I’ve really enjoyed my 12-day writing adventure this year, and as usual I feel richer for having done it. It’s been good to press myself to acknowledge and articulate some of the blessings we are experiencing, even while we are still in the process of accepting our grief and the changes it has brought. It’s been important for me to recognize some of the shifts in perspective God has provided for my heart that have enabled me to keep moving forward during this last year — one of the most difficult of my life.
As we’ve had the opportunity this week just to be, my time and thoughts have been free to wander through our blessings. It’s helped me notice a few things. And be thankful. Here’s what I’ve seen.
We are enjoying moments when our spirits are free. Free from the weight of some of the circumstances of the past years.
We are laughing. From deep within our hearts.
We are talking and laughing and remembering moments with Mike. And that process feels good.
We are creating and building and chasing and finding. All the things that help me know we are regenerating our lives.
We are fretting and fussing and arguing and tired and confused and selfish and angry and juggling and frustrated. At times. Because we are normal. Normal people. Normal siblings. Normal kids. A normal mom. This grieving and changing hasn’t kept us from just being regular people.
We are wandering. Through pastures and hay yards and elementary school and working single motherhood. And mostly enjoying the effort of finding our way. Because we are growing.
We are whole. In spite of our loss. Of a husband. A friend. A father. A companion. We are still complete.
We have traditions. They are changing and adjusting as our lives have changed. Like all traditions do. And should.
We are hopeful. Because we can’t not be. As we embrace every step of learning and every step of changing and every step of growing brought by three little ones and a mother trying to keep up, we can’t help but see the possibility of life. Undiminished by the loss of a life.
We make plans. About next week and next summer and next year. We continue to move and work and learn and play each day. And we look forward to what’s next. Because it reminds us life is rich. And deep. And wide. And beautiful. Something I wasn’t sure we could believe again.
We live. And so we are thankful. For the two can not be separated in our hearts.
I keep coming back to this every year, it seems. At the end of every 12-day journey. At the end of every day. That God is indeed good. So good. And His mercy in our days and in our hearts endures.
It endures. Forever.
I think I mentioned that we are spending the week at our family farmhouse for Thanksgiving holidays. I’ve taken care of a few client details remotely this week, but for the most part I’m enjoying some down time and concentrated time with my kiddos. I brought a few arts and crafts projects that we’ve been enjoying, like the stamping designs I shared yesterday — a good thing because we’ve had a few rainy, cold days. Still, not much can keep us from exploring gravel roads and hay yards while we’re here, so I thought I’d share part one of views from our farm journeys. Overcast November days make for a nicely monochromatic palette, at times. I love the mood that flat light and neutral colors create. I hope you’ve have a chance to wander this week.
Several years ago, we started a Thanksgiving tradition at our house — a Thanksgiving Tree. It was a quirky little idea designed to help us all cultivate gratitude during the season. The kids went in search of an interesting branch at the farm, and we braced it with a bunch of rocks in a pot on our dining table. Every day at dinner time during the week or so prior to Thanksgiving, we each shared one thing we were grateful for. The kids were young and couldn’t write, so I recorded their little moments of gratitude on cut pieces of colored paper and hung them on the “tree.” During that year, they were thankful for things like the color red and chicken nuggets and various Disney movies. And Mommy and Daddy. We didn’t end up doing our Thanksgiving Tree tradition last year in all the craziness, but this year I was determined we would start it again.
We did. On our first farm walk earlier this week, the kids and I went in search of a suitable branch. We found “it” down at the curve of the road. It was actually two nearly bare gray branches we held up together and determined they could work when paired together. Drummer Boy led the charge to gather rocks from the gravel road in our buckets and used them to scotch the branches together in a green crock pitcher. It’s been sitting at the end of our table leaving ample room for serving dishes but also reminding us of the holiday.
So, we’ve been naming blessings. And writing them down. And hanging them on a tree. This year, I created a printable Thanksgiving hang tag that I shared in some of my Small Pond Graphics communications. Baby Girl and Bug got into the fun of cutting them out and punching holes in them. Sometimes at breakfast and sometimes at dinner this week, we’ve each chosen our hangable and our crayon. The kids are old enough now to write their own thankful words with a little spelling help. I’m proud of them for thinking carefully about what to write, and their smiles at choosing the best hanging spot make me smile too.
As with most young traditions, I’m not sure the kids really “get” the tradition part. But, as I’ve seen with other crazy Mom ideas, I imagine that as we continue to repeat each year they will come to be the ones reminding me how it should be done. I guess that’s how traditions work. That makes me smile. I want this act to be part of who we are. This act of giving thanks. Of counting blessings. It’s so easy to indulge them, to give them everything I possibly can. But, I want them to understand the importance of gratitude, of nurturing a grateful heart, of knowing that blessings come in all kinds of packages. I hope you enjoy a glimpse at some of our blessings. May you and yours enjoy counting a few of your own.
If you are on the AQUA Creative Journal email list [please SUBSCRIBE!], you were the first to see a new illustration project I’m working on. Through some connections with a high school friend and my online Sketch Journal entries, I’m thrilled to launch a new Small Pond Graphics collection of craft stamps through my friends at CRAFFITI DIRECT! The clear polymer stamp maker launched its custom line of stamps earlier this year with a handful of artists, and in October, they approached me about turning some of my “sketching” style and illustration ideas into a Small Pond Graphics collection.
I’m really excited about the possibilities with these stamps. All the designs are original illustrations with hand-drawn type. I recently received my samples and have had a lot of fun playing around with ideas for how they can be used to create cards, wrapping, gift tags and other DIY projects. The kids and I are enjoying some rainy days at our family farmhouse for Thanksgiving, and I thought I would share a couple of the stamp diversions that have been keeping our creative juices flowing indoors.
One of the stamp sets in the collection we’ve been playing with is one called “Saint Nick.” The set includes all the “parts” needed to make the funny Santa shown below. I’ve also been experimenting with some patterns and cards using his hat and beard. Enjoy!
Here’s a peek at the first five Christmas sets available in the collection. They can be purchased here. This was my first opportunity to use clear stamps, and it’s amazing how they “cling” to almost any plastic surface. I’ve used clear stamp blocks, stamp pad covers and even silly things like hairspray tops to stamp them! So many possibilities!
Well, we’ve had nearly two days of rainy weather here at the farm. So far it’s rained out our annual Busy Bee Bonfire, celebrating Bug’s and my birthdays. It’s dampened (literally) our outdoor fun, but we’ve still managed to get in a few walks.
In the midst of drizzling rain this morning, my mom drove into town for some errands and returned with four new pairs of rubber boots — two pink and two red. Suddenly, the rainy day got a little bit brighter.
Something about the prospect of wearing bright colors on our feet in defiance of the cloudy day lifted our excitement level to a new high. I imagine it also had something to do with the ability to wade through mud and puddles unencumbered by the need to keep our feet dry.
So, this afternoon, we scrambled to don our new footwear, tuck in our britches, layer up the sweatshirts and splash some puddles. We walked the full length of our private road in both directions without dodging any muddy places. In fact, we steered our steps toward quite a few ruts just to test their depth.
I love how something so mundane can shift the wind of a discontented attitude. The prospect of a new and fun way of braving the weather together changed the wind and cloudiness from gloomy to celebration. All it took was one little thing to be excited about. One little thing to choose to enjoy. The boots didn’t magically make the sun come out. But, to hear the sounds of our own laughter and joy, it was clear the clouds were banished from our thoughts.
Today was a good reminder for me that the forecast of our lives isn’t dependent on stormy circumstances. It is dependent on our ability to allow ourselves to be open to joy and contentment in spite of the difficulties.
Yesterday as we were enjoying some time inside the farm house between cold walks, Baby Girl and I were hanging out on my bed. At the farm she has always shared a room with me, and it’s become a special thing. I’ve noticed that sometimes those down times are ripe for conversations — the ones that help me see her heart.
Baby Girl turned five in August. She was barely four when her father died, and of course sometimes our conversations about that situation are heart-breaking. She has always been the most expressive about Mike’s death which means that I am more likely to field those difficult questions and comments with her. Little girls have special relationships with their fathers. I do. And, so often I find myself looking for ways to help her deal with that loss while trying to shore up her memories.
I wrote last week about how much of a blessing time has been for me in giving me enough distance and processing of the situation with Mike to now begin to talk about him more freely and with more joy. I’ve seen how much that has helped Baby Girl in particular.
Because she is so young, sometimes I see her searching. Like she is trying to make her memories of her father more solid and real. That’s a process we are all going through. Everyone else just has more time — more memories — to pull from. So, she asks me questions. In surprising moments of contentment and safety, she asks. Times like yesterday afternoon.
We were hanging out on my bed in the farm house. She laid down on the side of the bed beside the wall next to where I sleep and asked of that was where Daddy slept. She began to explain to me how Daddy had used this bed to change her diapers and how he had picked her up from her bed when she woke up during the early morning hours and taken her to the farm house living room.
She’s told me this before. She repeats it for me occasionally. And asks, “is that right?” And I tell her “yes.” Every time she smiles to know that Daddy took care of her and changed her diaper and helped her when she needed to go back to sleep. Yesterday I told her that this was one of Daddy’s favorite things to do. I explained what I had all but forgotten myself. That Mike had often gotten up at the farm to play with her in the mornings — when toddlers always seem to wake. He did it to let me sleep. And to be with Baby Girl.
To write about it is still painful. I’m not quite at the stage where it is pure joy to remember the kindnesses Mike showed me, the kindness of his character, and the love he had for his children. I’m not sure I’ll ever count those memories as pure joy. They may always be twinged with the reality of his death and his choice to die. But, it is important for me to remember them again. And it’s important for Baby Girl to remember them. For me to be able to tell her “yes, that’s right.” To freely elaborate and give her more of the account of her father. To nurture those memories she treasures. What we all treasure. I’ve realized how important it is for me to help her hold them dear.
I’m learning how precious those moments of sharing are for our family. And for my own process of moving forward. I’m learning that it’s ok to show my children my tears and to give them permission to show their own. I’m learning that it is healthy and good for us to ask questions together and answer them together. I’m learning that joy does indeed come in the morning of our grief as we are slowly waking to those moments of truth and remembrance.
Doing nothing accomplishes a lot sometimes. I love these kinds of days — days when we have no plans. Days when we feel that freedom to do what we want. We actually always have that freedom, but with the push and pull of work and school and schedules and to do lists, we don’t always feel the freedom. Today we did.
This is the reason I like to bring us here. To feel that freedom. To choose that freedom. To enjoy each other just for the simple fact we belong together. It opens up all kinds of possibilities.
Our “nothing” day included walking on gravel roads, finding colorful leaves, painting art projects, climbing on hay bales, laughing at movies and napping — all together. They all talk at once. They all run at once. They all laugh at once. My name is shouted a hundred times, and my attention is pulled in a thousand directions in response. But, it’s funny how there’s never a time when I’m more focused. Days like these make me “conscious of my treasures,” as Thornton Wilder said.
I’m not writing much today, mainly just a simple thought that’s been festering in my mind through our wandering… In these days I can see how our own grateful hearts keep us focused on things that matter. And I can see how the gift of attention is one of the greatest I can give — to myself and to my children.
This morning we woke up at the farm. We arrived at Busy Bee last night and settled in for a week of Thanksgiving holiday. The children are always beyond excited when we arrive and eager to get reacquainted with the farm house. In the mayhem, it was nearly 11 o’clock when we climbed in bed.
I like the morning here. It’s quiet. Morning at the farm seems more quiet than when we wake up at home, but I’m not sure it actually is. It helps that we are almost always here to relax. So, perhaps it’s my thinking that’s quieter. We don’t have a central heating unit in our farm house, so wintertime means simple gas heaters in our rooms. It’s a quiet heat without the on-and-off hum of air blowing. I think we wake up more slowly here because it’s quiet. The light slowly filters in with the rising sun. It coaxes us back to consciousness without the buzz of alarms. We are urged awake by the promise of a day filled going just where our whims tell us to follow.
We all need those times, whether in a farm house or other parts unknown. Times apart from our routine and schedule and daily surroundings to regroup.
I feel like I’ve been in a year of regrouping. When I think about last Thanksgiving spent here at the farm, I remember so much numbness. It had been two months since Mike died and I was still dumbfounded by the changes. I was numb to most of the people around me except for this hyper sensitivity to my children and their well-being.
Joining my extended family for Thanksgiving lunch today, I noticed a change in myself — or maybe a return to myself. I was able to visit and talk and interact, to take an interest in people around me. A year ago, I couldn’t do it. It just seemed completely overwhelming, like I was watching everything from a distant corner of the room even though I was sitting right there. Today I was there.
This morning was quiet. Quieter than a year ago. And even in the twilight of my sleep, I was more awake.