Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Bird-en of Grief

What brings a person comfort is such an individual, personal experience that it's difficult to know what to do or say in the face of loss. If thoughts are actually real, tangible things and prayers a form of powerful energy, then spoken words might not be so important.  Perhaps what's important is how we respond in other ways.  Some people are very skilled in managing grief and giving comfort.  I've never felt comfortable on these occasions and I'm left without much to say.  The feelings are there, under the surface, but silence just feels better.

 I spent all of Monday in a deep, quiet funk while the dense gray clouds made everything dull and dreary.  Yesterday was sunny and balmy, with the scent of spring floating in through the windows.  My house was full of children playing loudly and my kitchen was a wreck from cooking bereavement meals.  In all of the chaos and sunshine, I suddenly felt relief and a bubble of happy.  I also had a new outfit waiting to be pressed, and just the sight of the new garment laying over a chair lifted my spirits.

Tom's son Jim came for a visit recently and shared that "grief is not something dispensed in a daily dose of cc's.  You might be going along just fine for quite a while, and then it arrives with enough force to knock you down.  There's no telling what will trigger it or why it arrives of its own will."

Jim's statement reminds me of a poem I recently read about a bird that is a metaphor for fear.  In the poem, the bird arrives without warning and rattles the poet's rib cage.  I think grief is like that bird; not a little bright song bird, but a dark, heavy thing with black wings and talons.  There's not much that will scare it away, but sometimes it takes flight, lifting off the shoulder and leaving one lighter.

There are moments when my grief bird has arrived and it's difficult to do the normal things that need my attention.  I've known people who try to escape grief in work.  I'm only able to work if the bird-en of grief has lifted it wings and flown away.  Then I can feel a sense of productivity and energy return.  The whole thing is so perplexing. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Our Friend Tom

Our friend and neighbor Tom has passed away this week.  I'll return when the waves of my emotions have settled down enough to write again.

These are my words for the week:  gratitude, love, generosity, garden, bluegrass, WWII, kindness, sons, peach blossoms, sharing, blacksmith, giant pink dalhias, noisy rototiller, sweat, straw hat, banjo, conversation, fence.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pom Fleur Tutorial

The trouble with being Jenny is that my head gets stuffed with ideas. The idea upon waking is what motivates me to get up and go downstairs for coffee.  No alarm clock has ever worked better.

Two days ago, the Happy Mail idea arrived and with it, the challenge to supply mail boxes and children's  hopeful hearts.  Thank you to everyone who has stopped by to share your ideas, I plan to use every one of them!

Yesterday, after completing some bumble bee head pieces for the Jungle Book production, I realized that the "pollen" pom poms I was using on the tips of the antenna had great potential for Happy Mail.

For the boys, I made pom pom monsters.  The girls got pom pom flowers, or "pom fleurs"---because I love to speak just a tiny bit of French.

The lovely thing about Pom Fleurs is that they are bright, they last for a long time, they can be spritzed with your favorite scent and they can carry an inspirational message.  They can also be used to encourage random acts of kindness or spark a developing friendship (I challenged the girls to give an extra one to someone who needed a friend).

 If you go Pom Fleur crazy, these look great in vases and add spring color to small areas around the home.   The girls were delighted with their Happy Mail Pom Fleurs and wanted to know how to make them.  Once they got busy, their ideas started to tumble out.  We found that they are pretty as wrist corsages.  They discovered that Pom Fleurs can be attached to headbands, back packs,  purses and even shoes.  The color choices are endless, they are kid friendly, and best of all, they are simple and economical to make.

Step One:
Gather the following materials:

1.   a scrap of rectangular cardboard measuring 2" x 6".  If the cardboard is a bit crumpled, that will make it easier to manipulate.

2. Scissors

3.  Brightly colored yarn

4.  Chenille sticks

5.  Scrap paper

6.  Pen

7. Green felt scraps (optional)

Step Two:
With  cardboard piece in hand, wrap yarn around the right end  until a relatively thick roll forms.

Step Three:

Gently slide roll off the end of the wrinkly cardboard.

Steps four and five:

Cut a length of yarn and tie it tightly around the middle of the yarn ball.  Insert scissors in the looped ends and snip until all loops are open ends of yarn.

Steps six and seven: trim extra lengths of stray yarn and wrap a chenille stick around the middle, twisting once or twice to secure in place.

Step Eight:  Loop chenille stick up to base of pom pom and twist, leaving a small section of the stick open to attach messages or felt leaves.

Step Nine:  Curl the paper message with the pen and secure to pom fleur by folding and twisting the straight end of the chenille stick.  Optional step:  Cut a green leaf  from felt with a tiny hole in the bottom and slide over the open end, twisting to secure.

Step Ten:  Poof out the yarn to form a round pom, and Voila! A Pom Fleur to share with a friend!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Mail

Our family has grown!

In fact it has always been bigger than us, but now we are blessed with the daily presence of our friends.  I'm now providing after school care in our home for three kids who've always been a big part of our family. 

It's a mutually supportive situation, as sometimes Elliot gets lonely in the afternoons.  But sometimes there's also sibling rivalry.  So Elliot and I invented "Happy Mail."

Happy mail is something that each child gets to open at the close of the day, when Mom has arrived to pick up.  If everyone treated each other with kindness and respect, then there will be something inside the mail box.  A pack of gum, trinkets, coupons and "happy notes" are all things one might find.  But if someone forgot to use kindness and respect, at the end of the day, the mail box will be empty.

Today I'm asking for your help to add ideas to what I might put in the happy mail boxes.  The novelty might wear off if I'm not continually original!  

With the extra hours being filled up, there might be a delay in my visits to your wonderful blogs, but please know I still care!

I hope everyone gets "happy mail" today, because blogging friends practice the golden rule more than anyone!

Monday, February 20, 2012

White Magic Part One

Absence makes the heart grow fonder!

We have been blessed with our first snowfall of the season, just in time for the birds to return.  Bless their little hearts. I went out to snap a few pictures and they are singing anyway.

It arrived last night after dinner.  Big, wet flakes that piled up in inches big enough to make that wonderful squeaky noise under rubber soles.  It was enough to inspire the throwing of dense balls of wet wonder.  I found myself jogging around in it to keep warm while Elliot, Richard and Ozzie chased me.  We frequently looked up into the darkness to catch the sparkles on our noses and tongues.

Everyone went to bed happy.  And I promised Elliot that he could have a snow day.

This is what he'll wake up to in a little while:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Exponential Growth

Elliot is growing up.  Exponentially.  This weekend we celebrated his outstanding achievement of earning a 100% in Math.  We use an online program called IXL.  This program has been a fantastic part of Elliot's school day. Often times, I hear him being extremely vocal, making irritating noises while struggling to answer problems.  I know he was challenged greatly, but he never gave up.  Since we started this fall, he would spend an hour or more each weekday solving problems and learning new concepts.  Those hours added up to a great body of work:

So we made a big deal out of it.  We put his 100% award in a frame to keep in his room and took him out to the movies.  We saw Star Wars Episode I in 3D.

Earlier in the day, I sent text messages to our family members asking them to call Elliot.  Later in the evening, he was rewarded with a long call from his big sister Emily and a Skype call from Uncle Roger.

It's not easy for me to acknowledge that my little son is quickly turning into a big kid.

But it's true.

And I can't stop time.

But it's okay.  Richard and I are enjoying the freedom to do more things as a family that we might have avoided when he was little.  Like Kayaking, hiking bigger mountains, or ordinary things like preparing a meal in the kitchen together.

So as the sun keeps returning to the sky, brighter days are waking up the Earth, releasing the first scents of spring.  Bird song is returning to the trees.  A new season of growth is beginning.

And the house next door sits empty, as a man who is our dear friend needs lots of nursing care.

I sit here at my post and can't help noticing that time is passing.  This February marks my tenth year in North Carolina.

I have been here ten years, and so much has changed.  I have changed.  I look back on age 30 and think of myself then as an adolescent.  Ten years and I've aged internally, externally and spiritually.

It's hard for me to sit here and think that maybe I'll be sitting here still, ten years into the future, with the pictures of nature looking the same (as leaves, grass and flowers get to be renewed every year) but the people looking older.  I wonder if I'll look back and ask myself why I felt the need to document it.

Maybe there were insights that arose from the writing that changed everything.

Maybe there were pictures that helped me to feel the importance of savoring moments.

Maybe (most assuredly) there were friends who stopped by to make the journey brighter.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Unknown Person, a Perfect Stranger

Through an unexpected loss, my family and I have received so much kindness this week.  To everyone who left a comment in the event of Bear's passing, thank you.  You are appreciated and loved!

Today is Random Acts of Kindness day, which has become one of my favorite days of the year.  Since the experience of discovering my Ben's Bell, the idea of kindness shared between strangers has sparked an awakening about the true meaning of life.  We are here to share love and to be kind to one another, not only on a special day like today, but everyday.

For many years of my life, I was so focused on my own family and friends that I never considered the powerful affect of reaching out to the unknown person.  But because someone reached out to the unknown me, I have discovered a new source of energy.  The idea of kindness shared with perfect strangers makes me happier on a daily basis. Now I recognize opportunities where a small action on my part would make a positive impact.  I used to feel guilty when I'd sit in the pew at church and have less than a dollar to put in the basket.  I was embarrassed because my wallet is continually empty.  I used to kick myself on the inside and critically ask why I never have anything to give.  The guilt would eat at my insides and cause me to avoid worship altogether. 

But this year, I've found a storehouse of valuable gifts that keeps magically replenishing itself. I'm rich in kindness!  Filthy rich!  There's enough to go around to every person I meet, and enough to feed the perfect strangers I'll never know.

Have you ever wondered why the word perfect goes in front of the word stranger?

Strangers are perfect!  We haven't had the experience of living and working with them.  We don't know their bad habits or their religious or political viewpoints.  We can't compare ourselves to what we don't know, and so we don't feel insignificant or intimidated in their presence.  We don't know if they are a doctor or a teacher or a homeless traveler.  It doesn't matter what they do for a living or if they are socially connected.

God asks us to love one another as He loves us.  I think He means to love one another like perfect strangers.  Because in a way, God is a perfect stranger.  Sure, there have been lots of things written about Him, but unless you are a saint or are already dead, then technically, He's unknown to you in a face to face meeting kind of way.  You may experience His love every day, but it's like the gift sent from an unknown source.

When we start thinking about the unknown person who is a perfect stranger, we realize that there's no such thing as a void.

There's always another one beyond the first.

I hope you find your perfect stranger today, and that they find you too!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


We've lost a somebody, not a something.  A somebody who hugged us.  Who spoke to us.  Who listened.  A somebody who shared popcorn with us.  A somebody who gave therapy to the sick and comfort to the lonely.  A somebody who brought perfect strangers together.  A somebody whom we cannot imagine living without.  But now he's reunited with my dad, his beloved human companion.  He won't suffer from long term illnesses or the pains of advanced age.  He went out walking, equipped with all his senses and joy for life.

It's a heavy, soul dragging loss.  Bear was my brother.  He cared for my parents and my children.  He would lay his great big brown head on my lap and leave it there.  I can feel his warmth and his comfort still.

He never spoke a word to me, except to say "home" or "hunger" in his deep, chocolate lab baritone.

I think my father must have been calling him.  He went outside last night and walked all the way to the dairy farm and never walked back.  There was a man in a car who didn't see him in time.

It's no one's fault.  Accidents happen.

And I am grateful for his life because we were blessed with a family dog that was more than just any family dog.  After I was attacked by our neighbor's dog, Bear was the only canine I could trust.  He helped us prepare room in our hearts and our home for Ozzie.

He helped us launch Knees and Paws by being the canine actor in our first commercial.

Bear earned a special certification as a therapy dog and visited people in hospitals and nursing homes.

He comforted us and grieved with us during Dad's cancer and death.

Bear was there when Elliot got on the bus for his first day of First Grade. 

He was my mother's closest companion and now her house will have miles of space that can never be filled.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day friends!

What is love?  Love is a rose.  Delicate scented petals wrapped tightly in a bud release over time, exhaling their aroma as they fall to the earth.  Love is release. It is thorns and stems, leaves and stamen.  It is growth; heavy and heady, new and old; it is perennial and dormant.  It is hopeful and colorful, yet it needs fertilizer and protection from mold.  It needs to be cut back in order to emerge stronger in a new season.  It is roots and moisture, sunlight and oxygen.  It is chemical matter.  It is life.

  Love is a shoe.  Bright and shiny at first, leather to be broken down until it becomes old and comfy.  The perfect fit is hard to find.  It works best when two laces are woven together and tied in a bow with a gently snug knot.

Love is a room where people have to share space.  The corners are full of stuff.  One half is sort of messy, with wrinkly laundry waiting to be folded and put away.  One half is neat, with items sorted and dusted.  One side has a sunny window where the light streams in, while the other half sits in shadow.  Sometimes I like the shadow because then I don't notice the dust.

Love is a path.  You start out walking on it, never knowing if you'll make it out of the forest, or over the mountain.  You might have to cross a river, you might meet a bear.  Or seventeen.  Love is a path where the light makes patterns on the ground ahead.  It leads over meadows with grasses and wildflowers, passing large rocks and little, inconsequential things.  Love is a road that is wide where everyone can walk.  It is narrow and rocky where only the brave dare tread.

What is your metaphor for love?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Drawing at the Windowsill

A poem by Nick Flynn:

Cartoon Physics, Part 1

Children under, say, ten, shouldn't know 
that the universe is ever-expanding,
inexorably pushing into the vacuum, galaxies

swallowed by galaxies, whole

solar systems collapsing, all of it
acted out in silence.  At ten we are still learning

the rules of cartoon animation,

that if a man draws a door on a rock 
only he can pass through it.
Anyone else who tries

will crash into the rock.  Ten-year-olds
should stick with burning houses, car wrecks,
ships going down---earthbound, tangible

disasters, arenas

where they can be heroes.  You can run
back into a burning house, sinking ships
have lifeboats, the trucks will come
with their ladders, if you jump

you will be saved.  A child

places her hand on the roof of a schoolbus,
& drives across a city of sand.  She knows

the exact spot it will skid, at which point
the bridge will give, who will swim to safety
& who will be pulled under by sharks.  She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff
he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

First in the Heart is the Dream

Today I'd like to share an excerpt from a poem called Freedom's Plow by Langston Hughes.

When a man starts out with nothing,
When a man starts out with his hands
Empty, but clean,
When a man starts to build a world,
He starts first with himself
And the faith that is in his heart-
The strength there,
The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-
Then the mind starts seeking a way.
His eyes look out on the world,
On the great wooded world,
On the rich soil of the world,
On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,
See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.
The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.
The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,
To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.
Then the hand seeks other hands to help,
A community of hands to help-
Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,
But a community dream.
Not my dream alone, but our dream.
Not my world alone,
But your world and my world,
Belonging to all the hands who build.


Today I am excited to share that we've had our first local customer, who also happens to be our friend!  The beautiful child who wears Knees and Paws in this picture wants to be a puppy when she grows up.  Yesterday she visited our home and fell in love with Ozzie.  When it was time to leave, she patted his head very gently and said "I'll never forget you."

I can assure you I'll never forget that. Ever.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What have I seen that I can't forget?

What have I seen that I can't forget?

I have seen hot air balloons fly over my head in our back yard in Michigan. Ballooons so close I could hear the burner and the people talking.  This happened several times during my childhood.  We lived near a huge field that was a regular landing spot for the Captain Fogg Balloon company.  The grass was green and soft under my bare feet as I ran to follow the floating orb of red and blue, feeling like Alice when she's small.  I remember lifting up my arms and waving like mad to the people inside.  They used to wave back. I wished that I could keep running with them, but a busy road prevented me from crossing into the field.  I think I might have been disappointed to see the deflated result. 

Every year after the Thanksgiving turkey wishbone had dried, if it was my turn to wish, I wished for a hot air balloon ride.  I have never achieved that dream, but being so close to the balloons when I was a child was an experience that lifted me over the trees in my imagination.

Sometimes I would dream that I had the power to fly.  With outstretched arms I had the sensation of soaring above the tops of trees that were in the peak of summer, fully rounded out with green.  I flew over a white chapel with a steeple (now that I think of it, that chapel has appeared in my work!)  Near the end of the dream, the sensation of flying became a little scary as I approached the ground.  Everything got closer and it seemed that my speed was increasing rather than slowing down gently.  But somehow I was able to regain control and land on my feet without dying.  I'm not sure if that dream is something I've truly "seen" but I can't forget it.

That dream is something that connects me to hang glider pilots everywhere.  After my first lesson, the instructors said that they rarely see students who are able to get much lift or land their first flights.  They asked me if I flew in my dreams.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Put on a Smile

I was wearing a matching set of exercise clothing with a puffy vest over the whole ensemble. My hair was flat and my face was devoid of makeup.  As I stepped into the vehicle to take Elliot to a class, I mentioned that I felt like I looked like a complete nerd.  Elliot said, "Mom, just put on a smile!"

A moment later he asks, "are you wearing any makeup?"


"I can tell."


  A day later, while he's sitting in his new acting class at the cultural center, the teacher asks the children to say their name aloud to the group and tell one thing about themselves such as a favorite color, or if they like to sing.  Elliot is sitting next to the only other boy in the class, a boy who is too shy to speak to the group.  The teacher asks this boy at least three times to share his name.  Then Elliot says "He's shy.  He wouldn't even tell me his name."  The teacher responds by asking Elliot if the boy is his friend.  Elliot says "No, but I'd like to be."

And that shy little boy put on a smile.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

New and Improved!

It's new! It's improved! It's Knees and Paws in a basket!  The following is a series of images of a set that I've created to send to the Bearable Gift Program for the Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation.  After discussing the complicated issue of packaging with Richard, we came up with a solution.  Since I am now able to make stuffed animals, we imagined a puppy in a basket style dog bed with the various Knees and Paws components underneath.  The completed package will arrive looking like this:

And when it's opened, the contents are layered as follows:

My "work" focus is now shifting to the process of duplicating this package in various forms for each set of Knees and Paws in the Etsy shop. 


Perhaps I should save the next bit of news for a future post.  But something wonderful is happening in Greensboro and I get to be a part of it!  Some of you might remember my emotional post after discovering a Ben's Bell last September.  My bell is a treasured gift and the story behind it has stayed with me.  Imagine my delight at discovering that the Art Alliance of Greensboro is organizing a Ben's Bells workshop, open to the community!  I just received the confirmation that Richard, Elliot and I are now registered for the event.  It will be a day spent together making the clay parts for the bells.   After they are finished, we may be invited to distribute the Bells throughout the community.   Here's a picture of my beautiful Ben's Bell; it hangs in my kitchen and has been a great conversation starter, as well as a reminder to spread kindness to perfect strangers. 

May you be blessed with kindness every day!

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