Gifts of the Christmas holiday

During these two glorious weeks of quiet, down time,
I find myself
and again
“Thank you, Lord.”

With a little extra time,
and photographs of joy to share,
I thought I would take a moment to add to my list of
1,000 Gifts.

This year, I was able to begin my Christmas shopping back as early as August.
One by one, like a little field mouse, I tucked away gift after gift.

It was exciting to see the children open one little present after another,
presents that pleased them deeply.  These were practical gifts of warm snugly bedding,

music makers for bringing life to the morning (an iPod docking station/alarm clock) and clothing items wished for for weeks (wonderful, winter boots at a shocking sale price).  These were simple items  that brought simple pleasure…. the best kind …. for the simple pleasures often endure.

And my parents came.  We had them here for several days.  I’ll be sad when they are no longer able to travel.  I so fully enjoy their visit during the holiday.  Typically, they spend a few days with us before Christmas and then a few days after Christmas with my brother in Atlanta.  We shop just a little on Christmas Eve. We join a local fellowship for a Christmas Eve gathering. We dine, open gifts and enjoy each other.  And we fill stockings for them so that they can share in the Christmas morning excitement.

As my daddy prepared to leave on Christmas morning, he sat beside me on the couch, rested his hand upon mine and told me he was proud of me.  Really? Me? My heart swells, knowing that my life is not the written the way he would have chosen, but he is proud of the way I am handling what I have been gifted. I’m grateful. Me in my late forties, Daddy in his early seventies….  I don’t know why it still matters … that he be pleased … but it does. 

And I’ve given much thought, lately, to how our current situation will affect my own children.  Surely, if at forty seven, my parent’s approval still matters, then my own children care, as well.  And yet, there is this struggle, as they try to process our situation.  It is a difficult thing.  And I continue to pray that God will use, even this mess, this struggle, to make my children all the more strong and mighty …. and I know He hears my cries.

I’ve so enjoyed my holiday.  How can it be that this has been the most wonderful Christmas of my entire adulthood?  I don’t understand it, but it is so. There has been a peace and joy like I never remember. And I’m grateful. My own mother even noticed and mentioned it to me.  The birds sing, the fire crackles, kind words are spoken, we work together, presents have been shared, goodies baked to gift to neighbors….even Smudge seems more happy than ever as he snuggles with Glory on new bedding that he surely believes is his, not hers.Glory and Smudge

We have had a full two week break from classes – all four of us students.  Sweet Joy has slept in until nearly 8:00 am some mornings.  My bigger people have enjoyed late nights and late mornings with few expectations put upon them.  I am happy to watch them rest.  I have enjoyed the ability to simply be still. I’ve spent my time enjoying my children and tending to chores (like paperwork and stamp table straightening) that are often left untouched for weeks on end.

And so, I add to my list of One Thousand Gifts.

49. trunks and boughs, stripped bare and resting in winter’s chill
even they know this is just a season.
it is a time to stop. sit. contemplate. focus.
pull in. wither. wait.
barren. austere and naked.
we rest. sleep. slumber. linger. loiter.
close to home.
and know that spring
and it’s energy
will return soon.
so we rest.

The view from my back deck
50. laughter between siblings, enjoying each other’s company
51. slow ambles down paths of dirt in breezy, chilled air
52. crackling fire, burning wood, giving warmth
53. a new-to-me washing machine, to labor on my behalf, when the last one could move no more
54.  BJ, our mail-lady, who delivers year round with a bright smile and gentle demeanor
55. a gracious librarian at school who forgave fines
-without being asked –  on books needed for extra time during finals
56. gasoline that remains at a low price
57. friends who invite us to join them on mountain trips of hiking, fun and fellowship
58. a daughter who is brave enough to do the tough things … like quitting her job when she was not given a serving job that she was is easily capable of handling well, like walking away from a relationship that she felt was doing more harm than good…causing more pain than joy, and taking a jump to try out bangs … and finding she LOVES them!!

59. knowing how to cook, when others sometimes struggle
I’m so thankful this is one area that gives me no grief
60. antique silver, china and linens to grace my table of bounty
61. intertwined fingers, forming a circle of prayer around our table at Christmas
62. hot water
63. friendships of folks far away, but not forgotten
64. envelopes with holiday stamps that bring photos and letters of holiday cheer
65. new pet additions: birdies that sing and bring avian joy to our home
66. a summer memory of sun, sand and surf
67. piano melodies and violin tunes
68. my children’s father, who continues to be faithful to care for us
69. my Heavenly Father, who is faithful beyond measure to comfort, guide and strengthen
70. cranberries and flickering flames

71. plaid scarves
72. house wrens
73. God’s word, that somehow speaks to our spirit, in ways I cannot understand,
but experience, none-the-less
74. an inn that was full, that Mary could be offered the privacy of a stable to give birth to a King

75. children who are truly my friends
76. pure, true, honesty … embraced even when it is painful
77. the ability to be bare and real with certain friends
78. friends who will hold the umbrella, when we are unable to lift our arms
79. quilted stripes, plaid and paisley
80. the gentle rebuke of a friend, spoken with trepidation and gentleness
81. words of encouragement spoken from the heart
82. the ability to type without looking at the keys (thank you, Mrs. White)
83. stockings filled with simple treasures and joy on Christmas morn
84. a 90 average in my algebra class
85. nail clippers and emery boards
86. belts with bold, showy buckles
87. banana bread, dark and moist with chilled cream cheese

88.  a child who is faithful to practice and was honored to be allowed to play her instrument in a Christmas concert with her school
89. the passing of the winter solstice on December 21 – and knowing that the days are now lengthening
90. the celebration of 50 years of marriage by my mother and father on December 20 of this year
91. new brake pads
92. a son, with a smile, on a comfy couch

93. pine cones and holly berries
94. soft, happy puppies (that live in someone else’s home)
95. hair of silver and gray
96. clean sheets
97. a grateful heart
98. a teachable heart
99. a grandfather who taught a grandson how to carve the smoked gobbler …
an important skill, indeed
100. Christmas carols sung in simple harmony with candles flickering throughout a sanctuary on the eve of the day that we celebrate the birth of our Savior

Yes, I have enjoyed these days at home with my family, my children, my parents and my Lord. The New Year is right around the corner, with it’s busy-ness and goings on.  It’s been nice to sit in my reading corner with a cup of coffee…. to reflect and share. May your New Year be filled with growth and His joy, laughter and presence.  Yes, spring is just around the corner.

Energized by my Camera

Lately, I’ve noticed something unusual.  When I used to struggle with life (years past … in the winter, especially), I would want to sleep to escape.  I would sleep all night and still want to take a nap in the afternoon.  I know that part of that is simply a seasonal thing for me, but I also knew I was running away from struggles at home.My Smudge-man ... on the deck rail

I’ve noticed recently that my place of escape has changed.
Rather than wanting to “run away and hide,”
lately I want to grab my camera and go outside.
I want to get away and search for God’s physical beauty,
to capture it and save it to share.
Just the thought of it gives me energy and fills me with contentment.

There is something so invigorating to me about taking photographs.
I am able to take the ordinary … the overlooked … the common …
bring it in close and freeze-frame the beauty.  It’s a very satisfying thing.

On one of our recent photo shoots, my friend Ellen commented that
she feels most content and fully whole when she has a camera in her hand.
That hit the nail on the head for me, as well.
It’s when I am snapping photos that I am full.

It made me think about the physical/spiritual parallel again.
Maybe this is because, when I have camera in hand,
I am actively searching for beauty.

Which convicts my soul:
Am I so invigorated when I search for spiritual truth and beauty?  <ouch>

Like Jesus spoke in parables, paralleling the spiritual and physical worlds, God convicts and teaches me through similar daily events.

I would have to at least answer “Yes, I am invigorated” …
but I do not often enough sit down to search.

So, thinking as I type here, if I kept my Bible
as close as I keep my camera,
(one in my purse or pocket
and the back up in my school book bag)
would I reach for it more often?
Open it’s pages?
Search for beauty within?

Surely, it is so.
Oh, that I would search for His spiritual beauty
as often as I search for His physical wonder.

Mini pumpkins of ivory ... lining my dining table

God has given each of us some special gift to encourage, direct and invigorate us …
a gift that is just ours and is woven into our own DNA.
What excites you?  What is something you love that energizes you like no other activity?
What fills you with contentment and causes the hours to fly by?
Is there some way for you to do more of that special thing? My mantle ... sprinkled with fall beauty

Living in Macro

In my adventures with class
taking field trips out and about
to take photos
I’ve realized that I have a preference for
macro shots.

I want to move in close.
I want to see wrinkles, hair and freckles.
I want to see veins, creases and texture.
I want to see details …. I want to know more.

As much as I absolutely love my little Sony Cybershot,
I’m looking forward to getting another camera with a stronger lens system. I get really excited!!!
It makes me wonder what I’ll see when I can move in R E A L L Y close.

I am not alarmed

How are you awakened in the morning?
I so look forward to going to bed at night

Day break in my Mom & Dad's front yard in south Georgia
because I look forward to getting up in the morning.

Within the last year, I purchased an iPod and an iHome alarm clock.
I can’t think of any single purchase I have made
that has had as great an influence on my morning routine
as this combined team.

My favorite quiet time music is  Dan Gibson’s litany of
beautiful melodies and tunes.

He created dozens of collections in his lifetime,
my favorite being those that involve  woodland songbirds and waterfowl.

Click play and listen as you read (there are no distracting words).
This is my current favorite song. It makes my heart sing.

As this gentle music begins to play each morning,

I dance….No, really.
I dance.

I spin
and leap …
I stand with arms outstretched
face to the sky
and lilt.

I sway
and bow my head
to listen
to the rain
the frogs
the tinkle of the keys
hammer upon strings
within  winsome timber chest….


worship …..

I feel the dampness of morning dew upon my brow … 

I smell the mist …..

I feel the vibration of the chirp of crickets
moving the air around me….

as day breaks
and it is quiet in my home.
I rejoice for another day
begins ….and I rejoice
before I even get out of bed….
I dance.

How could I ever go back to the
shocking howl of an alarm clock
to begin my day?

I continue to list things for which I am grateful …..

1000 Gifts 29. my iPod
30. crickets gentle chirp
31. jute, rough and organic
32. glass bead bracelet strands that hug my wrists
33. words of old in antique books
34. olive brocade drapery
35. my sewing machine, a sweet gift from a sister-in-law, years and years ago
36. brass drawer pulls on a chifforobe of my great grandmother
37. white organza ribbon wrapped gifts
38. old brickwork paths, leading to new adventures
39. smoothly worn, round river rock
40. blazen red, rust and amber leaves that wave so-long to summer …  gesturing in the cool of fall on a brisk breeze
41. the smell of eucalyptus
42. fresh pumpkin bread, warm from the oven and spread with chilly cream cheese
43. a clean bathtub
44. baked sweet potato with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon
45. cable knit sweaters in gray and caramel
46. the sound of an acoustic guitar, mellow and rich within it’s body
47. a proud smile gracing the face of a ten year old who has mastered beautiful penmanship
48. the use of adjectives and strong verbs to freeze lovely thoughts in print

Autumn and Ivory

more colors of fall

...... indian maize ....goldenrod yellow …. rusty amber  …. albaster ivory

root vegetables and squash of autumn

rugged, round orbs of harvest and thanksgiving

Celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the firstfruits of the crops
you sow in your field.
Celebrate the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year,
when you gather in your crops from the field.    Exodus 23 : 16




lately, i am drawn to the supple, smooth color of alabaster, cream and ivory
i see, smell, touch and sense them

in the scent of pumpkin, the smell of moist life, the aroma of soil,  sod, loam

in the calm of smooth, creamy java with daintily sugared cookies,
crisp, fresh sheets and vegetable that impersonates pasta

in the vast fields of yield waving in sallow, in curious stone – holed but whole
and God’s magnificent designs that silently flourish on decay

in the siding on my home, where colorful life clings,
in memories of summer,  life broken – but carapace still stunning,
and in tiny toadstools pushing out of firm, rigid timber.
from whence comes the strength for such a tender, fragile life?

Sun and Swallows

Last week,  I was blessed with an invitation by Sherrie, my instructor at school,  to join her on the canal for a morning of paddling.  We were in the middle of the break between quarters. With Joy at school, I was free to breakaway and go.   I’ve been spending my time putting things in order in our home.  It’s SO hard for me to “play” when I know there is something needful to do.  But, I knew that I needed to go and would thoroughly enjoy myself if I could just pry myself away from the “stuff” and focus on the important … friendship. Light & Dark from within a watery tunnel

We had such a nice time paddling and talking.

I always wonder how I became such a Martha.  Why is it so hard to sit and talk … or walk and converse …  or paddle and fellowship … or lounge and read aloud with a child … or run and play?  Why am I drawn to that which will be there (the stuff – piles of things that would remain for decades if no one was there to move it) and prone to push away that which is fleeting (the people –  spirits made in the image of God within tents that are temporary)?  I don’t know.  I absolutely do not know.  But, I really need to pray that God will change my heart on this.  He has on other things.  I know this would be HIS desire – so surely He would if I petition him. <with wrinkled, hopeful brow) Oh, how I yearn to be more of a Mary – to sit at the feet of my Lord and worship or sit at the side of friends and simply enjoy their presence. Augusta Canal - kayaking

All we did this morning was paddle.  We sat in our boats and made our way, one stroke at a time, up the canal and back.  We were passed by the Petersburg boats taking boatloads of children out on field trips.  We saw bicyclists out pedaling …. possibly in training for the weekend’s Ironman 70.3?  And we spied birds.Augusta Canal

We saw a beautiful White Egret bobbing his head with the rhythm of each step, making his way through the grasses, picking up creeping, flying and hopping insects with each stirring movement.  We were amazed that he let us row right up to the water’s edge to photograph him.  He watched us, but never truly flinched.  I guess we didn’t seem menacing enough to cause him concern.  Or maybe he was just exceptionally hungry and hated to leave what appeared to be a bug buffet along the water.  

We also saw a few sweet Cliff Swallows that were patiently waiting for us to pass them by so that they could travel back into their homes.  I’d love to come back during the spring when these birds would be actively building nests or feeding broods of hungry young. I’m assuming that the few stragglers that are still here will be leaving for warmer territory soon. 

Our morning was relaxing and exciting.  We paddled and talked and relaxed.  We searched for avian friends and snapped photos. It was a wonderful morning.

And a reminder that I need to search out fellowship more often … or allow myself to be found.  It blesses me.  It’s important.  Hopefully, it blesses others.  Why is it so hard to make the time?

Are you a Mary or a Martha?  Is spending time with people hard for you?  Must you make yourself stop what you’re doing to be social?  Do you think it’s more about the way we’re wired?  Or is it a habit that we’ve simply formed?  What do you think?

Autumn Affection

I love Autumn.

I love the sound of crisp leaves crunching underfoot.  I don’t rake my leaves several times a week, like many do.  I let them accumulate.  They form a multicolored blanket to snuggle my grass. I’m grateful that the season’s depth of beauty even reaches the ears.

I adore the colors of the season…. deep ambers, rich rusts, beautiful burgundies, crimson and olive. How thankful I am that God gave us the ability to see the colors of the season, when He could have chosen to only allow us to see this wonderful world in black and white and shades of gray.

With fall, comes the texture of rough corduroy cottons, smooth velour bedspreads, and thick woven sweaters. Denim is  heavy and darker, shirts are sleeved and bed clothes are no longer skimpy, but soft, snugly and flannel.

Here in Georgia, the smells of summer are so filled with humidity that pool chlorine is the only one that stands out in my mind.  But, ahhhhhh, how autumn brings with it full bodied smells of stews and soups, fresh breads of banana and pumpkin, delicious coffees, and that first whiff of wood smoldering in a fireplace. 

I love autumn, in part, because from around my birthday/fall equinox (September 22) until the day after Thanksgiving, there is a spirit of gratitude all around.  I try to bring out our fall decorations near my birthday so that we can enjoy them for a full two months.  I think they help us transition indoors visually into a spirit of gratefulness.

Every year I say I will make a Blessing Box that we will fill throughout the year and then open on Thanksgiving of the next, but I have never done it. Maybe I will make one now and we can simply spend the weeks ahead jotting down notes of gratefulness.  It might actually be embraced better by my children if we begin now and focus on it for a short period of time.   And it would be good salve for us to truly think about and share all the blessings that we have right now, for they are many.

As every new season chases away the old, I am thankful.  Each has it’s special qualities. And though Autumn ushers in a slowing down that causes me some struggle at times, it is still my favorite season.  The richness of the season simply brings me joy. As the colors, textures and sounds
in the world around you deepen and intensify,
may you find your focus on the gifts in your life do the same.

I continue with my list of 1,000 gifts …

4. the tears and moans of a broken heart that cannot be at home to school

5. baubles and trinkets of amber and olive, fruits and leaves in earthy tones that are brought out of hiding to grace our home, ushering in the season of gratefulness, Thanksgiving
6. the determination of a child to be frugal and thrifty, to save and squirrel away
that she can reach the goal of independence and ownership … a car titled in her name
7. green earthy moss, holding moisture within … hugging the ground and curves of the earth
8. the ability of a ten year old to create a game with crisp paper and pointed pencil, teach it and share it with me as we wait patiently for a meeting
9. silky smooth coat of black and white on a flea-less canine, bathed in love by a sweet girl who knows how to be tender and patient as she cleans
10. the sound of acorns bouncing on the back deck to remind me that fall has arrived

She misses science most

My sweet Joy wants to be an inventor ….  I mean a scientist …… I mean a biologist ….I mean  a writer … I mean an actor ….  when she grows up.   She’s quite diverse in her interests.  And though school is really not what she thought it would be, she tells me that one of the things that she misses most about homeschooling is science.  She says that science in her current situation consists of the teacher talking about the terms listed in the book and then a video (almost every day?) of SOMEBODY ELSE doing a science experiment.  She said, “So, we sit and watch … and none of these kids have probably ever even gotten to do a science experiment. It makes me so sad, Mama.” Little red insects

We’ve been so blessed.  In both of the co-ops in which she has participated, she has gotten to do something hands on every single week that she has attended. Each co-op met once a week for group activities with assignments at home for the other four days of the week.

In reality, we live science.  We talk about it day in day out…. WHEN she is with me.
Therein lies the crux of the problem.
She is not with me any more.

We were a part of a Classical Conversations co-op for two years.  I was her tutor/teacher there, so I got to lead her through science experiments at the co-op.  We were also part of an independent co-op here in Augusta for two years.  She had a different teacher each year at Westminster’s co-op.  She LOVED their classes and her instructors. We used Jay Wile’s Apologia curriculum written by Jeannie Fulbright. We studied swimming creatures one year and flying creatures another.   The books are absolutely excellent.  Joy & I both ate them up.  Each is written to the child, with a strong God/Creator focus.  Out of all the books that I am culling, these two years of science books WILL NOT be traded, sold or given away. I believe that Joy could tell you about many of the days in science and what she did, if she was given a topic prompt.  She was a part of everything from building bird houses to classifying shells.  We learned about refraction and osmosis, energy, condensation and inertia.

And so, she pines for touchable, breathable, movable, participatory science. .... Joy finding a praying mantis on the bay window .....Let me be clear here:  I do not blame her science teacher for less-than-exciting science classes.  He has twenty six students in his class, and he teaches alone. I have spoken with him and like him very much.  He is personable and likable. I’m sure he would make an excellent science teacher to a smaller group of children where he did not have the state standards, state issued books and national tests to be his motivator and guide.

In co-op, there were between ten and eighteen students in each class. There was always a helper/mom in the classroom to support and assist the teacher/tutor in anyway that would be helpful.  It is the nature of the beast that “traditional” school  to teach to the middle and hope that the bottom catch it and top aren’t bored. May I add here: Traditional school is not truly traditional.  Our current way of teaching children in groups of 15-25 students has only become popular in the last one hundred years.  During the 2,000 years before, children were given individual or very small group {ie: family sized}  instruction. Our current public/private school set up does not lend itself to exploration of the outdoors. It does not lend itself to rabbit trails of the currently applicable, as there is a set goal with a test to come at the end of the chapter, and a national test at the end of the year.  ... close up of the Praying Mantis ....Just as God put an insatiable curiosity within Joy’s being, He put an insatiable desire to help within mine. I had someone point out that I didn’t have to feel disconnected from Joy just because she was in public school.  The public school teachers are always looking for help and support and would likely embrace my desire to help in someway.  In my heart of hearts, I’d love to offer to help someway, but know that I that I know that I must muffle my heart desires this year and truly focus on school…. especially if I want to bring Joy home again next year.  I do not know if there is anyway for this to happen, but what I do know is that I must finish school well.

May I confess that, in reality, I feel like a cheater.  I am using the public school system as a babysitter while I get my education because I have had stripped from me the freedom to fulfill my responsibility which is to teach my child. The repercussions of being a single mom feel deeper and wider than I expected.

This past quarter has been exceptionally difficult.  My classes weren’t hard, but my distractions were great.  With Joy at home with older siblings while summer fun should have been my priority, I was leaving home before she even rolled out of bed.  Rather than spending my energy on exploring with her in our last weeks of her freedom, I found myself distracted and a myriad of single mom tasks. There simply was not enough of “me” to go around and I know that I must use this school year of Joy’s to focus on my school year, so that I can learn and become skilled in the areas that I want to use to earn an income. The better prepared I am, the more I will be able to choose my job and secure some freedom for my years left with at home with Joy.

My point is that I don’t believe Joy had expected that she would ever be less than enthralled when someone mentioned science.  But, as she pours her heart out to me, she shares that she misses touching, digging and exploring.  She misses catching skinks, watching slugs leave trails and finding out what bird is sitting on the bird feeder.   Her classroom just isn’t set up to come across these things … and I empathize with her fully.

I wish things were different.
And maybe they won’t always be like this.
But for now, she misses science most.