beautiful things

Smeared

The smears are a pretty common occurrence.

Slivers of chocolate fall from a crinkled piece of plastic holding my breakfast onto my pants. Oats and nuts crumble and the binding cocoa leaves little trails on my hands and my jeans as I drive in to work. If I move fast enough, I can lick up the evidence.

If not, like most mornings, I walk into the office with a little chocolate stain on my jacket or dark denim pants. Does breakfast count if it’s covered in chocolate? I like to think so. KIND bars probably does too.

I’ve been thinking about those smears and the lingering they represent. How a messy  bite of joy on a busy morning lingers, integrating itself into the fabric of my clothes, the upholstery in my car, and at times my husbands jacket as I reach to correct his uneven coat collar from the passenger seat.

Sure, we could look and just see a stain. A nuisance, a frustrating something I’ll have to clean again. Yet, the frequency of the marks have turned into something for me to ponder. I don’t want to live without the marks of joy for we move along to the next thing fast enough.

I woke this morning feeling sad. My gremlin arrived yesterday, hopping from granite counter top to the new ceramic backsplash my father-in-law so lovingly installed in our kitchen. With each application of gray, wet grout, the little grief monster bounced and caused me to remember, “Yes, here we go again. Making progress without him.”

Just before, we had removed the spacers placed to hold it all together. I took a metal trowel in my hand, dipping over and over again into the sludge of prepared cement and smeared the wet to fill in the intentionally designed gaps.

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Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Every time the trowel met the wall, my little grief monster bounced, calling me to remember, “Yes, here we go again. Making progress without him.”

When my in-laws left, I sat at the kitchen table looking at our project. Taking a deep breath I mumbled to my husband across the room, “These projects sure make me miss him.”

A few tears fell, smearing day-old mascara around my tired eyes.

The pigment left dribbles on my cheeks as they fell, once again, onto my jeans. Another perceived stain on skin and fabric meant to be cleaned up. I stood and stepped up soft stairs and went about writing an ordinary grocery list.

There are smears – of joy, of sadness, of instant gratitude in the crinkling requirements of life. I’ve used my fingers to caress away, wipe, and lick at the morsels that fall. There will always be something to clean.

What if we let the smear stay a little longer and ask ourselves to move a little slower? What could happen then?

I’m thankful for the beauty of chunks of dark chocolate mixing with fruit and nuts. Beauty in tired mascara as it meets salty tears. Beauty in remembering and the smear of anticipatory emotion. Beauty in the ache of wishing he, too, could use his artisan hands to create in my house. We took cement and smeared it over the kitchen sink where he broke a wine glass the last time we had dinner together.

The smears set. They are radiating beauty. Come on over to my kitchen. I’ll show you what I’m talking about.

Don’t Go. Don’t Go.

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I summed up the pages of books read in 2019. A rather disappointing 10,689 pages. I wasn’t surprised. I hadn’t prioritized reading last year. While I still racked in 30 titles, I chose scrolling over page turning. There are seasons for reading and retreat and seasons for trying to re-enter the world.

I chose the later.

The first weekend of the new year, I picked titles to download on my Kindle – light books to lift the spirit.

This week, I consumed Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love and Food by Ann Hood. Her series of essays based on food and the comfort in brings in all seasons of life was a page turner and delightful, and to my surprise, was laced with grief. She lost a daughter at the age of five, went through a divorce, had to recreate and remember someone dear who never grew into size six shoes.

“Dang it,” I thought, “wasn’t this supposed to be a light read?”

On the pages were permission to use food as comfort, to create something out of nothing, and sit and chew and swallow in sad remembrance.

Turn the page and still another essay was about the simplicity of tomatoes and the multitude of ways we can use the fruit to celebrate – soak them in vodka, mash into sauce, cover meat and simmer into something else all together.

Hood integrates her sadness into her studies with food and then uses words and morsels to comfort herself. Her exercises also brought comfort to me.

And later, on a bright Saturday afternoon, I accepted an invitation to see Little Women and walked out of the sun into a dark theater. The seat squeaked as I sat down, my feet crunching on kernels left by the guest before me.

An intended afternoon escape, the movie mixed dark and light, and creativity and giving and loss so beautifully, I started to vibrate.

As the movie danced back and forth from past to present, I knew what was coming. (Spoiler Alert) How could I have forgotten that Beth is going to die?

Jo lays on the twin mattress next to her fading sister and pleads, “Fight for us Bethie. Stay here and fight.” I heard stories of something similar although the words for us were different.

“Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.”

In the dark theater, it seemed once again that I can’t escape it. The truth of mortality, the thread of loss weaving us all together in some cluster of something. I see my stitches – what’s still unclear is the mess they are creating when I pull my own threads in line with those of others.

In stories, in movie theaters, in recipes calling us to mix salt and soda and sugar and sweet. It’s here. This grief. I can’t escape it.

I work on writing to you, dear readers, stories and experience of the beauty our world has to offer and each week I will my fingers and my spirits to speak of lighter things. I’m trying to focus my view on only the good and in doing so the dark seeps, waiting to be tickled and seen.

For awhile, I felt sorry.

For now, I feel it’s the only way I know how.

To nod to it’s being here and still search for the good God promises will follow, or perhaps has been here all along.

In the ink of Hood’s writing were woven stories of love and compassion and longing and recovery. The magic of melting cheese and butter in an omelet made by someone you love. Grandmother’s recipes and the gift of giving tiny tastes to tiny mouths.

And in Gerwig’s Little Women, I was awed by the costumes, the light, the magic of sisterly bonds and the beautiful choice of choosing ambition and creativity over love and recognizing the ache for the people we want to be with us forever.

The beauty is so mixed, I can no longer separate the good and the hurt. It’s all there. Wherever I go.

Please stay with me. Please continue to read. For this is my world, your world, ours. And in it are beautiful things to be seen.

The feel of a warm decaf latte in cold hands at tea time, the crunch of pop corn kernels drizzled in butter, the creative things people choose to put out into the world. Our connectedness. Our hurting. The mixture of love and light and darkness and our aching.

Don’t go. Don’t go. Stay here with me. What beautiful things we can find.

 

December Favorite Things – 2019

I wrote my Christmas card this weekend and thought to myself, “Wasn’t it just August?”

You too?

Welp, here we are at the end of the year and the end of a decade. Hard to believe.

Here are a few of my favorites as I decorate my house, buy gifts for others, and blow my nose continuously because the winter cold has hit me.

Merry Merry to you and yours.

    1. Advent Devotional by Ann Voskamp
      It’s the season of light and I get excited to remember how we can choose to welcome the Holy Spirit back into our lives. I read this one every year
    2. Dried oranges – I followed this simple recipe and used the oranges as ornaments on my tree and tucked them in on a home made wreath. I left the sugar off because I know my dog would eat them …. Another recipe suggested tucking whole cloves in the slices. I didn’t have any and dried allspice instead and wasn’t that impressed.
    3. Simmer Scents to make your house smell great naturally

    4. Pair this shortbread with Scotch and toast to Roy

5. “Eight is a lot of legs David.” – the best line from Love Actually


 

In a completely separate request, I’m gathering answers to the question:

As a reader of 52 Beautiful Things,  what do you like most about the writing?

Send an email to 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com with your response

November Favorite Things – 2019

1. Go Ya’ll!

Who cares who is playing on the field – just yell go!

My favorite phrase on a t-shirt in Reese Witherspoon’s adorable store Draper James. When you walk in the big double doors, they give you sweet tea with a cute striped straw.

I just got back from a trip to Nashville and I’ve got a few Southern favorites on the brain. Happy November!

2. Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

We only had to wait 30 minutes. I overheard someone in line waiting to board the plane saying they waited an hour and a half. Sure, it may be chicken, but it may also change your life.

3. GooGoos

Peanuts. Good.

Marshmallows. Good.

Caramel. Good.

Put them together.

Still good. As the marketing says, “So good, even babies ask for them.”

Get the Pecan version – it’s tastier.

4. Kacey Musgraves

They have an exhibit about her at the Country Music Hall of Fame right now and I laughed because in the display was her Lisa Frank diary circa early 1990s.

I’m not in a hall of fame yet, and that’s ok – we had the same diary.

5. Raising money

I like raising money. Supporting causes. Donating to things bigger than me. I’m asking for help.

If you agree that no one grieving should have to do it alone, donate to The Dinner Party here.

If you believe agree everyone deserves a safe place to call home, to Finally Home donate here 

 

Let’s Have a Joyful July

Hi Gang!

How are we doing?

Summer has officially started and it’s as if my body forgot how to sweat the month of June and is catching up in preparation for July.

Just me?

Gross, I know.

As we’ve reached the half way mark of 2019 and I’ve been looking at my goals I wrote down in January, I’m reminding myself I want to live with more joy. As humans we carry many things in our backpacks. How can we move our burdens around in our pack to fit just a few more marbles of joy?

There’s usually something whispering to us, even when our hearts hurt.

I want to hear what is bringing you joy this month! Will you play along?

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There are three ways to play for a chance to win some of my favorite things:

  1. Type up your list of joyful things and send it to me at 52beautifulthings at gmail dot com
  2. Post a picture of something bringing you joy on Instagram with the hashtag #joyfuljuly and tag @52beautifulthings so I’m sure to see it
  3. Send me a DM on Instagram with your list
  4. Tag a friend who could participate. If they follow along, you’ll both get an extra entry

All lists will be compiled and shared here at the end of the month. Photos shared on Instagram will be shared in my stories.

Each contributor will be entered to win a few of my favorite things.

Can we plant the seeds and spark more smiles together this month?


**Please keep content appropriate – I reserve the right to refuse to post if I feel content is offensive or could cause harm to others. By submitting your materials, you give me permission to share your responses on this blog and on social media. I appreciate when you share your contributions with your networks, but this is not required.

You need not live in Colorado to win. Winners must respond to notification within two days or I will draw another name.

Pink Threads

Remember the game Telephone? Someone starts with a quirky sentence and whispers the story to the person sitting next to them. Then that person, who likely messed up a word or two, whispers their recollection to the person sitting next to them, and on and on it goes until at the end, some new configuration of a previously silly sentence holds loose, small connections to how you began.

You giggle and shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Wait a minute? What did we start with exactly?” And what did she say that got us here?

I’ve been thinking of the messages I’m getting on womanhood, on mothering, on expectations of my complex and powerful sex and wondering, “What exactly, did I start with?”

My grandmother was born at home weeks premature. They wrapped her in cotton batting and covered her in olive oil, laying her to sleep in a shoe box.  She was that tiny. Her resilience came on day one, and day two, and day three as she grew proving the odds wrong. I come from small but feisty stock.

Jump seventy years ahead and join me as I sat with my two girl cousins as late teenagers. Young women, as they say.  Also present at the outdoor table are my mom, my aunt, and my grandmother who filled in my story as their relationships stitched together foundations for my formative years.

Stich-stich-stich- went the pink thread.

In unbalanced iron chairs my cousins and I rolled our eyes as we were told, we did not, like Grandma wished, inherit her bone structure, but rather my grandfather’s stocky German bones. We may have her strong spirit, but I got my grandfather’s thicker wrists.

And as we bounced along through time and I spent time with my now aging grandmother she’s started telling me stories. Of nights with martinis at fancy office parties, or the horrific boss who chased her around a desk. The things I watched on Mad Men were her life. I stand on tiny shoulders and work with the knowledge that when sexual harassment shows up at work, I can bravely do something about it. She raised four kids, made hundreds of hamburgers, worked, and always said, “You can pay the doctor or you can pay the grocer” so fresh vegetables were on the table every night.

Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread

And as we jump again and I’m standing on the cold clay tiles of our kitchen floor in the house where I lived until I was thirteen. I can hear myself groaning as the summer sun danced through the front window. “Gazpacho salad again?” I’d whine. Vegetables – fresh and seasoned – were present on my plate.

“Eat up” my mom would say as her working contributions to our household turned into nourishment for my growing body. I’d take a bite and with each crunch of cucumber ingest my grandmother’s values at the table.

Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread.

As a young girl I had so many evenings around a kitchen table with people who loved me. My mom took the best of her mother’s lessons and imparted them in me. How to make a pie crust is important. As is the presence of formal dishes and fancy settings at a holiday affair.

Stich-stich-stich – went the pink thread.

Time jump again and I’m 24 years old, registering for wedding gifts. “No china?!” my mom proclaimed loudly in the very public restaurant we were sitting in.

“No.” I stubbornly said, “We don’t have room for china. And I’ll just inherit a bunch of plates later.” Our voices escalated to the point where our concerned waitress came over and asked if we were ok.

We toned it down.

Time jump again and I learned at the age of 27 that you don’t inherit china when your dad dies. Instead, you witness a weeping mother with hunched shoulders sitting next to the Christmas tree. It was the first round of holidays without him and I wished I had some fancier fucking plates.

I put out some cheese, cut up some pears, and put them on the only piece of Tiffany’s anything gifted to me as an engagement present. The platter would have to do. Then our sink broke leaving Mom and my husband washing dishes in our bath tub by hand because, as I’ve been told, real men know how to help out with dishes in whatever room they may need to be washed.

Stich-stich-stich went the pink thread.

This past weekend, at nine o’ clock pm, my mom kissed me on the cheek and said, “You must be tired. You planned two Mother’s Days this year.” Her statement caught me off guard and then I nodded.

I did. Yes, I did. Because my mother taught me to show people they matter. Showing up is important. Taking care of others is vital and making them feel special is an added bonus I’ve taken on. Nurturing comes easy to me because my mom nurtured me so very well. And I’m rather exhausted. For the family work of connection and celebration has now fallen to me.

Stich-stich-stich goes the pink thread.

And at the age of thirty, as everyone keeps asking me about children and babies and my aging ovaries I simmer and switch between maybe and no way, not yet. How does one know they are ready to become a mother? My grandmother didn’t have the choice to control all those blessings like I do. Many states now are trying to take that choice away.

So I pause and I jump back through time and I wonder:

Grandma – What sentence did you start with in our game of telephone? We’ve taken your words and your dreams and your vision and kept the stitches going, sewing new stories in our own ways.

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I’m thankful for the pink threads connecting us all as we continue to love each other, no matter what words jumble up the sentences of where we started.

Mother’s Day weekend just passed and I’m thankful for beautiful and brave choice my grandma made to be a mother. For my own mom who knows the power of magic in thoughtful gifts and just the right words to bring comfort to my fears. I’m thankful for my mother-in-law who shaped my husband and accepted me with open arms at her table. These women. These stories. These sentences. Beautiful things that leave me here, stitching together sentences for you.

 

 

Woke Up to Grey

I woke up to grey. We left the curtains drawn this morning and the light wasn’t making it through. The alarm buzzed and I kept pressing snooze. I pressed snooze a lot. Waking on cold mornings is so much harder than in the summer.

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I turned back the covers, sat upright, put two feet on the floor. I looked out the window and watched the snow swirl. Flakes weren’t really falling, just dancing about in dry air, refusing to stick to the cold ground.

Shuffled down stairs and put on the coffee. Swatted at the dog as she bounded to the front door, knocking me sideways with her excitement. Her little tail wagged, an ever-present reminder of new days worthy of rejoice.

Pressed grounds, poured steaming liquid, stirred in cream and watched dairy rise to the surface of my cup. Wrapped hands around my mug and sat down to pray.

I was distracted by the scene unfolding across the street. A little girl ran out of the garage, her rainbow-colored backpack covering her tiny frame from shoulders to knees. Wearing purple pants and a bright pink tutu, she jumped up and down, up and down, up and down. Time to go to school.

Next surfaced the tired mother with baby carrier in tow. She set down the infant and instructed the jumper to go around the car and get in her seat. The weary woman lifted the baby and herself in the car, careful not to close her baggy pajama pants in the car door.

Reverse lights came on and the car crept down the driveway. As they passed my window, the mother stuck her electric toothbrush in her mouth, multi-tasking like a champ. I laughed out loud.

“It’s hard here,” as Anne Lamott says, and the every-day tedium seems as such. Boring, repetitive, cold. Hard.

So, we shove our hands in our pockets and our toothbrushes in our mouths and we get back to it. To our families, to our work, to the poop piling up in the backyard. But this morning, as we started our days, snow danced, coffee swirled, tails wagged, and little girls jumped in pink tutus. Perhaps this is where the magic lives. In the swirling, the rising milk, the wagging. Beauty exists in the every-day, ordinary cold.

Slow down. Stop moving so fast. Take a breath. What else can you see when you wake up to grey?