The Christmas List

I always look forward to seeing what Boo puts on her Christmas list each year.

Four years ago she specifically asked for an office water cooler. It was so random we thought she’d forget about it. She didn’t.

Three years ago she wanted a bunk bed for her dolls. She got a handmade set from Brett.

Two years ago she asked for an American Girl doll, she was very specific: PF-1221 is the SKU number. She cried with joy when she found the box under the tree.  It made us cry too.

doll

Last year she asked for Saige (an American Girl doll), and doll hair extensions. We tried to talk her out of it, gave her a dozen other ideas.  She nodded okay, but apparently only to appease us.  I miraculously intercepted a desperate-toned letter in the mailbox addressed for Santa a day later:

doll2

This year she’s asked for a doll typewriter, a doll wheelchair and a handful of books.

Her list is never very long, and she is always very aware that she might not get anything she asks for. But I hope she’ll ask for dolls and books forever. (Oh please ask for dolls and books forever.)

She loves her Keri Smith journal…so I ordered these for her…really wanting to order them for myself:

How to Be An Explorer of the World 

explorer

The Pocket Scavenger

scavenger

We rode the Polar Express train last Friday and she had a blast but she still doesn’t really care for Santa. She got really nervous when he approached and she politely just said a “hi” and “thank you” as he handed her a bell.  She breathed a sigh of relief as he moved on to the next row.

polar express

She and I read all the notes that other children had left for Santa and we chuckled at this one (we do not know Abigail, but she loves cats):

note

We spent today picking out gifts for family and teachers. She was so thoughtful about each one, insisting on wrapping the gifts and writing the cards herself.  I spent part of the day making ugly Christmas sweaters for Brett and I and when I was done she exclaimed: Oh, they are beautiful! Not quite the reaction I was going for, but I love her enthusiasm.

And then there’s the tree she picked for our house:

tree

It’s a twig.  Simple and perfect. She’s very proud of it.

Oh, and she’s been playing with her old Nativity set for a few weeks now. She calls it her “activity set” and spends hours telling us (and anyone who will listen) the story of Jesus’s birth.

nativity

She knows more details about Christmas than I could ever remember. And tonight she was asking Brett and I to “Google” what the chemical makeups of Frankincense and Myrrh are. Because those details might be important I suppose.

We are so blessed.

Acceptance

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
― Lao Tzu

I had the chance to take a workshop by Ellen Bass recently.  I learned so much from her about process: writing things down, the act of writing engraves the idea on your mind. Be willing to disturb the story you know.  I write almost everything down…so much so that it borderlines on hoarding. Everything is interesting. Everything contains poetry. Like the fact that the sun came up today, for the 4 bazillionth time is amazing in itself.  A miracle in fact. How does it even know where to come up each day? Like, what if one day the sun decided to reverse course?

miracle

 

t-shirt by A Happy Girl

Today’s word of the day for an advent series I’m doing (The Grove Church) is ACCEPTANCE. I think Ellen’s words sum it up perfectly:

“to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again.”
Ellen Bass

My Own Shutter Opens

I used to take my camera everywhere. To capture everything.  But now I’m finding that the more I leave my camera behind, the more I see…and the more I remember. And like Annie Dillard puts it:

…my own shutter opens…

Remember when we were limited to 24 exposures on a roll?  This summer a man asked me to take a photo of his family in front of a waterfall and I started clicking away until I realized in horror that his camera was a film camera.  I probably used up half of the roll on that one shot.  I wasn’t really paying attention to the shot I was getting either.

The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment’s light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

camera

You missed that. Right now, you are missing the vast majority of what is happening around you. You are missing the events unfolding in your body, in the distance, and right in front of you.
 -Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking

I miss the excitement of getting the film developed, and I miss the feeling of only having to take a single photo. I want my photo albums to be smaller and thinner.  It doesn’t mean I did less, it means I felt more.

Sacred

The spaces where it feels like God is exhaling, where the earth becomes gentle, sometimes just for a millisecond.

The river.

sacred

I Have Enough for This Life

Ask me not where I live
or what I like to eat…
Ask me what I am living for
and what I think is keeping me
from living fully for that.
-Thomas Merton

I’ve been working at the used book store on Mondays for the past few weeks, filling in for the couple who usually works there because the husband was running for office in the local election. Every Monday, after opening the store, I walk around to the regional book section to see if the book Cold Mountain is still there. I re-read a little each week, wondering if I’d have the chance to finish the following week before someone buys it.  The change in Ada throughout the book is what I love…because I see so much of myself in her journey.  Ruby teaches Ada how to survive in the mountains, and passes along her knowledge of how all things fall under the rule of the heavens. While Ada knows her father would have passed off many of nature’s signs as superstition and folklore, she soon begins to realize that the signs are a way of being alert.  And each little sign of nature was a gesture toward understanding.

I am living a life now where I keep account of the doings of particular birds. – Ada Monroe, Cold Mountain

I too watch the birds.  I feel the understanding that if I am looking, I find myself overflowing thankfulness, thankful for the little things set out in front of me each day that are waiting to be discovered.

Everything that arrests you, everything that delights you, has to be noted. – Maira Kalman

journals

For me, gratitude is this practice of looking, being alert, becoming absorbed in the natural world around me, contemplating all of the miracles in the everyday:

wonder

For example, the miracle of these perfect little Hemlock pinecones. Boo and I collected a few mason jars full this week from a Hemlock tree on Hospital Hill. The cones we pulled off the tree still had the little winged seeds inside, which I discovered when I accidentally dropped an entire mason jar of them onto the floor board of my truck.  Each seed a possibility.

“A tree that reaches past your embrace grows from one small seed.” -Lao Tzu

pinecones

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
― Melody Beattie

In the book On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz says “our culture fosters inattention; we are all creatures of our culture. We don’t pay attention to the journey.”  How much have I missed?  How often have I neglected to take a few moments to stare at the sunrise each morning. A sunrise earlier this week looks like it was painted in flames:

sunrise

This morning we woke up to a soft blanket of snow.  I knew before I even put on my glasses, because snow brings quiet. God has shushed the earth for a short time. Oh, to soak that up! What a miracle in itself:

snow

Today is a day to be thankful, but I don’t need this one day to create this awareness of gratitude.  It is an every day practice. Choosing gratitude is choosing life.

happiness

Yes, I am thankful for my family, friends, health and home today. But my gratitude goes much deeper than that. I am thankful for all things. Thursdays. Mondays. The ups and the downs. The entire journey and where it has taken me, and the not-yet-knowing where I will go from here.  And that we are all connected. As Anatole France said: The truth is that life is delicious, horrible, charming, sweet, bitter, and that is everything. 

Happy Thanksgiving. 34 days left still to give thanks in 2014.

Giver of life, creator of all that is lovely.
Teach me to sing the words to your song;
I want to feel the music of living
And not fear the sad songs
But from them make new songs
Composed of both laughter and tears.

Teach me to dance to the sounds of your world and your people,
I want to move in rhythm with your plan,
Help me to try to follow your leading
To risk even falling
To rise and keep trying
Because you are leading the dance.

-Author Unknown

Find Your Monastery

“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal — that is your success.” -Henry David Thoreau

I opened the used book store this morning. I work there once a week. I work for free.  I spend my time greeting a few customers each day. I browse the shelves. I sweep the floor. I huddle by the radiator when the heating gets temperamental.

emily dickinson

I drive to pick up Boo from school and I have no heat in the car, but the engine gives off plenty of warmth on its own.  I never turn the radio on…I like hearing the rumbling of the road and I notice more around me that way too.

It’s so cold here today that the iciness hangs in the air. It feels like it might snow. The bitter weather makes the indoors so cozy and nestlike:

warmth

I set my timer and write without stopping for 30 minutes, even if it makes no sense. And when the timer goes off I find my heart wanting to write more. And I sit here wondering how I ended up in such a place. How watching the clouds roll in and out can be enough to fill the soul. How living so close to nature took away my fear of the dark and things unknown.

woods

In the book Dakota, Kathleen Norris describes how the Great Plains became her monastery:

“…my place set apart, where I thrive and grow. It surprises me also to find that I no longer need to visit the city – any city – to obtain what I am missing, because I don’t feel deprived. 

[…]

Both Plains and monastery are places where distractions are at a minimum and you must rely on your own resources, only to find yourself utterly dependent on forces beyond your control; where time seems to stand still, as it does in the liturgy; where your life is defined by waiting.”

Yes. These mountains have become my monastery. A place where I thrive and grow.

Everything that seems empty is full of the angels of God. – St. Hilary

Find your monastery.

I Am My Own Mechanic

We’ve all driven places and then wondered how we even got there. Snapped back to the present frame.  How did I get here? What happened to the last 30 miles?  Was I even between the lines?  Did I pass anyone? Driving back from Hendersonville the other day I missed a crucial turn, but only realized it when:

uh oh, there isn’t a tunnel on the way home….

tunnel

Things like this usually don’t phase me…a detour is good for the soul.  But Ruby (my truck) had been dead only hours earlier. No charge in the battery.   I should have known something was wrong 3 days ago when I was driving into camp.  It was dark, and I began thinking: my iPhone screen would be brighter than my pathetic headlights! And my blinkers had stopped working, and the seatbelt light would come on periodically. Ruby wasn’t quite herself. She was leaking energy everywhere.

And so, when I entered the tunnel, I realized that I was on my way to Tennessee, over the mountains.  There are no cities, no towns, no gas stations.  The road was already in that blue, dusky shade that signals the oncoming of dusk.  It just starts to look cold.  Very cold. And desolate.  My heart picked up its pace a little and I looked down at my gas gauge. Only 1/8th of a tank left.

About 7 miles after the 2nd tunnel I eventually found an exit to turn around.  There wasn’t a soul at the exit, except for a lone motorcycle rider who barreled past at twice my speed. I got back on the highway and drove south, knowing that every mile that passed meant that I was one mile closer to home. The fuel light came on, and I began to pray to just get close enough to a gas station that there wouldn’t be coyotes or wolves.

I coasted into a gas station on fumes.

 *****

I always feel like asking people if they have jumper cables is a reverse lottery.  No one wants to win. But, the first guy I asked said yes. He was with three other men and they’d just gotten off work from the quarry, tired and covered in dust. Opening the hood of their truck I was initially embarrassed at how clean Ruby’s engine was compared to the state of the other truck’s engine. But you could see their eyes light up when they opened Ruby up. Their eyes took in the Edelbrock carburetor and the 350 crate engine. The younger of the three lifted the hood into place and he looked into Ruby’s insides as if he’d known her forever. She was an old girlfriend. He tightened things here and there and touched the belts to test their tautness.  Places I’d never dared stick my hands before fearing I’d burn them or lose them.

“This is toast,” he said flicking the rubber length of one of the belts with his finger, “see how loose it is? It isn’t turning this other wheel.” 

“What does that mean?”

“The battery isn’t being charged.”

All of the sudden the whole world of gears and trucks and belts began to connect.  The painfully slow blinkers, the dim headlights, the flashing of the seatbelt sign while I was driving…they were all working off the battery.

He pointed and explained how I could tighten the belt myself. One of the parts was on a track that could be moved in either direction. Moving it to the left would pull the belt taut enough that it would turn the wheel. All I needed was a wrench.  It looked so easy. I could fix this.

edelbrock

Eventually they got Ruby restarted after sending invisible energy to her through a simple set of cables.  I teared up at her familiar initial deep growl and then idle puttering. And I knew I had enough gas to get her home now.  I threw my arms around all three of them and they each said with a slight grin: Your welcome ma’am.  

ruby

And yesterday morning….

I fixed Ruby. With a wrench, and a little elbow grease from hubby.

I am Rosie the Riveter.

I am my own mechanic.

 

Stretching

A journal page from the past, 11 years ago.  These words:

“stretch to others even though it hurts and strains and would be more comfortable to snuggle back in the comforting cotton wool of blissful ignorance”  -Sylvia Plath

I read in front of people today, something I’d written a year ago. That was stretching for me. Go-go-gadget arms. Now I’m crawling back into my comfortable cotton wool for the night.  Remember the movie Cocoon? They say if we go with them, we’ll live forever. That was a great movie.

sylvia-1

8 Halloween Craft Project Ideas

A compilation of all the things I’ve made for Halloween…from printables to costumes to decor. Links are at the bottom of the image:

Halloween project and decor ideas DIY

 

1. Lego Sticker Stamps and Pieced Block Dress

2. Sharpie Owl Pumpkins

3. Glass Clings Made From Packing Tape

4. Distressed Halloween Sign

5. Printable Trick or Treat Labels and “Treat” Ideas

6. House Number Pumpkin

7. T-Shirt Butterfly Wings 

8. Glow Stick Lanterns

or click here to scroll through all at once!

The Secret to Writing

I spoke about writing from the heart this weekend in Galveston at the Blog Elevated Conference. Yes I actually did it, despite being knocked silly and unable to turn my head after the car accident. And despite my being a deer in the headlights, the crowd laughed, and cried, and they were right there with me. And the genuine “thank you’s” afterward shook me to the core and made it all completely worth it because there is always that doubt: why would anyone want to come and hear what I have to say about writing?  I have no certified expertise.  I never did well in English and literature classes when I was in school.  I thought I’d share a few things that I shared with those that attended my session because it’s all so very close to my heart right now. This is what I know today:

1. A writer actually has to WRITE.

This is a work in progress for me. I’m always thinking about writing, but not always actually WRITING.  The book Page by Page by Amy Sellers is one that I love to read over and over, and never in order:

The secret to writing, books on writing

 

2. A writer has to disconnect every once in a while. 

I am the QUEEN of excuses when it comes to writing: I’m too busy. The phone is ringing. It’s too hot . It’s too cold. I have to organize my space first.

I have to find a quiet place to really write. Maybe it’s for an hour a day, maybe for an entire weekend.  Since we have such a small living space right now, I cleared out a section of my daughter’s room that I can use as an area for writing each day when she is at school. It isn’t glamorous but it’s all I need. It’s quiet, and without distractions.  Stephen King used to write in his laundry room.  It was a place where he could shut the door and show the world he meant business.

Sometimes I go to the library. Sometimes I just sit in my car in the library parking lot. Sometimes I ride the train by myself.

anne lamott quote, on writing

 

 3. A writer needs input. 

Just like Johnny 5 from Short Circuit….”need input”….who consumed books: I think a writer needs to consume books. I took this photo over the summer of Carl Sandburg’s house in Hendersonville, NC:

carlsandburg

It was like walking into a time capsule.  Incredible. Every square inch of his house is covered in bookshelves, to house the 14,000 books that he stored there.  He had twice that but he donated half to a university. And in each book were tiny pieces of paper where he had marked things to come back to.  He devoured anything he could get his hands on. When he died they found his jacket pockets full of newspaper clippings and phrases.

I am never without a book. I sleep with books. Books stack up next to my bedside. Magazines. Wikipedia. I live in bookstores. The more good stuff I put in, the more good stuff that comes out.

Also, input isn’t just about books. Dayna Steele who was the keynote speaker at the conference gave some great advice:

Never stop learning. Google everything. Google everyone. Look at the morning news. Know what’s going on around you. Continue to learn about things you know nothing about. Teach yourself stuff. Get out and meet people. Talk to people you don’t know. 

I love to wander because I never know where it’s going to take me. It also give me a chance to observe and write about what I would never notice otherwise:
quote by maya angelou

I think to write from the heart you have to live from the heart.  They are undoubtably linked.

Live to write, not the other way around, right?

 

A few books that I recommend:

Page by Page by Heather Sellers

“Writing a book is exactly like love. You don’t hold back. You give it everything you have. If it doesn’t work out, you’re heartbroken, but you move forward and start again anyway. You have to. You don’t hold some of yourself in reserve. It’s all or nothing. There are no guarantees.” 

page-by-page

 

 

On Writing: Memoir of a Craft by Stephen King

“So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

on-writing

 

 

Bird by Bird by Ann Lamott

“I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” 

bird-by-bird

 

 

 

 

 

 

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