“Measureless mountain days… opening a thousand windows to show us God.” I love that quote from John Muir, the naturalist and founder of the Sierra Club who was so instrumental in advocating for the preservation of some of our nation’s most treasured natural lands. Last fall, we traveled back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and this week, I’ve been enjoying inspiration from the images captured there. There is, indeed, so much about experiencing the mountains that seems measureless — the views, the heights, the colors, the distance. Our drive over the Newfound Gap Road from Gatlinburg, Tennessee to Cherokee, North Carolina offered great views of the vastness and great roadside stops and climbs to discover the view up close, too. Read More →
February is here, and I can hardly believe the first month of 2018 is already gone! I have to admit that I have not gotten very far on some of the creative pursuits and ideas I set out to explore this year. January was busier than I expected with juggling new projects, new clients, kid activities, unexpected schedule changes, and more. I’m even a day late in sharing my monthly calendar! Still, I keep reminding myself that all the hustle and bustle of new work is just evidence and fallout from a ton of new blessings that have landed in our lap for 2018.
SO, as we enter a new month, I’ve decided to give myself a little extra measure of love and grace. Ideas have no expiration date, and sometimes they even get better with age. My days in 2018 may have been full, but I’ve spent them with the ones I love most, celebrating milestones, and honors, and snow days, and family date nights. The start of February is an encouragement to stick with it! Stick with what I love. Stick with who I love. Stick with moving forward. Stick with trying new things.
I included a little cutaway Valentine in this month’s printable calendar. You can download here or by clicking the image below. Enjoy!
It’s hard to believe December is here! This fall has been filled with lots of projects and activities, fun travels, precious times with my little ones, and the beginning of some new opportunities. Now, we’re ushering in the Christmas season. It’s been a little bit of a busy week, and I’m already feeling the impact of lots to do and days flying by. I found myself struggling to keep stress at bay. But, I’m determined to keep a baseline of peace through this season celebrating Christ’s birth, the source of our ultimate peace.
I feel like the holidays are in full swing now! We took the weekend after Thanksgiving to deck our halls for the holidays. We called it the Christmas Kickoff weekend, and filled it with as much holiday cheer as we could fit. Everyone is always excited to pull all the boxes of decorations down from the attic and look through the evidence of our memories and traditions. We usually spread our decorating over two weekends, but because of some of our travel schedule this year, we decided to pack it all into one. I was sore from climbing up and down ladders, but I’m so glad we have everything in place now, with the whole month to enjoy so many of the things we love about the holiday season. I can’t wait for a lot of family time together with these traditions as the backdrop!
With the start of the new month, I’ve put together a printable calendar and some cutaway art to celebrate the season. You can click below to download, and also get a glimpse of some of our holiday decorations to get your in the season. Enjoy, and happy December!
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.
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:
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.
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!
“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.
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?
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.