Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Morning

Each Christmas is the same in so many ways, which is comforting and good.  But each year, there's also something unexpected...

This is my original Christmas Stocking from 1971.  Ozzie ate through the toe and heel to eat the entire contents.  He did save me one chick-o-stick.  I guess it was time to let the past go!
I also remembered to make time for my new hobby. 

This was my favorite gift to Elliot from my brother Ken.  It's a night light called "the moon in my room"  He can turn it on and off with a little remote control.  It will also cycle through the lunar phases.

I hope you are all enjoying this holiday with your loved ones...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When memory lives on paper

I have a strong memory rising to the surface, of a cold night in Michigan after a fresh snowfall. My brothers and I are out, exhilarated by the joy of sledding in our toboggan. The stars are bright and our noses and cheeks are red. The world's noise has been silenced by the insulation of snowfall, even the occasional car that passes makes only the sound of rubber squeaking over the hard packed layer of white. We live for this time, to play outside in the winter, while the grown-ups turn on the kitchen light and gather for card games that will go on until midnight. There are cookies and chips and pop on the counter, and the tree is lit with colorful strands of lights. I can walk into this night when I sit down and draw us as we were. Jenny, Roger and Kenny, all bundled up in our snowsuits. I remember and I yearn to go back to those years. It's raining in North Carolina tonight. But in my mind the snow is falling all around.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's Wonderful at the Carolina

I'm not sure why I never saw It's a Wonderful Life when I was young.  Maybe it was so I could appreciate the story as an adult, when this classic has more relevance today than ever. Last night I was completely captivated while sitting close to Richard and Elliot in the grand old Carolina Theater, surrounded by a full house of people who audibly responded to this emotional story; a response that made us feel like we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. 

Sometimes the answer to our present challenges can be found in our collective past.  We are all connected in ways that we cannot see from our limited view. 

Today marks the beginning of our stay at home Christmas vacation.... and mine from the very tempting and ever available land of blogging...

Until next time,
Merry Christmas with love from  my family to yours!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Look up, look down, look all around!

For a little while, I let myself feel the blues of Christmas.  Then I realized that anticipation is part of the driving force behind joy.  And sad stories can help us to appreciate the abundance we enjoy in this moment.  It's okay to have the blues, but even better to be lifted into the light of joy.  Sometimes that happens when we pause long enough to remember things from our past.

As a child, there was a little joke we used to tell each other.  It was a test to see if we could fool our friends.  It goes like this:  You look your friend/cousin/sibling in the face and say, "look up!" (if they are younger and gullible, they respond to your command and look to the sky).  Then, you say "look down!"  As they look at their feet, you then say "look all around!"  While their heads are spinning side to side, you say really loud "YOUR PANTS ARE FALLING DOWN!"  Then laugh like crazy because in their foolish reaction they have then made a motion to pull up their pants, which have been securely in place the whole time.

Maybe we should still be saying that little joke.  Because it's a call for awareness...and sometimes looking up, down and all around can make a big difference in someone's life.

When I was young, I was painfully heartbroken when I first experienced Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Match Girl.  Living in the north, where snow is measured in feet and not inches, I was especially sensitive to the story of a child who freezes to death on the coldest, darkest, last night of the year.  As I read the story again today, I now understand why I feel sadness during the New Year's Holiday.  It was ingrained in me as an ending and not a beginning, despite the fact that the little match girl is guided to heaven by her grandmother, coming ever closer to her from the light of the flaming matches.

My memory of this story has triggered a long buried memory I have of a girl I knew from school.  One winter in fourth grade, we were outside on the playground.  It had recently snowed and I was warmly outfitted in a pair of outrageous moon boots, a snowmobile suit, mittens, scarf and hat.  Then all of a sudden, my friend appeared.  We chatted for a little while, and during the pause in conversation, I looked down to see her feet, which where bright red and nearing a stage of frostbite.  She was wearing a pair of slip on dress shoes with no socks.  Why the teachers allowed her to go outside like that is still a mystery.  We enjoyed three recesses every day, and the one after lunch was thirty minutes long.

The sight of her red feet surrounded by snow stayed in my mind all day.

When I came home, I told my mother. (I've often been accused of tattle tale-ing, but in this case it was a good quality).  Thankfully, at our house we didn't live like minimalists and kept things "just in case."  After hearing my story, my mom went down to the basement and came up bearing last year's "snowmobile" boots.  They were waterproof, with a lining that could be removed for drying on the register.  Although they might have still fit me in fourth grade, I was embarrassed to wear them because they had a Mickey Mouse symbol on the side.

The next morning at school, I nervously presented a brown grocery sack with the boots to my new friend.  I expected that it might be a difficult gift to accept because the Mickey Mouse symbol would mean more teasing for a girl that was already bearing the weight of being different.  But my friend was a gracious reciever, and wore them the same day, and every snowy day that winter.

I'm learning this year that this Christmas is more than a celebration of traditional activities.  It is a a reminder...a Look Up! Look Down! Look All Around!

God's love is falling down!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Emotional Holidays

Recently my friend at Gems and Rhinestones posted a one hundred word essay on depression during the holidays, including a moving sketch of a woman posed in grief.    For me, it's New Years Eve that brings out a hollow, mournful feeling that I just can't seem to shake.  But I've also had Christmases tinged with sadness, being separated from loved ones who have died, or family who live far away.  I know that one of the unspoken rules of blogging is to "keep talking happy talk" as my friend Sush invites us all to do.  But I couldn't forget to acknowledge that for many people, the blues of Christmas are a real event, part of the spectrum of feelings we share despite the joyous cacophony of media, marketing, and cultural tradition.

This year, I've been enjoying an upbeat, happy season.  I still miss my father, who loved Christmastime more than anyone.  His childhood poverty meant abundance for his children, and every year we had the biggest real Christmas tree he could find.  He decorated the outside with huge tubs of lights.  He invited family and friends for open house Christmas celebrations.  He visited cancer patients in the hospital (all through the year actually, since he was a survivor.) Friendly visiting was his cause.  He spread hope and comfort to the sick, contributed his experience with support groups and attended more funerals than anyone I know. He made a point of  sharing unknown stories with grieving families about their loved one's last days.  These stories were usually surprising as they revealed hope and faith)  At his own funeral, I learned that my dad believed his cancer was a gift.  In fact, my father's cancer was one of the best things that had happened to him, because it gave a new dimension to the meaning of his life.  It made him feel connected to more people on an intensely personal level.

What devastates us is also a reason for celebration and gratitude. Hard times and challenges have the effect of bringing out the best in people.

If you are sad this year, because something very difficult is occurring, I understand.

In the darkest night, if you look hard enough, somewhere there is a pinpoint of light.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas isn't just for kids

Christmas isn't just for kids.  Last night we visited Meadow View, bearing gifts of a lantern house for our friend and neighbor Tom, and a little white lantern church for Elizabeth. 

Someone had been working very hard in the last week, because the place smelled fresh (er) and was decked out in pretty Christmas trees.  When we arrived, we found that Tom's hearing aid was being repaired, so communication had to take place in a flurry of writing on a spiral notebook.  Richard and Elliot climbed up on his bed, surrounding him with their love. We soon discovered that Tom's back was very sore, because his room lacked a chair.  He spent most of his time sitting upright in his bed with his feet dangling over the side.  So, while I went out to request that a chair be brought in, Richard gave Tom a good back rub.   Every so often, we saw a smile rise up from the corners of his lips.

After a while, seated in his new comfy chair, a meal that looked like green baby food arrived.  He said he didn't want to eat that and we probably wouldn't want to watch.  So we left with handshakes and promised to come back soon.

Next, we stopped my the room of our new friend Elizabeth to say Merry Christmas and to set up the little white Church on her nightstand.  What a thrill to surprise her! She was so delighted with that paper church....calling us Santa and Angels.  She wondered how we ever thought to make such a thing.  Then she told us stories of her daughter who is a preacher, and how God has been guiding her path since losing her other daughter and her husband. Even being stuck in a place like Meadowview, she continues to praise God and to be thankful.  She smiled nearly the whole time we were there.  Remember when I was touched by her claim "just me and God?"  Well, looking around her room, I discovered that Elizabeth indeed has a loving family who regularly visits.  Her shelves were packed with fresh flowers, her board covered in cards, a wreath hung on her wall, and pictures of her family were crammed in every available space.  Of course she would be loved and cherished.  So I learned a secret of life, that's really no secret at all...gratitude is a lifestyle, a way of life that we can choose.  It's the way I want to be.  And after last night, one of my long standing fears melted away.  I'm not afraid to grow old.     

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What it feels like to fly

When I first stepped off the ground and was lifted into flight by a hang glider, I lost my head.  Literally I did not think of anything.  The experience was pure sensation.  Only at the prompting of my instructors to "FLARE HARD" did my mind register language and thought.  Unbelievable to me and to the amazement of onlookers, I landed my first solo flight on my feet.  Taking those first steps into thin air sends waves of pleasure through the body and has the after affect of an extremely great buzz.  If I were able to live in the air, I would.

After that first flight, which was my graduation gift from Richard, I came home to the reality of being grounded full time.  I took a job at the library and tried to get comfortable with my new identity as a working mom who hoped to make a living as a professional somebody. 

Then, while closing up the library one day, a homeless man attempted to strangle me.  In my shock, I ended up laughing and telling a joke, which had the effect of saving my life.

Several months later, a man with a semi automatic weapon came into the library parking lot, opened his car door, and aimed the gun at the teens and librarians who were near the entrance. 

I awoke to the realization that I was surrounded by a culture of gangs.

And Elliot was not even old enough for preschool. 

So I came home and tried to figure out what to do.  My illusions were shattered.  Yet looking back I realize what a gift is was to come home and discover who I am and what I want my life to be like.

There are no certainties.  I fumble around a lot.  I try to make things.  I try to write little things.  I try to supply my son with a quality home education.   I'm learning not to be so terribly hard on myself for failing to be a professional somebody.  Because professional somebodies don't have what I have.

They don't have you.

In order to understand flight, the scientific explanation of Bernoulli's principle is somewhat helpful:

Bernoulli's principle can be used to calculate the lift force on an airfoil if the behaviour of the fluid flow in the vicinity of the foil is known. For example, if the air flowing past the top surface of an aircraft wing is moving faster than the air flowing past the bottom surface, then Bernoulli's principle implies that the pressure on the surfaces of the wing will be lower above than below. This pressure difference results in an upwards lift force.[nb 1][22] Whenever the distribution of speed past the top and bottom surfaces of a wing is known, the lift forces can be calculated (to a good approximation) using Bernoulli's equations[23] – established by Bernoulli over a century before the first man-made wings were used for the purpose of flight. Bernoulli's principle does not explain why the air flows faster past the top of the wing and slower past the underside. To understand why, it is helpful to understand circulation, the Kutta condition, and the Kutta–Joukowski theorem.

This year, my blogging friends have been my lift force.  You have the biggest hearts and continually bless me with your presence here.  Thank you so much for helping me to remember what it feels like to fly again.  Today my wish is for you all to have a blessed, peace filled and beautiful Christmas...full of the love that you so generously send out into the world.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jenny's NOW list for getting the heck out and doing something crazy.

P.S.  Remember my self made stereotype? The one where I am a homebody who loves the comfort of safe activities?  This week I put some thought into breaking that mold and made my NOW list.  Despite never seeing The Amazing Race, I was inspired by Phil Keogan's book No Opportunity Wasted.  So the structure of the list is based on Keogan's structure.

For those of you who are familiar with my irrational fear of  Black Bears and hiking in wilderness areas where they are plentiful, you'll know how difficult it was for me to commit to the first entry:

1.  Face your fear:   Embark on a back country hiking trip where Black Bears are known to roam.
(I need to eradicate my phobia that was developed over the course of a five day hike in the Shenandoah where we encountered 17 bears, their den, and even a mother with a cub while on the way to the outhouse). More on that story here and here .

2.  Get Lost:  I was lost on the streets of Paris when I was sixteen, a situation that ended well because of faith.  I don't enjoy being lost; in fact I have experienced severe anxiety attacks in situations of disorientation.  To actively pursue the feeling of "lost" makes me weak.  So for this exercise, I'm going to need a plan and an idea...I'm completely lost on this one!  If you're interested in my Paris experience, click here to read my memoir in post it notes.

3. Test Your Limits:  Become a certified hang gliding pilot. Click here to see me in training!

4.  Take a Leap of Faith:  Start a new business with the lantern houses.

5.  Rediscover your childhood:  Take up roller skating on a regular basis.

6.  Shed your inhibitions/express yourself: relearn my French horn and play for an audience. (I wonder if a little video on the blog counts?)

7.  Break new ground:  Write a book on risk taking and romantic love in marriage.

8.  Aim for the Heart:  Help someone to achieve a dream.  (I'm not sure who or what this is yet.)

Enjoying the Season

This year we are enjoying the season of giving.  Although I still have yet to decide on a gift for Richard, I feel the spirit of the holidays in my heart this year.  Last week we took a small group of children to our favorite historic theater for a free movie and popcorn.  Here's a few inadequate photos that don't do justice to the old grandeur of the Carolina...but I wanted to share a sneak peak at the ballroom we discovered over the summer.  It's small, but in the dark when you're alone with your husband on date night, it's lovely and romantic.

At the end of the film, the Carolina Theater gave away sixteen bicycles to families with children.

Santa spotted!  I disturbed his nap by accident...I had no idea he was up here while I walked around taking pictures.

If I had a theme for this holiday season and for the upcoming winter, it would be small lights in the darkness.  I am discovering that the early darkness is a blessing.  It makes our evenings cozy with the addition of strings of lights and fires in the hearth.

We are hoping to go to the ballet this year, a first for Elliot and Richard.

This photo didn't turn out as I have yet to learn how to take pictures in the dark without a flash...but I just love how it feels to sit and feel small inside the cavernous theater, with thick velvet curtains and sculpted dancers.

While going out is wonderful, this season it's so nice to return home again.  The new project I'm working on means that I'm not baking very many (any!) holiday goodies. Maybe next week I'll get to that.

I hope your holidays are full of light and love.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Animal Play and Best Ideas Blog Hop

At our house, we love to climb trees, take adventure hikes and learn about the animal kingdom.  We regularly engage in an ongoing dialogue about wildlife biology with our seven year old son.  It is a conversation and a journey that began in preschool, when he began playing "animals" with his classmates.  The children in that class played cats and dogs so much that the parents started to complain about holes worn in pants.  The more I observed the children's pretend game, in which they would use doll socks for "paws" an idea came to mind.  What if I were able to make a set of slip on knee pads that would mimic fur?  Then I added the paws as a companion set and Knees and Paws were born.  The children in that first class scrambled to put on the sets I had brought to class in a big wicker basket.  At that time I was still learning to sew and the teacher said that they played with their Knees and Paws so much that they already needed mending.  As time went on, I got requests for matching ears and tails.  And with lots of practice and many mistakes, I feel much more confident about sharing the handmade sets that are intended to encourage and enhance imagination.

This Halloween was our biggest event to date.  It was so big that I really needed a couple of weeks of rest.  Taking a break from my sewing has been a great choice.  Great because I returned to my workshop with fresh ideas and a desire to improve.  Today is a milestone because, as some of you remember, I tend to be a teensy bit stubborn.  So stubborn that I haven't felt the need to tinker with things.  But after a little experiment, I'm happy to say that I've thrown away the old and tired paw pattern.  The new paws will have longer sleeves, and more colorful contrast.  Going into the third year, and I finally decided to make a change!

Playing dogs and cats is one of a child's first imaginary games.  It can get noisy and energetic when a group cooperates for a game of fetch or tag.  Dramatic play is great indoor exercise on a rainy or cold day.  Sometimes it's also a quiet sort of play, with most of the action taking place within the imagination. Supplying a child with a touch of realism enhances their experience by stimulating the senses. Knees and Paws allow a child to feel like they have fur without overwhelming or overheating the body.  They encourage dramatic, cooperative play while also boosting self sufficiency skills.  Being able to slip them on an off without help from a grown up is a big step for little ones!  In my experience, these sets have appealed to children as young as three and as old as ten, although the older children like to use them during Halloween as costume accessories.  Each set with knee pads are custom fitted by request and this is recommended to eliminate slippage.  Our newest sets include soft fleece collars with personalized "tags".  And for kids like my son who love the limitless variety of the animal kingdom, there are plenty of options from Panda Bears to Ring Tailed lemurs.    At our house, we love to climb trees!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Self Made Stereotype

Hi Friends,
It's a beautiful spring-like morning in December, balmy enough to go out before sunrise wearing only a t-shirt and jeans. I have been meaning to go running in the dark at five am, and today the conditions would have been ideal.  Perhaps tomorrow I will remember that I actually do want to leave the comfort of home for a little while, to kick start my day feeling alive and refreshed.
During my recent pause in blogging, I've made time to read a book.
Nearing the end of it, I'm inspired to share an insight that has been affecting my life without my conscious awareness.  On one level I've constructed a life, and continue to construct my life, around a self-made stereotype.

What I mean to say is that the things that I've discovered about myself along the way (I'm creative, I'm introspective, I'm a home-body) have reinforced patterns and also created ruts.  Efficiency and mastery are prized and valued in our society (such as homemaking skills and parenting), but they can be extremely limiting in terms of our willingness to experience life in a vibrant and open, risky and thrilling, awe inspiring, too big for words kind of way.  They can and do limit us, especially when we allow ourselves to be dominated by routines and our commitment to the dominant ideologies of how we are in dire need of economical constraints.  We've limited our imaginations in how to afford adventure.  Adventure seems now to be a packaged deal, available only to the careless wealthy.

Recently I had an experience that opened my eyes to something that I thought I could turn into a large writing project.  After that experience, I decided that research was in order, and so I ordered several books on that topic from the library.  Out of five books, only one held my attention and was more in line with the epiphany that challenged me to seek out and experiment.  The epiphany is this:  taking a risk with someone you love is a deeply bonding experience.  Everything that couples do to create safety and comfort in their lives, such as a home and a career (or two) are naturally good, but can also have the affect of killing romantic love if safety and security are the only goals.  Romantic love is based in risk.  That's where the thrill lies.  And once we are safely in love, and the children arrive, risk becomes a dirty word.  Now, everything becomes a quest for protection.

I'm so thankful that I have a husband who enjoys adventure, and who wants to include me in his sometimes wild and crazy ideas.   Otherwise, I might still be baking bread and cleaning toilets, thinking to myself how "good" of a wife I am.

My personal stereotype is that I'm extremely cautious and often afraid to try new things.  Hang gliding on the dunes doesn't count because contrary to popular belief, that activity is safer than driving around town.

Here's a quote to follow my point, taken from No Opportunity Wasted by Phil Keoghan:

    "Even if you've been quiet (another self imposed stereotype) for the past 20 years, it doesn't mean you must be quiet for the next 20.  There are lots of little ways you can begin to make a racket.  And every little noisy act of defiance will break down that stereotype some more.  If making noise seems out of character for you, well...that's the whole idea.  There's no reason your character, and by extension your life, must be predictable and one-dimensional.  A person can be both quiet and loud.  A very responsible mother of two can also ride a motorcycle."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Consumed Part Two

Here's a look at the finished house...

Strangely, I almost like the unfinished house better! 

Festival of Lights

Last night we were out on the town, enjoying Greensboro's annual Festival of Lights.  It was a mild night and the streets were packed with smiling people, who gathered in Center City Park for the tree lighting ceremony, live music, caroling and ice skating. 

Growing up in a rural area, I find my life near our city to be exciting and strangely comforting.  Reflecting on my past ventures into cities like Flint or Detroit, the cities of my childhood lack a certain vibe that exists here.  Of course, both of those cities I mentioned have a huge reputation for violence and economic hardship, but as I'm from Michigan they are places that shaped my worldview.  And while I have an idealistic and romanticized view of my adopted city of Greensboro, I'm even more in love with North Carolina's state capital, Raleigh.  This year we have made plans to take a train to Raleigh on New Years Eve to experience the cultural explosion of the First Night Festival.  It is becoming a family tradition that we all love.   

Do you have places that you visit during the holidays that help you feel connected to your community? 

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I do this to myself every year.  I get it into my head that the Christmas season is the season for making things.  Blame it on my Grandmother and my Mother.  Every day in December (excluding Christmas eve and the big day), their kitchen tables were covered in newspaper with a scattering of crafting odds and ends.  I remember making jeweled tree ornaments with my Grandma, the kind that required sticking straight pins in the center of sequins to cover syrofoam teardrops.  We made little things with lots of parts that were tedious.  My grandfather would also make things in his woodshop, mostly brightly colored whirlygigs for gardens, or pretty bird houses.  When the crafting was complete, we'd begin the baking.  My grandma seemed to have a recipe for every known cookie in the Western Hemisphere.  Her buckeyes would send me into a sugar haze of lipsmacking bliss.  

After all the years of school, jobs, college, family and technology, it's the habits of my mom and grandma that have shaped me the most.  I grew up in the peak of the American auto industry, and quite simply, we were a family who made things.

This week I am consumed.  My pretty dining room is now covered in a project that I hope will continue long into the future.  I've been making use of the french cotton watercolor paper that came my way.  After months of working at my sewing machine with fibrous plush, it is absolute bliss to work with paper.  Everyone needs change.  I'm not saying that my new romance with papercraft is going to mean the end of my sewing, but it's energizing to embark on a new project. 

The first pictures show a little paper house I made that is not yet painted.  I plan to add color tomorrow.  The scenery behind it is a painting I made and then shaped the paper into a semi circle so that it would stand up without support.  Everything glows on the inside due to the fantastic invention of LED tea lights. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Shutterfly Holiday Christmas Cards

Tonight I worked on our family Christmas cards (AGAIN) and discovered that if I share them on Blogger, I will receive ten dollars off my next order!  After using a Target Promo code, this first set of cards came with a $20.00 discount.  Looking back, I wonder if the 20 dollar coupon was included in our order because the clerk felt sorry for we were obviously blind and unschooled in photo editing basics.  I'm so glad that life sometimes affords do-overs!

Photo Card
View the entire collection of cards.

I write for my friends

Wise professors once instructed, "ask first, who is the audience?"  This thought is the door I walk through during blocks that turn white pages into content.  I have difficulty keeping up with a regular paper and pen journal because the audience is boring old ME, who's brain is already full of my voice. It is easier to begin writing when I address the top line,

"Dear Friend,"

Writing is about reaching out into the void, connecting oneself to another.  It is about sharing the beauty of one's imagination, desires, philosophy.  Writing is a brave act.  It is the stamp that says

"I was here."

To write a book that is published in a publishing house, a physical book with paper pages and a binding, must be the ultimate validation for the writer's existence.  The problem for me with this type of writing lifestyle is that while buried in a huge writing project, the physical world fades.  I don't go outside much.  Family and friends hang in my peripheral view, not front and center.

During the beginning of our romantic journey as friends and lovers, I wrote for Richard.  Long letters, poetry, post it notes, greeting cards.  The rest of the world fell into a haze.  For the first time, I was experiencing something only read about in books, yet intensely real and three dimensional.  It used to be that a good book would satisfy my mind and emotional well being for weeks.  I haven't read anything that did that in a very long time.  Perhaps my tastes have changed.  Perhaps I've discovered that I no longer need my armor of books to live a brave, experiential life.  I looked for love in books.  Occasionally I discovered it in a secondary kind of way.

Emily's middle school English teacher once said, "books are my friends.  They have been my friends all my life."

At the time, I related to that statement.  Not today.  Today, books are books.  They are not my friends, although I do enjoy being entertained by writers and the classic authors.  Books are not friends.

  People are.

And this is why blogging is a good habit for me. Whereas books brought me to more books, blogging is bringing me to people.  It is helping me to answer that question, "who is the audience?"

The audience are my friends.  They are light hearted, faith-filled, inspiring people.  They have helped to shape a new world view; one that is not dominated by the news media's lens that shows only a dangerous, fearful world, perpetually on the edge of self destruction.

So that question, "who is your audience?" is now answered in a way that I did not expect.  I write for my friends, although I did not know they were my friends until I reached out into the void.

And they write for me.  It is a gift to receive their stories, pictures, humor, and thoughts on life. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Dog Needs Pants and Other Musings

If it weren't for Richard's attention to detail, the following photo, in it's unedited version, would have made center stage on our 2011 Family Christmas Card.  In fact, the cards were printed and ready for envelopes and shipping. 

Now I finally understand why people put clothing on their dogs.  Ours needs a pair of pants.

 Richard must be psychic because he seems to find this situation hilarious before he even realizes what's going on.



  When I was younger, the holidays made me cranky.  This year is already different, because I'm learning to let go of ingrained tradition and experience the flow of abundance that surrounds us.  This Thanksgiving weekend was full of love.  Perhaps it is selfish not to travel, but staying home allowed us to make time for friends and neighbors.   Our friend Tom is now in a rehabilitation center, receiving care for a complication due to a tumor in his throat.  In between the days of feasting, cuddling, dancing and leaf raking, we were able to visit him in Meadow View, where there are no views of a meadow. It was the only place where he could receive care for his trachea.  I know he did not want to go to that place, and as his son Gary related,

"tears were shed at the thought of it."

We will return to that place, as often as we are able through the holidays and beyond.  Two days before Christmas, Tom will be receiving another dose of Chemotherapy, a dose that might send his heart into cardiac arrest.

While in Meadow View, we walked the halls.  Elliot covered his nose, and hid behind me when one lady approached him with her arms out.  It was a startling situation, as she seemed to have no boundaries even from her chair.

The rooms and halls were full of people in really unfortunate conditions, and it nearly sent me to my knees in sadness.  So many stroke patients.  So many whose gaze drifted to the ceiling in a state of unknowing.  Then, we saw Elizabeth.

She was dressed in a matching purple sweat suit, with her hair pulled back.  Her eyes were bright and sparkling.  Within that ancient face, weathered and soft, her smile beamed when Richard held out his hand and said hello.

We followed his lead, and held out our hands out too.  We asked her name, and then introduced ourselves.  She noticed Elliot hiding behind his dad, and said "may God bless you and that baby."

She told us her story of being the last.  Her children grown and "gone away".  Her husband dead, her friends gone too.  "Me and God, just me and God" she said.

  I know I'll never be the same after being blessed by her prayers for us. Through Elizabeth, I felt God's love.  For a fraction of a second, I could see her face surrounded by light. It is not often in my busy life that I remember how close the afterlife is to all of us.

Her love sent me to that place of silent reverence for life now, for life to come. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giveaway Winner Announced

True Random Number Generator 2 Powered by RANDOM.ORG
 Congratulations to Thisisme at Southamsdarling!  To accept your prize, please send an email including your shipping information to Jenny at  I look forward to sending the hand warmers your way!

* * *

I hope you are all enjoying the Thanksgiving holiday.  I had a beautiful day full of love and wonderful food.

I'll always remember this year's Thanksgiving, when Richard was the first one to turn on the Christmas music and prepare our turkey with dressing.  He prepares our bird every year we are home together.  There's something about this holiday that makes my hard working husband extremely happy.  Riding the wave of his good cheer, we sang and danced in the kitchen while the aromas of roasted poultry and a cherry wood fire burned in the hearth.

I don't know why I'm so blessed...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Giveaway

Hi Friends,
I hope you are all off to a great week.  Today I'd like to share a new seasonal item in my shop.  These hand warmers are trimmed with silky novelty plush fleece and made with ultra cuddle polar fleece.   They slip on easily and are so soft that they inspire lots of hand holding, which is important during this often stressful time of year.  Please leave a comment to be included in the giveaway.  The winner will be chosen using a random number generator on Friday, November 25. Prize includes one Mrs. Clause Hand Warmers, and one pair of Grinchy Green Plaid Hand Warmers.   If these will be a gift for someone you love, I'm happy to include free holiday gift wrap and a card with your personalized message.

I'm truly thankful for my blogging friends.  You have enriched my life with your gifts of friendship and love.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Elliot's Fifteen Minutes of Fame

I wish I had a video to go along with this post.  I'm certain that words will not be enough to convey the amazing event we experienced on Saturday.

Richard, having a love for adventure, signed us up to compete in a race to win a Chevy Sonic. 
I really had no idea what this was going to involve, except that it was a scavenger hunt, in which we would earn points by completing challenges at certain areas around downtown Greensboro.  It was to be a race on foot that would last approximately three hours.  (Thank goodness I've been keeping up with my running!).

Before the race began, a local radio station was there to energize the crowd of over 200 competitors.  This radio station kicked off the day's event by hosting an impromptu dance contest to win a fifty dollar gift card.

I love to dance, and Elliot was with me, so we joined a handful of people willing to make complete fools of themselves in public.

Elliot was the only child that was competing in the day's event with his parents.  I think most people felt that their children might slow them down, or that it would be too exhausting for a kid to run all over town for three hours.  Knowing that he could keep up as we've included him on long hikes in the mountains, we weren't concerned.  I think the radio DJ thought it was cool that a kid was going to compete.  So Elliot and I were chosen to dance first.

When the music started, Elliot blew up the place with his moves.  Inside I was thinking "Wow! I can't believe it! Since when.????"

  The crowd cheered him, loudly and with lots of clapping.  My jaw must have been hanging open while I lamely tried to keep pace.  The poor sops who danced afterward said, 'Geeze, who can follow that!'

The last dancer to perform also sent a wave of cheering and clapping.  Suddenly, Elliot and I found ourselves having to dance again for a tie breaker.
And he blew us away again...and ended it with a front flip.

I am not kidding.  My son did a front flip and landed it, without having practiced.  I had no idea he could do that.

With that stunning finale, the crowd went crazy!  But in the end, they cheered louder for the last dancer, who we discovered later was a professional night club dancer.

During the race, people who were competing for the car would stop to tell Elliot that they rooted for him.

Even though we did not win the car or first place in the dance contest, all of us left feeling incredibly uplifted from the experience.  I think I may have to search for a place where Elliot can dance with a group or a class.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living my dream, one hour a week

Underneath my photo to the right, you'll notice that I've included "teacher" as one of my personal adjectives.  This week, I've questioned whether or not I should use that word.  It was my life long dream to be a classroom teacher, a dream that was wishful thinking.  I wonder if by using that term I'm misrepresenting myself.
 Fellow blogger Shelly from Le Tejana is a real classroom teacher.  The kind of person who gives her heart to many, many kids on a daily basis, year after year.  Her stories are uplifting, and sometimes incredibly tragic.  I thought about Shelly in her classroom this morning and I tried to imagine myself in that role.  After considering the enormous responsibility and expectations, I began to see why I've not taken the next steps into that role.  It's just too big for me at this point in my life.

Maybe I should change the word "teacher" below my picture to "home educator." While it's true that I took on a teaching role as licensed child care provider, taught preschool for several years and also worked as nanny, the time I've spent teaching in a public classroom is limited to my hours either as a volunteer or as a college student earning hours for my Ed Studies concentration.  Which was supposed to be my major.

In the middle of that, along came Elliot.
And I wanted to be with him more than I wanted a license.  I hated that torn feeling.  Hated it.  Having to keep searching and trusting various care givers so that I could keep taking classes was difficult.  I was not willing to seek a full time day care situation so that I could complete student teaching.  It was a selfish act.  Elliot was my baby and I wanted time with him.

One day, my compassionate English professor and academic advisor suggested that I could finish my undergrad degree and return for my teacher's license later, when Elliot was older.  This idea sent a wave of relief through me and I took it and ran...

Then I was left with a fresh diploma and the desire to work a little.  I was eager to use my new skills and confidence that was brimming inside.  So I went to the library and worked second shift.

Which was great.  But still it was not teaching.

And the little teacher flame still burned within.

I know I could be a substitute and do this every day.

Yet Elliot and Richard and I are happy with homeschooling. Everyday I learn more about the kind of teacher I am.  Because my son loves wildlife biology and the natural world, my mind has opened up to a whole new discipline.  It's an intensely fascinating journey.  Last night I thought it would actually be possible to book a cruise to the Bahamas and arrange for Elliot to meet the amazing Doc Gruber, who is currently compiling the largest data collection on lemon sharks in the world.  I appreciate the freedom that I couldn't have in a brick and mortar school. 

I have this other little thing...this homeschool writer/illustrator workshop.

There are four students now.  They have all bonded with one another and have asked me to organize things to do outside of our class, and also to keep going with it next year.  One of my students said today,
"I love this class.  It's more fun than school!"
For one hour a week, I feel like a real teacher in a real classroom.  I feel validated and uplifted by their enthusiastic participation.  It fulfills me in a way I cannot really describe.

It was a big risk to make up a course and pitch it to an administrator.  I can't believe it was accepted and that I'm actually doing this. 

Have you lived a dream in a big or small way?  How did you make it happen?  Or was it completely accidental?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Rushing the Season

What is the rush?  The day after Halloween, Walmart was playing Christmas music.

This year, I was ahead of the folks at Walmart in the race to Christmas glory.  Our outdoor lights have been up since last year!

Another reason for my happiness today is that in a very small and humble way, I've reopened the shop.  While taking my work vacation, the idea of reopening kept nagging me.  What a relief to just have it over with. It was painless because I've decided to keep things very simple.  During this stressful time of year I intend to offer only what I have already made and not accept further custom orders until after the New Year. 

Lately I've also been thinking about ways to simplify this Christmas.  The thought crossed my mind that I could bake salt dough gingerbread boys for our tree and skip the whole unpacking of boxes in the attic.  In case Elliot would miss seeing some of his old favorites, I could send him up with a flashlight and allow him to go on a scavenger hunt.  And Diane, if you are reading this I can hear you say EEEK! 

Since the Christmas lights are already up, I only have to find an extension cord and plug them in.

I could order a pizza and invite my family to help with all of the Christmas cards.

I could buy our tickets for any upcoming holiday shows now, so that by mid December I'm not disappointed that I missed everything.  

In the end, the big season is going to arrive and I'll never be fully ready for it.  But then I wonder:  

Why are we racing?  With whom are we competing?

This week I'd love it if you would share the ways that you will keep things simple this holiday season. I hope to remember this Quaker saying "don't do something, just sit there!"

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Swirling Leaves and Wild Wind

We are having an incredibly beautiful fall this year.  The sunny dry days have illuminated bright reds, yellows and orange leaves that are gathering in heaps around town.  The early darkness is inspiring more dinners with candlelight, and nights of quiet sleep as windows stay shut against the cooler temps.

  This morning I woke early enough to make a dash for coffee before Richard went to work.  Driving with the windows down, the cool fresh wind rushed in while leaves swirled around the road ahead.  Suddenly I realized that my appreciation for life in all it's changing seasons is more complex.  The young version of me would have wished for more sunlight, the older me enjoys the colder darkness.  I passed a runner and thought that it wouldn't be so bad to wake at five am and greet the day before traffic clogs the air with exhaust.  It might be thrilling to run in the dark, and comforting to return and see the light of our kitchen window, where Richard would be waiting.

Today is the day that I plan to reopen the etsy shop after a nice long break.  Today is the day I'll stop procrastinating.

I hope it will be different this time; that I'll make more time to stand in swirling leaves and wild wind.

Monday, November 14, 2011

This Blank Page

It's Monday morning, and the bright white of this blank page is searing my eyes.  Perhaps that's because I spent the night being interrupted by Elliot and Ozzie.  Elliot watched a show on Sunday morning called Mystery Hunters, which is supposedly for a young audience.  He was intrigued by the "mysterious" aspect but then unnerved by the subject of Alien life forms and the possibility of them hiding here on Earth.  The whole morning was spent discussing his fear and how to manage it. 

Perhaps feeling confident that fear is a manageable emotion, in the evening he decided to watch the Jim Carrey version of A Christmas Carol.  This made me a proud mom, as he has always loved this Dickens classic, yet irritated because I was again reminded that the holiday season looms.

Finally at bedtime, having spent the day filling his mind with aliens and a terrifying ghost story, sleep for Elliot would not come.  So, despite Richard's grumbling, we all piled in our bed and tried to sleep.  After a few minutes, my guys were snoring away, while I attempted to balance on the edge.  Ozzie, feeling left out, decided to join us on the floor, but made sure to keep jingling his tags every so often. 
When all was quiet, I crept into Emily's room.  Then Ozzie followed.  Too groggy to care, I fell into a light doze and then woke again at midnight when Richard carried Elliot back into his room. Upon waking with the sudden motion, he asked for his light to stay on all night. 
After more doggie jingling and finally a short nap, morning arrived.

The only coffee is left over from yesterday.

I know I have plans and expectations for this fine Monday morning, but there's not enough organization or focus between my ears.

 Every day is a fresh start.  Even one that has to begin with stale coffee.

Maybe Monday should begin with a walk in the woods.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Creative Business, Creative Family

   Soon after writing a few goals down for the near future, things around here got busy.  One of my goals was to find or create new packaging for Knees and Paws products.  During my research on packaging, I discovered several wonderful books on box design with templates, while Richard showed me the amazing Container Store website.  In the end, I chose to use our webcam box as a template.  It was just the right size with a window. I used a manilla folder for the prototype, and when it was finished I realized that it could be converted into a finger puppet theater by cutting a round hole in the back. 

  This was a project that Elliot helped with, and I love his suggestion that we make a pet house design around the hole in the back.  Our new packaging now has three uses: one for housing Knees and Paws with a matching finger puppet, one use as a mini theater, and one as a pet house for tiny stuffed pets.  When it's no longer useful, it can be recycled with other cardboard and paper products.  

An unexpected result of starting a handmade business is that my family has become more creative.  We now work out many problems as group projects, which builds a strong sense of togetherness.  I used to be intimidated working on anything with Richard because he likes "exact" details.  I know this is a consequence of working on airplanes all day.  He has to be exact in his job for the safety of people who fly.  Sometimes at home, I've felt intimidated by his skills and expectations for high quality.  When we began to paint the outside of our house, I decided to bake pies instead of work side by side with a brush.  There were just too many instructions and expectations.  After an hour or two, I just gave up trying.

Things are different now.  I did not write this down as a goal, but Richard and I are now able to work on projects the same room, at the same time.  This weekend, we put the finishing touches on our updated dining room, which had been empty for months.  Last winter, our new dog Ozzie and our cat Annie had a territorial pissing contest on the carpet.  Ultimately we had to lose our carpet and subfloor, and Annie had to be relocated to the covered porch in the back.  

   When it was finished, I sat down and felt a complete sense of peace.  I realized that I'm never going to be the kind of person who can sit in an empty room to achieve a meditative state of higher consciousness.  I need a cozy home with candle light and pictures of my family.  

My experience with goal setting was positive in some ways, and I plan to keep moving forward with it. However, I noticed that while I was accomplishing a great deal, inside I felt a little manic.  It was unsettling to have so many ideas for projects going on all at once.  And now that the holidays are approaching at WARP speed, I need to remember that I need plenty of time for rest and activities with no "end result."  

Like taking naps.
And rollerskating.

And reading books.

And sitting in candlelight.    


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I think you can do this

My teacher friend once shared that learning is like a spiral.  We continue to move out and upwards by revisiting familiar concepts, and stretch our range of understanding in ever-broadening circles on the climb. 

For some of us, riding new learning curves takes great courage, combined with the belief that extraordinary achievements are possible.   As a child I was thrilled by rollerskating in the basement, taking the same route over and over again like a hamster on a wheel.  This activity made me supremely happy.  It didn't matter that three feet of snow was piled outside, I was sweating and flying around listening to the vinyl version of Jan and Dean's Dead Man's Curve.  I never wondered about taking lessons or imagined that I could challenge myself by switching to ice skates and learning spins and jumps.  If someone had said these magic words

"I think you can do this"

My life would certainly be different today.

This post isn't really about how I regret not making skating my lifestyle.  It's about understanding how to get the mule inside me to move on, to take action towards something that I'd really love to do.

I was thirty seven before I learned that in the south, female donkeys are called Jenny.  My ears might not be quite as long, but the stubborn part is right on.

Five years ago I was required to make a web module for my senior capstone class.  I had no trouble with the research and writing portion, but when it came to working with Front Page, I choked.  Anxiety dominated my days and sleepless nights.  I experienced periods of anxiety so fierce that I lost my ability to listen to my family members and have telephone conversations.  At the time, Richard was recovering from knee surgery and I was useless as a caregiver.

In desperation, I finally called my professor and asked for help.  She suggested that I contact one of my classmates to set up a tutoring session.  Feeling comfortable with the person she suggested, I found a scrap of courage and explained my situation to this fellow student.  He was kind and agreed to meet me in the computer lab on the lower level of the library.  When I sat at my screen I was wondering how to explain that the only things I knew how to do were to perform searches, write papers using Word and check email.  That was the entire extent of my ability.  I think I just said,

"I can't go forward.  I don't understand how to do any of this."

And he said, very quietly,

"Jenny, I think you can do this."

And then, the donkey moved forward.

Was or are there things that you needed to learn but never did?

Friend, I think you can do this.

 This month I need to learn how to set goals. Yet I'm stuck here at the screen, completely resistant to pen, paper and a calendar. (The IRONY!) Maybe there's an online tool for goal setting and planning that might help.  Maybe you have learned how to do this well.  I'd love to hear what works for you. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Falling Back in Nashville

This was a fun activity, jumping from bale to bale at the Department of Agriculture Park near Nashville Tennessee.  It was fun until Elliot made a last leap and didn't quite make it.  In a split second, I watched in paralyzed horror as his head hit the last bale and he slid like a rag doll between the hay.  Richard picked him up and for a fraction of a second his neck seemed too relaxed, his body limp.  Then, all of a sudden he looked around and said,

"Cool! Can I do that again?"

I almost fell to the ground in my relief and thankfulness.

It was the weekend to "fall back" for daylight savings...but we remember it as the weekend Elliot fell back on the hay and his daylights were saved.   

If the Department of Agriculture folks were there to witness this, I'm sure they would have restricted this area of the farm to the public.  I don't know why I didn't take a proactive stance and insist that jumping on hay bales this large is dangerous.  I must have been overly confident thinking that boys need to be free to run, jump and play without nerve wracked mommies prohibiting their natural desire for risk taking and adventure.

Enter a new phase of motherhood:  coaching an adventurous, athletic, curious boy with a fascination for extreme sports and a body that loves to climb and jump.

Otherwise, the weekend was full of love with a bittersweet ending.

My brother has lived in Nashville almost as long as I've lived in North Carolina.  This month he'll be moving back up north to take a job with the State of Michigan.  A visit was long overdue. I still had a cold but knew that if we didn't go this weekend, we might not see him again until spring.  Elliot loves his uncle with a passion that melts everyone's heart.  On our drive over the mountains, he was imagining spending a day watching football and eating chips with Uncle Roger.  Suddenly I recognized a new Elliot; a more mature version of the child who once begged for extra time with his uncle to build with legos and play video games.

  This weekend he wanted to play soccer, to sit close and have conversations, to watch football and to play guitars.  When it was time for us to head back over the mountains, Elliot wrapped his arm around Roger and refused to leave.  We all stood for quite a while, simply feeling the weight of that sad goodbye.

And then it occurred to me that I could help my son cope with difficult, sometimes painful situations.  I used this teachable moment to introduce the empowering skill of making a goal and planning for something good.  I wanted him to understand that goodbyes and endings can actually become wonderful new beginnings.

I told Elliot that what we needed was a plan. For my part, I would make good on my promise to purchase a new web cam and install it.  His part would be to set up a time to have weekly Skype calls with Uncle Roger.  He could use that time to have a guitar lesson, to talk about life or just to say I love you.

This thought was the only thing that motivated him to get in the car.  I know it seems like bribery...but the idea of having a plan helped so much.  Elliot was quiet for a solid hour in the car, saying that he was "sad all the way to heaven."  But after a while he talked about all the good memories of our weekend together.

Like seeing the horses at the farm.

Having long conversations...

...and investigating new places.

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