Tag: holidays

Losses or Gains?

snow on trees

Snow on Christmas Eve
Icy roads before midnight.
Santa made it, though,
thanks to Rudolph’s fierce

Snow covered trees around the waterfall

snow covered trees around the waterfall

This morning,
the men are up
earlier than the tots
on Christmas morning,
out to do battle with nature
who’s proving a formidable foe
(just as I warned.)
(I mean foretold.)
In their crosshairs:
getting off our slick mountain road
with little if any regard
for all the other potentially hazardous roads
awaiting them.

While all scurry frantically,
in angst at plans disrupted,
their eagerness to leave
lands like families of porcupines on my heart.

Have they learned nothing from 2020,
The Great Teacher
who gave us so gave us so many
to learn
and reframe?

At the knee of 2020,
we learn to
consider plans made as suggestions
or possibilities
to jot task lists in pencil
instead of ink,
to linger.

She gives us countless opportunities
to sample a slower-paced life,
our 2020,
to remember how it feels to
spend entire days letting books
be our planes, trains, and automobiles;
to replace text message with
pen, paper, envelopes, and stamps;
to reacquaint ourselves with
childlike wonder
enjoying games made from bits found
and food made from leftovers
and the awe of trees
newly-defined by snow.

snow covered trees and branches

Now I leave the fantasy land of my studio
and rejoin the chaos of angst –
noses pressed to the
panes in the door,
watching the thermometer,
willing it to reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit,
where –
in their own fantasy land –
the snow and ice will magically poof,
disappearing so they can
hit the road
hours after they’d planned,
moving a little faster
to make up for all the time lost.

A Handmade Christmas

Seems  like it was 3 years ago, yet the calendar say it was a mere 3 weeks ago when the family gathered together for a week of hilarity, memory making, and opening. Last year I stole minutes here and there from The 70273 Project to make some gifts for giving.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care . . .

When Mom was a baby, her mother took her to visit one of her grandmothers. Mother reached down and grabbed a tiny fistful of the lace collar on her grandmother’s blouse. “This baby is gonna’ like pretty things,” the grandmother correctly predicted, so Mother’s stocking was made with flowers to reflect her flourishing green thumb and topped with lace.

My daughter-in-law, Marnie, is an art historian who enjoys art that’s so old it makes my head hurt. Before our trip to see The Bayeux Tapestry several years ago, Marnie gave me enough background information that I should’ve gotten college credit hours. Her stocking was topped with embroidered trim depicting a section of The Bayeux Tapestry.

When my daughter was born, I took her stocking to the hospital with me and added the last element – her name  – after she was born and before we brought her home.

Fourteen months later, I did the same thing with my son’s stocking, taking it to the hospital to add his name once we knew whether we were the proud parents of a girl or a boy.

The Engineer’s grandmother, we called her Maw – made a quilt of old suits once worn by The Engineer’s grandfather, Pops. Though I could’ve repaired the quilt, I chose to make The Engineer a stocking from it.

Calder Ray celebrated his first Christmas in 2016. I used colors from Alexander Calder’s artist palette to make the fabric for my grandson’s stocking, cuffing it with some wool fabric from Ireland, and Calder Ray did just what you’d expect a seven month old to do: he chewed on it.

Remember I told you how Marnie likes ancient art and how knowledgeable and enamored she is with The Bayeux Tapestry? Well, this year I put the quilting frame down and picked up the wool to do a needlepoint canvas of one of the scenes from The Bayeux Tapestry. After finishing  it, I could not decide what to do with it. Should I frame it?  They don’t really have that many available walls, so maybe not. Make a pillow? That would mean cording, and I am not good at cording, so no. When I spied the adorable little stool with the hinged lid in the antique store, I knew what to do, so now Marnie has a footstool, covered with a needlepoint scene from The Bayeux Tapestry and a wee little bit of storage space to boot. (I just hope their new, rambunctious Border Collie, Harper, who has a hankering for gnawing on wooden furniture, never discovers the wood underneath the needlepoint.)

With visions of not sugarplums, but with dreams of a ritual of the quilt being pulled out every December 1 and slept under till the New Year, I made Calder Ray his Christmas quilt, not to hang on the wall, but to use. I’ll show you better, fuller photos later when I’m finished quilting it (Yes, I gifted it to him partly quilted and partly basted) so you can see that branches and needles of the red tree (I’ll explain the red later, too) are in the shape of my hands, and the trunk is in the shape of Calder Ray’s feet.

The body of the angel that perches at the top of the red tree is made of drawings of Calder Ray’s feet, and her wings are made from drawings of Calder Ray’s pudgy, recently-discovered 7-month old hands. Her raiments are from a napkin The Engineer found for me in a local thrift shop.

You know, 4.5 decades ago, I made everybody’s Christmas gifts as a matter of economy – as newlyweds, we didn’t have money to spend buying a lot of presents – and I remember getting a note from my sister-in-law saying that she felt like the lucky one because while The Engineer bought his brother a nice gift, hers was handmade. Her words didn’t really mean all that much then, but now, when I snuggle under the quilt my grandmother made, when I look at the crewel work my mother stitched, when we hang those handmade ornaments on the tree, I understand and offer up a wee little wish that Calder Ray and his parents put these things in their cherish column one day, too.


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Living Gratitude

To all who brighten days with laughter, kindness, and thoughtfulness,

To all who spill goodness into the world at every turn and opportunity,

To all who keep a respectful, open heart to those with differences large and small,

To all who shine light into the darkness,

To all who dare to think for yourselves and allow others to do the same,

To all who help commemorate the 70273 precious souls,

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving from The Engineer, Nancy, and me.

of likenesses and lightnesses


when my children were tots, we’d bundle them up and drive around looking at the christmas lights, refining our aesthetic senses, you know, each of us awarding our own best display award that grew more competitive every year under our increasingly trained and discerning eyes. just when i’d definitively declare that i preferred the white lights over the colored lights, we’d come upon a house that was obviously festooned by someone with a knack for design and a love for color. we all panted at the sight of trees (not christmas trees but plain ole’ yard trees) decked out in strands of white lights – initially because even with the gentlest breeze, they look like they’re twinkling and because they were ordinary yard trees pulled into the holiday celebration and what’s not to love about that), but it didn’t take all that long for us to pity the trees given a single, solitary strand of lights, poorly and thoughtlessly placed, preferring the trees lavished in white lights – so many it looked like they were an organic part of the tree, like they were well-lit lichen. (we developed a new degree of respect for the more miserly, haphazardly lit trees though, when we began to imagine them being dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother.)

when the children got too old for such things, andy and i weren’t nearly ready to bring this tradition to a close, so we bundled up my 90-something great aunts, put them in the backseat, and drove them around to look at christmas lights. one year, as we passed through the center of this town in south north central georgia (i’ll wait while you figure that out) (that’ll take too long, so a hint: it’s my clever way of saying “landlocked”) on the way to deliver them home, aunt lucy looked out the window at fayetteville’s main street awashed in well-lit snowflakes and said, “Irene, don’t the people who live on the water have the purtiest view?”

we had one or two trees in our own yard that we festooned with white lights annually, andy and i, and with the repeated effort, we learned how to apply them so that they didn’t look like what it were: trees dressed by a well-meaning but blind mother. as we struggled with ladders and branches and never enough lights, i remembered the year daddy outlined the roof of our house in blue lights. (using a single color instead of every hue in the crayon box simply wasn’t done in those days.) (mother was always cutting edge when it came to design.) daddy put those lights up and didn’t take them back down for something like 949 days.

an aside: that particular story remembered at that particular moment in that particular context is when i learned about what my friend jane cunningham calls reframing – a most helpful tool when dealing with family memories, if you catch my drift.


my christmas decorations this year include the red candle that kicked off this post (a free gift with purchase at a local antique store.) (using my highly trained and discerning eye, i chose the one that hadn’t been burned yet.) (the buckeyes were free, too.) (at lest i think they were.) and these two adorables created by my friend tom smith. i LOVE them, don’t you? there’s such a playful spirit about them. they’re just downright fun. the small santa with the black eye and the blue beard (reference to folktales or temperature, tom?) and the larger santa hobbled together from an assortment of tender scraps and bits. (just imagine this larger santa at the office christmas party. he’s probably the guy hanging out by the copy machine the entire time.) it’s the definition of art for me: taking something out of its intended use and giving it fresh life in a new context. now that i think about it, being friends with tom is like having christmas every day. he’s a treasured friend who challenges me with his thoughtful, well-placed questions that are always asked (or at least received) as gentle nudges and window openings (often windows that have long since been painted shut); delights me with our conversations (which often come together like his artwork – a gregarious pulling together of all sorts of odd things that initially seem unrelated); and encourages me with his keen insightfulness (that always makes me feel like he finds me intelligent and capable and maybe like he sees more in me than i present). (if you find yourself wondering if his mother was also a formidable teacher, you’d be right.)

you know, now that i think about it, what i’m really doing is decorating my studio with self portraits of and by tom. no lights required.

my soul food


mary talks to her bookkeeper from under the dryer, hammering out an appropriate memo to explain to her employees that there will be no holiday bonuses this year – not because of the economy (well, not directly anyway), but because her store manager (for reasons she can’t fathom) approved 33 hours’ worth of overtime for one full-time employee and 24 hours’ worth of overtime for another. after those two checks are written, there simply isn’t any more money.

suzie sits on the gold sofa with a leopardskin throw over her legs as she patiently explains how to cook a turkey to her daughter who is preparing the holiday dinner for the first time ever.

janie’s grandmother drops by to beam her pride at her teenage granddaughter who is now working as the salon’s receptionist and girl friday.

as i sit waiting for kristi (the owner and my stylist) to mix my color, an adorable little 10 year old girl appears at my chair and introduces herself. “are you alison’s mother?” she asks. “i sure am,” i told her.

“i’m ansley. miss alison is my voice teacher.”

that’s when her 5 year old sister, lily appears. in her flannel nightgown. we chat a bit, and just before her mother appears back on the scene, lily tells me “you’re funky” – which i take as a compliment and put my glasses on to punctuate and prove her right. “lily, child, you go put your clothes back on. go on right now. shoo,” her mother says, sending the girls to what was a bedroom when mrs. geiss owned the house decades ago. ansley and lily will spend the day playing with brandie’s (the other stylist) daughter while their mothers spend the day making other women like me feel special and beautiful.

in answer to the simple question as to her readiness for the rapidly-approaching holiday, beth pours out her grief, frustration, and exhaustion. as she tells us about her mother who’s in the depths of a deep depression, currently in ICU where the medical staff treats her body and refuses to treat her troubled mind, as she tells us about her teenage daughter who’s recovering from injuries received in an automobile accident, injuries requiring her mother’s assistance with everything – and i do mean everything, phone calls are quietly ended and cell phones tucked away. it’s two days before christmas, yet all thoughts of shopping and parties and cooking completely disappear as we bear witness to beth. in that moment, nothing is more important to us. nothing.

this is my soul food. this gathering of women in an old victorian house tastefully transformed (with the help of mid-century accoutrements and the tasteful style of the owner) into a veritable pink tent where women come together regularly in the name of beauty, always remembering that there’s beauty . . . and there’s beauty.


today’s post is my response to today’s #reverb10 prompt by mysticflavor: What did you eat this year that you will never forget? What went into your mouth & touched your soul?

and no needles

our first christmas tree followed us from the room
so we started anchoring them
to the ceiling.

then there were the times
when we tromped out as a family
in search of
the perfect tree.
even though the trees
were always resplended,
their branches fully laden
with handmade ornaments
crafted from glue
and popsicle sticks
and fuzzy red pom-pom balls,
the actual shopping
excursion was never
our finest moment.

the shortest tree-shopping trip ever
was the year we found the coveted
two-headed tree.
but because it started to rain on our way home
didn’t stop raining till mid-january,
that famous tree never made it inside.

four full-to-the-brim calendars
ushered in the
color-coded tree-in-a-box.

the december daddy died,
hubby went out by himself
and fetched a $5 tree.
we leaned it up in the courtyard.
and for the first time ever,
we were totally unconcerned about
turning its bad side to the corner.
foregoing the ornaments and even the
dreaded tree stand,
we threw some lights at it
and enjoyed looking at it
through the glass
where it became a metaphor
for my life.

there was the year
we wanted to buy
a tree from the
local filling station.
they had two left,
and while the girls
were prepared and willing
(eager, even)
to take both home,
the guys said an emphatic and convincing “no”
so we drove on,
unwilling to separate
the two trees one from the other.
(we didn’t go treeless, though,
eventually paying somebody $25
when they agreed to let us chop down
a tree from their front yard.)

there were the christmas cruises
when we left the decorating
(and the consequent clean-up)
to them.

a friend’s accidental death
this week
caused my son to get home
just yesterday,
on christmas eve afternoon,
which effectively eliminated
any time for the annual
tree-shopping excursion.

scanning the roadside
on the way home from the
asheville airport,
and finding absolutely nothing
i’d just begun to mourn
when the idea fairy screeched in to visit
just as we entered the
last curve before home.

we were just too tired
to deal with it last night,
and it would’ve been easy
to skip on past it this morning.
in fact, the kids voted nay,
but my adorable husband
sensing how much it meant to me,
spent the
12 minutes required
(and that’s from fetch to finish, folks)
decorating this year’s tree.

well, it’s not actually a TREE,
mind you.
you see, this year
we strung lights around
the green TRUNK
that’s been in my daddy’s family
for forever
and a day.

looking at that festive trunk,
i see roots that run deep.
i see dints and dings that bear witness to storms weathered successfully.
i see gifts being tenderly cradled on the inside,
till they’re ready to be
shared and laughed and sung right out loud.
i see locks and latches that are easily undone,
but effectively protective when needbe.
i see where the lights are plugged into the nearby outlet
because let’s face it: everybody needs help generating energy every now ‘n then.

what else do i see?
i see stories
and smiles
and laughter.
i see hugs
and tears
and togetherness.
i see resolve
and grief
and love.
long-standing, deep-running love.
and perhaps best of all,
i see a brand new tradition
conjured from the oldest of old traditions: resourcefulness,
or as we might call it just this once: inJeanneuity.

o christmas trunk, o christmas trunk . . .


this post is my response to today’s reverb10 prompt from tracey clark: Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

thanksgiving 2009 wrap-up


we got off to a rough an interesting start on thanksgiving 2009, but as we they sit here watching football, i know we pulled it out just fine. oh, the table wasn’t worthy of a single snapshot, and the food was served in the midst of countertop clutter, and the family balked when i lit candles and turned down the lights, but it was still a very nice thanksgiving.

mimosas help move us through the day with a kitchen full of folks, each of whom has their own cooking style. i prefer to clean as i go while others prefer cooking now/cleaning later and still others say if they cook, somebody else can clean by golly.

we still honor the 20-minute rule, a little something i conjured up many years ago in a foot-stomp moment: eat as fast as you want, i tell them, but you are gonna’ sit at this table for 20 minutes because I JUST SPENT THREE DAYS COOKING AND A DAY AT THE GROCERY STORE BEFORE THAT.

long ago i, like so many others, ended every day noting at least 5 things on my gratitude list, and you know, the more i was grateful for, the more i had to be grateful for. that practice, like anything else i’ve done consistently, taught me to see, to think in a certain way. over the years, i’ve tried all sorts of ways to enkindle conversation about gratitude as we sit around the overflowing table on the fourth thursday of november, but this year i waved the white flag and just left each to his/her own way of saying thank you.

once, on a family trip, my son wandered off by himself for some alone time. when we reunited later that afternoon, he came bearing a gift for me: a handblown glass stylus, inkwell, and stand. it is gorgeous and it is delicate – far too delicate to sit ready in a house with curious cats that leap with abandon – so until 2 weeks ago, it sat in my closet. it was the first thing i saw when i opened the closet door, and i vowed that when we were once again catless, i was bringing it out into the open.

then mother and i went to vancouver 2 weeks ago, and on granville island, i bought 2 bottles of vegetable-based ink and ever since, i’ve started each day penning thank you notes with my handblown glass stylus. i dip the nib in the inkwell and delight in the sound and feel of it scratching along the paper. once at least 3 notes are finished, the dog and i walk them to the mailbox.

so why am i not afraid for the stylus’ life even though we still provide shelter for 2 cats? because, my friends, i have discovered a little something called museum mount – a clear, slightly sticky gel that holds everything tightly in its designated place. yes, thanks to that little jar of museum mount, i can look forward to penning those daily thank you notes with my glass pen far into the future, cats be damned.

but now, as we close out thanksgiving 2009, i’ll publicly revert to noting 5 things for which i am monstrously thankful:

* children who enjoy, defend, and, when necessary, support each other.
* a low-maintenance, high-companionable dog.
* a mother who is still interested in all sorts of things, who never uses age as an excuse, and who is not too set in her ways to stay up past midnight and sleep till nearly noon.
* a husband who willingly changes out switchplate and outlet covers even though he thinks what we already have is perfectly fine.
* friends – those i see in person and those i see digitally – who tickle, support, inspire, and encourage.

oh, oh, oh: and museum mount. yes siree, i sure am thankful for museum mount.

the key to thanksgiving 2009


chapter 1:
we leave late . . . which puts us driving on the mountainous roads of western nc through the dense, opaque clouds. 2 cats fight the entire time (loudly and physically) while 1 cat practices his carsickness in my lap. and on my arms. and, when all other appendates seem to be covered, on my chest.

chapter 2:
we arrive at the house only to find ourselves locked out. my key that always lives in the car console is m.i.a., and the fella’ doing work on the outside of the house has apparently taken the (singular, as in the only) spare key home with him. or something.

chapter 3:
the garage door opens, thanks to the cooperation of that programmable thingie in my car, so we shepherd dog and cats into the garage and position a big box in front of the cat door because, at the risk of sounding inhospitable, i’m thinking i don’t want the cats to be inside without canine or human supervision. (surely you’ve heard what the cats will do when the mice are away.)

chapter 4:
we head into town where we are delighted to find the dollar store open and a rack of clothes for sale on the sidewalk. alison and mother have their clothes, but i have nothing save the ones that now smell of eau de cat vomit. i pick up clothes, deodorant, and a toothbrush . . . plus a couple of christmas trees for the front door, 31 reindeer ears, a few presents, holiday greeting cards, dog food, a gallon of water (since the water is turned off at the house), a blanket large enough for all the cats and then some, a bed for the dog, and some dog food (already have cat food). just the essentials, you know.

chapter 5:
we walk to the restaurant and inhale food while they mop the floor under our feed, refill condiments and wish we would eat faster.

chapter 6:
back to the dollar store where i purchase some black thermal pants and a mini-dress to wear over them as pajamas since both mother and alison draw the line at me sleeping naked.

chapter 7:
back to the house to feed the animals and tuck them into bed. as alison and i unload the car, mother slips behind the wheel, prepared to honk and flash (the lights) should cats even look like they’re thinking of running out of the garage. they don’t – just the sound of the door is enough to send them into cabinets, thank goodness. we put out the food and water, spread out the blanks, fluff up the dog’s bed, and leave.

chapter 8:
when mother exits the car at the front door to the hotel that we hope has one more empty room, out falls the fork that she “lost” at the waffle house where we stopped for a bite on the way to n.c. eons ago. don’t ask.

chapter 9:
we turn on television in time to see donnie osmond announced the winner of dancing with the stars then showers and smirnoffs all around (with me in pole position) followed by soft snoring and sweet dreams.

chapter 10:
after the free breakfast, we load the car and head back to the house. seeing the neighbor’s car, we stop and i ask if he knows the whereabouts of his friend who did some work on our house. turns out it’s a case of EX-friends due to the unfortunate fact that workerbee stopped paying rent to neighbor (a.k.a. landlord) which led to the eviction of workerbee. so, no, neighbor doesn’t know whereabouts of workerbee but grabs his tools and vows that he won’t leave till we’re inside our house.

chapter 11:
neighbor can’t find a spare key in keybox open either. doors all locked. windows all locked. he’s checking the last door when i notice that workerbee left a trapdoor open that leads to under the house (i immediately picture me trying to wake a family of bears and ask them to pretty please find another place to hibernate) and i hatch a hail-mary idea: “what if we can get inside by going under the house?” i explain that there are 2 closetesque doors in j’underneath (my n.c. studio) that open to – surprise – the big rock on which our house sits. (it’s eerie and captivating all at once.) the way i figure it, he’s just got to take the hinge off the smaller trapdoor (the larger, open door is a deadend – i already know that), crawl in, and find his way over to one of the 2 surprise doors. it works, and before you know it, i’m standing inside asking how can i ever repay him for breaking and entering.

chapter 12:
the key is now permanently attached to my person, and 4 duplicates are on their way up with hubbie. the animals roam contentedly (if not always peaceably). groceries are put up. yesterday’s clothes are washed, and now – at 3:11 a.m. on thanksgiving day – i prop my eyelids open waiting for hubbie and son to arrive and make the dinner table complete. let the overeating begin . . .

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Hey, Sugar! I'm Jeanne Hewell-Chambers: writer ~ stitcher ~ storyteller ~ one-woman performer ~ creator & founder of The 70273 Project, and I'm mighty glad you're here. Make yourself at home, and if you have any questions, just holler.

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