savings can be found at Cruising Excursions.com, Shore Trips.com and Viator. Frommer also suggested that if one wanted to view the Northern Lights, this would be the year to do it since the lights are caused by storms on the sun and they go in 10 year cycles and this is the last year in this go round. Book now, they are breathtaking!

Indonesian Art

See Europe Virtually

In Seminar Room 3, there was not one available seat or space. People stood on both sides of the room and sat on the floor all to hear Matt Kepnes, the author of “How to Travel the World on $50. a Day.” His talk was entitled, “Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel” and I have to say he did not disappoint! He cautioned people about using random ATM’s and not exchanging money at the airport and to buy in the local currency since the US dollar is surging. The sites Matt uses to search for cheap flights are: Secret Flying,, The Flight Deal, Holiday Pirates, Momondo, Skyscanner . Hostels now offer private rooms and private baths and if he isn’t staying in one, Matt will often stop by one to ask for recommendations of cheap but delicious local restaurants. Travel Massive, Bla Bla Car, are all ways to connect with the locals and get insights and recommendations off the beaten path that may be just as fun but a bit less expensive.

Indonesian Coffee Tour

Iskra Ukranian Dance Ensemble

There was a “Get Fit Zone”, a “Wellness Travel Pavilion” and “The Best of Life Stage.” You could meditate, learn bodybuilding, and hear an introduction to Ayurveda: Ancient solutions for increased energy and vitality.

Henna Painting

Being out on the road photographing for hours on end, I was thrilled with my purchase of two solar charges by Dawan Global. The Element is water resistant, shockproof, and dustproof. It is designed to take a beating in any terrain or environment. With its lightweight design the Element can be taken anywhere with ease, clipped onto a backpack, belt, or purse, and is just 7 oz. It stores enough solar energy to completely charge a cell phone 2 times. Because one is good but two is better, I also bought the Solis which can completely power a cell phone 4x, an IPad 2x, or even a small laptop on a full charge. It can completely charge a phone in just 90 minutes using the high speed output… and as I was walking away from the booth with my new finds, Bob Marley’s lyrics came to mind, “No worries, be happy!” Mark your calendars for January 2018! I am off to make my vision board!!!

Travel List

Women’s March On Washington

On Friday, we heard the words, “American carnage ends now”. I am not sure if that means that our new president has decided to pay the bill for the environmental cleanup for an abandoned 6 acre warehouse/factory in South Carolina that he owns but yesterday, all I saw everywhere I looked was truly what I think makes “America Great”! Around the world, from Antarctica to Greece, there were 673 Women’s Marches. As ABC news reported: “The marches spanned all 50 U.S. states, several U.S. territories and at least 60 countries across all seven continents”. One woman in Hawaii, being so upset after the election, decided to do something to make a positive difference and send another message to the world. Teresa Shook made mention of a hypothetical march on FB and by morning had some 10,000 responses. “When they go low, we go high!” The power of social media! In Washington alone, it was estimated that a half million people were in attendance. They just kept coming and coming!

The bus we took from Philadelphia had only 2 empty seats. We then went to the metro where a stop along the line had to be closed due to the great number of people, and this was only 8 in the morning. The energy of birthing something positive and unifying was palpable. There was a very calm, respectful excitement as people moved to their destination. When we left the Metro, we were greeted by an 90 year old woman in a wheel chair who was cheering us on! (I want what she is having!). Then as we walked into the march area, there was a teenage boy sitting up on a hill, silently holding a sign, letting us know he loved us. Some signs people held up were definitely negative, but I have to say that they were in the minority. Most signs were uplifting and inspirational…signs with the words: peace, dignity, respect, human rights. Ideas calling forth actions. “Keep building walls and we will keep building bridges.” Signs with quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Women and men, children of every race and creed walking together in the strength of peace and unity. There were so many heartfelt moments I carried home with me…watching members of the National Guard high fiving everyone and thanking all who walked by them. At the end of the march, we began the two mile walk back to the bus, people came out of their homes to offer total strangers walking by water and food. A Christian church had just let out and the pastor was standing in the street inviting people in to use the bathroom and have something to drink. We started the day off being greeted with kindness and ended the day, embraced by generosity and caring.

Mean words, calling people names, disrespecting women’s bodies, putting up walls to separate from the world, these to me seem like the divisive paths to carnage. It is amazing the difference a day can make!

Early Morning, Ready to Begin

Women and Men Beginning The March

Silent but Powerful Message

Messages with Meaning

Justice for All

One Word Says So Much.

High Five and Thanks

Respect and Dignity

Young Girls and Women Alike

The Masses

A Few In The Crowd!

South Carolina Is In The House

The Message Summed Up

A Half A Million Strong

It Is All About The Journey

The New York Times advertises their trips as, “Journeys for the Curious Mind.” Robert Frost encouraged us to take the road less traveled and Ralph Waldo Emerson reminded us that, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” There is something that fascinates me about people on a journey and I am drawn to photograph them…people living their daily lives, putting one foot in front of the other to discover the unknown or return to a place of knowing. I have a deep curiosity about where a person is headed to and why. New understandings unfold through the accompaniment either in silent observation or animated interaction. Is the person walking fast or slow, bent over or standing tall, smiling or deep in thought? So much can be learned about the other and leads to a connection of “you AND me”.

On The Journey

A Smile For The Journey Off the Beaten Path

Balancing and heavy burdens on the journey.

Many people piled into a truck sitting on top of produce.

The Journey is better when shared with a friend.

Women walking around the fields looking for beans

Trusting in the wind and the currents.

Tender Moments Along The Journey

A Burmese Mother and Her Child on the Journey

Making the journey so much easier with love and laughter.

Gentle parental protection

Such tenderness in this moment as a grandson washes his grandmother who no longer has fingers to do this herself.

This young girl took her water buffalo on a journey for a cooling bath.

I also try to check in and explore the internal territory of my journey and was very focused on this with the beginning of the new year. What path am I on and is it the best for me at this moment in time? Am I creating touching moments for those on the same journey and am I taking the time to just stop and say, “Thank you” for so often being on the receiving end of welcome, touching kindness and generosity. May I just take this opportunity to extend my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to those who have walked beside me for a bit or for the long haul! You have and continue to add much sweetness to my journey and I wish you all a journey of wonder, undiscovered paths with the curiosity to explore and times to just sit and enjoy the view.

From my heart to yours.

Buddhist Monks in Myanmar

Myanmar has recently broken free from an intensely repressive military regime. While there are many growing pains, there is much hope. As with many countries struggling with issues regarding refugees and immigrants, there are some who profess strong opposition to inclusion, holding tightly to the concept of borders and singularity rather than seeing us all as interconnected and occupying only one planet. There exists in Myanmar a longstanding anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim sentiment. Prashanth Parameswaran stated in “The Diplomat” that, “there’s a real challenge here that’s symptomatic of a country in which the question of national identity has always been fraught, complex and unresolved.” Almost 90% of the population in Myanmar is Buddhist, most practicing Theravada Buddhism. Their practice follows the Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration and right mindfulness. Amidst all the complexities, the Buddhist monks that I saw, were a gentle and quiet reminder to simply be mindful of what I say and what I do and to ask myself if my words and actions are healing and uplifting. I am not sure if I believe in karma, but I thought that even if I start out with only two out of eight, it is nice way to live life!

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Lofty Thoughts and Dreams

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Sitting In The Heart of Greatness

Lost in Prayer

Lost in Prayer

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Eyes That Capture A Heart

Monks Walking and Talking Together

Friends Together

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Monks Enjoying Favorite Drinks

Tired Buddhist Monk

Oh So Tired

Daily Life

Daily Chores

Viewing the results of an earthquake.

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

Buddhist Monks Keeping Watch

The Long Neck Women of Burma

Dreams definitely do come true. In reality, maybe not as often as we would like! There is always a fine line between “magical thinking” and hope. However, this moment in my life had the quality of blessing for me.
Many photographers I know would say that growing up they would spend hours pouring over the pages of National Geographic. We were living vicariously through the compelling photographs of far off lands and people and tucking away the images into our dreams. I would see photographs of the Long Neck Women and think they were so beautifully exotic and meeting them seemed so far out of the realm of possiblity. Time passed, travel across continents became much easier and (some) borders opened up. I was off! I cannot even begin to explain the gratitude I felt when I got off the boat with cameras around my neck and climbed up onto a dock and was welcomed by these beautiful and exotic girls and women. I had so often seen the photographs, but now I was in them! Just writing those words brings forth a wellspring of emotion for me.

Dreams Do Come True

Dreams Do Come True

National Geographic (where it all began for me!) has created an informative and interesting video on these Padaung Long Neck Women and since the focus here is to connect the past with the present, I thought it would be the perfect link to add.
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=The+Long+Neck+Women+of+Myanmar&ru=%2fsearch%3fq%3dThe%2bLong%2bNeck%2bWomen%2bof%2bMyanmar%26form%3dPRUSEN%26mkt%3den-us%26httpsmsn%3d1%26refig%3d7d3a577ed7aa4226a185364a79604262%26pq%3dthe%2blong%2bneck%2bwomen%2bof%2bmyanmar%26sc%3d1-30%26sp%3d-1%26qs%3dn%26sk%3d%26cvid%3d7d3a577ed7aa4226a185364a79604262&view=detail&mmscn=vwrc&mid=8706ABA9757C2ACD64148706ABA9757C2ACD6414&rvsmid=8706ABA9757C2ACD64148706ABA9757C2ACD6414&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV

Creating and Living in Beauty

Creating and Living in Beauty

Young Woman Weaving

Young Woman Weaving

Long Neck Woman Weaving at Inle Lake

Long Neck Woman Weaving at Inle Lake

Sunset and a Moment of Quiet

Sunset and a Moment of Quiet

Portrait of a Long Neck Woman, Myanmar

Portrait of a Long Neck Woman, Myanmar

Portrait Through the Brass Coils

Portrait Through the Brass Coils

May something that you think is so out of reach move into the realm of possibility for you!

Reflections from Inle Lake, Myanmar

“As above, so below…” This is the name of a 2014 horror film and also the name of a song on the debut album of the Tom Tom Club. In actuality though, the quote has it origin in the ancient writings of the Hermetic Principles, studied by philosophers, scientists and spiritual leaders throughout history. The next line in the quote is, “As within, so without.” Without going off on an esoteric monologue, suffice to say that these powerful but simplistic words speak to a unifying and dynamic energy connecting all. The sky and the heavens are reflected on earth. The way one is feeling and thinking radiates outward with rippling effects able to lift up or tear down.

At Inle Lake, Myanmar, I was mesmerized by the brilliant patterns and impressionistic reflections on the lake. Light, color, design, vibrancy, “As above, so below” …”, it all danced together so beautifully and I felt totally alive to be brought into this oneness.

Flower Boat, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Flower Boat, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections on Inle Lake

Reflections of Home, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections of Home, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Reflections of Home

Reflections of Home

Lotus Reflections

Lotus Reflections

The Colors of Sunrise

The Colors of Sunrise

Swirls of Blue

Swirls of Blue

Dancing Colors

Dancing Colors

Lessons From Myanmar

Life on the Water

Life on the Water

Home on The Lake

Home on The Lake

A very common site to see while in Burma are people smoking both long and short truncated cigars called cheroots. Rudyard Kippling mentioned them in his famous, “Road to Mandalay” as he described his Burma girl:
“An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin white cheroot, an’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s feet.”

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

Burmese Woman Rolling Cheroot

The color of cheroots can vary from green to black and are made with a mix of tobacco leaves and pieces of bark. The smoker may enjoy a distinctive sweet taste when honey, star anise, tamarind and jaggery are added into the tobacco mix. (Being from Philadelphia, I had no idea what jaggery is but discovered that it comes from the sap of palm trees and is mixed with sugar cane juice. We just have the Liberty Bell, not many palm trees!). Cheroot filters are made from small corn husks and it is all rolled together in thanal-phet leaves with sticky rice acting as the sealant. In the midst of stilted villages, floating gardens, fishermen balancing on one foot and small havens where cultural traditions are still carried on, the Inle Lake region is a must see for any traveler wishing to get caught up in the magic of Burma. We saw girls sitting crossed legged, hands moving at lightening fast speed as they separated the spices and rolled the leaves of these subtle fragrant cheroots, following in the footsteps of generations before them.

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Woman In The Fields Taking A Break

Having A Good Laugh!

Having A Good Laugh!

Love That Smile!

Love That Smile!

Twinkling Eyes

Twinkling Eyes

Reflecting and Relaxing

Reflecting and Relaxing

Here Comes Another Smile!

Here Comes Another Smile!

Often, older, older women whose faces have been deeply etched by the forces of nature are photographed puffing on cheroots with smoke snaking around their serious faces. We are so drawn to the wizened crone characteristic and the stories that lie beneath those many lines and wrinkles. Actually, there are 98 photographs of these women on Google Images (I counted!) So many photographs are both striking and compelling but I noticed that there were only 8 where the women were smiling. If this is an enjoyable past time, I wondered why such an absence. I will probably never know the many back stories to those photographs but I would like to share my experience with these women. Let me begin with a quote. An 18th century German composer, Robert Schumann stated, “The artist’s vocation is to send light into the human heart.” David Heath and Win Kyaw Zan are two men I hold in high esteem as true artists. I was so fortunate to have their mentorship throughout my recent trip to Myanmar. There is such an obvious brotherhood between David and Win. It has been forged during their 16 adventures together, documenting life and traditions hidden away from the Western world for so very long. I was thrilled they brought me “into the fold” and made me feel like family… but then that is what I saw them do time and time again with many others, which brings me to the main point of today’s post. Sitting in thatched huts or out in fields, we too were drawn to photograph these brown skinned, weathered and wise women enjoying a good smoke! We could have photographed with a long lens, never making our presence known while in a way stealing something from them and or we could respectfully enter into the intimacy of their world and not miss out on an amazing opportunity. David and Win went for the latter. Outgoing and fun loving, the camera went down while their smiles, introductions, compliments and jokes brought about quick friendships. We all lingered and laughed and loved every minute! The Burmese women easily allowed us to photograph them. They showed us the pensive look, but now they also flashed those wonderful smiles that were definitely contagious! The “strangerness” melted away into that “light being sent into the human heart” and we were family, connecting continents, cultures and hearts. I was so fortunate to travel with two masterful photographers. They encourage and challenge me to truly be mindful of the artist’s calling. May we all discover that vocation and pass it on now…it is so needed and our children are watching.

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Watching with Hopes and Dreams

Buddhist Monks from the Drepung Gomang Monastery, India

Buddhist Monks and the Mandala of Impermanence from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

The Sacred Arts Tour is traveling throughout the US this year and it was very powerful experience to take in. Buddhist Monks came to Bucks County Community College for one week to share their art and wisdom.

Chanting with bells, cymbals ringing out and the steady rhythm of the drum beat served to consecrate the space and call forth the forces of Peace and Wellbeing. A puja table was set up by the window. Puja comes from Sanskrit and means reverence and homage. Items of offerings and devotion were placed on the table in front of a picture of the Dalai Lama. Bowls of water symbolized hospitality. Flowers symbolized samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Candles served to stir a desire for enlightenment while incense purified the air and symbolized that the teachings may flow out to all the world. Apples were placed on the table reminding all of our interconnectedness and the impermanence of life with the hope of cultivating gratitude throughout each day.

A blue square board was laid on the ground and the monks took out rulers, compasses and pens to design the sacred sand mandala that would occupy their total concentration over the next 5 days. This is incredibly exacting and can take up to three hours. Pots of millions of grains of brilliantly colored sand were laid out beside chakpurs which are narrow funnel tubes that when scraped together will cause sufficient vibration for the grains to trickle out. Being used together, they represent the union of wisdom and compassion.

The term mandala is an ancient sanskrit word meaning, “World in Harmony”. This ideal, multi- dimensional world where colors, lines and forms all have meaning, each is significant to fostering a heightened awareness of compassion. An intention for blessings is set as each grain is dropped into the design.

By day, monks sat crossed legged, huddled over the rasping sound of the chakpurs for hours. ( My knees and back would have been screaming out after the first 5 minutes!) White face masks prevented both breath or a stray cough from upsetting the meticulous design. Slowly, a lotus emerged in the very center of the sand mandala. Working outwards, white, yellow, red, green and blue petals took shape to represent faith, effort, memory, meditation and wisdom. Deities, walls, doorways, flames all slowly emerged throughout the week.

Just as the week began, it ended with a formal consecration session with the sounds of deep, masculine chanting. The ending was signaled by a simple ringing of a bell. Slowly, brushes began to move over the mandala. The colorful grains were swept into a mound of gray. Buddhism declares that in this world there is nothing that is fixed and permanent. Every thing is subject to change and alteration. As a photographer who tries to capture moments so they will live forever, it was so hard for me to see this beautiful work simply be destroyed knowing how much went into it. I think I have a lot to learn! They believe that suffering stems from trying to hold on to that which is impermanent and it is only through understanding and moving with impermanence that great changes can emerge. The end of life is usually accompanied by a burial, a return to the earth. The grains were placed into an urn and carried to the river. There they were poured out with the belief that the blessings placed in each grain would now flow out to the earth. So much to take away from this one moment in time. “Thanks to impermanence,everything is possible.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Partnerships of Possibilities: Kitchen Harvest & Untours Foundation

https://vimeo.com/175121932

Kitchen Harvest, Inc from Frances Schwabenland on Vimeo.

If you are lucky enough to spend time with Chris, you will be in the midst of poetry in motion! An artist of nature!

It was just after sunrise when I was introduced to the Kitchen Harvest garden. I am not a morning person but the thought of missing that golden light awakening those tender baby strawberries and shining on the newly formed dew drops that dotted the lettuce and broccoli caused me to shake off my stupor, run to set up my camera a not miss this moment of glory. Nature was putting on a show and I was lucky enough to capture it! Our conversation was casual but as Chris started harvesting the fresh vegetables he was going to deliver to his residential customers later that day, his words were poetic and profound. I now had to run to get my tape recorder to not miss a word of wisdom generated when one works closely with the earth! I was with a man whose spirit and livelihood is so intimately connected to the movements of nature. He spoke about the excitement of unearthing things growing below the ground. He used the words, “Magic” ,”Surprise”, “Nurture”. He spoke about patience and allowing everything its own time and pace.

Photographing the dynamic light and vibrancy of the garden, I couldn’t help but realize the contrast all around us. We were in the middle of a cemetery. Chris saw an empty, overgrown area and thought growth! Listening to him explain how the garden came to be, I understood and admired his deep appreciation and respect for the interplay of life and death. It has been a guiding vision for him.

On Wednesday, July 13, 2016, the Guardian reported, “Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a cult of perfection, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment.” About 1/3 of all food scraps, about 60 tons, worth 160 billion, is wasted by retailers and consumers every year. According to the EPA, “Discarded food is the biggest single component of landfills and incinerators today.” When I first met Chris and asked him how Kitchen Harvest started, he replied that it has been a bit of a love story and after standing on the side lines photographing all that he does, I couldn’t have said it better. He and his wife, Timi, want/wanted to live differently, not being one of the statistics above. They wanted to give their new child, the freshest food possible while honoring the earth…respecting and not pillaging, renewing and not leaving barren. Thus, their son wasn’t their only birthing…Kitchen Harvest, Inc was started in 2010, the same year Cassidy was born!

The food waste from many residential customers, schools and institutions like Villanova University, restaurants such as The Sterling Pig Brewery and now the DNC all are working with Chris and Kitchen Harvest. The left over food, grains and lawn cuttings are all collected and taken to Linvilla Orchards where in 6 to 9 months, it is transformed into a beautiful, dark, healthy compost, not sitting somewhere in a landfill. The compost is then shared back with the community. The gardens and vegetables grown in this compost can be summed up in one word, “Abundant”! Not only does Chris transform waste products, he transformed me! He and his wife invited me to their home for a meal. I know this sounds corny, but I never saw lettuce so full and healthy. I never tasted anything like it. Who needed salad dressing? The anemic greens, so long a staple of my diet are a thing of the past! Together Chris and Timi created such a delicious alchemy of colors, textures and tastes. Cassidy, their son, told me that when he helps his dad weed, he takes them and pots them up because you never know what it could become! He was raised knowing that waste can be turned into magic!
I wish we all could realize that.

The Untours Foundation , under the leadership of Elizabeth Killough, works to alleviate poverty by providing low-interest loans or equity to individuals and organizations who create employment, housing and valuable goods and services in economically challenged communities. Untours fuels projects that are environmentally and economically pioneering, setting new models for which all businesses can strive. Their low-interest loan to Kitchen Harvest has helped Chris run his successful business. Working with Elizabeth, I am so honored to know such caring individuals who go above and beyond to make such a positive and lasting difference.

Partnerships of Respect, Resources and Renewal

“Life happens” or in this case, “Synchronicity is magic.” Events unfolded that brought together a freelance photographer and the very gifted director of the Untours Foundation, Elizabeth Killough. As a photographer, I love a great story and Elizabeth has so many of them. Under her leadership and enthusiasm, walking in the footsteps of founder Hal Taussig, the Untours Foundation works to alleviate poverty by providing low interest loans to those creating employment, housing, valuable goods and services in economically challenged communities. Untours also fuels projects that are environmentally and economically pioneering thereby creating business models to emulate.

I feel honored to have her introduction into these worlds of creativity, insight and problem solving.

My Reflections While Photographing:
“I have about 900 pounds to do today.”
“I have to be here.” Mildred was fighting a cold but she didn’t let that stop her. Her sense of responsibility and dedication have made her the first Employee of the Month for Wash Cycle Laundry. That morning, 39 bags filled with clothes, linens, sheets and towels had to be weighed, checked in on the computer, washed, dried, folded and put back into a clean bag to be returned within the 24 hour turn around time. The music was playing and Mildred started to dance as she went about this well organized process even though she didn’t feel up to par.
“Give me my music and I am good to go!”
There was an open Bible on a side shelf that I noticed. When I inquired about it, Mildred told me that some days she gets to read it and some days she never gets to it but she hopes that having it there and open will give everyone a “Blessed day!”

Tracey creates the same positive energy at the location on 1611 South Street. Being the manager means that she arrives a little after 6 each morning and could work for up to 12 hours. She wants to make sure that all laundry is done and delivered correctly on her watch. Tracey is part of the sandwich generation, taking care of her mother and daughters before and after lifting those heavy bags and taking them from soiled to clean and fresh, all with eco-friendly detergent. Nicole and Vicki were the staff that day. Nicole’s son is teething at the moment and she lights up talking about him and Vicki also works in health care but has a love and appreciation for art. The conversation and movements between the three women pointed to the connection forged by working together. In a small area, the process was like a dance. Tracey told me that “Gabriel sees the best in everyone and he has taught her to do the same.”

Wash Cycle Laundry is proving that bikes are commercially-scalable alternatives to trucks for intra-metropolitan freight. Over 3 million pounds of cargo are hauled across Philadelphia and Washington DC since the company began in 2010. Jason, Steve, Nivan are just a few of those who could haul up to 300 pounds of laundry by bike…in all kinds of weather! These guys are in great shape!!! Their work day starts in the wee hours of the morning. They come in and check the computer and their app listing the names, addresses, number of bags etc. so they are always tracking all laundry from beginning to end.
Jason has been working for WCL for two years with no thoughts of leaving. “Where else could I get paid for riding my bike?”

Gabriel Mandujano created Wash Cycle Laundry to merge his experience and passions with job creation, economic development, and sustainable transport. He believes in not stigmatizing people and does look for that spark, that desire to begin again and establish a life of success. Approximately 50 jobs have been created and over half filled by driven adults re-entering the workforce after overcoming a period of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, or welfare dependence.
WCL is a triple-bottom line company with a mission and commitment to serve the critical needs of individuals, the community and the environment.This is definitely a growing social enterprise both locally and nationally…with a slightly improbable delivery method!

Eco Friendly Delivery

Eco Friendly Delivery