One Piece At A Time: The Inspirational Story of Chad Pregracke

If you think globally, you become filled with gloom.  But if you take a little piece of this whole picture: ‘my piece, our piece, this is what I can do here, I’m making a difference.  And hey… wow, they’re making a difference over there, and so are they’.  Gradually, the pieces get filled in and the world is a better place… because of you.”  

Jane Goodall (Link to the JGI) 

April has flown by and we are already in the first week of May!  The weather is finally feeling like Spring, and I couldn’t be loving it more.

Let me catch you up a little as to what I’ve been up to.  I’ll skip right to one of the highlights: On the last Friday of the month, April 29, I had the honour of hearing Chad Pregracke present at the Burton Cummings theatre.  You might have heard of him?  He was CNN’s 2013 Hero of The Year.  His story is inspiring.

Lately, with all the terrible news we hear around us, I had been feeling a bit discouraged with regards to the state of our planet. But this month has brought me uplifting lessons that have shifted my perspective and left me feeling revitalized. Listening to his presentation was one of those experiences.

Chad’s story reminded me that we might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but each of us can play a part in making a small, positive difference around us.  It adds up.

This is CNN’s report.  It’s quick – just over 2 minutes long:

Chad grew up by the Mississippi River.  As a young man he spent summers diving for mussel shells to pay his way through college.  He described how he could hardly see anything underwater because it was so murky, but he was surrounded by sounds – much like we hear the birds when we are in our backyards, but it was the sound of fishes instead.  He realized the river was full of life, but because most people did not hear or experience this underwater world, they could ignore it… and treat the river like a dumping ground.

“This is a problem that people created, but it’s a problem that people can fix.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As he spent countless hours both around and under the water while growing up, he started to notice more and more garbage.  In the presentation I saw, he showed us pictures that he had taken before all of the clean-ups began.  Those pictures actually made the audience gasp.  They were unbelievable.  Or, as he said, “It’s believable.  The proof is right there.  What it is, is unacceptable.”  At the age of 17, when he saw the filth that was contaminating the Mississippi River, he began to look for support to clean it up.

“Wherever you are, no matter if there’s a stream, a creek, a lake, whatever, that needs to be cleaned up, you can do it.  Just organize it and do it.”

~ Chad Pregracke

The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through Winnipeg, where I live.
The Red River is one of two rivers that runs through my (current) home town of Winnipeg.

For 4 years Chad tried without success to get some financial support.  He persevered, and in 1997 he finally obtained a grant from Alcoa.  It was just enough to get started, so he was doing the work for free (and his work continues as non-profit).  He began cleaning up the river by himself, pulling 45 000 pounds of trash out of it by the end of that first year.  As he said, “People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too”.

“People made this mess one piece of garbage at a time, we can clean it up that way, too.”

~ Chad Pregracke

As people saw him out there working, they were inspired to join him.  20 years later, he has worked side by side with 95 000 volunteers to clear the Mississippi River of it’s many mountains (literally) of garbage.  The river landscape looks beautiful once again, and 90% of what is pulled out gets recycled.

Chad and the many volunteers continue their work, and have extended their efforts to include other rivers.  Because of these clean-ups, people have become more aware and more careful about keeping the garbage out of the river in the first place.

The thing that really struck me during the presentation was that Chad is just a down-to-earth, regular human being.  He saw something that was wrong, and decided to make it right.  When he started, he was just one person picking some garbage out of the river, by himself, on a boat.

Chad Pregracke is a powerful reminder that we don’t have to wait.  We can act today.  I loved his take away message:  Look around you, and decide what you care about, and start doing something, no matter how small.  

Every little action counts – every little effort, and every act of kindness.  If each of us takes a small action, it adds up to significant change.

My son had a funny take on it.  He said, “Yeah, you know how people can nickel and dime themselves to death?  Well, I guess the opposite can be true, too, right?  You can nickel and dime yourself to a better world”.  He always makes me laugh with his unexpected, 12 year old wisdom.

As Chad said, “I started when I was 17.  You are never too young to start and to make a difference”.  So true, and I would add that you are never too old either.

“People are always saying that the youth is the future.  Yes, no doubt, but more importantly, they are also the present.  You can do something now, you don’t have to wait for some point in the distant future.”

~ Chad Pregracke

Want to learn more?  Chad Pregracke wrote a book called From The Bottom Up that I would like to read at some point.  Also, you might check out his organization Living Land and Waters.

Today, I am signing off with this sweet medley.  Have you heard it before?  It’s played on the ukulele by the late “Iz” Ka’ano’i Kamakawiwo’Ole, who is among the most beloved and celebrated Hawaiian performers.  I fell in love with this medley from the first time I heard it.  For me, it’s a hopeful song; a gentle celebration and reminder that it’s a wonderful world, indeed.  Treat yourself to a listen.

 Here are some other short videos that you might enjoy watching:

Thanks so much for the visit!  If you’d like to receive my latest posts, please feel free to subscribe (See the sidebar menu).  Cheers!

The Lure of The Window-Sill

Above Image:  Creative Commons, “Window and Flowers” by Sukanto Debnath, is licensed under CC by 2.0

Post by Carina Spring.

Sunny Window-Sill, Autumn In Sydney Australia, by Ruby Goes, Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, Sunny Window-Sill, Autumn In Sydney Australia, by Ruby Goes, licensed under CC by 2.0
Window, La Boca Buenos Aires, By DiegoTorres Silvestre, Found on Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, Window, La Boca Buenos Aires, By DiegoTorres Silvestre, Licensed under CC by 2.0

Windows are a wonderful place where the comfort and ambiance of the indoors connect with the light and colours of nature.

Crack a window open, and the fragrance in the room immediately transforms.  Freshness.  The season enters your room through the air: fresh cut grass, new blossoms from a nearby lilac tree, the woody smell of wet soil.

The sounds gravitate to meet you.  Urban sounds, mingled with the sounds of nature.  Children playing, the mesmerizing rustle of leaves in a soft breeze, birds, a car driving by.

Wherever I go, I always ask for the window seat.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Faith Globe, Courtesy of Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, Come Rain or Come Shine by Faith Globe, licensed under CC by 2.0.


Curtains by Lynn, Found on Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, Curtains by Lynn, Licensed under CC by 2.0


View From My Window, by KaCey97078, Courtesy of Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, View From My Window, by KaCey97078, Licensed under CC by 2.0


Sunglow Window and Tree Shadow, by Ken Bosma, desertdutchman, courtesy of Flickr, CC.
Creative Commons, Sunglow Window and Tree Shadow, by Ken Bosma, desertdutchman, Licensed under CC by 2.0

Thanks for stopping by!

Image links will soon be added. Sorry for the delay ~ technical difficulties.


Something I Could Not Resist

Post by Carina Spring.

Image: Redfish Lake Idaho Morning Fog by Charles Knowles, Courtesy of Flickr, CC

Background ~ Inspiration for Today’s Post:

Why don’t I just give up? That was the title of Monday’s post at The Creativity Cauldron. Essentially, the post was about how we sometimes decide to give up “working on a particular creative vent only to return to it.”  In her post, Bekki Hill was wondering why she kept going back to writing a novel, even though she had decided not to work on it this year. She left us with some thought-provoking questions: Have you a similar problem with a different type of creativity? Do you have a theory about why I can’t give up?

The interesting coincidence was that the previous Saturday evening, I had been discussing this very same idea with a woman at a dinner party. We really connected and wound up sharing stories about our creative journeys so far. This woman is a talented singer, and lately had been feeling a strong desire to write. She wasn’t quite sure how to get started, or why she wanted to do it, but the pressing fact was that the desire kept coming back.

The Big Decision:

Years ago, I went through a lenthy period in my life when I was having a hard time doing creative work. I was too busy, and when I actually had the time, I didn’t have the energy.  Top it off with a pretty strong inner critic, and I just couldn’t make creativity a regular, satisfying part of my life. Sure, I would draw or paint occasionally, but the ideas and the ache to create were always present in the back of my mind.  Frustrated by the conflict between my desire to make art, and the inability to get to it, I decided to quit. I was not going to draw, or make any kind of art anymore. I would abandon the whole thing, quietly freeing myself from this problem; I would lead a life without that constant urge to create. Of course, that did not happen. I continued to have that longing in my heart, and the ideas continued to come.

Like A Fog Horn…

One day, I was watching a documentary called Man on Wire, about Philippe Petit and his epic walk on wire across the Twin Towers. I’ve mentioned it before in a previous post, and also linked it to his beautiful Ted Talk. Anyhow, at the time I watched the documentary, I copied some of the most memorable words into my diary.

This was one of the quotes, although to really appreciate it, you should hear it said with his musical French accent:

The only way to become an artist is having no choice,

to be called…                                         

So being called is something beautiful…

First, it’s like a song, like a fog horn… Someone or something calls,

but it is also a provision of faith, and vocation calling…


Nadine Schaeffer Cloudforest Flickr CC
Nadine Schaeffer Cloudforest Flickr CC

A couple of days later, in my next diary entry, I realized something:

“This is the hardest thing, in some ways, days like this. Days when you are tired… You feel a bit blue, and routine calls forcefully, rather than the beautiful horn of your vocation. And you wonder, do I even have any talent? Why should I bother? Who am I kidding? When will I ever have time? … It is in these moments when one feels discouraged. Yet, why do I keep dreaming, and thinking, and longing to create? I think that is the fog horn. That part of you that is aching and wishing to be expressed, sometimes more loudly than others…”

In other words, that fact that we keep going back to a certain creative outlet, that inability to abandon it, that is the calling of a vocation.

Letting Go of Resistance …

Philippe Petit reflected, “Something I could not resist, and did not make any effort to resist called me up on that wire.”

In our busy lives, we sometimes put off doing things that we really need to do for ourselves.  That’s life.   One shouldn’t feel guilty about it because there are times when we have important responsibilities, and it is necessary and good for those priorities to guide our time. I don’t want to make it sound like it was a bad period in my life, either. I was happy for other reasons, and I did not resent the choices I needed to make. Still, I knew something was missing.

Eventually, the problem for me was that resisting who I was, resisting what I really needed to be doing, was becoming a habit of thought. Everything else was always the priority.

I have entered a different stage in my life. These days, I work part-time, and although my career still keeps me busy, I have more time to devote to my creative outlets. The wonderful thing is that now I am ready, and I am so grateful for the opportunity. I still have a long way to go.  I am still learning, and little by little incorporating creative outlets into my life.

In the end, it is Rudyard Kipling’s words that have often come to mind:

Do the things you really want to do if you possibly can. Don’t wait for circumstances to be exactly right. You’ll find that they never are.”


St.Joseph and Benton Harbor Lighthouses - Russell Sekeet, Flickr CC
St.Joseph and Benton Harbor Lighthouses – Russell Sekeet, Flickr CC

Where Do You Like To Do Your Creative Work?

My son and I both have this week off, and it has been a wonderful holiday so far! We have relaxed, and taken some great walks in the beautiful weather. My son spent Saturday with grandma, so my husband and I even had time for a lovely date. And even though time is going fast and it’s already Wednesday, we have made plenty of time for creative work up to this point.

Question, by Graur Codrin, from

My son has been practicing his drawing skills and working on a small comic strip.  So, busy with all this creative work, we started to think about how different people have different ways of working.

Where do you like to do your creative work? (Writing, drawing… whatever you prefer to do.) Is there a place where you feel your creative juices flow most naturally?

How Some Famous Authors Found Their Flow.

It is fascinating how creative types work best under different conditions, and using different rituals. Here are a few famous examples of how some authors have found their flow:

vintage-typewriter-Witthaya Phonsawatfdp2

Laying Down: Maya Angelou (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings) would rent a hotel room for several months at a time. She would ask the staff to remove all visual stimuli from the walls. Then, she would spend about 5 or 6 hours each morning in the hotel room, writing on the bed while leaning on her elbow.

Truman Capote (In Cold Blood) has called himself a “horizontal author”, finding his muse while laying on a couch or a bed.

Standing up:  Apparently, Ernest Hemingway wrote The Old Man And The Sea standing up! He would wake up at dawn and pour out his thoughts, standing over his typewriter until noon. Then, he would head to the bar!

Out and about: J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) loves to wonder into a cafe with her notebook and write blissfully, seeing where it will take her.

Creative people tend to have their unique preferences!  Some people love to lay down, others sit at a table, or a desk.  Some people like their space cluttered, others like it clear and sparse.  Some like to work in a dark space, others like a bright work area.  Some like a quiet space, others like a lot of action and activity around them.

How About The Humble Hobby Artists Around This House?

A drawing of a small bedroom.

How do we like to work around here?  Well, my son loves to draw (and sometimes write) in the late evening, right before bedtime. He lies down comfortably on the rug on his bedroom floor, and turns on his work lamp. Aside from that light source, he likes the room dark as he gets his ideas down on paper.

Me? When writing, I like to sit comfortably on the couch or, my favourite place to write, on my bed.  I like the room bright with warm light.  Normally, I do my visual art in the studio, but sometimes I even like to sketch while in  bed. In fact, that is where I did the quick sketch featured above. (It is not based on any of the rooms in our house, but rather on the idea of small spaces, which kind of fascinate me). Anyhow, this is all very amusing to my spouse, an early bird who jumps out of bed as soon as he opens his eyes!

Where do you like to work? We’d love to hear about it.


Image Credits:

The first image is by saphatthachat, the second image is by Graur Codrin, and the third image is by Witthaya Phonsawat.  All of three images are courtesy of


In 15 Minutes

Post by Carina Spring.

What do you really want to do?  What activity really taps into who you are?  It’s odd how, sometimes, that is the activity we most resist, and can’t seem to find time to do.

I struggle with making time to draw.  It shouldn’t be that big a deal or that hard to do, but, lately, I always seem to have a good reason why I can’t get to it. So today, when I got home from work, I set my timer to 15 minutes, opened a book, and simply started to draw. I tend to draw from my imagination, but I thought I would benefit from some old-school representational drawing practice.

I took a snap-shot of my 15 minute drawing using my cell-phone camera (see above – graphite pencil – no editing). The drawing is unfinished, and I will leave it that way.  My goal today was not to create a perfect drawing, but rather to start drawing again, to develop the core skills.

What about you?  What would you like to set a 15 minute timer for today?


During is What Counts

Post by Carina Spring.

This amazing photograph is by:

Creativity starts by taking a leap,and authentically expressing who you are.

Do you lose yourself in your creative work?  I was visiting some of my favourite blogs, and they got me thinking about the quote below.  I copied it into my diary about a year ago, and thought it might be a good one to share.  

Most creative types have that inner critic that sometimes tells us we aren’t good enough, and – even worse- sometimes keeps us from doing the work that would most fully satisfy us.

Creativity starts with taking a leap, and authentically expressing who you are. Lose yourself in work that you love- juggling, writing, dancing, math- whatever.

This quote reminds me not to worry too much about whether I am  “good” or “bad”.   Rather, focus on the doing because during is what counts” and doing is how we improve. 

Here is the quote:

“Tell them to do and make

as many things as possible

and to NOT over analyze


and NOT care whether it’s

good or bad

and to not try and understand who they are

and what they are doing

because that always

matters at the end

but during is what counts

and doing

is what probably matters.”

By Greg Kletsel


 It was written whimsically on one of his illustrations, which I found here:

To read more on today’s subject, check out Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits:

Philippe Petite and an Inspirational TED Talk.

“I had to make a decision to shift my weight from the foot anchored to the building to the foot anchored on the wire.”

The quote above is from a film I watched a few years ago, called “Man on Wire.” It is a documentary that shares the story of the incredibly talented Philippe Petit, and his breath-taking tight-rope walk across the Twin Towers. I love the above words because, in some ways, they symbolize what we all do when we take a chance, when we put ourselves out there, when we try something new.  We may not be risking our life, but we still must make a decision to step forward from the safe into the unkown.

I found the documentary fascinating – the true story of a man following with courage his unusual vocation.  Today, I want to share one of my favourite TED talks.  Philippe Petit sums up his creative life in 20 minutes.  It is really worth a listen.  Inspirational and so entertaining!

The above image is by Vlado, courtesy of


 Comfort ~ Inspiration ~ Ideas

12 Quotes and Some Reflection for Living Well All Year Round.

Welcome to The New Year!

Image used with permission:

2014 is almost over and I can hardly believe that the calendar will read 2015. That sounds like I am living in the future.

Time passes, and current events that were a big part of our life, like the turn of the millenium, suddenly become part of a distant history. Technology moves us along even faster.

The internet has changed the world so quickly; I remember when they brought email into our workplace in the second year of my career (16 years ago). Now, I am sure that most North American children can’t even conceive of a world without their IPods and X-Boxes.  

This all makes me sound very old, but I am not. I am 42. Hey, I still see that as relatively young.

The world today moves so fast, and sometimes it seems to be in such a mess. Yet, it can also be so beautiful, and acts of hope and kindness are everywhere. Life is hard, and demanding, and sad. Life is joyful, wondrous and beautiful. Success, failure. All of it. That struggle is life itself.

A Time for Renewal

So we celebrate New Year as way of wiping the slate clean. It’s a way of saying “let’s all agree to pause now”, to process what has happened in the last year, so we can start again with renewed enthusiasm, courage and optimism.  A new beginning, when all our experiences are hopefully elevated into lessons that arm us with wisdom and strength for the upcoming year.

Time Flies

New Year reminds us that time is passing. Time is finite, and we better get to the business of living well. Let go of worries, of petty gripes, of fears. Enjoy the moment. Celebrate the joys in life, the successes – no matter how small – take them in. Be kind to ourselves and be kind to others, not just humans, but other species, too. Forgive ourselves and forgive others. Think less; don’t overanalyze.  Think more; act mindfully.

We are all just doing our best. Remember that when you want to lose patience with the cashier or the person driving slowly in the fast lane.  You don’t know what they might be going through.

If we keep trying and don’t give up, our efforts will amount to something – to positive change for us and for the planet.

Finding Wisdom

Here are 12 of my favourite quotes from a book called “Wisdom”, by Andrew Zuckerman. The quotes are about life, in general. “Wisdom” is a big, beautiful book filled with interesting ideas and advice, shared by accomplished and famous senior citizens. It’s a book that reminds us that age brings a deeper understanding of life.

Maybe listening to the wisdom of those who have lived a long time is one way to hear, in the words of Bernice Johnson Reagon, “…the part of the universe that continues after we are gone.”

12 Quotes for the New Year: Words of Wisdom.

“Don’t take yourself so seriously” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon

“Life is not perfect; it never will be. You just have to make the very best of it and you have to open your heart to what the world can show you. Sometimes it’s terrifying and sometimes it’s incredibly beautiful. And I’ll take both, thanks.” ~Graham Nash

“Following the seasons is very important, to follow the seasons as they come and to enjoy the food as it is. Small portions, simply prepared” … “Cook with love. Sit down around the table and share food with your children and your family.” ~Jacques Pepin

“I’m curious about life, period.” ~Graham Nash

“…Where people of goodwill get together and transcend their differences for the common good, peaceful and just solutions can be found even for those problems which seem most intractable.” ~Nelson Mandela

“The heart is what matters most. The act of compassion, of being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes…” ~ Kris Kristofferson

“People have always said of my whole life… “You are too kind, Bryce.” Well … (being) pleasant and nice- you’re going to be conned, absolutely, for sure – but in the long run, over seventy-five years, it’s a better journey and in the end you win more. In hard fact you actually win more: you win more friends, you win more opportunities, you win more life, you win more joy, you win more character.” ~Bryce Courtenay

“Be here. Be present. Wherever you are, be there.” ~Willie Nelson

“We are in a culture that asks for that quick assessment. I have students sometimes that say, “I like hearing Harriet Tubman better than Sojourner Truth.” And I say, “They’re both dead, and you can have them both. Why are you going to pick one?” ~Bernice Johnson Reagon

“Exercise is very important to my mental well-being.” ~Madeleine Albright

“…just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” ~Chuck Close

“I don’t want you to compromise, but be careful. It’s your life you are living and nobody else’s. Find out who you are and find out what you really believe in.”… I got this incredible advice, to watch out very carefully and find out where I felt myself attracted and where I felt myself uncomfortable. I think this is what we can call on to approach wisdom: that your experiences of bad things, of good things, of your own mistakes, of your shame… if you have built up knowledge about yourself, you get to have not only dreams, but visions.”       ~Kurt Masur on the advice given to him by his father.


 Comfort ~ Inspiration ~ Ideas


How to Find Your Way Home Through Your Vocation

“Success, Failure, and The Drive To Keep Creating”

– The title of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk

I want to share the following TED Talk that I heard recently. In it, Elizabeth Gilbert explores a wonderful definition of the word  home; the idea of your vocation as your “home”. She tells how, in the face of both failure and success, she was able to restore herself by dedicating herself to her truest vocation – writing.

A Good Reason to Do What You Love

Some people might not have that  desire to focus on a single vocation.  Still, the wisdom of Elizabeth’s words can be extended to offer this advice:

If we ever feel lost, we can find our way back home through the things and activities that give our lives the most meaning

There have been long periods in my life when I was not doing creative work regularly, for a number of reasons, including being too busy working on my career.  In those times, I would often focus on walking (sometimes running) and connecting with nature, reading, writing in my journal, and focusing on causes about which I feel passionate.  Spending time with family, and getting advice from them, was also a big help. These activities were meaningful to me and helped me to find answers to the questions or challenges I faced. In many ways, those meaningful activities probably brought me back to my creative endeavours.

What activities help you release stress and refocus your energies?

By the way, I have never read Eat, Pray, Love, or any of Gilbert’s work, but I am now adding her to my list of author’s whose work I should check out.

Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to sharing my next post with you!