Tag: journaling

My Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitudes

2 red journals, one large and one small on a blue surface in front of a leopard-print chaise pin cushion, a blue pin cushion, and a piece of amethyst

Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitude v1 (small) and the larger v.2

In August 2018, I began keeping a journal I call The Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grins, and Gratitudes. It was a small blank journal, one that fit nicely inside my small pocketbook so I was never without it. I didn’t write complete sentences and paragraphs, just bullet notes and phrases to remind me. Before the fist month ended, I was filling page after page after page after page after page. In April 2020 my Book of Astonishments: Daily Goodness, Grains, and Gratitudes moved to larger quarters . . . and in less than a week, I was filling page after page after page after page in the new, larger journal.

I have long believed that the more you say Thank you for, the more reasons you have to say Thank you. These journals are my evidence, my proof.

Relishing goodness begets more goodness to relish.
Grinning often begets more opportunities to grin.
Saying Thank you begets more reasons to say Thank you.
Living in joy begets more joyful living.
Welcoming happiness begets more happiness on your door step.
You get the idea. It’s the very best kind of Magic.


drawings of eyes, football, hearts, and words in a child’s journal

words and drawings of a bicycle, a wooly mammoth, a bouncing ball, a riding toy in a child’s daily journal


I got to spend several weeks with my grands recently, and one day I told my grandson about my journal, explained my aforementioned philosophy to him, and asked if he’d like to keep his own journal. He said yes,, so I whipped out a small blank book I’d taken with me for story writing, and we began.

Me to Grandson: What do you want to put in your G3 Journal for today?
The Grandson, without a moment’s hesitation: Doughnuts for breakfast! The awesome, wonderful surprises you give me! Getting hugs from you every day and getting to give you hugs every day. James’ birthday party. Walking around the lake and throwing rocks in it.

I don’t know if his parents will be able to work this addition into the nightly bedtime ritual, but I assure you that it will be part of the nightly ritual when we are together!

Do you keep a Gratitude Journal? A Goodness, Grins, and Gratitude Journal? Does the Magic happen to you, too?

Did I Tell You the One About

Our Vows . . . 

Forty-seven years ago today, I made my way down the aisle to say “I sure will!” when asked if I willingly made and agreed to keep my vows to Andy, The Engineer. Now I can’t say I thought about it at the time because the words “I sure will” just fell right out of my mouth, but looking back, it seems to me now that saying “I will” might be more meaningful and lasting than saying “I do.” I might’ve said “I sure will” because of authority issues (The preacher who married us was not chosen because I liked him – I didn’t, and the feeling was mutual – but because he was the only one available on the date we set.). I  might’ve said “I sure will” because my brain chose that particular moment to take a nap after the inevitable hecticness preceding a wedding. I’ve had a while to think about it, and saying “I sure will” sure seems like  my heart’s way of saying “For the rest of my life, I will honor these vows I make to you here (and the vows we made to each other in our private-just-the-two-of-us ceremony”) while saying “I do” seems more like a “yeah-sure-whatever-you-just-said-now-let’s-party” commitment to keep the vows at least tonight.

I told the preacher not to worry about the vows, that we were writing our own. (I’d already started mine, but you knew that.) I want y’all to know that man put both hands on his desk palms down, rose up out of his chair, leaned over the desk in my direction, and said in what amounted to a hiss, “I have NEVER let couples write their own vows, and I’m not about to start with you, Jeanne Hewell.” I looked him in the eye back to his retinas and said, “Fine, but know this: if you use the word ‘obey’ or anything akin to it, I will NOT say it.”

I waited till just before the ceremony to tell him we’d be saying our own words when we exchanged rings. Score one for Jeanne.

How We Chose The Date . . . 

My father-in-law was known to harumph and complain quite loudly when a wedding interrupted his weekend, so we got married at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night. He’d promised us the prize – a cruise on the Rhine – if his company won some purchasing contest, so we thought it a good idea to be officially married before setting sail. I wrote dates on slips of paper, and we drew July 31 out of the hat, making July 31, 1973 a date that will live in infamy, as they say.

wedding invitation in frame

The Preparations . . . 

My mother got married in the local jail. Yes, really. Back in The Day, citizens of Fayette County elected the sheriff and got the wife for free to do the cooking and cleaning for the prisoners. They kept expenses down even more by providing the sheriff’s family a place to live instead of hiring extra guards. Well, my maternal granddaddy was the sheriff, so Mother and Daddy tied the knot in the living room at the jail.

While I love that story, Mother? Not so much. So once the date was set, I told her, “I want you to give yourself the wedding you wished you’d had. Go ahead. Knock yourself out,” reserving for myself the job of designing my bouquet, choosing the color (Tropicana. Everywhere we live, we plant a tropicana rose bush.); invitations; my attire; and the place. I asked that the reception be held at home (because I’ve always loved the story of a jailhouse wedding) and  asked that we have watermelon at the reception. We wanted to get married on my family’s land, atop a hill overlooking the lake where my paternal granddaddy and I sometimes fished (and killed snakes) and, it occurs to me as I write this, just in front of the place where the uncle I am named after was killed. Likely thinking of parking, women walking on soft earth in heels, and wondering if the church had enough folding chairs, my mother was not enamored with the idea. As it turns out, the preacher we wound up with wasn’t either, so into the church we went.

And the watermelon? It was served, and Andy and I got to enjoy some only because Donn, Andy’s brother, fetched a bowl full and delivered it to us.

The Photos . . . 

I was hit by a car on the streets of downtown Atlanta five weeks before the wedding. I’ll tell you that story another day, but what you need to know right now is that it broke my left knee and landed me in a full leg plaster cast. Everywhere we went from that date forward to our wedding day, I sat on the backseat with my leg on the seat while The Engineer drove with his left hand so we could hold hands over the seat.

Five days before the wedding, the  orthopedic doc cut the cast off, took an x-ray, then came into the room to tell me with a straight face, “Your leg hasn’t healed the way I’d like it to, so we need to put the cast back on.”

”Oh no you don’t,” I told him. That cast is now an umbrella stand, and I’m outta here.”

My left leg wouldn’t bend willingly, so I was still on crutches when July 31 came around. I used Daddy’s arm to help get me down the aisle. When it was time to exit stage left, The Engineer whisked me off my feet and carried me out of the church. No, it wasn’t planned. I was every bit as surprised as the men you’ll see leaning to the right to avoid my size 5.5 saddle-clad left foot getting awfully close to their faces ‘cause The Engineer had eyes only for me back then.

The Dress . . .

Having missed the memo alerting me that Mothers of the Groom were to wear beige, stay out of the way, and keep their mouths completely shut, I invited my mother-in-law to go shopping for wedding dresses with my mother and me. “It’ll be fun,” I told her, “we’ll snag me a dress then go have lunch somewhere.” She agreed, my mother and I picked her up, and off we went – the bride and her two mothers.

We started at a shop at North DeKalb Mall, not so far from the Chambers’ house. I selected a dress with a higher empire waist, thinking it would hide all my rolls of fat . . . the flesh that only I saw when I looked in the mirror at my 98-pound self. I came out of the dressing room, both women liked it, and I said “Great, we’ll take it.” I stood as the pins were put in place for the person who would make the alterations, then asked, “Where will we have lunch?”

the bride, the groom, a young girl

The Other Dresses . . . 

I also have in my cedar chest, the dress Mother wore that night and the dress her mother wore that night. Three generations of dresses, one pink, one blue, one white. I wish I had the dresses Mrs. C and Nancy wore.

gold journal on old brown, white, and blue quilt. on cover of journal is Follow Your Heart.

The Stories . . . 

I’m delighted to tell you that earlier this year, The Engineer surprised me yet again earlier this year by agreeing to co-write our memories. I found matching journals at the dollar store in Denver, and told him the deadline is July 31, 2022. That’ll give me a year to merge the two journals (likely more, in my case) into one book. What a kick it’ll be to see what he remembers (and how much he gets right)!

red stitched letters on white dress with lace

The Plan . . . 

Oh, the things we keep. I am now stitching memories onto the skirt of the dress – slowly, so far, because there’s something about the possibility of COVID-19 lurking around every corner that slows me down and faster as we move towards the big Five-Oh mark. I have plans for the veil, too, and I still have the shoes (they are on display in my studio)  and the fingerless gloves Mother “encouraged” me to get. Who knows what I’ll do with all those accessories? Though I have no idea what to do with it, it seems I’m staging  an installation  – three generations of dresses, my veil, the shoes, gloves, photos, my wedding planning book, a box of napkins from the wedding, the book, my bouquet, and so many other things – and I’m calling it The State of Our Union. Stay tuned.


Post Script . . . 

Today, The Engineer marked the day by gifting me 3 pairs of new socks and 2 replacement bulbs for my photography lights. And me? I gifted him this blog post.


i miss him most on days that end in “y”


thirteen years. it’s been thirteen years since daddy died – and while it seems like the events happened yesterday or maybe just this morning, in my heart it feels like he’s been away forever. i must’ve been a better person then because i told him it was okay to go, okay to die, and i knew it was the right thing to do. but now . . . there are days i merely second guess myself; other days i despise myself for that. why didn’t i tell him not yet, to stay with us, that i still needed him?

i still talk to him, you know, writing him letters – sometimes carrying on conversations right out loud. every year on my birthday, i pen him a letter saying simply “daddy, you were once the age i am now – what would you like me to know?” eventually i will be the age he was when he died. people in his family are bad to die young and in december (a trend i fully intend to break). this year, on my big birthday, he told me to live – to cut loose and flat-out live. “what have you got to lose?” he asked, “the things you want to do don’t hurt anybody, so go on, doll, do ’em.”

other times i ask for other kinds of help – like a week ago today when i implored him to hold off the predicted freezing rain, sleet, and snow at least long enough to give us time to make the 8-hour round trip to pick up my son, his fiancee, and mother and deliver us all safely back atop the mountain for a week of thanksgiving togetherness. he obliged. on saturday when the congestion started, complete with sore throat and chills, i asked him to please make it so i’d feel better the next morning when the travel started to return everybody to their respective homes. even though i thought that request quite impossible, i woke up yesterday morning feeling fine and have ever since – no more coughing, no more scratchy throat, just enough congestion to allow me to sing my favorite songs without having to jump octaves. he still takes good care of me, daddy does, though i try not to impose too often because each request seems like i’m calling him in from the playground early.


it’s true: i can talk to him any time, but i want him here. i want him sitting at the table eating turkey. i want him touching his shoulders to his ears as he lets loose a belly laugh. i want him beaming with love and pride at kipp’s wedding next may. and don’t try telling me “he’s there” because i know he’s here in spirit, but i want to touch him. i want to feel his arms wrap me in a hug like nobody else on earth can do. i want to sit next to him and have him tell me his plans for the future and listen to mine, giving me his support for those he considers good ideas, candidly expressing his doubt or dislike for ideas he considers cockamamie. i want to talk to him, laugh with him, hear him tell me stories.

twice i’ve felt his rough, pudgy hands in dreams, and though it’s not nearly enough, i’m grateful for those two visits, hoping, hoping, hoping for more every night as i close my eyes.


he’s enjoying his life now, wherever he is – he’s told me as much in a variety of ways – and i know that i’m supposed to be happy about that . . . and i am . . . but oh good lord how i do miss him. right down to the cellular level there this deep, profound ache that varies in intensity, but never really totally disappears. i miss him part of every minute of every hour of every day, and i miss him most especially on the days that end with “y”.

[ ::: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is not ashamed to tell you that she will always be her daddy’s doting little girl, and that her daddy will always be her Hero. Always, I tell you.

nancy’s home for thanksgiving: a snapshot of the days

day one – 11/23/13:
(facebook post)

We have The Package, and as she’s said 572,367,892 times I’m the past 11 minutes: “I’m going home for Thanksgiving!”


[ :: ]

day two – 11/24/13:
(facebook post)

Nancy takes a seat at the table while we fix supper. (A light supper, but you knew that because we “fixed” it.) Anyway, the elderly traumatized cat disappears; Phoebe the Corgi lays at Nancy’s feet in protective mode; and when the black cat rubs up against Nancy’s ankle, Nancy reaches down, picks him up (gently) by the tail, and repositions him away from her. Another lesson from Nancy: don’t hesitate to get things the way you want them.

[ :: ]

day three – 11/25/13
(facebook post):

Jeanne: Nancy, you’re a pretty good girl. (Important note: Being “pretty good” is the equivalent of “exemplary” in the Nancy Rating System.).
Nancy: Yes! I’m a pretty good girl! (Said with unmistakable enthusiastic agreement). Being with Nancy is a constant lesson in unabashedly loving yourself.

(journal entry):

she wets the bed (and she obviously has a huge bladder). i am hoping the cats are more more patient and tolerable than i’ve ever known them to be.

having been around the caregiving block a few times, i see that tending to nancy is like tending to a person with alzheimer’s. it is mentally and sometimes physically challenging. i find it exhausting on every level. as you can see, i have already lost the ability to segue. by the end of wednesday, construction of complete sentences will be cause for celebration. by the time we take her back a week from tuesday, i will have lost my ability to think as we commonly know it. quips will develop a sharp edge as the week unfolds. please bear with me.

[ :: ]

day four – 11/26/13:
(facebook post)


some might call it unresponsiveness, nancy’s refusal to engage and answer questions while she is putting a puzzle together or drawing a picture, but me, i call it focusing on one thing at a time. yet another thing nancy could teach me.

[ :: ]

day five – 11/27/13:
(facebook post)

I take Nancy (aka Lazy Bones) to the bathroom to get her dressed and beautiful. We get her pajamas off, she looks at her naked self in one of the few mirrors in this house, and says “I’m a pretty girl.”

(journal entry)

though it is absolutely inexcusable and unacceptable, i begin to catch a glimmer of how easy it would be to yell at nancy when she restocks the magazines over and over and over again, as many as 12 times in a 5 minute span, taking your papers or magazines to add to her stack as she goes along. or to twist her arm or to shove her down into the chair when she doesn’t sit in the chair after you’ve asked her 6 dozen times. or to swat her hand when she pinches you (hard) for the umpteenth time for reasons you can’t begin to imagine because you’re in Protect Thyself mode. i totally missed the line for physical caregiving genes. let me plan something. let me figure something out. let me find resources. let me support the caregivers – yes, please let me do that – but know that as much as i adore nancy, i am just not cut out to do this day in and day out.


IOOL2 2b

at night after she’s in bed, i stitch along on In Our Own Language 2.3. every single drawing from our august 2012 visit (457 total) is stitched individually then amassed into a collage in these three 60″ x 90″ panels. In Our Own Language 3 and In Our Own Language 7 wait in the wings. I am quite eager to get started on them.

[ :: ]

day six, today – 11/28/13:
(journal entries):

i continue my daily habit of rising at dark thirty, alone time that’s now more vital than ever. i find myself in a near panic remembering how once upon a time, i knew when to cook what – i had a cooking schedule that maximized cooktop and oven space leading us to the big thanksgiving dinner at the appointed time. now i can’t even remember what we’re having to eat.

being with nancy 24/7 is a joy.
being with nancy 24/7 is a chore.

i love her – you know i do. i can and do romanticize what it’s like living with nancy. perhaps romanticizing is not exactly the word i seek, but since we picked her up on saturday, life has been reduced to the basic needs of food and shelter. words and complex thoughts are a luxury, requiring too much effort right now.

the romanticizing becomes second nature as i watch her characteristic behaviors, as i listen to her oft repeated words and sentences and turn them on their metaphorical head.


i tell you about how she looks in the mirror at her naked body and says (without a hint of prompting) “i’m a pretty girl.” but i don’t tell you how long it takes to convince her to shed her clothes in preparation for toileting or donning pajamas or clothes. and i don’t tell you about how she ignores the small bench i put in the small bathroom to give her something to prop on as we remove her shoes and socks (several times a day because the kind of disposable panties she wears don’t come with a snap) or how strong she is – something i found out the other day when she ignored the bench, preferring to use my head and back for support.

i don’t tell you about the repetitive motions she makes every evening with her thumb and its two neighboring fingers – a rubbing together that sounds like scratching when she does it against her pants leg, a rubbing together that feels like a sharp pinch and leaves a nasty bruise when she does it against my upper arms in an attempt, best i can figure, to take the shirt off my back.

i don’t tell you how she went into brain lock the night before last – likely a consequence of a day filled with overstimulation – unable to respond to the most simple of commands. i don’t tell you that she can’t toilet by herself, can’t shower by herself, can’t dress by herself, can’t brush her teeth by herself, can’t brush her pretty red hair by herself. is she high maintenance? speaking literally, hell yes, she’s high maintenance. speaking emotionally, however, my heart says she’s worth every labor intensive minute.

lest you feel the need to say something to me along the lines of how now i ought to appreciate the caregivers who tend to her needs day in and day out, let me assure you that i have always and still do appreciate them. i have taken care of many elderly relatives with various issues rendering them unable to live independently. i love the person, but i do not love full-time caregiving. ask me to research rehabilitation or assisted living facilities, and i’m on it. ask me to organize their meds or draft a packing list of what they’ll need, done. ask me to shop for them or my personal favorite: develop systems to take care of things needing to be done in ways that allows the center of attention to save face, and i’m all over it. i just don’t think i’m cut out for day-in, day-out caregiving – even with those i hold dear. i can do it, i just prefer to do something else. and even as i write this, i’m hearing that sharp voice chastising me and reminding me that i was born to serve. for once, i’m too tired to pay much attention.

so yes, i do hugely appreciate nancy’s caregivers . . . if only i knew who they are. nancy has resided at this one institution for about 19 years. it’s a place near where her mother and daddy lived when they were alive, convenient for them to visit and bring nancy home for holidays and weekends. the parents are both now deceased, and we and nancy’s other brother and his wife live pretty far away, making it rather a multi-day event just to go down for a visit. and the institution has instructed the caregivers not to talk to the family, which is a huge red flag for me. nancy doesn’t talk on the phone, and even if she did, she doesn’t run a fever and is unable to experience pain the way we do, unable to say “it hurts here”, so i count on the caregivers to notice when something’s wrong, and i’d like to know.

i’d love to know the names of the caregivers. i’d love it if they’d identify themselves when they answer the phone instead of making me ask who i’m speaking with. i’d like monthly (weekly or bi-weekly would be fantastic.) check-in emails letting us know how nancy is doing. i’d like to know that the caregivers have basic first aid and cpr certification. i’d like to know what made nancy laugh that week, what seemed to upset her. i’d like to know her favorite color of the week, and which necklace she seems to especially like. i’d like to know that they are giving her the postcards i send her every week (when we picked her up, there were several postcards in the office where she is not allowed. i’ve never seen any of the cards or postcards in her room.) i’d like to receive a picture of her every now and then. i’d like to know what her daily schedule is like – what time does she get up, what time does she get on the bus to go to ARC, what time does she return home? does she still know the day of the week by what she has for breakfast? i don’t know much of anything about nancy’s day to day life, and i don’t really think i’m asking too much.

there seems to be an attitude of judgment by “the school” as we call the institution where nancy lives. because we cannot get down there nearly as often as we’d like, it seems they judge us not interested, not involved. that could be easily remedied with some good old-fashioned communication.

we don’t even know the name of the current administrator . . . which is fine, actually, because 2 or 3 (maybe more, who knows?) administrators ago, the reigning administrator blackmailed us, calling us into his office to say that nancy would be evicted if we didn’t pay $2,000.00 a month directly into their general fund – not money that would benefit nancy, mind you, $2k to go into the facility to use as they saw fit. i am still appalled.

i am not insensitive to how busy the caregivers are – in fact, another thing i’d like to know is that the facility understands caregiver burnout and takes steps to avoid it.

so yes, just as there are two sides to every story, there’s another side to nancy’s life, and i long to do something about it. i’ve been trying to do something about it, actually, but things move very slowly when you have no voice – no agency – in your own life. we are her agents, and i am tired of being quiet for fear the powers that be will take it out on nancy.


turn your back, and she’s gone or she’s picked up something you don’t want her to have. she does stay in bed at night, and for that i am eternally grateful because we really need our rest after a day with nancy.



once upon a decade, she was the puzzle whiz. now she’s the drawing whiz.

Andy says drawing has taken the place of puzzles as nancy’s creative outlet. I see puzzles as perhaps creative problem solving, a different kind of creativity from the drawing. filtering everything through the lens of my experience and knowledge base, i wonder if that doesn’t follow the course of my female development: from the comforting (and necessary) structure of to do lists to freeform. from stitching cross stitch images printed on cloth to assembling disparate pieces of cloth together to express something i often can’t articulate until well after the piece is completed.


magazines in puzzle boxes. containers. holding things, sometimes to cover visual clutter and chaos. nothing is sorted. pencils go in the same box with puzzle pieces and magazines and drawings. there is a coming together that, if i squint my eyes, could be physical representation of what is commonly known as integration. no more compartmentalization, instead, it all comes together into the woman who is nancy.


it is true that i put a spin on things nancy says and does, often turning them into sticky note reminders of Important Things. true, it is spin, and it’s also true that it’s true. as time consuming, as disruptive, as exhausting as it is being with nancy, the aggravation and exasperation is outweighed by the shift in consciousness and attention i experience when i am with her. it is all true.

[ :: ]

Jeanne Hewell-Chambers is just too tired to dress up the truth in a pretty little frock.

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Allow me to introduce myself . . .

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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