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. 

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