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celebrate . Thanksgiving Tree on the Farm [printable]

The Thanksgiving Tree has become a farm tradition. We have a branch, old and dry now, that stay’s standing in a crockery pitcher in the corner, waiting to be set at center stage on the table during our Thanksgiving holiday week. Held up by rocks collected from the road, the “tree” started as my effort to sow some seeds of gratitude when my children were young. That first year, we set up our tree at home using a branch we had found on the farm during October. Baby Girl was only a couple of months old — too young to offer her contributions, and the boys were at a stage when it wasn’t hard to get them to look for sticks! The idea was to add paper leaves or shapes to the tree each days with little “Today I’m thankful for…” messages written on them. We never did it every day. We weren’t that disciplined. But, it gave us a chance to talk about gratitude at the dinner table, and make note of our blessings.

Since then, we’ve spent every Thanksgiving at the farm, and the Thanksgiving Tree has become something we do during our week there. The first year we stayed at Busy Bee for the holiday, we found a branch, and we’ve kept it since. Some years, we’ve cut out our own leaf shapes. And, several years, I’ve created a printable for us to use and also share the tradition with others. I was looking back at a few “leaves” from the years, and it was such a blessing to see each of our hearts revealed in those few words. The treasured places, possessions, and people. It was sweet to see my loves’ handwriting change over time as they’ve grown. And, neat to see that some of our gratitude hasn’t changed. Through all the changes in our lives, what a blessing to count our blessings!

I’ve shared some of our memories here, and I’ve included another printable for 2017. You can download here or click the image below if you’re celebrating with your own Thanksgiving Tree. I’m looking forward to pulling that crockery to the forefront again next week, and adding these tags to it.

As I wrote about that very first Thanksgiving Tree…

I’m convinced that gratitude is an antidote to worry and complaint, and it’s the catalyst for kindness and generosity. In times of joy, in times of hardship, I need it. We need it.

go . Sights and Shops in Downtown Asheville
[part 1]

Beautiful, quirky Asheville. There are places that grab you, that you immediately want to claim as your own. That’s how I felt about this vibrant, Southern mountain town. I had the opportunity to visit Downtown Asheville for a few days last month while attending a public relations conference, and I think it took my heart.

From Tuesday to Friday, I spent as much free time as possible wandering the downtown area, stopping in shops, poking my head down alleyways, and sampling the local cuisine. I found historic and colorful views, a love and commitment to all things Asheville-local, a penchant to spontaneous self expression, and an overwhelming sense of energy — really a “vibe.” Yes, there’s an unmistakable vibe, like something inspiring could happen at any moment. The jacket of a book I bought about the city described Asheville as “everywhere an easy gaiety.” That sums it up perfectly. The joy was so very easy.

The book, 27 Views of Asheville, came from Malaprop’s Bookstore on Haywood, along with the funky Only in Asheville tome. They were both on the recommended shelf of regional work, and kudos from the Malaprop’s staff carries good weight in indy bookstore circles. An iconic Asheville book seller and literary cafe since 1982, the store has a revolving door of events and author readings along with a stellar collection of bestsellers and unusual finds. After the public art, street musicians, and traffic bustle outside the door, the bookstore had its own buzz of book talk, event prep, and literary energy.

In Asheville wanderings, like in so many of the South’s urban centers, I found an inspiring mix of art deco ornament, historic structures, cobbled streets, sacred spaces, public parks, and the region’s overlapping colors of fall. What was even more inspiring was the obvious creative energy – community gardens outfitted with hand-made sculpture, outdoor artisan market areas, colorful facades, doors open with music outpouring, goods and wares pulled out into the sidewalks, and many shops proudly displaying not only a commitment to inclusion, but a list of wares available from fellow shops and artisans around the region. I walked back to my hotel each evening believing that each shop or restaurant or artisan I encountered knew they had something unique and wonderful to add to the world around them. Somehow Asheville seems to have created a place where those gifts are overwhelmingly welcomed and set on display for anyone to partake in the vibe.

On the last morning of my trip, I stopped by another Asheville shopping icon, the L.O.F.T., offering “lost objects and found treasures” since 1996. Squeezed into a vibrant street level and basement walk-down, I found quite a few treasures, indeed. Unusual books, ethnic memorabilia, gypsy-esque fabrics and decor, Asheville products, unique wall hangings, outdoor art and more. The color alone, displayed in every inch of the place, was enough to set my eyes in wonder.

Over the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing some glimpses and thoughts from my morning visit to the beautiful Basilica of St. Lawrence, also on Haywood, the spectacular Grove Arcade on Page and Battery Park, a few favorite local restaurants, and some of the vibrance of the Flatiron area on Wall Street. So many memories that will stick with me! I think I love you, Asheville.

 

discover . Nine Farm Specimens

There was a time when my children wanted to create a museum. We were in the phase of hoarding rocks and other tiny objects in our pockets, and on a constant quest for outdoor things in cool shapes and colors. This was also the phase when playing with dirt was a priority and walking around outside was a continual pique of curiosity, not just getting from one place to the next.

I noticed in those special days that there was a clear scale for the best nature objects, a cool factor we seemed to consistently assign to the most highly prized finds. Anything heart-shaped was immediately brought to Mommy. Anything with petals. After all, giving Mommy flowers was the ultimate feel-good activity. Things shaped like letters or numbers were happy surprises. And, anything containing bones or teeth was the ultimate discovery. That’s what made the farm the center of museum curation. Walks on gravel roads, pasture trails, and stream beds are places where bones and teeth tend to show up. Along with seed pods and oddly-shaped earth clumps, and the occasional rusted tool.

The museum was to be located in the barn at Busy Bee and serve as a showcase of our most exciting discoveries. Really, a showcase of every single little thing that any one of us thought was precious enough to tuck in our pockets or throw in the wagon. The barn was the perfect location because it already contains its own collection of old jars and cans, and rusted tools and horse bridles and such. We dreamed of little displays of countless “heart rocks”, the bones of cows and coyotes, dried flowers and berries, and the remnants of withered mushrooms and acorn tops.

The museum never really materialized, although much curation happened on the farm table and on shelves in the house and baskets where we still gather our “collection.” The children have grown, of course, and their interest in saving rocks and plucking flowers sometimes wanes. But, they still notice them. They still say “Mommy, there’s a heart rock!” sometimes. And I mark it down in my soul. I saw it on our trip to the Smoky Mountains last month. The beauty and overwhelming curiosity of nature. The wonder of exploring it. It’s still there. For me and for them. Just masked sometimes by the pull of busyness and technology. And growing up, but resisting it.

It’s funny, though. When we go to Busy Bee, we slip right back in that curation mode. There, the rocks and blooms and curious finds seem to hold more fascination than anywhere else. There, we’ve made it our mission to find the fascination. To wander. To look up and look down. To touch what we see. And even sometimes to pick it up and put it in our pockets.

I found some still life photos of some of our farm collection. We all loved the 9-shaped twig in the one above – or is it a 6? I went with 9, and included nine views of the colors, shapes, and curiosities of dying things. All telling their own story of autumn on the farm. Enjoy! And, I hope they inspire you to look up and down, too.

November is Here! [printable calendar]

November has slipped in under the radar for us. October was filled with projects and kids activities, a few weeks of travel, all topped off by a little Halloween fun with parties and trick or treating with friends. The last week has been crazy with enough activity to make my head spin. I had the opportunity to travel to Asheville, North Carolina last week for a public relations conference, and I’m still processing all the great information presented there. I came home to a sweet birthday celebration orchestrated by my Baby Girl, complete with decorations, a rainbow cake that “Special Agent Rainbow” decorated herself, hand-wrapped presents, and a pretty robust party plan. That celebration shifted right into Halloween class parties and a failed attempt to find a pumpkin to carve into jack-o-lantern guise. Trips around town to all the grocery stores yielded not a single pumpkin, so we had to satisfy ourselves with postponing that tradition until next year and promises for me to plan better! We visited with dear friends on Halloween night for party foods and trick-or-treating, and suddenly, we woke up to a new month! November, the month for “grateful praise,”  has arrived, and I’m totally unprepared! So, today (a day late with my printable calendar), I’m reminding myself that gratitude doesn’t really require much preparation. Just a heart decision. And a commitment to looking at each moment in a new way.

On our schedule this November:

  • A new branding and strategic planning campaign for one of my long-time clients
  • Celebrating a trip to the district Reading Fair for Baby Girl
  • Pulling together proposals for a few new clients
  • Preparing to chaperone Travis’ trip to Auburn, Alabama with his robotics team
  • A few new holiday products I have in the works (hint: pennants and the North Pole)
  • Celebrating Elisha’s 11th birthday
  • Our annual trip to Busy Bee for Thanksgiving week
  • Christmas decorating weekend
  • The anticipated arrival of Gabriella, our family elf
  • Watching Travis march in the Christmas parade

It’s an exciting month. The cooler temperatures are finally here. There is anticipation in the air for what’s coming up. And, a little fear of the rush of those activities. November’s rich tapestry of celebrations and demands can be intimidating. With the turn of the calendar, I find myself ushering in a renewed desire to draw my blessings closer, to nurture only the thinking that pulls me forward, and to protect the most precious moments from distractions and urgencies that water down my attention. The challenge November is to live each hour by carving out my own priorities. And, as this month’s printable calendar reflects, to fill those hours with rightful and grateful praise. I invite you to download the calendar and enjoy. Happy November.

 

collect . 13 Jack O Lanterns for the 13th

It’s Friday the 13th, and we’re almost in full spook here! The kids and I been having fun getting our house harvest-ready over the last couple of weeks. The mantle is decorated with turkeys and pumpkins. The Halloween and Thanksgiving books are gathered in our “book basket,” and the wreaths are up on the doors. This weekend, we’re planning to add our little family of scarecrows to the porch along with some pumpkins and colorful crotons, and the decorating will be complete. My kids have never really gotten into trick-or-treating that much. They’ve always been more interested in handing out candy at the door than walking around the neighborhood. But, that doesn’t mean we shy away from “Jack.” It’s not every year that Friday the 13th falls close to Halloween, so in honor of this so-called unlucky day, I wandered around the house and captured a lucky 13 from our jack-o-lantern collection – all ready to lend their toothy grins to the season’s festivities. Enjoy!

go . Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains

Tomorrow, my children are on Fall Break, and we are heading to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for a few days. I have visited the Smoky Mountains many times, but last October, was the first time I’d taken the kids there.They decided right away they wanted to go back. We enjoyed a “town day” and a “Park day” on that last trip, and this time we’re adding one extra day to be sure we fit in all our favorites. As I’ve been gearing up for the trip his week, I’ve been looking back through some of the photographs I took on our last trip to the Smoky Mountains. I took some time to record my memories in watercolor – the first time I’ve painted this week.

Last year on our visit to the Smokies, we spent most of our “Park day” exploring Cades Cove. It’s a great driving loop with mountain views and a collection of preserved primitive structures – churches, houses, and barns. It also includes some of the last pasture lands still maintained in the National Park.

The historic churches in Cades Cove are quiet, moving experiences, each standing empty now with only echoes and strong light from the windows to highlight their sacred spaces. There are graves from pioneers and mountain folk who populated the area over the last few centuries. And, the houses and barns show a small glimpse of what life might have been like. It’s not unusual to see wildlife in Cades Cove (and throughout the Park). On our last visit, it was wild turkeys. Depending on the temperatures, the views are a display of oranges, maroons, yellows, browns, and a rainbow of green shades with that namesake gray-blue smoky haze over the upper elevations.

This year, I’m hoping we can drive over the mountains to visit Cherokee, North Carolina on our “Park day,” and I’m looking forward to new views in one of our favorite places. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these views of our trek through Cades Cove.

One Light, One Soul… for the Love of Las Vegas

I took this photo, grainy and somewhat blurred, on my first visit to Las Vegas — about 25 years ago. It’s hard to believe. We were up in the hills around the city near the Mormon Regional Tabernacle. Jeff Powell, my friend and college minister was planting a church in Las Vegas, and this spot was on the intro tour for our spring break college group. He took us there because it was a good view of the city – the old strip and the “new strip” strung out like a shining jeweled necklace in the middle of that city with so many lights. I was there on a mission trip. To give and serve. But, the city and the people – the lights – captured me.

A few months later I came back to Vegas to live for the summer — the first of two I spent in Sin City. That first summer, my friend, Rea, and I would sometimes go to the same spot atop that hill, under the statue of the Angel Moroni, and look out. Just every now and then, to take in that sea of lights again from a distance. And the audacity of that little string of decadent excitement shining brighter than the rest. We went, really, to look at the sea of people. In a place where there were literally as many lights as people. Probably more. And remind ourselves of what we were really seeing.

One light, one soul.

The real challenge, we decided in those trips to the Temple parking lot, was reaching the lights. Touching each light. Each soul. To see the light and the soul it represented. To really see it. And to value that soul no matter what nationality or language or background or lifestyle. To reach out and touch the lights with a true message of peace and love. A message you mean, no matter what. A message lived out in conversations. In knowing hopes and dreams and struggles and sins. The love of a true and unrelenting God that sees and values and woos every living thing in that darkness. So strong was the pull, that Rea painted a sweatshirt for me when I left that summer. An abstract depiction of this view, and the reminder…”reaching the lights.” A goal and admonition pushing me way beyond Clark County, Nevada with all its diverse and complicated landscape.

I walked away from that challenging place with new eyes that summer. Different eyes. Back to humid Mississippi, and the sidewalks of the Mississippi State University campus, and the familiar surroundings of my home, but I was changed. Changed by having spent time away from the South. Changed by the transient resort culture where roots were almost a luxury. Where the night shift could blur normal days and nights into a 24/7 season of need. That summer opened my view on so many things… social issues, race, red mountains, desert, no rain. The dryness. My thoughts and vision on architecture and community development, on places with no antebellum buildings. And faith. In a place where church isn’t so ingrained in culture. Where I believed it was more authentic. More real. More surprising at times. More tested, perhaps. My views of changing the world. Accepting the world. Embracing the world. In seeing and experiencing a place so different from what I knew, I had the chance to see myself differently.

Back in that first summer in Vegas, when we took visiting friends to all the tourist-y spots, we would jokingly ask, “who changes the lights when a bulb goes out?” All those lights lighting up the night until you couldn’t decide if it was even still night time, or if day had slipped in. Glowing like some beacon, seen from airplanes and neighborhoods and even the temple across the valley. One light, one soul. “What happens when one goes out?” And we tried our best to find even one light bulb not burning bright on that strip.

Some bulbs aren’t burning tonight. In the tragedy of today, it’s clear. We’re so broken. We’re so utterly broken. So in need of that unrelenting love. And the champions and warriors who wield it. With abandon. We’re so in need of reaching. Across aisles. Across streets. Across centuries. To build and repair. To strip away and build again. Dozens of lights. Souls. In a few moments, cracked and shattered and snuffed out. And it falls to those that remain to shine even brighter.

Welcome October! [printable calendar]

I’m so excited to be welcoming October into our lives this week! It’s my favorite month during my favorite season of the year… autumn! October usually likes to play with us in Mississippi, with both summer and fall days, but those crisp blue skies and the blooms on my sasanqua camellia don’t lie. Autumn is on the way.

This month, I’m looking forward to a couple of travels that are sure to give me a fresh change of scenery, some great autumn views, and the chance to experience some new things. Later this week, we’ll be traveling back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during our school’s fall break, and the children and I are looking forward to seeing the mountains again and getting a glimpse at the beginning of leaf changing season. Then, later in the month, I’m traveling to Asheville, North Carolina, for a public relations conference. I’ve never been to Asheville, and I’m hoping to have a few moments during the trip to explore the downtown area. And, of course, more changing leaves and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Meanwhile, we took a trip up into the attic last weekend to retrieve our boxes of fall decorations, and the house is slowly starting the reflect the harvest season — with a few spooks thrown in. We’re planning to have our annual “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” viewing with popcorn tomorrow night, so it will feel like the season has officially begun.

I pulled together a few autumn images that are inspiring me today, and I hope you enjoy this month’s printable calendar along with its cutaway art. It’s taken from a similar autumn print in my Etsy shop. You can download at the links below. Happy Fall, Y’all!

PRINTABLE CALENDAR

drawing near . Psalm Two

“Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand…”

What an opening! It’s like picking up at the cliffhanger of some epic confrontation. Where season one ends and season two begins. It feels like an important moment. Like the whole trajectory of the rest of the story is riding on the decisions made right here.

When I browse the news apps or read my Twitter feed, that cliffhanger moment feels pretty familiar. When I look at the plethora of messages facing my children and me every day, I see a lot of uproar. A lot of vain things. I see a lot of people and ideas and circumstances and choices staking claim to our time and our hearts. I see a lot of the same uncertainty and turmoil found in the words of this psalm. It’s easy to question and even be fearful or worried.

Psalm two isn’t one of the touchy-feely ones. It’s not filled with love and encouragement and comfort. No, it’s raging. It’s nations and peoples on a rampage, defiant with the God they’ve misunderstood. It’s an Anointed King taking back what’s rightfully His. It’s rebellion and anger and tearing and scoffing and breaking and the terrifying fury of a just cause coming to fruition. It’s a warning and a call to discernment.

And like the first Psalm, it presents a contrast. A single, final line of comfort and respite in the war that’s being waged.

“How blessed are all who take refuge in Him.”  psalm 2:12

The people described in the psalm are inexplicably seeking to rend and cast away the cords binding them to the one and only place they can ever find refuge. They exchange of a place of uproar for a place of blessing. In their quest for independence, they miss being welcomed into the one place they can be fully free and at peace.

My boys and I have been reading the Chronicles of Narnia this year. We’ve finally made it to The Last Battle, the final tome in this incredible series, and I couldn’t help but think of the story as I read this psalm. There’s a structure in the book  that’s become a pivotal point of fear, confusion and false control for the people of Narnia. As the tale and final confrontation,unfolds we find that this place of such struggle is really a doorway. For those who are willing to believe and seek it, stepping through the door opens up a world of peace and refuge. But, the book describes a group of dwarfs who are intent on resisting the power and truth of Aslan, Narnia’s Great Lion. They are intent on not giving in — on not being “taken in” by the rightful ruler and owner of Narnia. Even as Aslan has opened the door to all the wonder and goodness the others can see and taste, the dwarfs see nothing but darkness and foul scraps of food. As they choose not to believe, Aslan explains that they are “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.” In their own stubbornness, they have shut themselves out of the refuge right in front of them.

This psalm is not an easy one to read and not an easy one to be comfortable with. It’s too revealing. Too much of an expose of the human heart we know so well. Too much of the righteous God we don’t always recognize. But, even in those raging words, there is a glimpse of hope. The hope and confidence of knowing how the story ends. Confidence in knowing that not everyone is wringing their hands. There is a King who will rule. There is an inheritance that will be given. And, therefore, there is a refuge that is available. Even in the face of uproars and vain things. There is a confidence and hope in knowing that although I may not know how to deal with the questions and the choices and the uproar all around us, I know Someone who does. And He offers a perfect place of refuge.

sojourn . Itta Bena, Mississippi

Back in May as our summer plans were just starting to materialize, I knew I wanted to take some opportunities to explore. We had already planned trips to the beach and Memphis, but I was determined that we would spend at least a few days on sojourns to Mississippi places we hadn’t seen before. I felt very blessed to have the children hanging out at home while school was out, and to have the flexibility in my freelance work to “schedule in” some unscheduled time.

So, on a Wednesday in the middle of June, we picked up breakfast donuts and headed west on Highway 82. It was the first day trip in our new car, which made for excitement with the kids in checking out all the bells and whistles, and I had heard that the B.B. King Museum in Indianola was pretty cool. Even though I was born and raised in Mississippi, I really haven’t spent a lot of time in the Delta, and the kids had never been to that part of the state. I was eager to take time without an itinerary, to soak up my little ones on the journey, and to explore some of that storied part of my home state.

There’s something mesmerizing about the sudden flatness of the land as you move out of the “hills” region of Mississippi. The sprawling farm fields, the succession of small towns popping up along the way, and so many broken down structures out of time. My children have tagged along on enough adventures to know my tendency to wander down side roads and stop on various Main Streets to capture photos of historic buildings, hand painted signs, and the curious sights of the small town South. This day trip had its share of those kinds of stops!

After pizza and visiting Indianola’s homage to Riley B. King, the kids indulged me in the short right turn onto Mississippi Highway 7 in Leflore County, down to Itta Bena. We wound past fields and water towers to a small square of a downtown with a city park surrounded by half cobblestone streets and nearly vacant storefonts – no evidence of the fast food spots and quaint downtown shops found in some of the other Delta towns we saw. It was late in the day and not many businesses were open. Not many businesses were there. We saw cars gathered around a few storefronts including a small convenience store, and a few folks were gathered on benches near the park. We drove around the square several times, across the railroad tracks and through the surrounding streets, stopping to capture the “place” of the place through my camera lens, and trying not to look too conspicuous.

Itta Bena seems to share part claim to Mississippi Valley State University with its neighboring county seat, Greenwood, just twelve miles East. The community also stakes claim to the birthplace of B.B. King, technically in Berclair, three miles to the West. I learned that Itta Bena comes from a Choctaw phrase, “iti bina,” meaning “forest camp,” and was named by a state senator who relocated his plantation there and built a home in the mid 1800s. He called it “Home in the Woods.”

We didn’t see much “woods.” We’ll seek that out for the next trip, but I enjoyed the glimpses into shops and businesses gone by and what I most often seek out on these adventures – the haunting and beautiful blight common in so many rural Mississippi towns. The gutted gas station. The vacant lunch counter featuring “Southern Cuisine”. The old structures you find give a hint to entrepreneurs and business folk who once made downtowns like these thrive. So that what you see is indelibly tied to what you imagine you would have seen twenty or fifty years ago. And sometimes the make and model of parked cars blur the difference.

The bricked pavement. The railroad tracks. There always seem to be railroad tracks. Military cannons and statues in the park memorializing one conflict or another. Buildings bear the remnants of their last use, sometimes overcome by weather and decay, but still vibrant with color. Sometimes the structures are just a shell with no roof remaining, and their own rural garden of weeds growing where countertops and store shelves used to be. Mom and pop restaurants, corner convenience stores and beauty salons are often the last hold-outs of downtown commerce, displaying store windows with the current price of a six-pack or posters of the latest beauty inspiration. Churches and public buildings are well-kept, but the interesting finds are those structures with a tell-tale hodgepodge of styles revealing their changes through the years. The boarded up remnants of stained glass windows and worn plaster ornament.

And, I love the signs. In addition to the faded out brands – logos that have since been updated to meet today’s visual appeal – small towns often show great examples of hand painted signs and repurposed banners showcasing a business owner’s pride. Somebody’s initials. Somebody’s name. Somebody’s stamp on the world. The local Big Star grocery became Big Star Tobacco, and even that has since gone defunct. Warehouses and old train cars usually provide an overlapping series of letters as the sun fades one generation of signage into the one before. The past, present and a citizen’s ingenuity.

Those glimpses of a small town – like the ones we captured in Itta Bena – are interesting and layered and sad and curious and indicative of how time passes. And sometimes passes by. Looking back through the images of our drive made me wonder what I keep trying to capture. When I seek out these broken and aged views of the small, worn South. I think maybe they are a glimpse of the greater challenges we have in our state. The wrestling of past and present, of sustaining opportunity, of growing and overcoming, of how we clean up our messes. Of capturing the moment in time. Or letting it go. All told, we spent less than an hour on our drive down to Itta Bena. That’s not enough time to know the place. Not enough to see what’s really gone and what remains. Not enough to see what might be emerging.

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