Valentine gifts, broken hearts, and being a love distributor

These are words that arrived in my inbox from my girl crush, Jen Hatmaker, and even though I know I’m breaking at least a hundred million copyright and digital good manners rules I’m going to take them and share them right here right now.

(If Jen ever gets a hint of this I hope I get an “at a girl” and not a “cease and desist.” They are words the whole wide world needs to hear.)

Quick reminder to any of you that feel a little blah about Valentine’s Day: this is an invented day to sell chocolate. If you are single (or newly single) or struggling in your relationship or missing someone or married to someone who isn’t thoughtful or divorced or just in a sad place this year: don’t you dare let V Day get in your head. Be in charge of your own story. “A day for love” means you can love anything and anyone in any way you want. Call your BFF. Book a massage. Cook a killer dinner and invite some friends over. Grab your kids and watch a funny movie with pizza. Write some love notes to your mom and dad. Tackle five Random Acts of Kindness. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. You are loved and worthy of love and lovable and a love distributor. You own this day as much as anyone. 

 

VALENTINE’S DAY DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A DUMPSTER FIRE.

 

(What. She. Says.)

 

So if you’re feeling a little down, or a lot filled up, celebrate V Day with a dose of Jen Hatmaker. Then go distribute some love!

 

Jen’s book Of Mess and Moxie
XXOO
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Day 30: And I can’t think of a better one.

It took a while to get here, my January filled with so many good things I’ve barely time to note them here. Still this little gem came along and I knew it was the perfect wrap-up for 30 Days of Joy.

Meet Lucas Warren, a 1-year-old from Dalton, Georgia. He is the 2018 Gerber baby.

 

 

With all the bad news and distress that makes up our news feed these days, isn’t it wonderful this is also the world we live in?

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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Day 29: Spring. It’s Coming.

I’ve never been one to invest in mealworms for the bluebirds, something that seems a bit silly when the fact is they bring me a great deal of joy. Still we have a gigantic back yard. On a lake. Surely there are gracious plenty worms and creepy crawlies naturally occurring to keep everybody good and satisfied. I mean, they’re birds. Right?

Then last summer some things happened that had me rethink.

First, my beloved bluebird parents had not just one, not just two, but THREE successful nests in the span of five months. That’s a ton of insatiable bluebird babies who must be fed a thousand times a day, even after they leave the nest. You may remember this incredible discovery long about August when I realized it was a baby from an earlier brood actually helping with the feedings!

 

(How I love this little helper. How I felt for its exhausted mother!)

 

And so I hopped in my car and drove to the birdseed store to see if there was a reasonable way I could help out. And right there it was–a cylinder of seeds into which a mass of dried mealworms had been smashed.

No muss, no fuss, I’ll take it.

It was hardly any time at all until the woodpeckers and the titmice and the chickadees and the wrens made a feast of the new cylinder. I love them all, and I was pleased with their excitement, but I BOUGHT THE FRIGGIN’ MEALWORMS FOR THE BLUEBIRDS. Where were they? Since they don’t typically eat from a feeder, how would they ever even find it?

 

The downy woodpeckers love me now.

 

In just a couple of days, find it they did. And not just the Mama and Daddy, who seem to hang close all year round. But this time an entire collection of bluebird teenagers numbering at least five, maybe more. Lord those teenagers are fun to watch, they talk so big and still look so unsure.

See?

 

 

Oh, and there’s some other bluebird action going on around here long about now as dibs are being claimed on the parent’s bluebird house. (They start building in early March, so time is nigh.) I can’t exactly tell which ones are in and out of it every morning checking on things–but I will have more to share on that later.

For now, these sweeties are bringing me so much joy I thought I would share. Hope you enjoy.

 

 

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

Day 28: The Nest

Now I see it every time I pull in the driveway or walk up the stairs or step out our side porch door.

(AKA a hundred thousand times a day)

 

A sweet, empty bird nest, perched ever so perfectly on a long thin branch of our Japanese Maple. It lifts toward the sky, that branch, with a nice view of the lake–a lovely place to build a home and lay some eggs and raise some tiny baby birds.

 

location, location, location

 

And still there is another reason this little winter scene brings me so much joy.

 

perfection

 

I never knew it was there.

Even with my focus on filling the feeders and cleaning the birdbath (for which I had to pass right under this branch), and even for my obsessive monitoring of the bluebird box outside my big studio window, and even with the excitement of chickadee babies this year, I spent the entire spring/summer season not knowing this little beauty was there.

 

 

Oh, the gifts of winter, when the leaves drop and gorgeous secrets are revealed!

 

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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BECAUSE I OVERDO EVERYTHING.

Case in point, how I paint.

It’s something I love and don’t take too seriously (let’s call that a WIN) because I paint primarily to stretch my brain. And because this is primarily my life philosophy:

pretty much

 

So I signed up for Mary Gilkerson’s Art+Life+Painting 5 Day Painting Challenge. I started with these difficult but ultimately liberating constraints:

  1. Limited paint palette.
  2. 4 x 6 gesso board, a new (crazy slick) surface for me.
  3. Palette knives (which my husband calls “spatula painting”) instead of brushes.
  4. Single theme: all are from photos of our beloved Black Mountains view.
  5. Finish in 20 minutes.
  6. Share the work, via Mary’s encouragement, on her wonderful blog. Pay attention to the paintings of other participants. Enjoy them! Learn from them! Cheer them on! YAY!

Everything about this challenge is difficult and scary. (See headline.) Thus, all the more reason to TAKE IT ON.

(Even so the world will never see my horrendous Day 1 painting.)

Here is Day 2. Better than the first but still seriously overworked.

 

That’s a lot of strokes and a lot of color for the goal to be SIMPLIFY.

 

Thank you, Mary Gilkerson, for the challenge and your fantastic instruction.

Thanks, Lila Anna Sauls, for being my accountability partner!

 

XXOO

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

 

Day 26: For Love of The Crown

It has become the topic about which we talk, text and email most often, we dear friends, coworkers, digital contacts, casual acquaintances, people thrown together in the Publix checkout line. It’s rather a phenomenon, I would say, this coming together in light of deep division in our country. (So many opinions. So many binge-worthy options.) It’s nothing we planned or decided or even discussed up front, yet here we all are, parked in front of our televisions, the obsession having taken root so fastidiously it is impossible not to watch.

(This thing is so good we knitters put down our needles and Sit Up And Pay Attention, not wanting to miss a single smirk, or side glance, or eyebrow raise. And that, my friends, is saying something.)

Of course it’s The Crown I’m talking about, the little Netflix gem that’s taking the world (or U.S. and Great Britain) by storm and which is considered by many to be just about the finest television drama ever.

IT’S SO GOOD!!!

 

 

For starters, it’s the most expensive television series ever made, and this uncompromising commitment shows. Every scene comes to life in way that feels both remarkable and authentic. (I know that seems like a contradiction but I promise you it’s not.) You are in the midst of it whether in Buckingham Palace, Scotland’s Castle Mey, or the wilds of Kenya (cue the elephants!).

 

(I can’t help but think about washing all that crystal.)

 

There’s Clare Foy, the actress who plays Queen Elizabeth with such elegance and restraint you not only see the monarchy’s weight as it sits on her perfectly squared shoulders, you feel it heavy on your own. Oh the painful, gut-wrenching (not that she’d use that phrase) decisions that woman must make in the best interest of her country! And that’s not even considering her responsibilities (and forced loyalties) as head of the Church of England.

 

The Queen. And the Crown.

 

And those clothes. Oh, the clothes! Particularly Princess Margaret, who is without a doubt the most beautifully dressed woman in television history. (Vanessa Kirby sure does wear them well.)

There are a billion other reasons to covet this show. Can I really not mention:

  • John Lithgow as is Winston Churchill
  • The understated yet scene-stealing performance of Will Keen as the Queen’s dull but stuck-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place private secretary, Michael Adeane (Tim’s favorite character)
  • Season Two’s brilliant, transcendent Episode 4, “Beryl”
  • Foy’s performance opposite Lord Altrincham in Episode 5, “Marionettes” !!!!!

It is all so fascinating, so rich, so delicious.

And it’s the perfect, perfect binge for this glorious, cozy, joy-filled month of January.

(I am one happy girl.)

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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Day 25: the most civilized month of the year

How I love January.

I love it all, from the clean, frigid air, to the chance for fresh starts, to the soft blues and grays of the winter landscape.

I love bare trees, branches exposed, naked arms twisting, turning, reaching for light.

I love the chance for snow, and giggles when it flurries, and the crunch underfoot, and red noses and mittens and wet dripping boots.

I love the sparkling icicles that hang from big rocks and house eaves.

I love firewood stacked, and big stone hearths, and the dance of fire, full burn.
And I love that smell. Oh I love the smoke of the winter fire smell.

I love thick books and warm fuzzy socks and good healthy pours of red wine.

I love hot soup–bubbling on the stove, steaming in a mug, dipped from  a bowl with a big giant spoon.

Flannel sheets, extra blankets, snuggly pajamas.

Down coats, fur hoods, thick knitted scarves.

Fat winter birds.

And I love the quiet. Of all the deep joy this civilized month brings, it is the quiet I cherish the most. It settles my soul, calms my heart, brings me back to me.

I love January.

 

30 Days of Joy

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!

 

 

Day 24: Hope Against Hope (a post for Clemson and non-Clemson fans alike)

WE’VE JUST RETURNED from a weekend in New Orleans, a long haul trip we made to watch the college playoff Sugar Bowl between my beloved Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. It was a high expectations matchup between the two contenders in last year’s high drama National Championship–suffice it to say there was a lot riding on this game. There was also a lot of time in the car (1300 miles) and a little bit of time on Bourbon Street (lunch+), which I have to say was quite the blast.

 

bourbon at bourbon on bourbon

 

It was just exactly as cold as it looks.

 

The game’s outcome, though? Not so much.

Still the experience was a powerful way to kick off a new year because it set my feet squarely on the ground, reconciling giddy, hopeful, the-world-in-bright-colors possibility with loss and disappointment and the sobering gray of acceptance; because sometimes your heart feels battered and beaten* and then something happens that fills it with the joy of an even more brilliant light.

(*Lest you think I am being overly dramatic I should tell you there was a fan in front of us who turned and taunted and insulted so obnoxiously officials ultimately removed him from the stands. Believe you me, my heart felt stomped on.)

 

BUT THEN THE JOY came, unexpected as it was, and it happened like this.

There was that awful late game moment when in a single play the hand wringing stops and your husband (the optimist) turns and says, “That’s it, baby. That’s the game.” And you know it’s true but still you can’t grasp it, still your hope holds on to hope in spite of every single visible odd.

The clock clicks on, and time expires, and a giant lump forms in your throat. It’s surprising because it’s not so much for the “L” but for every senior on that team, for every player of every age who has spent so much of the year–and years before that–doing the gut-wrenching physical, mental, and emotional work it takes to be a great competitor. It’s for the men on that field who just yesterday were boys and through commitment and grit and tenacity brought happiness and pride and a collective spirit of one to the greater Clemson family.

You stay on your feet. You watch them cross to midfield where, helmets tucked under arms, they meet the victors for good sportsmen handshakes and “good game” acknowledgements over and over and over. Then they turn back, facing their disappointed fans, and make the long, painful walk toward the locker room.

You can hardly take it. You want to wrap your arms around each and every one, hugging them tight, thanking them, remembering the season and the fun wrought purely from their hard work and dedication. Holding their tender hearts in your gentle, grateful hands.

And then they do this.

 

arms wrapped tight

 

That team, standing together in loss, swaying and singing the Clemson alma mater.

 

IF YOUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL loyalties lie elsewhere I hope you haven’t given up on this post, for I don’t mean it to be one about Clemson, per se. Fans of every team have experienced the same proverbial thrills and awful, dreadful defeats. It’s the stuff college football is made of, after all, this pendulum intent on proving we never know what will happen season to season, week to week, play to play. We ride the wave, we fans, and we hang our hopes–hang them high–on the backs of student athletes all across the country who game after game shoulder what must be a smothering burden.

And then they do something that demonstrates an understanding that the game itself is actually the least of it, that it’s showing up, and supporting each other, and being people of substance that matters. That winning feels fantastic and is glorious (believe me, I am NOT knocking winning, which I celebrate thoroughly) but that victory can also come through hard work, dignity, character, loyalty.

 

I WISH THE GAME had turned out differently. Of course I do. But as I make my way through this shiny new year filled with hope and promise, every time I face adversity or am forced to deal with disappointment I will remember the example set for me by the band of brothers on that field in the Superdome.

And I will raise my head and sing.

 

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

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Day 23: Love, everlasting

It was December 26th before I noticed it, this little something something about our Christmas tree. No doubt this is because a bit of my attention was drawn to the slew of presents beneath it, the wonder and excitement of the promise held by each and every package.

They were so pretty. There were so many! Finally Christmas morning dawned, and dressed in our matching PJs with Hendel’s Messiah playing in the background, we commenced to opening.

It was joy upon joy upon joy. Something so thoughtful and meaningful from Eliza. A surprise chosen (with no suggestions from me) from Tim. Gifts and treasures from friends and family so perfect we paused between nearly every unwrapping for a photo or a text or a giggle.

And then came breakfast, and roasting the turkey, and an afternoon of straightening up.

 

our pretty tree, presents and all

 

By 3 the tree base was bare, and I spent a glorious Christmas night in that very room, sitting by the fire, a new (gifted) novel in my hands. Still it took until the morning of the 26th before I noticed it.

 

 

Now I cannot not see it.

 

 

Another Christmas miracle, I thought. There all the time, and yet it took the excitement of the day–and the stripping away of the packages and wrappings and ribbons and bows–for me to see it. For this little fir cross to come into my heart and remind me of the larger story: the joy, and the pain, and promise of love, everlasting.

XXOO

30 Days of Joy

 

I’d love to send a note each time there’s a new post on The Daily Grace. Just leave your email here!