Friday, December 31, 2010

White Christmas

Late Christmas morning, snow began to fall on our little home nestled in the forest. This was our view out back which continued all day & throughout the night. Just prior to supper, London went sledding down the hill next door. As he disappeared in the evening light of his last run I feared he would drop over the cliff towards the lake, but he was safe.

Apparently, this was the first "White Christmas" in our area since 1963. What a perfect year to have chosen for our first Christmas at home! The capstone of my day was the following song which commenced just after our prayers as we sat down to enjoy our feast:
"Christmas in Dixie, its snowing in the pines.
Merry Christmas from Dixie, to everyone tonight..."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Traditions

We have always spent Christmas with extended family... scrambling to make the 530 mile trip north, then rushing from one gathering to the next. It was with a surprising sense of calm that I proposed our staying home this year & my husband readily acquiesced. My son was eager to stay home to enjoy his gifts Christmas Day so long as Santa would be able to find him.
I wondered over my impulsive declaration yet it felt right & good. The matriarchs of my family had modelled Christmas traditions for me over a lifetime & I soon realized the brunt of holiday tradition now fell on me... it was my turn to lead the way & pass them along. For the first time in my son's life, he didn't have to pack his gifts away once they were opened. We stretched our gift opening over the course of the day, frequently pausing for him to play. For the first time in over a decade, the Christ candle shone brightly on our advent wreath.

I wanted to show my son, "the other side of Christmas" & planned an outing to distribute warm apparel to people living on the streets. Once assured I planned to bake lasagna for our holiday meal, my brother delivered us a turkey before making his trek to MD. In his usual, generous manner he purchased the 3 of us an 18.6 pound bird! It hadn't completely thawed & took hours to long that it kept us from our outting. We couldn't go help the homeless because we had too much food! There will be other times, but the irony was not lost on me. As I worked, preparing favorite dishes from all sides of the family I felt keenly in tune with the women who had prepared these same dishes before me. It was a lovely, quiet & slow-paced day, full of cozy warmth & laughter. One in which I confidently accepted the Torch of family traditions & took my place among the women of our family.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What If She'd Seen Jesus In My Yard?

Shortly before Christmas, I was surprised to find myself home alone. My mind raced with possibilities for this rare & unexpected time. Not long after the phone rang, I realized this was no accident. I spent hours on the phone with a woman intent on taking her own life. Unable to gather any family contacts, I called EMS when we were briefly disconnected. With contact re-established, I remained on the phone with her until help arrived.
To my delight she called the next evening for directions to our Bible study, but my hopes dwindled as the evening came & went without her. Over a week passed before I learned what happened that night. On her way here, a secular holiday display brought up pain & shame from her youth. She returned to her house to swallow the bottle of pills that would end her life. Thankfully she survived & the Lord worked on me through my rage, enabling me to see the log in my own eye. While the neighbors "never put Christ in Christmas," my garden remained yet unadorned as I hadn't "felt ready" for the holidays. That near-fateful evening, she had been in plain sight of the empty space where my nativity should have been set. Someone I barely knew had come seeking the Lord, but found Him not. Once again, the finger I point toward others returns to me. My Saviour (& the woman) forgive me, yet I am reminded of the saying, "one never knows who is watching".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Baby Jesus

My husband recently observed, "It is easier for most people to accept the babe in the manger than the adult Saviour who calls us into accountability." The baby Jesus makes no demands on us. He simply seeks our thankfulness & our adoration, beckoning us into joy.
The other evening, my holiday partying was stopped dead in it's tracks when I came face-to-face with a newborn. I was powerless to do or say anything as I fell under the spell of this tiny, new life. The baby Jesus of Christmas calls us into worship & praise~ yet, how much time do we set aside in the holiday rush to sit adoringly at His side to gape in awe & wonder?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tiny Town

Once a year the adjoining yards of a local, extended family are transformed into an amazing world of lights, buildings, & all things Christmas. Houses, hutches & cases are brimming with toys spanning generations. The family matriarch hands out hot chocolate or coffee in an Early-Americana-style cottage filled with Wizard of Oz, Elvis, Beatles & Cupie doll collectibles.

Some cases are filled with trains while others are jammed with McDonald's toys, Disney displays, Barbies, miniature cars & countless other themes. Children play in some while others are simply to be peered into.

Santa in his sleigh welcomes visitors as they cross the bridge & pass by the wishing-well. So much of this season lacks any visual reminders of our Saviour & the celebration of His coming. In Tiny Town I can always count on the abundant presence of the nativity, as well as the empty cross of our risen Lord.

An uncle or brother or son watches over a bonfire so large it must be tended by forklift. Our advent season begins with an evening here for my son's birthday & he is always allowed to throw firecrackers into the pit.

We bring along marshmallows or hotdogs to share as we visit with locals who regale us with folklore, tales of the year's hunts, & an abundance of humor. It is the first of many, annual visits to this magical place just up the road from our home.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Moments I Failed to Share

Last year was difficult for me & it took a lot of resolve to hold on. The days warmed & flowers I did not even recall planting sprang forth around my home giving me a hope I desperately needed! I often get so caught up in this world that I fail to see, feel or even remember that God is always moving towards His children.
This post was written in mid-August. I am going to post some of these old entries simply to share with you some thoughts & particularly images of God's artistry that I failed to share with you.

Monday, August 16, 2010

When It's Hard To See Ahead

On a commercial break, the radio announcer quoted King David: "I present my requests to you in the morning, Oh God, & wait with expectancy".... I had a number of prayer requests on my heart that day & really pondered how much "expectancy" I make my requests... In truth, I pray & set about trying to put legs to the problem. A particular friends' request weighed on me heavily: The baby would have milk, but momma needed gas money to get to work. I prayed sincerely then realized I would be tied up all day & wouldn't have a moment to "work on" this as promised....
Hours later, I simply found a gas card lying on the floor of my van. I had searched for that very card many no avail. At a critical moment in one of His kids' lives, God literally laid it out before me!! I laughed aloud...for hours. He is so awesome!! & I so untrusting.
I have been blessed to watch God pouring out His abundant love for many of His children these past months. His grace, His mercy & His timing fill me with awe, with wonder & with a giddy glee. I am also overwhelmed with gratitude for those who allow me in to watch. Thank you !

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rainbows & Hummingbirds

Some years ago, I discovered a perfect time to water my gardens. Perched high aloft on our deck, the forest shades my beds while the hose water prisms with sunlight. I no longer "have to go water the gardens", rather I "get to go make rainbows". This year, in one particular spot a young, female hummingbird joins me. She watches from the perimeter, seemingly to make sure I acknowledge her. Only after I have done so does she fly into the spray & dance in the shower. She alights on a young sumac tree, each morning where she flaps & preens. What a joy !!
I am reminded of a sentiment of Sarah ban Breathnach: "'Simple Abundance' has enabled me to encounter everyday epiphanies, find the Sacred in the ordinary, the [miraculous] in the mundane, fully enter into the sacrament of the present moment." The Hand of God at work is quite easy to see in the smallest of moments, when I simply pause to look with care.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Present View

I sat at the table one evening & suddenly saw my 9 yr old as a young man who was simply visiting for supper... God-moments such as these keep me grounded & grateful. As I strive to catch up on 2 years of tasks I am drawn to our deck to savor this amazing, everyday moment in my garden of boys !

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Can Have Roses Later

My front window is brimming with Black-eyed Susans in such abundance that each year I give them away by shovels full. I long to mix in lilies, hyacinths & all manner of floral dreams. The bed however, is bordered by a basketball & skateboard court. It is a graveyard for toy vehicles of all sizes resting as it does, at the bottom of "the hill of death". Out back, the large blossoms of my Bee-Balm must be removed from the snarls of the gate-latch nearly every day & tethered back. The roses which cascade over our steps often lie bent or broken. One of the blessings of being an older parent is a better understanding of how fleeting the seasons of life truly are. I will have a lifetime of gardens... for now, I live in the magical world of play & imagination!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Earth Laughs

We recently celebrated the 12 year anniversary of our "escape" from the city. That first summer was a magical one of healing & recovery. After suffering through back-to-back hospice care, deaths & a host of other griefs, we moved 500 miles south to begin anew. Our first home had picture-windows filled with a mountain. I immersed myself in "Simple Abundance" (by Sarah ban Breathnach), nested, voraciously journalled, & watched.
Our home overlooked a marsh & I daily relished a variety of songbirds, many of which I had only known through books & travel. Hummingbirds warred over the feeders which surrounded our home. There were bluebirds, thrushes, hawks, tits, towhees & far too many others to name! Goldfinches filled me with delight as they flashed electric-yellow. A childhood favorite, the red-winged blackbird nested in our "back forty". I set out gardens & my first window-boxes were filled with the gentle pink of Pentas, which gathered butterflies of all types. We lived there less than a year & I have never found those annuals again...until just recently. I now have window boxes boasting 3 shades of them!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Neighborly Wisdom & Mirth

I was blessed to join an impromptu gathering collected around a neighbor who was puppy-sitting. Lulu-Bell is a newly weaned, Miniature Cocker Spaniel whose cute-rays are absolutely over-powering. Pam had us all in stitches as she regaled us with tales of this tiny, "paws-with-ears" standing it's own against her black lab. She especially endeared herself to me when she declared, "A puppy brings the nice out in 'everbody'".
We shared & laughed until the pinks & peaches of the evening, gave way to the mauves & blues of dusk. I secretly longed for a writing pad, but was was able to commit one other bit of her wisdom to my memory: "It's good to have a bit o' torment every now & again~ reminds ya you're alive." As my husband would say, "boy, howdy"...I surely have been alive this past year !

Monday, June 21, 2010

Standing Outside The Storm

It was a crazy week of running around, so by the evening's activities, I waited outside during camp. The church is high atop a ridge with a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge mountains. I once stood in the sunshine for an hour while thunder storms raged in every direction. Swallows & martins danced in the air all around me, with the occasional screaming, run-through by killdeer. I watched the very hawks that once nested behind my home glinting auburn against slate-blue clouds as they rode thermals in & out of the evening rays of the sun. Absolutely beautiful!

It was amazing to watch as different storm cells would form & erupt in the distance. The winds eventually began to rip all around me, as the flashes & crashes closed in. I have a better understanding of storm-chasing, now. It was amazingly exhilarating! At last the clouds closed in on the ridge where I stood, but as the rains fell the sunshine poured forth. There was even a horizon-to-horizon rainbow !!! It was actually a double, but I am partial to this image.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Scouting Joy

As I drove over the hill, this was the scene I came upon at Cub Scout day camp. The local fire dept. came to hose down 100+ boys !!! I felt my money had been well spent, for me alone in my joy of watching...not to mention, knowing that my son was in the mix somewhere. There was no way I would find him in the sea of green shirts, so I simply set about shooting. Before long, he ran up to me in utter delight.

It must have been a blast for the man up in the tower. He sat amidst cumulus clouds in a Carolina-Blue sky adjusting water pressure & moving the 2 nozzles around to those who cried out from below.

Kids were absolutely giddy with glee & vibrating with joy!!! Every few moments, a kid would break down, dancing furiously on tippy-toes with arms & face raised skyward in complete abandon! This happened over & over again... One would have thought it was an evangelist revival with all the arms raised & crying out! This went on for an hour & it was "MY best day ever"!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Missed the Show !

The canvas panels which we were to paint, were staked down under stately oaks, beneath a Carolina-Blue sky. I have never worked outside, nor looked down for this technique, so I was excited for the new adventure. With a panoramic view of the mountains, set behind an old orchard, we worked on the church grounds, near the converted farmhouse.

Gorgeous, cumulus clouds billowed & wafted past, though the breezes soon changed to sporadic winds. The sound of distant but swiftly moving, thunder called us to quicken our pace. When the strokes of sky, mountains, lake, & rolling hills were completed on the upper panel, I packed up the paint cart with it's myriad of shades & tones. Rolling up the first 20' x 4' panel was incredibly cool, & I felt rather like da Vinci as I carried it off!

Our painting was safely inside when the church doors closed behind us & the first, 1/4-sized raindrops began to fall. I ran to my vehicle shouting, "Auntie Em! Auntie Em! Oh, where's Toto?" (I always do that as storms begin to break). We raced home to find it had already traveled passed our little, forested home.

A week later, I returned to watch the Children's Ministry put on their show. I hung outside to watch God's sculpting of yet another storm & joined in the worship to find the skit was over! I never did see the mural put to use! (I did get some great cloud shots, which I hope to post in the next day or so). In the service of His Kingdom we rarely do get to see the results of our work. That's alright, though ~ He does. That is why He gifted us & that is why I serve! Selah!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Meet Susan

I periodically capture baby snakes that make their way into the school & take them home for release. Susan came to us already in a jar on the last teacher work day. I sent my son down to a science teacher to verify that she is a Ring-neck. It wasn't long before I was called over the intercom to report to the 8th grade hall... I hadn't set down my task at hand when, "Immediately", was announced. The principals were cool with it. The one even said, "Science. No that's great for a kid. He just had it out of the jar & we can't have that." .... Boys chasing girls (& grown-ups) with a snake is just too cute. I had to stifle my giggles as I reminded him the rules.

Back at home, we looked her up & learned of her ways. I had London all prepared to set her free & was surprisingly trumped when Uncle Wes proclaimed that we could keep her. I called to tell my dad, knowing that momma wouldn't want to hear a snake story. Daddy was busy so I told her, anyway. She laughed & laughed that the son who had repeatedly tried to sneak snakes into her home had inflicted one on mine !
(I love the grubby, little boy hands in this image!)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Letting Go

Imagine cutting 25 middle-school kids loose in an art studio & encouraging them to develop their creative side. Some may be painting or using different printing techniques, while others are sculpting with clay or papier mache'. Some will draw, as others cut with knives, carving or power tools. Instruction is a challenge with as many as 5 or 6 things going on at the same time... of course they must clean up after themselves... all in the space of 52 minutes! I do this 6 times a day & as draining as it is, I LOVE IT !

Never let it be said that, "teachers have the summer off". The business world calls it "comp time" & the ministry, "sabbatical". Both are appropriate, but we educators call it planning & professional development time. The end of the school year is bittersweet as kids I have seen blossom over 3 years, head out for high school. Many will nostalgically return one day, barely recognizable in adult bodies. Some will remain in my life, but will never again be "mine". I pray I have strengthened their confidence in their abilities. I pray I have helped them find a special way of seeing. I pray I have given them a willingness to experiment, explore, discover, & create.

The tables are clean & the sinks polished. The doors are still while the walls, racks, & counters are strangely bare. The bells ring but to an audience of memories. My private tears are accompanied by the occasional dripping faucet as my kids' voices & laughter echo silently in the empty room. It is with relief that I head for home to rediscover my peace, myself as artist & of course, my family.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Seasons of Friendship

When I moved out of my parent's home, my first housemate & I couldn't have been more different, one from the other. I was the wacky artist, teaching an alternative population & out to save the world. She was an orderly professional, on an upward climb in Congress. (Our 3rd housemate kept us from killing each another.) When our lease ran out, we eagerly went our separate ways, though mutual friends kept us in contact.
Once or twice a year, my family makes a pilgrimage "home" & to my continuing amazement, if we see no other friend, we always get together with her family. Funny how people grow & change. Marriage, children, work & of course, age have a way of shifting one's priorities. She & I don't keep in touch all that often but we are there for one another (as best as the 500+ miles between us allows).

Friends are often apart for varying seasons. Mature friendships understand & weather these times. As those seasons grow & wane in my own life, I always hear Linda's voice in my heart. "The true measure of a grown-up friendship isn't how much time you spend together, it's that you can pick right up where you left off when you do see one another".

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Old Friends & New

My son had several hard lessons on love & loss this past winter. Cody, his cherished, tee-tiny, lake-found, yellow-bellied slider died over the winter. We thought perhaps it was hibernating until his eyes caved in....ugh! Spot, the handless, fire-belly toad freed himself while we were out of town. He has yet to be found...well, the cat & dog haven't said a word. London decided our lop was too confined & willingly chose to give her to a neighbor. Bun-Bun now spends her days roaming the house, playing with kitties while enjoying much more freedom & love.

Our guest tanks have had a number of visitors. The boys especially love catching insects to feed toads & lizards. One evening as my son played on the dock, this young slider simply swam up to him. It never ceases to amaze me how much affection my 9 yr. old has for turtles nor how they hold their heads out to him when he picks them up & talks to them.

Buddy, the black, lab puppy is frightened by new things like signs or trash. He was particularly alarmed when he came across the giant, box-turtle we named, "Dino-Turtle" (short for dinosaur). We feel certain he has been a guest in our home before seemingly hesitant when we sent him on his way.

The First, Official Day

I feel it has been 2 years in coming, but our summer holiday has officially begun. I greet it with an amazing sense of peace & fulfillment. Passing through the debris field of my home, 3 kids & I climbed into my heavily laden van & headed out. First stop, the last tidying & sign-offs at my school. After a quick stop at home for a feast of balogna & cheese subs on hot dog rolls, we headed out for the finishing touches of a canvas mural, which is to be used in a children's ministry performance. I returned home bathed in a palette of grass greens, sky blues & purple-gray mountains. Before long, the boys asked to go fishing & I puttered on in the gardens as they headed down to the lake. The last rays of the setting sun shone into the cove & shrouded the boys in a golden halo & oh, it was truly summer ! I thought to grab my camera, but chose to savor the moment. This was a moment & an image I will carry in my heart evermore.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Vincent's Chair

I love lilies, but they take quite a toll with 2 boys adventuring in the garden. I simply sigh & remind myself how fast my son is growing. All too soon he will be off with his friends & I will have a quiet yard full of flowers.
I have acquired marvelous, still-life treasures from Mr. Cotton. Urns, tables, old lamps, a child's wagon, a mounted groundhog, even antique, kerosene lanterns grace the my students' art work courtesy of Cotton.
One of my favorite artists is Vincent van Gogh. (My art history professor in England insisted we pronounce it "van Goff", as "it is a Dutch name".) Vincent dreamed of starting an artists' colony & secured a happy, yellow house in the south of France where he painted a chair much like this one.

When I spied "Vincent's chair" along the road, I couldn't resist. It turned out to be a beautiful garden accent which temporarily protects some of my towering lilies !

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Holiday Prep

For years I have been peering over my deck watching this. It began as a stick, then a plant & for the first time, this little hydrangea bush is flowering ! The white buds first began fading to blue just before the holiday weekend. I thought the palette particularly fitting as we remembered & honored our fallen veterans.
Momma wren has once again made her nest in our carport. Her hungry babies constantly cry out when she is off hunting grubs for them. She works so feverishly, yet sings all the while. Standing on a stool, I raised my arm to hang our parade banner & we caught each other by surprise. Through the wood slats, I saw her heading right for my face. She veered as quickly as she could but her wing grazed my arm. It sent a tingle through me & was very cool, indeed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Listen to the Forest

The first time I approached this home I was enamored with how it nestled into the forest & towered above the lake. Walking around back, I scanned the scene below & listened to the song of the waterfall as it cascaded into the cove beneath. "Wouldn't this be a great place for a kid to grow up !?! " ~~~ 12 years have passed & the forest is alive with the sound of boys running & laughing, exploring & discovering. We are so very blessed !
Yesterday, my son & his friend prepared to climb into the pool. Without looking up from my gardens I reminded them, "Listen to the forest. It is beginning to murmur & sing." Both boys paused & looked skyward. I heard my son explain, "When a storm is coming, the trees begin to warn each other. One tells another, who tells another... They tell when it is coming & when it is close." His buddy replied, "Yeah, we better wait."
I LOVE that they know that !

The other evening, as neighbors contemplated taking refuge in their crawlspaces, I stood out on our deck storm-watching. I listened to the forest & to songbirds calling out their final warnings. The sky deepened from greys to blues & into the night. Rose colored flashes, punctuated by slow moving streaks of pink lightening illuminated the trees. The clouds darkened & swirled overhead, clearly traveling quickly & in different directions. I actually witnessed fingers of different sizes twisting high aloft. It was amazing & invigorating, but strangely enough, not the least bit scary.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Shiny, Happy People"

The scout leader set the telescope up, before he was called to another task. I watched as the cubs took turns peeking at a close up view of the moon. I love watching the delight & wonder of children!!
Some toddlers can paralyze even the most grizzled heart with their "cute rays.". One such baby peered into the the site of the telescope & exclaimed, "Ees shiny! Ees shiny !!!" I didn't have the heart to tell him he was seeing a speck instead of the close up, & I asked, "Is it made of cheese?" "No, Ees shiny! Ees shiny all over da moon !!!"
When the scout leader returned, he readjusted the telescope & showed the wee one how to properly peer through it. I sat at just the right angle to watch the reflection on the boy's eye. As he landed on the moon, both of his eyes doubled in size, as did his delight.
"Ees shiny people! Ees little, shiny people... Little, shiny people on da moon!!"
Days later I remain warmed & amused by the wonder of a child.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Groundhog Tales

This year, I haven't sen Pat coming, nor going from under the shed. In early spring, I popped up from behind a slope & startled her in a very advanced stage of pregnancy. The groundhog was so terrified , she attempted to climb a tree! She made it a good 4 feet up, before falling & lumbering away as fast as her belly would allow. Yesterday, I spied a young one in the neighboring hillside. Whenever I walked inside, it would run under the shed, but when I came out, it felt free to graze. Too funny !