Meant for Making.

A mind meant for making things never finds peace for long. The ache always comes back. But that’s nothing to worry about. The worry is that one day it will go for good. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

2019 was a creatively quiet year for me. I started the year still mourning my Dad’s death, finding myself depressed and quiet. Happy and funny times and things made me sadder, because I was painfully aware of the happy and funny that I wasn’t actually feeling. I middled the year being with Chris’ Uncle as he passed away. From July on, I found myself withdrawn from art and from sharing. I stepped back from almost all creating and I dove deeply into finding satisfaction and consolation in my decade-ago former self – in numbers and accounting, spreadsheets and analysis. I shrunk away from who I am now – the person who has been creating through words and pictures, taking joy in nature and beauty, and connecting with other people through those creations.

Death is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. It is easier because life moves on and therefore so must you. It is harder because death doesn’t move on – it sits heavily on your stomach, and your heart, and your soul.

On the outside, I don’t appear as affected by death. I’m a quiet, introverted mourner. I don’t want to talk to hardly anyone face to face about the inner workings of my grief. Instead, it stays quietly in my heart and it eats at my desire to do and see and relate and create.

But, although retreating into numbers and spreadsheets has been temporarily soothing, it didn’t feed my soul, and I found myself longing to create.

Despite not creating, I didn’t quit recording. I’m a recordkeeper at heart and I can’t just lay that down. In July, after being inspired by Chris’ Grandmother’s diaries, of which I pored over her ten years of daily entries with fascination and adoration, I started my own daily journal. Grandma’s life between the years of 1937 and 1946 were infinitely more interesting than mine – but more about her diaries in another post. However, as I began writing, and then periodically thumbing back through my diary, I realized how great my life is, and how much I have to be thankful for. Although it seems less writable than when the kids were young, we still have adventures, random happenings, and ridiculously crazy occurrences.

I wanted to write online again, but after being away for so long, I wondered why exactly I was still doing it. It’s been months since I’ve seen anyone share someone else’s blog post. Are bloggers even a thing anymore? Is there a such thing as a blog anymore? Am I still carving into stone tablets when everyone else has moved on to telepathy? I mean seriously – where DID all the writers go? Where do they create and share? And where did all the readers go? The biggest part of sharing online for me was always the connecting – the feeling of someone else’s heart saying “me too!!” and knowing I wasn’t alone in my weird, quirky way of looking at the world.

But then I finally got the first of my blog books in – three out of the twelve years of posts. I’ve been working with my website manager for a year and a half to get my blog in a state to which it could be printed, so we all were pretty excited. I watched my children as they gleefully flipped through the books, laughing at stories they’d forgotten or never knew, looking at pictures of themselves at earlier ages, and reading back their own toddler quotes to me with hilarity.

blog books first reading s

It was beautiful. It was fulfilling to know that I had recorded our life in a way that they could access it, see it, read it, and know it. Since then, Noah has become obsessed with me reading the blog stories to him, and he’s so impatient to know them all that he has started reading them himself, then after laughing heartily and/or being amazed at WHAT AN ABSOLUTE HANDLE he was as a toddler, he’ll go find Ali and read her the story. “Ali. Wait till you hear this one about the time I pooped in the bathtub. Oh! And my potty training was awful!! And do you remember the time I stepped on the grasshopper and made Loulie cry??”

I’m enjoying them also – I’ve forgotten half the things I’ve written over the past 12 years. All of that life would have been lost had it not been for this blog – and for the readers that motivated me to share it. I was, and am, immensely grateful for all of your interaction, all of your words of affirmation and encouragement, all of your Christmas cards, all of your reaching out hands of friendship. I have a folder in my email account titled “Encouraging Blog Emails” where I have filed many of your emails and comments over the years, and occasionally when I’m feeling down or discouraged, I will go back and read them to remind myself of why I do this and the connections I’ve made because of it.

And so, as I start 2020, my main goal this year is to truly create again. I don’t know how often, but it must happen. It might be short snippets of life, or posts that read more like diary entries than well-crafted essays. I want to get back to writing, even if that writing isn’t perfectly polished. I need to create. For my soul, for my family’s history, and for healing.

191208 Village of Jance IMG_4595-H s“Wonder is great and important. And wonder at the visible – at what can be seen and shared, that requires no nationality or belief to experience – that is a special kind of phenomenon…A moment like this can be shared between strangers, as we share it now. It crosses all lines, makes them converge; turns enemies into wide-eyed children in the face of the miraculous. And for a moment, the battlefield stills. – “The Left-Handed Fate”, Kate Milford

Note about the quotes: I also read a lot over the past year, and my favorite author to dive deep with was Kate Milford. She has a series of books with different settings, genres, and time periods that all interact with one another beautifully and intricately. She has a LOT of ideas – sometimes overwhelmingly so, and it was a bit mind-blowing to try to keep up with the threads between the seemingly unrelated books, but I thrived on the challenge. I highly recommend all of her books, but I suggest you start with Greenglass House and go from there. In fact, if it’s cold or raining or snowy where you are, I find it to be the most cozy book I have ever read – it was meant to be read while curled into a quilt, in front of a fire, and/or with a hot beverage.

The Right Time for Words.

Today is my dad’s birthday.

He would have been 67. Way too young to not be here anymore.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately, as I just had my second experience with the agony, exhaustion, and honor of end of life care…my second experience with a beloved man dying all too young…my second experience with cancer taking someone I love. Chris’ Uncle Leo, who you know best from his spectacular toenail art and crochet shorts, passed away on July 4, at the age of 65.

I am finding myself doing a lot of writing offline, processing things way too personal to share publicly right now. There’s a lot to sort through when life throws you topsy-turvy…death forces everything to be re-evaluated. And death twice in ten months makes everything look different.

But the following is a post I wrote ten months ago after my dad died. At the time, it too was entirely too personal to share, but I knew I wanted to share it one day.

It might be too spiritual for some. Too long for others. But to me it represents hope in the darkness, light when light is needed most, and not feeling alone when we are walking down the darkest and most desolate paths of our life.

I hope that for at least one person out there, it can encourage you when you need it most.


My Dad had cancer for six years before he died. I shared about his initial diagnosis, but I could never bring myself to share here about when that cancer spread two years ago. I just didn’t have the words.

I didn’t just not have the words for you, I didn’t have the words for him.

I remember vividly the day after mom and dad came over to tell us Dad’s cancer had spread, and that there was no cure, but that they were going to do everything they could to fight it. The next day was the first time I ever therapeutically “got lost in the woods.” I went trail running to clear my mind and process things, and actually did get a bit lost by accidentally going off trail, falling down a hill covered in pine straw, and in general letting the woods beat me up to make me feel better. I remember sitting in the car at Oak Mountain, and Jasmine Thompson’s version of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” (by Meaghan Trainor) came on Spotify. That song broke me. I realized that day that the most painful part of this process for me was how very unable I was to talk about real feelings and emotions with my dad. We had a good relationship, but there had always been an impassible wall for genuine, real  communication – at least on my side. And it wasn’t just with Dad – I’m pretty much always better at telling funny stories than talking about the deep and real issues of my heart. But I saw no way around this – it was so impossible, I couldn’t even tell Chris about the painful realization for several days, and even that felt like ripping my soul out.

For two years, Dad had a series of ups and downs, miracle drugs, medications working then not working, scans that were good and scans that were bad. He had doctors dismiss him, telling him they had nothing else that would help him, and doctors tell him that they couldn’t believe how well he was doing. He even had a doctor tell him he could live for 20 more years. He was told that a month before he died. The roller coaster of treating an incurable cancer is intense, anxiety-filled, and requires real conversation.

Dad made huge efforts to open communication with me. He even tried to open communication with the entire church, teaching a Sunday School class on death and dying, sharing all he’d learned through his process. I’d gotten marginally better at talking to him about the cancer and even about dying, but never was I able to cross the impossible divide of telling him what he’s meant to me.

One of my prayer requests for the year in our small group was that I would be able to talk to my Dad. Even with all Dad’s efforts at helping me with that (unbeknownst to him that it was my prayer request), I still failed constantly. Even the idea of writing my thoughts was excruciating and impossible.

Last summer, Dad very suddenly started feeling worse and worse. It was determined within a couple of days that his liver had shut down. I knew this was terrible, awful, horrible news. My stomach stayed in knots for a week. Mom and Dad went to multiple doctors looking for answers, even driving to Philadelphia as a last ditch effort. The night that they met with the Philadelphia doctor, they called me. They told me the doctor had told Dad that he had days or weeks to live.

After my phone call with them, I had about an hour to myself. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do, how to pray, how to process. I asked the Holy Spirit to pray through me. To guide me. Anything. Because I had nothing.

I immediately felt the urge to write out how my dad had influenced my life and my personality. I started scribbling in my journal. The words flowed out and in just a few minutes, I had filled two pages with the feelings that I had been completely unable to think, speak, process, or write for the last two years. Then I felt an urge to type them up and email them to my Dad, which I did.

I went to bed that night feeling an unbelievable feeling: peace. Peace that I had heard from and felt the Holy Spirit’s direction. Peace that I had done exactly what He had directed me to do. Peace that He had done it through me, since I had been completely unsuccessful at doing the same thing for the past two years.

Dad read my email the next morning and sent me a simple email back – the last email I would ever receive from my father.

It said…

As you might imagine our emotions have been a roller coaster these last few weeks. Your email this morning was very humbling but helped answer some of my uncertainty if I had made any difference 

I love you

The Holy Spirit had enabled me to do what had been impossible for me at the exact time that my Father needed to hear it.

And in doing so, my confidence in prayer was renewed and strengthened when I needed it most.

I was still sad. Sad for me, sad for my Mom, sad for my children, sad for my brothers, sad for the world that we were all were losing my Dad. I was sad for the vast amount of stories and knowledge that was going to be leaving the world with my Dad. I am still sad about all these things, and I am certainly still struggling daily with the reality of my Dad’s death. But I know his eternal destiny is good, and I have been comforted by the One who Dad is now with. So I am not broken. I am not in despair. I am not angry or bitter with God. Because I trust in the One who loves me enough to comfort and speak to me when I needed Him most.

These are the words I wrote about my Dad and sent him that night in September.

My Dad….

– Taught me that the pursuit of money doesn’t have to be the end goal of your career or occupation. He showed me that you can do what you love and make (and live on) little and be worlds happier than doing what you hate and making lots.

– Gave me my ability to find humor in the absurd, the annoying, the bizarre, the cheesy. We used to sit and watch the local news together just to make fun of it. Without his teaching me these important skills, I could have never been a writer.

– Is the origination of my observation skills, my attention to detail, and my ability to read people and discern their emotions and sometimes thoughts. He knows what is going on in my mind and in everyone else’s, whether we want to admit it or not. (My Mom literally thought my Dad could read her mind when they first got married and she would desperately try not to think about things she didn’t want him knowing.)

– Can do ANYTHING, and never shies away from any project just because it is something he hasn’t done before. He can write, draw, rebuild cars, build a house, do amazing and intricate woodwork, navigate his way across Asia and Europe in an antique car he rebuilt and fitted for the journey, drive a massive truck and trailer on insanely scary mountain roads in Mexico that frighten normal humans just to see pictures of them, start a business, write a book or a short story, raise bees (and create custom tools to take care of those bees and steal their honey), build a bridge and irrigation system, put on a week-long Model T Tour for 500 guests to drive hundreds of miles through the state, design a better chicken house, and teach a class on death while facing death. I am fortunate enough to inherit my lack of fear in starting something new and grand and overly large from him, although I might have it in lesser quantities. Without witnessing the unwavering confidence and work ethic he demonstrated, I would have never started Picture Birmingham five years ago, or organized Alabama Bloggers many years ago, or organized a Kid’s Hiking Club last year. He taught me that I can learn and I can do anything, regardless of whether I’ve been trained to do it or not.

– Is a renegade. He does his own thing his own way. He doesn’t conform to society’s standards or expectations on things like having a 9 to 5 job, or buying a house (rather than building your own), or having a completed house to live in (rather than living in the house you’re building), or accepting the accepted ideas and opinions of society. He works on what he wants to work on, he creates what he wants to create, and he often doesn’t fit in the neat little boxes or participate in the expected rites of society. I am happy to have inherited his renegade spirit. I don’t like to fit my life into other people’s schedules or templates or frameworks. I create my own frameworks (like homeschooling), and if I see a need, I don’t look for an outside group to fill it – I create my own group (like my Dysautonomia Support Group, my Hiking Club, etc.)

– Has insane amounts of patience, and values things done right over things done quickly. The man has been building his house, by himself, his way, for 17 years. If he has a vision of how something should be done, he doesn’t cut corners.

– Took me and my future very seriously. He made Chris wait two weeks while he prayed about his request to marry me, but once Dad was certain that it was God’s will for me to marry Chris, he never wavered on that decision. Although I very much wanted to marry Chris, I began to struggle with fear and anxiety a couple of months into our engagement, overwhelmed as a 19 year old over this lifelong commitment and decision I was making. My anxiety got to the point where it was leaving me in tears daily. Finally, on New Year’s Day, I broke down and cried with Mom and Dad. I finished my explanation with “I just need to know that I know for SURE that it is God’s Will that I marry Chris. Dad looked me in the eye and said “You know how seriously I took his request, and how long I prayed for it. Do you really think that I would have said yes if I didn’t know that this was God’s will for you?” My fears left that very moment and I’ve never, in 18 years, doubted for a single minute that it was God’s will that I marry Chris.

– Illustrated day in, day out; year in, year out how to have a faithful, faith-filled walk with the Lord. How to keep going and trust God on the good days or bad, in sickness and in health, in life or while facing death.

– Has been a stunning example of how to walk toward death with your head held high, with absolute assurance of God’s goodness and his eternal destiny. Dad has sought God throughout without anger or bitterness, and has sought open communication with not only family (which is harder than it sounds when you’re dealing with people like me who are really great at sharing their surface-level feelings but keep their deep feelings in a vault in a cave in a hole in a dungeon locked behind three chains), but also by opening his heart with his Church family and sharing the wisdom that he’s learned from God through the process of facing death head-on. His thoughts and wisdom have been so insightful that they leave no doubt that they are from God. His confidence in this walk he has taken has not only helped me have comfort for him, but has also helped me not fear my own death.

– My Dad has given me the wisdom, the tools, and the freedom to believe the Word of God and to hopefully live it out.

Seeing God answer my prayer in allowing me to tell my Dad what he meant to me, and seeing that God gave that gift to me right when Dad needed me to give that gift to him, was a bright beacon of hope over the next few weeks as I walked through the darkest days of my life. It gave me the confidence to grieve but not be inconsolable, to weep but not despair.

190701 Sunflower Fields IMG_6920

And for that, I will forever be thankful.

Too Much Candi In the Pool

We arrived on our vacation three hours before check-in. The reason we’d chosen this particular neighborhood was for the fantastic pool – it was large and decked out like a resort, with rock features and waterfalls in the center of the pool and around the edges, a gorgeous covered area with legit outdoor couches comfortable enough to take a nap on, a big screen tv the size of my living room, a full and luxurious outdoor kitchen, and a four-story tower that was perfect for running up and seeing the ocean, the city, the sunset.

Pool

So since we were early, I called our rental agency and asked if we could go ahead to the pool – it had a gate code, which we had been given, but I wanted to make sure the code would work if we were early. They said that we could absolutely go – the gate code was good, and it was a great place to hang out until our rental house was ready.

So we grabbed our swimsuits and headed to the pool. The kids, happy to be out of the car, jumped in and began enjoying the wonderland of vacation. I curled up on the couch with a book, as my swimsuit was too hard to procure, packed in one of the bags beneath everyone else’s bags. But I was quite content to have a few minutes to myself. 

About an hour later, I noticed that a very tanned, bleached-blonde lady in her fifties was talking very animatedly to Chris, David, and Ashley – all the adults on this vacation but me. I thanked my lucky stars for my forethought to hide myself deeply tucked into the couch and went back to reading.

Then one of them pointed to me and told her my name.

Dangit.

I paid closer attention and started catching snatches of conversation. Then she marched over to me and began a whirlwind speech.

“Hi. I’m Candi – the pool attendant. It’s against the rules to come before your check-in time and I should really kick you all out. I really should. I’m supposed to kick you all out. See, you don’t have your pool bracelets on and I’m not allowed to let anyone be here without pool bracelets. The whole city used to use this pool and it was just a mess. So we got the locking gates and they hired me. By the end of the week you’ll be SO glad that we have a pool attendant. I’m here to be nosy and keep order. Anyway, you need to have your bracelets, but your husband said that it wasn’t time for your check-in yet. I really should kick you all out. He said your rental company said you could come in and that was wrong – very wrong. I need to have a talk with them as soon as possible. Can you please provide me their name? And their phone number? I need to give them a call.”

I wasn’t given the opportunity for words edgewise or otherwise, so I simply provided her the name and number of our rental agency and prayed that God would have Mercy on Their Souls. 

She disappeared with her phone, looking rather excited at her opportunity to go Five Star Pool General on a rental company, and the rest of the adults came over to where I was, looking rather dazed by the onslaught of Candi the Pool Attendant.

We were all enjoying a moment in the shade and a snack when she came back and restarted her impressive flood of words.

“I called and told them that what they did was wrong – very wrong. That you’re not allowed to come in here before check-in. I told them that they needed to let you in the house – even if it’s not ready – so you can get your blue bracelets so I don’t have to kick you out. They apologized. You should be getting a call from them….”

While she repeated this information in an endless loop, my phone began ringing. There was no possible way for me to pause her breathless assault of my ears, so I just let the call go to voice mail. I knew it was them, but I figured they needed a second to regain their composure anyway.

I finally escaped from Candi and walked out the gate to call them back. The woman that had been The Lucky One to receive verbal waterboarding from Candi picked up. I could hear the blush in her cheeks. She apologized and said they’d forgotten this was a “pool band neighborhood”, and that she was going to give me a one-time code to get into our house, retrieve our bracelets, and go back to the pool.

…Because if we didn’t have those Absolutely Vital blue bracelets on, our existence was def gonna poison Miss Candi’s pool.

I walked down the street to find our house. The door was already ajar because the cleaning crew was there. I tip-toed in and called out an apology, grabbed a handful of priceless turquoise rubber bracelets, and rushed back to the pool, quickly placing one on every arm in our group.

Candi happily bounced over, gushingly THANKING us for wearing our pool bracelets – something she proceeded to do to everyone she passed for the rest of the afternoon. She put on her most Professor Umbridge-Like wide and fake smile, looked each person in the eye, and said “I see you’ve got your pool bracelet on! THANK YOU for wearing that!!”

I thought that our Bracelets of Belonging would finally score us some peace at the pool, but I was wrong. 

So. Very. Wrong.

What it did is make us insiders with Miss Candi, and now she wanted to sit and gossip with me about all the things that proved her value.

….”There was this one time that a tall blond woman with the big hat and the expensive swimsuit – you know the type – (air quotes) – “Miss Seaside”, just walked on up into this pool without a bracelet on. I asked her why she was here. She motioned to her handsome husband on the golf cart – ‘Oh, we’re just checking the pool out.’” 

(The story ended with Miss Candi kicking her out and in indignance saying to me “Now she had a fancy golf cart and a handsome husband – why did she need to be stealing our pool? Because that’s what it is, you know, if you don’t have a bracelet, STEALING.”)

…”The parents are just the worst. I have to keep an eye on all the kids. I usually see them trying to escape before the parents do. That’s why I check the doors all the time – to make sure they’re closed. Those parents aren’t paying any attention!!”

(She proved this by sprinting over every time a kid yelled or even squealed with glee to accusingly ask the parents “Are they okay?? What happened??”) 

…And our most precious moment was when she told me that another reason she had to keep the miscreants out is because we as guests had permission to do anything we wanted … “and I DO MEAN ANYTHING” … in the pool tower – and we obviously didn’t want other people doing those things in our pool tower.

(Yes, Miss Candi, we DEFINITELY plan to use the pool tower for a spot of romantic liaison without any concern that you’re going to come up and ask to see our blue bracelets.)

After she finished her gossip, she decided it was time that I and the other parents knew all of the rules. And which ones she was going to enforce and which ones she was going to encourage us to break. So she gathered the four of us again and began, in agonizing detail, to explain everything.

…”The county mandates that no one eat or drink within 10 feet of the pool, but I want you to stay hydrated, so please have a drink (imbibe! It can be alcohol!) alongside the pool while you’re standing in it. But I will NOT allow you to walk around with your beverage.”

(Someone needs to tell Miss Candi that alcohol is not hydrating.)

…”You and your children MAY NOT play on the rocks or touch the rocks.”

(She proved how important this rule was later by charging bull-style at a family whose toddler got too close to the rocks – AFTER blowing her whistle – because of course she had a whistle – as loudly as she possibly could have point-blank behind my right ear.)

…”Don’t forget to use the TV! Do you know the code to get in the TV cabinet? Wow – you do?  Most rental companies don’t provide that! Surely you want to watch TV right now. It’s first come first serve so turn it on whenever you want!!”

(She followed this up half an hour later by questioning me again as to why I wasn’t watching TV. Because I had Miss Candi to watch. Why would I need TV??)

…”The rule on using the outdoor kitchen and tables is leave no trace – clean up after yourself and enjoy.”

(We ordered Pizza a little later. We threw away our pizza boxes. But three different times I heard Candi muttering behind me – “I said leave no trace. If you eat at a table clean it up. There are rags in the sink.” Finally I sent Ali over to get a rag to wipe away any invisible pizza crumbs so that Miss Candi would shut up. Which of course was an impossible feat to attain.)

…”No vaping because most people don’t understand that there is glass inside an e-cig and there is ABSOLUTELY NO glass allowed on the pool deck.”

(We laughed, but Miss Candi interrupted with “Oh I wish I could vape right now. I need a cigarette so bad.” We agreed – she definitely needed a cigarette.)

She assured us again that she was the best thing to ever happen to this neighborhood and we would be SO GLAD by the end of the week that we had a pool attendant. Because she added value-added services like OPENING THE GATE for us. AND CHECKING ON OUR CHILDREN.

I wasn’t sure if Miss Candi was going to be the most entertaining part of my week or the most annoying part. There was a very fine line and she was tightroping it very with grand determination.

She regularly went from dancing around the pool deck and applauding people for having mimosas in the pool to angrily running at a child who happened to be two feet from his parents just to return said child accusingly as if the parents were the worst humans ever. She would go from encouraging someone to turn on the TV! Enjoy yourselves! To manically demanding to know “WHAT IS THAT?!?!?” to someone who had brought their own karaoke machine. Then upon realizing what it was, giving a little approving dance shimmy to show just how crazy fun she was.

But it was her smile that was the scariest part. It was wide. It was toothy. It screamed out “I’m teetering on the edge of my own metaphorical swimming pool of boiling lava and if you push me over that edge I will drown you in the hot tub but only 8 people are allowed in the hot tub at once so I’ll have to ask two to leave so that I can put my feet in to get a good angle to hold your head under the water.”

But as long as we had our blue bracelets, the rules clearly stated that we could not be drowned by pool attendants.