Memories

Different than Paint on Plaster

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Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Searching through the piles of dirtied towels, blocks of sandpaper, and used Clorox wipes, I finally grasp the small metal paint key. I place its tiny lip into the rim of the quart sized can. With a flick of my wrist and a pop, off comes the lid. I place it on the old, yellowing bed-sheet splayed across the cool kitchen counter.

The thick white liquid sits in the quart sized can, bubbling up at me after being shaken in its tiny vessel. My movements blended and mixed the pigment meant to cover up dark cherry stain.

I catch myself staring as I stand at the small entrance to our kitchen, hips leaning sideways against the center island.

In just ten seconds, thoughts and memories bounce through my brain.

This is the same kitchen where we unpacked wedding gifts wrapped in parchment paper along with our young-married hopes and dreams. The same kitchen where we prepared my dad’s last meal – blood-red steak and garden salad and steaming baked potatoes with melty butter. He broke a red wine glass that evening – promised to buy me another one to complete the set.

There sit three goblet glasses still, the empty space signifying his presence in my same kitchen.

The same kitchen were I bake grief cookies and our friends and family gather for homemade pasta in remembrance of him. Other evenings we lift gin and tonics to the memory of our European adventures where we reclaimed pieces of ourselves on London’s city streets and in fields simmering with Spain’s sunshine.

The same kitchen where I’ll spoon feed a baby mashed carrots or pick up spaghetti thrown onto the floor by a child who has my dad’s eyes or curly hair.

This is a space not marked with trauma, but with comfort. With life-giving sustenance and floors with crumbs of recovery and laughter and places to lean when on the phone, chopping carrots or peeling back the layers of an onion. Paper plates and Crate and Barrel china and candles changing scents with the seasons.

I grab the wooden handle of the paintbrush off of the black granite and run the brushes bristles over my palms. Soft and soothing, a few strokes back and forth bring me back to the present.

I dip the bristles into the white and turn my wrist against the can’s rim, just like dad taught me, to remove the excess. I turn to face the wooden cabinets recently cleaned of layers of oil and grime and dust.

As I press my brush to the surface of the cabinet door I hear Dad whisper, “Remember to let your tools do the work for you.”

Moving paint on wood has a different feel than paint on plaster.

I’m not covering these doors up in the same way I did the basement.

This project is different.

Each stroke is empowering – I have a say and power in creating a space where I can be comforted and nourish others. I will delight in the light dancing off white cupboards. No more absorbing light into dark cherry stain.

What a beautiful thing.

Not Quite a Christmas Cantata

They’ve been doing it for centuries. Singing in narrative verse to tell the story of the the nativity and the Christmas miracle. Wearing long red robes which morphed into vibrant red sweaters, men and women have stood on choral bleachers in front of audiences for a very long time singing songs of the coming of Christ.

Tis’ the season of the Christmas Cantata.

Raise your hand if you know what those two words mean. For those of you who aren’t attending church, never have, maybe never want to – that’s cool too. Think a carefully curated playlist of classics like Silent Night, Joy to the World, with maybe parts of Handel’s Messiah mixed in.

I have one vibrant memory of attending such a concert at the church my dad pastored. I was five or six and sat in the first few church pews, staring up in wonder at the gentleman singing in front of us. The mustard yellow upholstery scratched my little legs in their little white tights as I swung them back and forth, teetering on the edge.

I remember the glow of the candles, and the warm yellow lights bouncing off the brick walls of the sanctuary and I remember the sweaters. Bright red sweaters, probably with a crisp white collared tee underneath, were paired with khakis making middle aged men looked like Target employees. I remember sitting next to my dad and watching those sweaters move while their mustaches danced as they mouthed out melodies of all the traditional songs. I mostly remember the mustaches.

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Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

It has been years since I’ve been to a Christmas Cantata. For whatever reason, many of the newer, non-denominational churches we’ve been attending in the last decade don’t allow just any man on stage to sing.

In these bigger, more liberal establishments, musicians have to try out and prove their worth to perform with a microphone. We wouldn’t want worship led by an average engineer in khakis would we? Including ordinary folks’ talents in worship seems a lost art in the new wave of Christian religion.

This past weekend we didn’t go to a Canata, per se’, but we did go to a Christmas worship service at the local Presbyterian church. I sat in a mustard yellow church pew that surely would have scratched my legs if I was wearing white tights. Around me, the average demographics of the audience were certainly older by twenty years compared to where we sometimes worship now. On the front table were four Advent candles, three purple, one pink, one white – another tradition missing from big church stages. Above in the rafters, supported carefully in the beams, sat a most massive pipe organ waiting to be awoken by the days event. Big stained glass windows filtered the light encouraging it to dance across the stage. This was a sanctuary steeped in tradition and liturgy and it made me miss my Evangelical roots … just a teeny bit.

A tiny orchestra of ten or so men and women formed just below familiar black risers. To the left of them sat a full choir with close to thirty singers wearing floor length blue robes. Behind them, a bell choir of twelve wore plush velvet shirts and black gloves to protect the fragile tones. They were quiet – eager and ready to play and sing.

This congregation rallied over 100 talented folks to show up to share the gift of Christmas music with us. I don’t know, maybe they had to audition, but I was moved by the willingness for ordinary people to sign up and say, ‘Hey, I know how to play an instrument and I’m going to use my skill to bring some joy this season.’

Bring joy they did – an hour of beautiful music rehearsed and delivered to bring magic our way.

There is beauty in tradition, in family memories of Christmases past, and in the reverence experienced when we still our hearts enough to watch those willing to share their gifts with us. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or if you sing a little flat. Your voice carries and lifts up hearts. Your wrists make bells do magical things. And the choice to be present and not participate like the little blond boy with his arms stuffed up in his purple choir robes, refusing to sing a single word in the children’s choir – that’s beautiful too.


P.S. – There’s still time to enter the Give Light Giveaway. My friends at Colorpockit have just launched their new business and are graciously donating a set to be included in the prize pack this year. Colorpockit is the new portable adult coloring system that allows you to take your creativity wherever you go! It’s available in plastic or wood, and each Colorpockit comes with 12 dual-sided pencils giving you 24 vibrant colors, a built-in pencil sharpener, and 12 postcards to color. Fun right! You can learn more here

Beauty Happens Every Night – All Around the World – Guest Post by Charlotte

Another Twitter connection. Another delightful person working bravely to write, create, and appreciate gifts right under her nose. Check out this sensory guest post from Charlotte Underwood. I love how she reminds us we don’t have to venture far to find experiences that please the senses.

Author: Charlotte Underwood
Blog: www.charlotteunderwoodauthor.com

Her Favorite Quote: “Time passes, people move. Like a river’s flow, it never ends. A childish mind will turn to noble ambition. Young love will become deep affection. The clear water’s surface reflects growth. Now listen to the Serenade of water to reflect upon yourself.” – Sheik

Nature is a gift that we receive every day and yet seem to ignore and maybe even act ungrateful for. It’s easy to forget that in our ever-increasing urban lifestyle, that we are on the doorstep of some of earths most beautiful creations.

I have always been infatuated with the beauty of nature and the little gems that the world provides us, memories of me playing in the mud, dancing under blossom trees and going on adventures through woods and dipping my toes in the hidden lakes of my hometown; these are the ones that showed me true happiness, love and awe, it reminded me of life.

Now, I must admit that as an adult with severe anxiety, I do tend to ignore the world that I crave all too much. I want nothing more than to pack up and travel the world, to see each of the wonders of the world and to experience every culture known to man; but for now, that is but a dream but one that I will achieve.

Until I am able to jet off, it doesn’t mean that I can’t make the most of my local area, we all seem for forget that our own towns and neighborhoods contain some truly beautiful sights. Be it the park that has contains a pond full of rainbow fish or a building that fills your mind with curiosity, when was the last time you actually took the moment to look and to ponder, to let that imagination flow.
My old garden and the memories of it has become my happy place when things start to get hard for me, because the environment it gave filled me with such warmth and safety; I’ll never forget it. I used to lie on top of my trampoline in the evening, with the sun glistening through the trees the enveloped my garden and caressed my cheek, I could hear the birds sing and the trees sway in the wind that was tickling my toes, this was happiness.

I can no longer sit in that garden but the memory will last a lifetime and also, right now, like you, I am surrounded by opportunity that will surely leave me breathless and thankful. A short drive away from my home is my local beach and while it is not the prettiest, have you ever sat and watched the sunset on a beach? Where the sun shines a golden coat across the coast and then folds into a hypnotic shade of purple before darkness fades in? This happens every night, all around the world and yet so many of us, even those who literally live on the doorstep will miss out – why?

Mother nature is an artist with the most precious and fine creations that not one person could ever mimic, with no cost or trap to experience the beauty and lust of these masterpieces, it seems almost wasteful that we do not spend more time appreciating what is right under our noses.


Hunstanton

Charlotte Underwood is a young 22 year old from Norfolk, UK. She is a growing mental health advocate and likes to use writing to inform and support.

You can follow her blog,  where she posts a lot about mental health, depression, anxiety and suicide. She hopes to raise awareness as well as end the stigma. You can follow her on Twitter.

Oh, Christmas Tree

“What are you doing the rest of the afternoon?” asked the sweet guy working the counter at D.S.W.

“We’re going Urban Christmas Tree Hunting ” I replied.

“You mean like in a field?” he asked.

“No. Like at Home Depot.”

We exchanged a laugh and my mom and I walked out of the store setting out to meet Dylan. We had to go pick out her Christmas tree for the season. Urban tree hunt we did. It took about twenty minutes for the whole excursion. Traveled to the store, tree selected, he put that sucker on the roof and drove it back to her house.

Dylan and I took a different approach as two of our friends asked if we wanted to cut down a tree. Like in a forest. It’s Colorado ya’ll. We haven’t gone the fresh, outdoor route since before we got married.

As our friend drove us up the canyon, memories flooded back. Growing up I had years and years of hunting for the perfect tree in the woods with my cousins and particular mother. It was tradition. Four kids and two adults – sometimes more – would pack into the trusty Subaru the day after Thanksgiving. Shooting for a ten am departure time usually turned into leaving at one or two pm. Us kids would fight for the spots in the back of the car where we didn’t have to wear a seat belt. Our caravan bounced along dirt roads. Wearing our matching sweaters, we’d yell cheers and balance on top of each other as the driver rounded the canyon corners to avoid the axes and saws at our feet.

Safe. Yes, safe.

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Some years the sun would be setting by the time we got the darn tree to the ground. Other years we’d trek back to the car and retrace our steps because keys were lost. Cold and whining because we couldn’t find the damn car. On the dark drive home sometimes the tree would sway in the wind and scratch glass as it slowly slid down over the front windshield.

“Pull over Dad” my brother and I would yell, “the tree is sliding again!”

And then some years, when we’d get home, the tree would rest on the ground in the doorway, boughs shaking as Dad frantically sawed off the extra six inches…. or extra feet… off the bottom grumbling as he went. Mom often underestimated the pine’s height out there under the big blue sky.

Wonderful memories. Floods of nostalgia and love with the realization that my memories of Dad are turning the corner from anguish and stomach aches to tickles inside my heart.

He did that with us. I remember.

We drove two hours to the National Forest land where we spent $10 for a tree permit and a refreshing hike in the snow.

Let me clarify – the barely two inches of snow and sixty degree weather made the experience pretty enjoyable. Much better than my snow suit days. We spent thirty minutes searching and sawing and threw our selection into the bed of a pick-up truck.

We brought our tree home, and only cut a few inches off the end of our little tannenbaum. Dylan strung the lights and I selected my favorite mis-matching ornaments and we decorated the house. It was cozy. And it was good.

And then, on Monday, we went to work.

And Olive went to work.

IMG_5796While we were away, she chewed a few ornaments and destroyed three strings of lights. We came home to the tree skirt fluff creating snow in our living room, and the water in the tree stand gone. Luckily, our Charlie Brown decoration was still standing.

So our idyllic tree hunting experience has become beautifully imperfect. A memory in the making as I built a child-like fort barricade to keep her from our lightless tree.

It’s pretty charming to have a tree in your living room without decorations. Well, we’ve got ornaments on the top half of the tree, and a new shining star gleams proudly in front of the coffee table that blocks the access from our ambitious puppy.

Maybe I’ll look back in a few years and say, “Remember when Olive destroyed the decorations on the tree?”

A ha ha – we will laugh – as she will have certainly outgrown her puppy phase by then.

Tonight, we are going to try again and string some more lights on the tree.

I’ll be sure to hide the plug and tighten up my makeshift fort. I sprayed the tree skirt with puppy safe citrus deterrent and put her water bowl back on the floor. I breath deeply at work remembering I’m thirty minutes away from our house and can’t do a single thing once I’ve left.

I’ll let you know how long Lights-Phase Two lasts. Say a silent prayer for our hopeful decoration.

No matter how you select your Christmas tree this year, may the memories you make be beautiful.

 

P.S. – The Give Light Giveaway is open. I’m accepting submissions from now until December 31st. Be sure to send me your light! Details on how to enter here.

 

1400 Pennies

Clink. Clink. Clink.

I sat criss-crossed on the carpet sorting coins on Sunday night. Pouring piles of pennies onto the floor as fresh air blew in from my open window.

Piles of ten. Add up to fifty. Over and over again.

Rain drops sneaking their way through the screen. Olive snipping at a fly buzzing above.

Clink. Clink. Clink. Metal on glass. Coins exiting a mason jar.

I took home a canning jar full of coins from my mom’s house after family dinner on Sunday. The jar had sat in my parent’s medicine cabinet for years. Pennies collecting scum and dust and pieces of lint.

Each evening, Dad would take coins out of pockets and throw them in the pile. Circles of copper waiting for a bigger purpose. Something to be saved. I don’t know what he did with his dimes, nickels, and quarters. This jar was only full of pennies.

Mom moved the jar out of her reclaimed closet a few weeks ago.

I’ve always been motivated by money. In elementary school I rose to Dad’s reading challenge – you get one dollar for every book you read from now until we go to Disney World. I read one hundred chapter books much to Dad’s surprise. He held up his end of the deal and I think I got a souvenir. Knowing me, I probably saved some of the cash. In high school I spent hours organizing holiday greeting cards for an odd acquaintance – paid by the package. Nimble fingers make for quick compounding pay outs.

This is an interesting personal trait considering I’ve spent my career working for nonprofits, writers, and small businesses. Passion pays the soul. It can also leaves zeros missing at the end of paychecks.

So yes, when Mom said I could have the cash if I took the heavy jar home, I jumped at the chance. This nerd already had rolling papers for the coins waiting to be filled.

This aint my first coin jar rodeo. I sat, I poured, and I rolled up those pennies.

Clink. Clink. Clink.

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1400 pennies in all. When I finished counting, an overwhelming sadness overtook me. This would be the last interaction with Dad’s always present coin jar. The one that sat next to the Advil and aloe in the cabinet. Never again will his contributions of loose change add up to something bigger.

I held the rolls of money in my sweaty palms feeling their weight. Went to bed.

In the morning, sipping my coffee, I glanced over at the pile of paper rolls and stared. His fingerprints, his grime, his pockets, his molecules in those little cylinders. Beautiful reminders of his after-thoughts at the end of his days.

I went to the bank this afternoon and swallowed the sadness as I handed the teller my beautiful pennies in exchange for some dollar bills. She laughed a little and asked if I had a side project collecting the coins.

“Something like that,” I murmured.

I walked out the doors of the bank and pocketed the cash. I told myself it is ok to let go, once again, of the many little things. That’s what grief is. A constant letting go.

There is beauty found in the grimy copper coins, in their distinct clinking noise against glass, in their memories.

I spent the dollar bills on a craft beer with a friend tonight. An EIGHT DOLLAR craft beer. I think Dad would have liked the ale but I know he would have rolled his eyes at the price.

Beauty in beer, in letting go, in acknowledging the sadness. In the saying of thank you, Dad, for keeping your coins. In realizing I can still say, “Dad, this one’s on you.”

Ink

I made the mistake of scrolling through Twitter while having my morning coffee. Anxiety-inducing caffeine mixed with anxiety-inducing messages about how health care changes are going to influence us all swirl like the cinnamon in my cup. Today’s choice makes my stomach hurt – health care, not my coffee.

I’ve got to stop starting my day on social media.

Coffee time needs to be for Jesus, for devotionals, for lists of gratitude and prayers and hopes.

So I write, to calm my anxiety, and to ground myself in the good again. Putting words on ‘paper’ often times is the only thing that makes sense.

The phrase ‘pen to paper’ really seems to lose its romance when you think about how people write their thoughts these days. ‘Put your fingers to the keyboard’ has none of the glamour. No images of writers struggling are conjured with the act of typing. Click click click on a keyboard – the nostalgia is gone. You can’t smell typing like you can a ball point pen. The beautiful smell of ink coming out of a ball point pen.

Ink.

Pre-death, I always said I would only get a tattoo if I had something big to remember. If I went through something tragic, or lost someone.

Damn. I have lived through both.

I wrote a letter to my dad on the year anniversary of his death. In my ramblings, and through my tears, I wrote about how proud he would have been of my brother who has lots of tattoos:

You should see Sam, Dad. His long hair and big muscles and tattoos to remember you by. How we ink our skin in hopes of putting you and your legacy back into our bodies, to absorb you yet again into our blood. I want one, a tattoo to remember you by. I’m kind of scared though. Needles and me don’t get along. That’s something we had in common too. What would you get? Your handwriting on my arm? That chicken scratch scrawl that used to drive me nuts.

I went back and forth, for that fear of needles is real for me. Could I be brave enough to make such a permanent choice?

A few weeks later I was reading the handwritten speech Dad gave at my wedding. At the bottom of the paper he had scrawled his favorite phrase of adoration, ‘love you much.’

“Do it”, he whispered through those words on paper, “mix my words with your blood and carry me with you permanently.” 

And so I did. I met a beautiful tattoo artist who accepted my whole family into his studio with compassion. My mom embarrassed me exclaiming to Jordan, “but you are just so normal!” He laughed her words right off his shoulders.

Jordan took Dad’s handwriting and made it beautiful.  Figured out how to transfer the letters onto my skin. Held my arm, made sure the words were straight, transferred Dad’s legacy onto my skin and deeper into my blood. Words and love made permanent through ink.

Here it is:

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Needle to skin has shimmers of beauty too. Writing stories on our skin. Ink.

 

For more information on the studio Heart & Skin visit their website.