My country, ’tis of thee,’
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring
~ Samuel Francis Smith (1831)
My country, ’tis of thee,’
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring
~ Samuel Francis Smith (1831)
July always starts with a bang as bunting and fireworks take center stage! This midway point of summer is a fitting time to celebrate the birth of freedom in America, plus take time to be thankful for the blessings afforded to us living in this great country. I’m trying to get back into the routine of creating more printable artwork to post here, and I decided to update one of my designs from last year for July. I hope you enjoy this way of marking the days! The calendar includes a little extra artwork at the bottom so when the month is gone, you can clip it off and send as a card or display on your desk. Happy July!
It’s a strange day in the Pond when I’m writing about oxen. I’ll start with that. I feel cluttered this week – distracted by so many thoughts, and juggling a growing list of projects and things I want to do with the kids. So, I guess oxen seem to fit right in. When I find myself surrounded by some combination of cluttered activities, cluttered goals, or cluttered thinking, this proverb often floats to the surface. Just a couple of lines from a rich book that stuck some time ago during a meditation. It’s a gentle reminder that brings much needed clarity…
For me, that growing sense of being overtaken by a cluttered spirit starts with the physical environment. I look around and find various buildings sets and racing tracks scattered around the living room. Cups in the sink. Blankets and shoes tossed aside on the floor. The remnant of one of Baby Girl’s craft projects on the table where an Independence Day centerpiece should be. Magazines and books piled up on my desk waiting to inspire me. Cards and prints that need packaging in the studio. Surfaces and spaces. All filled with things out of place. Or things reminding me of something that needs to be done.
Then, it moves to logistics – the thousand responsibilities to juggle in just keeping up. Waiting for Roto-rooter. Waiting for the cable guys. Shuffling to accommodate their maintenance. Juggling meetings. Getting meals together. New client projects. Each sweet little spirit wanting some attention and affirmation – one wanting help with hot glue, one with a tummy ache, one eager to start a new video project. When I look around, I see clothes and toys and mail that need weeding. Not to mention flower beds. Sally needs to go to the vet. My project schedule and supply closet need organizing. We should pull something out of our summer jar today. Someone wants to go swimming. And I might cry because the summer days are halfway gone, now.
And, then the clutter settles into heart matters. It’s a jumble of questions. What are the most important things? Am I spending time on them? How DO I want to spend my days? How am I doing? How are WE doing? A jumble of concerns and hopes and needs. Channeling this heart, who has a perpetual stream of big ideas and a hankering to accomplish them all. Comforting and giving confidence to this heart, who seems to struggle with a nagging fear that won’t let go. Nurturing and capturing the imagination of this heart, who won’t stop growing up, though he’d really like to. How do I manage all the decisions and expectations? How do I filter the influences on them, while preserving the precious spirits inside? How do I juggle the pull between home keeping and growing freelance projects? How do I prioritize my own list of creative pursuits? How do I NOT miss out on this time? Question after question, fueled by a clutter of thoughts and feelings and responsibilities.
That’s when an unlikely proverb about oxen rises to the surface. A gentle reminder of one truth… Life is messy. It just is. All the jobs and responsibilities, the space we create, the things we own, the precious people we love and the dreams we want to chase. They’re messy. The only way to avoid the mess is to avoid the life.
“Where no oxen are, the manger is clean.” Clean, pristine, free of debris and out-of-place fragments. A clean and uncluttered, empty place.
“Much increase comes from the strength of the ox.” It’s a shift in perspective. If the price of clean and neat constraint is emptiness, I don’t want it. I want full! That increase. That fullness. It can’t be achieved when tidiness is the ultimate benchmark. It can’t be experienced when everyone and everything stays in its place. Those narrow constraints of perfection and precision. To embrace the fullness is to embrace the messiness. The clutter. The complicated. The unclear and unkept.
Yes, I can insist on keeping all things tidy. I can reject the unexpected hope or worry or idea or plan in favor of some pristine routine and schedule and kitchen table. I can suck all the life out of our experiences and our time together, our hearts, our home, in service to neat plans, neat feelings and neat rooms. Or I can revel in the ripe energy of the life happening all around me. The friction of each little creative heart and creative pursuit rubbing against each other.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I value an ordered space. I need it. I thrive when I can prioritize what I see all around me with what is beautiful and full of memory and inspiration. So, I’m a big proponent of bringing the spaces we inhabit – where we nurture our family and hearts – to a comfortable place of order. But, I’m learning to balance that order with the freedom to breathe and do and enjoy without holding so tightly to where things ought to be. I hope I’m learning to extend that freedom to my children.
Those things out of place. They’re evidences of activities and games and projects experienced together. They’re the trappings of feeling like you’re at home, where anything goes and speaks and feels. Those logistics. They’re really the easy things. The things with clear expectations. The to-dos that make our home go and my business go. The products of having the freedom to clutch and shift when it’s needed. And, all those heart questions. The cacophony of my own wandering thoughts. They’re what come out when I take the time to stop and look and listen to the other souls around me. They’re the realization that knowing the question is often so much more powerful than knowing the answer.
So, I’m sitting in my studio, typing away on the computer. The Magic School Bus is playing on my tiny television, and Mrs. Frizzle is on her latest field trip. All three children are piled in the room, and I’m struggling to concentrate. Baby Girl has her beanbag heaped in the bay window with pillows and popcorn. Elisha and Travis are sharing the couch with more pillows, kool-aid, and episode commentary. Each one content and insistent that I be involved in the conversation. The work I planned to do isn’t getting done as quickly. But, the work of drawing near. Drawing together. Sharing time and space and the beauty of a messy manger. In this moment, that work seems right on track.
Very often while I’m working in my studio, I think about this historic brick structure. It’s the “Old Salem School” off Highway 14 in Noxubee County, and I think of it because the work table I’ve made a habit of painting and block printing on came from the school. Mr. Cotton, the caretaker from the Noxubee County Historical Society, is a long-time family friend, and he gave the kids and me permission to go inside the very dilapidated building last summer. For years, every time we drove by it on the way to Busy Bee, I said I wanted to go inside and see the space. Last summer, we finally did it.
One reason the school is very interesting to me is that my grandfather went to elementary school there in the early 1920s. Not long ago, we were looking through an old lockbox from my grandmother’s house and found his diploma from Salem Consolidated School, promoting him to high school on April 17, 1925. The school is one of the earliest remaining public schools in Noxubee County, and was officially confirmed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.
The structure is basically a four room school house in a dog-trot type plan, with stairs in the center hallway and two large rooms on each side of both stories. On one side the rooms have been divided into smaller spaces connected through a series of doorways. My mother said that during some of the years the building was in use, one side was used as housing for teachers or caretakers.
Upstairs on the east side, the remnants of a corner stage area are still there, and as a child, my mom remembers going to community Christmas suppers held in the room with entertainment and even a visit from Santa Claus on the stage. After the building was no longer used as a school, it became sort of a community center available to the Salem community, including Salem Methodist Church and Concord Baptist Church. From the looks of the chalkboard we found inside, Sunday School classes and church meetings were sometimes held there, and my mom remembers going to birthday parties on the property as well.
During our visit, layers of peeling paint and cracked wall plaster revealed the bones of the building, and the aging patina of old chimney pipes, metal ceiling panels and cornices. And although it is in very severe disrepair, we could still see the remnants of wooden bead board chair rails, shiplap walls, movable classroom panels, and even the brass nameplates of families who donated money to install windows and other features. You can see from the angles in the shiplap photo below, that the building is just on the edge of being structurally sound. I’m afraid it may not last much longer, and I’m very glad we were able to visit when we did. It was interesting to see my children explore the space and to imagine someone going to school there. I hope I was able to impart to them the importance of historic buildings and remembering their significance to a community, especially as they listened to their grandmother talk about her own memories there.
After our visit, I nearly begged Mr. Cotton to allow me to rescue two of the last pieces of movable furniture I found there before they were overtaken with weather and falling down ceiling materials. Mom and I loaded an old six-foot wooden table into Dad’s pick-up along with a large chalkboard that was made to hang on sliding panels in the school classrooms. Underneath the graffiti writing of other explorers, the chalkboard still had names on a list titled “To-Day’s Record”, where Sunday School member attendance and offerings were recorded during years when the building was still in use. We brought the table home, cleaned decades of dust and insect friends from it, and added a little reinforcement to the legs to accommodate printmaking duties. It has become a treasured part of my daily studio activities, inspired by the knot holes and rusted nails as reminders of the heritage I imagine happened there. One of this summer’s projects will be to restore the chalkboard to hang in our entryway, and in the repainting, I plan to replicate that Sunday School secretary’s hand-writing as we create a space to document our own “To-Day’s Record.”
As I posted last week, summertime for my crew has meant indulging in the season’s “lazy, hazy” reputation and taking advantage of some unscheduled down time. We started our summer vacation with a week at our farm house in Noxubee County, Mississippi. We spend a few weeks there each year, and one of them usually serves as our summer kick-off.
I love that when we visit the farm, we each have favorite places and experiences we want to enjoy. Whether it’s walking dirt roads, exploring pastures, climbing favorite trees or making a bonfire, I’m so happy that my children are learning this place in the same way I did as a child. Even though I’ve been to the farm countless times, it seems like every visit I see something new. This trip, it was a white wild rose that has popped up around some of the fence rows. (I brought some cuttings back to see if I can get it to grow in my backyard.) Because we’ve had kind of a wet start to the summer, the greens of the trees and the pastures seemed unusually green, and tons of wild blackberries were already starting to ripen. This trip, we took the time to clean up around some of our favorite “climbing trees” and we added some wood footholds to one of them with the help of our longtime family friend, Mr. Clarence. Of course, I brought along my camera. I’ve already posted about my search for toadstools, but I wanted to share a few more of my favorite photo captures…
I’m just now getting to share this sketch journal entry from our farm trip a few weeks ago. When we’re there, I love to sit out on the deck overlooking our back pasture in the mornings. It’s always been very peaceful to me, and this particular morning, I got to see a little rain storm come through. I’ve seen countless rain showers and even thunderstorms move through Busy Bee over the years, but sometimes the most ordinary moments become extraordinary when you force yourself to stop and take it all in. That morning, I decided to wait it out on the deck rather than running back inside, and it turned out to be a real joy.
Today’s lettering practice is brought to you by two exciting pieces of information…
One, it’s summer. I know that’s old news, but THIS is the week I’m trying to help us settle into some kind of flexible routine with getting client work finished, moving forward with Pond project ideas, achieving a measure of the “lazy, hazy” summer element, AND taking advantage of the blessing of all my kids at home with me for this season. We’ve spent the last two weeks in celebration mode that school is out and spending down time at the farm, and now, we’re home where at least a little bit of routine and intention are needed to keep the balls rolling. This is the second year we’ve chosen not to participate in any kind of summer care-giver program for the kids, and the first year I decided not to fill their time up with various camps. I’ve been feeling through the last semester that they (and I as the mommy/schedule maker/logistics coordinator) needed a break from so much scheduled and structured activities. I wanted us all to have free time – a concept that seems to be so undervalued in these days of rushing toward achievement after achievement.
So, the big question abounding is time! How do I manage it and capitalize on it all at the same time? Along with feeling like it’s ok to waste it every now and then? I’m still working through those decisions and balancing how and when I focus on work. And when I choose to set it aside. These days are precious. There are only a few years, really, when the concept of “summer vacation” is even possible for all of us in the same way, at the same time, in the same place. And, although I don’t like to think about it, there may be few years when all three of my little ones actually WANT to hang out with Mommy. So, today, I want to be able to say “Yes, I have time.” Even if I feel like I don’t. Even if it means I’m on Illustrator at the crack of dawn or rolling out block printing inks at midnight. When they have time. While we all have this rare and blessed time. I want to say “yes.”
The second bit of excitement sponsoring today’s practice is more of a programming note… my nifty Benks flexible arm iPhone holder arrived this week, and after a squeal of delight, I decided to try it out for overhead videos this morning! I have a small tripod that I sometimes use, but I was looking for something that could get more of a straight-on shot. It clips right onto the desk or table, and you can swivel or position the arm to capture your workspace. I’m still experimenting with making sure the shot is stabilized because I wiggle so much when I’m painting and my work table is showing its age. But, I love how it works, and I see tons of possibilities for this little tool. There it is in my set-up from this morning — cutting open the Amazon box to painting on camera in about 15 minutes (including time for choosing morning tunes!).
We spent last week at Busy Bee, enjoying farm wanderings. It was very rainy, which kept us inside much of the time, but we had a few opportunities to explore pastures and shady roads. With all the water, mushrooms were growing everywhere! Searches under the overgrown trees brought all kinds of glistening shapes and colors popping out from the leftover leaves from last winter. Many were still holding water from the rains, and I couldn’t help but imagine fairy baths and frog tea parties going on in these magical shapes. Here’s a collection of some of our finds. I need to look them up to see the official names, but for now, I’m too busy thinking of fairies and toads.
With the arrival of summer vacation, we’ve placed our Summer Jar on the coffee table. For the last several years, we’ve used the jar to inspire fun activities to help us make the most of our summer days. The summer jar “things” are really just ordinary. Yes, some are fun trips to take or experiences we want to repeat. But, some things are just things we do at home. Some things nobody would understand but us. But, when we look back at the end of our short 75 days of summer vacation, I hope the Summer Jar “things” will help us know we’ve had a summer. And we’ve lived it. And loved during it. We tend to rush. And, sometime we need reminders to slow down. To enjoy one another. To find joy. And to capture each moment fully.
For me, along with Summer Jar, part of my desire for the summer is to recapture some of my own creative spirit that’s been germinating over the last few months. I want to pursue some new ideas, some new media, and some new and more unfiltered ways of sharing thoughts… of telling stories. Today’s “sketch story” is a small glimpse. I don’t have a grand plan. I don’t know if I can really explain what I want to do, and if I could, I would need way more space than what I have here. So, I’ve decided to embrace the sprit of wonder and curiosity and real thought, and just go with whatever comes next. I hope to infuse this blog space with an even more authentic glimpse of my heart and creative pursuits. So, you may begin to see some changes and experiments. I hope you’ll take these steps with me, and that they’ll perhaps offer some inspiration in chasing your own dreams and ideas.
Woo Hoo! Summer is here. We finished up the school year today, and I’m so proud of my little ones. You made it!! Let’s celebrate!