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drawing near . Psalm One

I’m starting to make a little progress on my Drawing Near series, and still working through a manageable routine — giving myself the time to paint, but also the time to reflect and let the words of the Psalms get below the surface of my thinking. To meditate on them.

It’s a fitting pursuit for today’s psalm, since one of its main themes is the value of meditating on God’s word.

“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.” psalm 1:2-3

As I’ve been reading through Psalm 1, I’ve been struck by what a great contrast the words portray. The difference that occurs when we find our delight and focus our attention in God’s word is clear. As His law becomes our filter for how we conduct life, we find ourselves cultivating not only faith in Him, but fertile ground for ourselves to flourish. It’s hard to mistake the comfort found in the words “firmly planted by streams of water.” The passage describes a whole ecosystem of security and growth that is starkly contrasted with the meandering and searching found outside of this fertile ground.  The imagery of wheat chaff blowing aimlessly in the wind, and of wanderers who can’t decide whether to walk or stand or sit pales in comparison to the nourished, verdant, fruit-bearing image of the tree. It depicts the quality of life emanating from a heart that is committed to understanding and internalizing God’s words. The strength and singleness of purpose, the firmness realized in that place of meditation is not easily swayed by lesser voices.

I needed this reminder today. I’m asking myself, what type of heart ecosystem am I nurturing? Is it an ungrounded, distracted, and withering place where fruit can’t be sustained? Or is it an ecosystem that produces real growth and prosperity and fertile ground to nourish my soul? One seeded by a delight in God’s true word?

reading log . The Wander Society

Dead poets. Cryptic messages found in old book shops. Underground publications tacked to light poles. Faces blacked out in old black and white photographs. Mysterious hieroglyphs. Collages of artifacts and inspiration.

The world of The Wander Society by Keri Smith is a mysterious one with a call to explore the unplanned and the unexpected. The book begins with an experience in a book shop where the author finds a dog-eared copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and discovers a hand-written reference to “the wander society” with the directive, “Solvitur Ambulando” — Latin for “it is solved by walking.” In a short 175 pages, Smith describes her pursuits to discover more about this mysterious organization, encounter thinkers and writers who have espoused the precepts it embodies, and develop the practice of wandering herself.

Reaching back to some of the most prominent literary figures of the past several centuries, and including a great many naturalist authors and thinkers, The Wander Society offers a kind of “suggested reading” list for those interested in the pursuit of meandering and the transcendentalist approach to living connected to the present moment and the natural world of one’s surroundings. Part arts and craft instruction and part camping handbook, the book also includes an eclectic mix of how-tos, like how to find a “talisman,” how to pack for wandering, how to make a “wander station”, and how to carve a wandering stick. Beyond that, Smith offers a collection of wandering exercises to help Society members notice their surroundings in new ways, research and document their environment, and grow in their tolerance for unscheduled exploration. In addition to the instructions and literary inspiration, The Wander Society treatise also includes a subplot of chance discoveries of artifacts and handmade zines left by wanderers before, clues to finding wanderer hang-outs, and even a mysterious professor researching the organization.

Whether the existence of The Wander Society as a secret organization is factual or just the very creative product of Keri Smith’s vivid imagination and curiosity, the effect is the same. It’s a mesmerizing collection of visual images and ideas to inspire the reader to forge connections with the physical world around us, and indulge in the discipline of letting go of time and schedule constraints. Although I’m not a subscriber to the book’s suggestion that those stops along the wanderers path and the mystic talismans found there should be elevated to a sacred status, I loved its premise of setting aside opportunities to simply allow ourselves to go where the next step takes us. As we’re surrounded with what seems like a thousand channels and devices feeding us information, each one has an ability to schedule our every moment while removing nearly every element of uncertainty or surprise from our radar. The result is that the value of quietness, wonder, and exploration are sometimes overlooked.

This concept of wandering played a wonderful role in some of our summer together this year… even down to the fact that we began to rename some of our experiences as adventures! Although we didn’t spend much time wandering by foot in this Mississippi heat, we enjoyed several automobile adventures, giving ourselves the freedom to take unexplored highways and roads through scenery and towns we’ve never visited. We set aside times to let the French concept of “flanerie” govern our travels, stopping from one town to the next, wherever an interesting building or shop or hand painted sign captured our attention. I don’t know if that makes us unofficial members of The Wander Society, but I know it helped us make memories and find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I’ve been wandering in a different way through some of the many photographs I took on our adventures, and I can’t wait to share some of the sights and inspiration from our wanderings. Stay tuned for upcoming posts to the sojourn field guide, my Frog Kisser category archiving some of our backroads, rural adventures, and wanderings.

Drawing Near

It’s the first day of school for my kiddos, and I always seem to take it as a new beginning for myself as well — the first day of a new season, a new schedule, a new routine. I spent part of the morning cleaning my studio and organizing supplies and inventory to help me start my new “school year” on a fresh foot. Last week, I wrote about some of the challenges of this time of year for me as I find myself in more quietness during the day. Getting my creative space in order helps to keep my thinking uncluttered, as I embrace a little more productivity as a tradeoff for missing my little ones. It helps my creativity stay ripe for growth.

My husband, Mike, was a landscape designer. He told me once that, like many professions, the professors in his degree program often had a different definition of things than your average gardener would. For example, we talk about dirt, but landscape designers talk about soil. “Dirt” was relegated to a decidedly less glamorous position… “misplaced soil.” Likewise, in the world of landscaper-speak, a weed is a “misplaced plant.”

I thought about that the other day, as I’ve been thinking and dreaming and evaluating lately. Kind of weeding through my heart, pulling out things and pursuits and “priorities” that seem out of place. We’re all planted someplace, a place that may or may not be of our choosing, but as we set down roots, that place begins to reflect who we are, what we want, where we’re going. At least, in an authentic and conscious life, it does. And that’s the kind of life I want to live. It’s the kind of life I want to build for my children.

It’s been almost five years since Mike died, and the coming weeks and months will hold a number of “anniversaries” for us. As I’ve been weeding through those little bits of heart-outgrowth I mentioned earlier, I’ve recognized that I’ve spent a great part of the last five years trying to reclaim or make up for things I thought I lost when he died. Things I was afraid my kids would lose in not having their dad. And trying to figure out my place in the face of what’s happened. Whether I am that “misplaced plant” now that my life looks so much different that I expected. But, as I absorb this distance from what seemed like a defining moment, I’ve begun to let go of that pursuit. I’ve begun to finally dig in deeper in this place where I’ve been planted. And as I look around, I realize I can flourish here. It can be — it IS a place of abundance. It’s a place where I’m seeding all kinds of new possibilities. For myself and for the sweet little souls who inhabit this place with me.

So, I’m weeding through my heart. I’ve started to let go of some of those things and feelings and commitments that don’t seem to grow well in this new and time-seasoned place. And, I’m realizing some areas that need tending if the right seeds are to grow.

One of the areas I’m committed to growing this year is my closeness — my nearness — to God. My Father and Creator. The One who’s carried me through so much sorrow into joy. The One I recognize has shown us mercy in all things. The One who Fathers my children. The One who provides for our needs and brings peace to our fears.

I’ve wanted to be more intentional and diligent about drawing near to Him, recognizing that this drawing is bringing me closer not only to Him, but to the place He has for me, I haven been enjoying with him lately and we have the best times. “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good,” the psalmist described it.

So, I’m beginning a new painting and lettering journey. A series that lets me explore those thoughts and “draw near” through the book of Psalms. Because I so often process my thinking by writing and painting, I hope to use watercolor as a way to slow my thoughts and record them and the lessons I learn in a more meaningful and memorable way. I know this series will not be a daily one. I don’t want to create pressure for myself with another daily painting commitment, but I plan to start with Psalm 1 and move through at a pace that lets me absorb something new (or familiar) about God in each chapter. I will be sharing the painted journey along with some of my journaling here on the Frog Kisser blog and also on my Facebook page, so I hope you’ll follow along. I don’t do this to hold myself up as any strong example of Biblical wisdom or Christian faith — only as fellow journeyman in need of the Mighty One. I hope you’ll be encouraged by what you see.

August Beginnings [printable calendar]

August is here, and it brings our last week of summer vacation. Next Monday, my little ones (who have grown considerably taller almost before my eyes these last few weeks) head into a new school year, and my routine shifts again. It’s hard not to focus on August as an ending… the end of our carefree days together. The end of summer. The end of  unplanned trips and soaking up my loves. In fact, sometimes August is a really challenging month for me as I transition from noise and questions and activity and giggles in the house all day, to the quietness of alone time as my children are at school. After finally adjusting to grabbing time for work and creative projects in between the excitement of so much summer fun, I find that nothing zaps creativity and productivity quite like the deafening quiet of an empty house! Still, there is a kind of rest in the order of more scheduled days and the discipline of making new commitments. Last week, I came across a quote by the philosopher and theologian, Meister Eckhart, that really resonated with me… “And suddenly you know: it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”

Trust the magic of beginnings.

I forget sometimes that the magic of new possibilities rests in any beginning. We only need to keep our eyes open to notice it. These last few weeks, we’ve been making decisions about what extra-curricular activities the children want to be involved in this year, and I’ve been narrowing down some new directions for my businesses and new product ideas. I feel the pull in a few key areas for our family, and I’m actually excited to see what God has in store for us as we begin to follow. I’m excited that we’re actually paring down a couple of our evening activities so that we can focus on building faithfulness and continue to strengthen home base. I’m praying that as we say goodbye to all that we love about summer, we will be keenly aware and open to the new things God is bringing our way in this new season and schedule. I’m praying that we will trust the magic to come, and be prepared to wonder at how things settle in just as they’re meant to.

I decided to paint a portion of the Eckhart quote as a cut-away part of this month’s printable calendar. I hope to create a larger piece with the full quote, so watch for that! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll grab this little piece of free art to mark your August days. May it remind you to trust the magic in each one. Enjoy!

sketch journal 070417 . Let Freedom Ring

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)

Hello July! [printable calendar]

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!

[DOWNLOAD CALENDAR]

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sketch journal 062717 . Strength of the Ox

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.

sojourn . Old Salem School

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.”

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sojourn . Best of Busy Bee Summer 2017

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…

 

sketch stories . How I Waited on the Rain

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.

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