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grateful for garbage

I don’t remember when exactly it started, but for at least a year I’ve been keeping my eye peeled, when walking down any street, for any flat-surfaced object that had been left on the sidewalk and thrown away.

My favorite find was while I was walking to my friend’s house and came upon these big, thick black boards that I imagine were used for a marketing pitch (and not a successful one, they were broken in half).  I had no conceivable reason to have these boards in my life but I just had a feeling someday I might.

So I picked up as many folded boards as I could carry and proceeded to my friend’s front door.  When he opened it I said, “I just picked these up off the sidewalk… and I’m gonna leave them in your house until I can come pick them up with a car.”

And then few months later my friend purchased her first home.  And somewhere in our conversation, she told me there was a main wall in the dining room that she wished she had a big “be grateful” for.  I told her I would LOVE for her to hang one of my “be gratefuls” in her first home, and we started talking about sizes.  I went to my growing pile of garbage next to my dresser and sent her a picture of one of the black boards, and we decided that that would be perfect.

~Angela’s Painting~



The growing pile of garbage in my room eventually started including any potentially paintable flat surface I came across.  And whenever I was home with no plans, I’d look through the pile and pull out my next canvas.

One Friday night before a beach-day-Saturday I pulled out a little black piece plastic that had been the backing to an oversized necklace I bought from Forever 21.  I decided I was going to paint it, and then leave it at the beach for a stranger.

~the beach leave~


Lately I’ve found myself in between social lives, as I describe it, and at home with no plans a lot more often.  I just finished my second piece of “trash art” in a week and am so grateful for this hobby I’ve developed.

~these don’t have names yet~



My entire intention with the spreading the words “be grateful” and “be grateful please,” has always been to contribute to the cycle of gratitude and abundance I see spinning all around us all the time.

I’m so grateful to have cultivated this hobby.  It provides me with a positive way to spend the hours of my life, and hopefully provides the world with a gentle reminder which they may be needing.


don’t ask what the world needs

find what makes you come alive and go do that.

because what the world needs

is people who have come alive.

-howard thurman-


** I couldn’t give this post it’s title without giving a shout to my dad.  I’m dedicating this post to him for encouraging me, whether I liked it or not, to see the potential magic available in thrown-out-pieces-of-garbage.

Thanks for being the example you were pops.  I’m still drawing the line at climbing in that dumpster with you, but maybe I won’t hide on the floor of your truck while you’re digging around.  Love you! **

And this is what it looks like when my heart explodes

My friends who run our Burning Man camp asked me to paint a 20-ft by 8-ft piece of canvas to hang over a boring-looking metal storage container that is going to be parked at our camp this year.  While sorting out the logistics of what to paint, and how and where to paint it, I happened to also decide I personally would not be going to Burning Man this year.  At the moment I decided not to go, this mural became much more important.  If I wasn’t going, this painting would go in my place.  Being able to send along such a giant piece of myself, and to contribute to both my camp and the Burning Man community as a whole made everything right in my world.

I’ve put together the following play-by-play of creating this mural because of how many people have asked me how I did it.  And if you know anything about me, you know how much I love documenting my experiences.  This one was a game changer.


I started with a 20-inch by 8-inch piece of paper so I could sketch out ideas… (in the end, I never actually drew on this).


I’d been thinking through ideas for about a week, and one day, all of a sudden, all the ideas I’d been thinking of separately came rushing together in my head so I grabbed the first piece of paper I could find and watched this image take shape.


Once in LA (where most of my friends and Burning Man family live), we had to have two separate pieces of canvas drop cloths sewn together to get something that was the same size as the storage container.


When I got the canvas back from the tailor, my first step was to measure 1/3 of the way up, and 1/2-way across.  I had my friend sit at that mark (halfway across, 3rd of the way up) and hold one end of a chalk-line while I moved around the top of the canvas with the other end, creating the edges of the sun rays.


After much deliberation about where and how to hang the canvas in the warehouse so I could paint it, we decided not to hang it at all.  It was going to be a project-and-a-half just to hang it and no one had any time for that.  I protested the idea to paint it on the ground for the pain and suffering that would cause my body, so the guys came up with a plan for me to be upstairs using a table.


I’d pull a piece of the canvas up on the table, paint it, pull it over farther, paint that part, and again and again and again until I reached the other end.  Took me probably 7 hours spread across two nights.



Once the sun rays were complete, I wanted to “take a step back” and look at it before I started the next phase.  When you’re working with a 20-foot piece of canvas, “taking a step back” becomes a bit tricky.  So with this one, I had to wait until the shop was relatively empty and carry the folded up canvas downstairs, lay it out flat, and go back upstairs to stare at it and take a picture.


The bottom of the canvas was originally planned to be blank except for the reflection of the equalizer (the squares).  After a minute in a steel shop though, the bottom was so covered in dirt that I knew the whole thing would need to be painted.  I tried to buy silver paint and ended up with Rustoleum that didn’t act like paint at all.  And at this moment I start to question covering up those awesome sun rays with those blue squares at all.  So I painted a “mini mural” to test a few things out.


Even less sure of the silver paint after trying it out, I decided to just move ahead with the blue square plan, hope for the best, and figure out the bottom later.  If I ended up hating it, I could paint over it.

To paint the blue squares, my plan was to use painter’s tape and tape-off squares every where I wanted them.  But the canvas wasn’t smooth, it was sweaty hot in the warehose, the tape wouldn’t stick so I knew pretty quickly that I needed to take a different approach. I got the bright idea to rip off the cover of a small notebook I had and used it as a stencil to draw squares with a pencil and fill them in with my “spongey paint brush things” (their official name) that do really well with straight lines.





After all the EQ levels had been added to the top (not all pictured), I whined about the silver I bought to anyone who would listen, and then unsuccessfully tried to buy different “better” silver paint. Left with no better option or other idea that felt right, I decided to just try the silver I had again on a scrap piece of fabric… and decided it would work just fine.


The silver paint went on unevenly (as you can see) and I knew I could fix that with a second coat, but decided the unevenness was exactly how it should be.

Then I knew how I was going to add the lighter squares on the bottom (of course still not 100% sure it would end up looking like a reflection… or if it would end up looking stupid), and that was my next step, but it was at this point that I really started questioning where to put the “be grateful.”  Looking at all the squares laying over the sun rays, I was starting to be fairly certain that I didn’t want to try and put my words over all that action.  And with that unknown gnawing at me, I started worrying when no other idea came to mind.  I did know however, that I wanted the words to be white.

So before going to the paint store again for the third time to get white paint, I had two friends hold up the canvas so I could see it upright for the first time- amazed at what I saw!


I started thinking I wanted to write “be grateful, please.” in the top left corner as opposed to in the center over the squares. The top left corner is where you’d write the start of a paragraph and it is a short sentence, after all.  But something in me wouldn’t let me be sure.

I got started on the lower squares, hoping that soon, something would tell me where “the right” place was to put my “be grateful.”


To get the lighter look on the bottom, I just dipped the “spongey paint brush thing” in the paint, dabbed it off on the unused canvas and lightly brushed it on the mural.  It ended up painting the raised pieces of the canvas darker, but I loved the shady way it was showing up on it’s own.

The steel shop was alive and running at this point, hence these headphones.




To get a better look at this point, I laid the canvas out on the floor of the shop, stood on the welding table, and took a panoramic picture on my phone.


I was in love.  The more I fell in love with it though, the less sure I started feeling about where to put the words.  I was having a hard time imagining putting any additional paint over any piece of this painting, because I liked every piece of it so much.

I took the little mini mural I’d created and tried it in the original spot.  Hated it.


After I confirmed for myself that I definitely did NOT want to go with my original idea, I sat in the kitchen and texted a friend that maybe I wasn’t going to add “be grateful” at all. As I processed that thought, I found myself in tears.  After letting myself be upset for about 20 minutes, my best friend reminded me that “not adding be grateful is not an option.”  So I took a few deep breaths and tried my other idea on the mini mural.  I knew right after painting this – that this second idea was THE idea.


Creating art is such an interesting process.  When it came to the most personal part of this mural for me, I became frozen in uncertainty and thought about maybe leaving myself off the mural all together for fear of ruining it.  Instead of believing in my idea, I spent a good 40 minutes refusing to trust myself.

After seeing it like the picture above, I felt like the life was breathed back into me and I found an entirely new decisive energy to keep painting.  So I got started on the final phase of the mural.






I hopped up on the welding table again to take a look at the whole piece, thinking I’d see how and where I wanted to make the letters bigger, but then realized… I was done!


Ok so I wasn’t done completely.  I knew I wanted to add a mustache (mustache’s are kind of the camp’s “thing” aside from music, so I wanted to have one on there somewhere)… Standing on the welding table together, my friend Cameron and I decided to hide a mustache in the music.


The only things left then, were to add silver lines in between the sun rays, around the letters, and to put my “artist signature” at the bottom.


It was Monday night by the time I was putting these final touches on, and I was leaving LA Tuesday evening.  I still had to do my “day job” all day on Tuesday and the shop was going to be getting dirty again, so I wanted the mural to be done-DONE before I went to bed Monday night… which ended up being around 5 in the morning.  “How is Sarah staying up?” … “Red bull and art.”


Putting my initials down…



Collapsing in the best possible way, for the best possible reason.  Me and my mural.  Done.


..and this is what it looks like when my heart explodes..


Replace it with gratitude.

I recently repainted a table that my sister bought for her 6th grade class.  She loved being able to let her students sit outside sometimes, to work on whatever they were working on.  But then one night a local kid decided to tag up her school with bright orange spray paint, and leave this message on her table:



For those of you that don’t recognize the pre-pubescent artwork, that’s a representation of the artist’s penis, to-scale I’m sure. He loves it!

Anyway, obviously my sister’s table had to go live in the custodian’s storage closet after this, and my sister was bummed.

She’s always been a big fan and supporter of the “be grateful (please)” project and so one night I offered (or she asked me.. who can remember) to paint over it with “be grateful.”

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Much better 🙂

be gentle, please.

Last night I found myself experiencing second-hand, a very concrete example of why I added and will forever keep the please at the end of my be grateful.

Last night some of my close friends found themselves overworked, exhausted, and in the end, defeated by an enormous challenge they were brave enough to take on.


So the reason I say please after I say be grateful, is because I’m asking you to be grateful when life has just broken you in two.  I’m asking you to be grateful BECAUSE you’re broken in two.  I’m asking you to be grateful when it feels like you have no right to be, so I’m going to ask you nicely.

When someone you love is broken in two, you would never demand they do something.  You would gently whisper reminders of life’s goodness, and ask them to remember, please.

find the grateful. then it’ll find you.

It’s about a 5-block walk from my bus stop to my office, and some days I take this empty little alley to get away from the rat race for a second.  Yesterday when I turned into the alley,  I walked upon someone sleeping on the sidewalk.

I’ve seen him sleeping in this spot before, and in a certain spot on 2nd Street on my walk home from work some days.

He’s smart because these two spots are vents that blow out warm air.

The vent on 2nd shoots hot air up from the sewer and he lays there in a straight line on top of it in the middle of the busy sidewalk at 5pm.  Warm and sound asleep.  The vent in the alley, where I walked by him today, is on the side of a building, about 15-ft across and blows clean-smelling warm air out of a gym’s laundry room.

Usually I find him in the alley sitting against the wall but yesterday morning he was laying in front of the vent on his back, on the sidewalk, with his legs resting on the wall, feet spread wide.  I had to chuckle a little as I realized how warm his ass must be feeling.  “You know what? Good for him for finding such a slick way to warm up that ass.”

The homeless population in San Francisco has broken my heart ever since the first time I came here as a kid.  Since I live here now, I had to come up with ways to emotionally handle seeing it every day (I’m “highly sensitive.” Google it).

So what I often do is, instead of feeling SO sad for the constant struggle they must go through, I spot the thing that the person DOES have and I send out a pulse of gratitude for it, for them.  “I’m so glad he has that blanket.”  “I’m so glad she’s not getting wet from the rain sitting there.”

As I walked past the vent-sleeper yesterday, I walked away feeling grateful that he found this genius way to warm his body and find some likely hard-to-come-by sleep.

As I came to the end of the alley, I walked upon this sign on the ground and stood frozen staring at it with goosebumps up my spine.

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There could not have been a more accurate description of the thoughts I was JUST having, laid out right there on a piece of trash on my walk into work.

be grateful.. for anything…  please.


Baby’s First Mural

Some mom’s, upon learning that their daughter is teaching herself how to be stealthy and skilled with a spray can, would “tsk tsk,” point fingers, and remind their child that vandalism is wrong.

My mom?  She asked me to spray paint her back fence.


photo 2 (4)

And now this is the view from the room I sleep in at her house.

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Words cannot express how grateful I am for my mom, the funniest most supportive woman on the planet.


be patient, please

Sitting in my seat on the plane, waiting to fly to LA. There’s construction on the runway at SFO, and Virgin sent out an email trying to prepare us delicate travelers for possible delays. And guess what? We’re delayed. 15-minute delay to board, and now a 20-minute delay to take-off.

At the 20-minute delay announcement, the entire flight responded in unison with an entitled and impatient “UGH” (present company included).

I texted my friend who’s picking me up to update her and complain and heard more “ugh!s” and “come ON!s” from the seats behind me.

At that moment my heart rate slowed and I realized I’d rather sit here gratefully on this coolly-lit air conditioned plane watching Bravo, then sit here impatiently, pissed that I had to text my friend AGAIN with a different landing time.

Ok, so our flight’s delayed a bit. Look around – you’re sitting in leather chairs, the AC is blowing, and you have endless amounts of media in front of you for entertainment. Think of how much worse your situation could be and be grateful for the extra time to enjoy the one we’re in (but seriously, can we take off already?!?!).

thank you please

At my mom’s today I came across a stack of journals from right before, during, and right after my accident. As I read through everything, I started wondering if I’d find THE moment I decided to make “be grateful” cards as Christmas gifts that year.


It says:

Lauren’s due date was today. I should call her.

I’ve been trying to figure out what to give everyone for Christmas.

I want it to also be a “thank you for being there” and a “let’s ALL learn from my mistake” present.

I want to draw/write something having to do with gratitude.

I was thinking of drawing “I’m grateful for you” and somehow photoshop it on a picture of me and the person.

But there wouldn’t be enough meaning in that.

I’m grateful for you.

Hopefully I come up with something. I can NOT stay up all night tonight.

Love, me.

I love being able to go back to the beginning like this, and to remember that all I’ve really wanted to say is – thank you.

Come Alive.

This morning at the 16th and Mission Bart station, as I stood at the kiosk looking up how much a Bart ticket to SFO costs, I realized that the person singing with a basket out for money (there’s usually at least one at every station) at this station on this morning was actually really fucking good. The kind of soulful music and voice that could make even the coldest heart melt.

So in between figuring out which way to put my card in the machine, and how many times I should hit “Subtract $1” and “add $.05” to equal $8.60, I decided he was getting all my money.

About a month ago I collected the spare change that was piling up on my dresser, put it in a little sandwich bag and dropped it in my purse. My plan was to eventually hand it off to one of the people I encounter everyday in San Francisco who ask me for my spare change.

And sure enough, I came across plenty of people everyday who asked me if I had change to spare. But I was surprised to find myself not moved to give them anything except eye contact, a nod and a smile.

I couldn’t make sense of it at first but eventually I realized that my resistance to hand off this money wasn’t me being shy or greedy, it was me being choosy about the experiences I bring into my life. Clearly I hadn’t been inspired to have an experience with any of the San Franciscans I’d encounter thus far.

Until this morning.

That music. That guy. He stood tall by the escalator, in clothes that suggested he was neither homeless nor in-need, playing a guitar and singing a song that I’m fairly sure was an original (you know… because I’ve heard ALL the songs ever written).

The passion and love in his voice told me that he wasn’t singing for Bart this morning because he needed the money. This wasn’t his attempt to collect enough change for a McDonalds hamburger. He was singing in a dirty Bart terminal because he loves singing that much. He practiced and prepared for this performance. He lives for it.

He was singing a new song now, as I walked up and placed the little sandwich bag on top of quite a bit of $5’s and $1’s in his basket. We made eye contact, both smiling for each other and nodding in recognition of the transaction we were having.

I stood by him for an extra second as I reached into my bag one more time and pulled out a “be grateful” sticker. I held it up for him as he sung, so he could see what I was giving him. He smiled, closed his eyes and nodded “thank you” and as I bent down to add my sticker to the pile, I smiled, closed my eyes and nodded back to say “no, thank YOU.”

I turned to walk away and looked back one more time. I think I was maybe beaming this time, glowing from the inside out from that sweet experience I just had and when my eyes met his again, I saw that we both were.

I’m so grateful for the people who do the thing they love anywhere, everywhere and all the time.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Find what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman.

The true gifts

Last Saturday morning, my sister Katie handed me something in a little plastic bag, mumbling something about “not doing Christmas this year” and “give it to you now.”

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Last Christmas my family all decided to skip the presents this Christmas.  It always becomes too much and none of us need anything anyway, except each other.

This little ring is something my sister just saw somewhere and thought of me, so she bought it for me for no other reason than that.

I realized today that my sister probably has always bought us Christmas presents in April.  But this year she had no reason to wait to give it to me.

I also realized today that she handed me this ring three days ago and I haven’t taken it off.

I am so grateful for my sister, who is one of the most thoughtful and supportive people on the planet.  And for my family that has created space for all of our true gifts to really shine.


PS. #banchristmas