Serendipity

wp-image-483930761Serendipity!

Yesterday I was surprised with another family’s button box! This was an unexpected and truly wonderful gift. My friend Helen, having no one in her family who wanted her button collection, offered me a simple white cardboard shoe box on Sunday morning just after church. I am both honored and excited to receive it!

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We opened the box together so that she could tell me about one or two of the items inside. Right away I could see that these were treasures. Helen had lovingly sorted them by color and some by style or use into small plastic bags. They were clearly labeled as well. Many of them were stitched together in sets with single strands of teal thread. There are enormous coat buttons and tiny shirt buttons. And all sorts of in between sizes.  Also included are buckles of all sizes and a few other adornments that are not, strictly speaking, buttons, but are wondrous all the same.  She pointed out some of the fancier ones and was somewhat apologetic over the modest white shirt buttons. As we talked, she was searching through the box for the buckles. She pulled out two of them to show me specifically.

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These two special buckles had been bagged, not with the rest of the assortment of small buckles, but instead, were in the bag with the fanciest of the buttons. The label on these reads ‘very nice buckles’. At first glance these two buckles seem somewhat plain and a little rough and uneven, with some dents and scratches in the bargain. Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that they were hand crafted, many years ago. They have no signature or maker’s marks on them but it’s obvious they were carefully designed and constructed. Both buckles are pewter, created for a 1 and ½ inch belt width. Designed by and for a lady to wear, and would have been quite stylish in their time. In any time really. Helen tells me that they were hand-crafted by her own mother around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I fully intend to find a way to wear them, and proudly.

I will also, no doubt, find some way of adding some of the other, equally beautiful and dramatic buttons to clothing of my own design. Whether I wear them or not, though, I will spend hours in the months and years to come imagining stories that must go along with the many treasures that are tucked away in this simple shoebox.

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Helen had never read my story about my own grandmother’s button box and so she could not have known how much I will truly love and cherish her gift. I am humbled and honored that she would think of me. And I am delighted by the serendipity!

Grandmother’s Button Box

20170520_185003Grandmother’s button box was always kept on her sewing machine desk. it was more of a small canister, really, made of tin with a terra cotta colored plastic lid. There were images of Victorian era people shopping for fabrics and notions. I do not remember a time without it’s presence. The button box was another constant thing in my day to day world, reassuring to see and comforting to touch, a delight to open and explore.

The tin sits there with it’s old-timey pictures on it, full of mystery and promise beckoning to you–young or old. Beneath the cover you know you’ll find her timeless collection of buttons and other random treasures that inevitably make their way into boxes and tins in all sewing room-safety pin, snaps and more. It is an archaeological dig site–artifacts of days gone by, treasures and the wisdom of the ages lie within. All you need to do is dig in!

Giving in to the anticipation, you plunge your hand in and soop them out, sifting buttons through your fingers. falling back into the trove with the most satisfying jingles and clickety clacks of metal and plastic! In that moment these ordinary bits and bobs are the most extraordinarily precious objects you’ve ever held in your hand. They exist to be studied, counted, sorted and inspected again and again. The buttons are alluring and exciting and full of tiny fairy adventures with Tink, The Borrowers, Thumbelina and perhaps even Ariel on any given day. Exciting and mysterious, full of never-ending stories you make up anew with each time the box is opened. It is a great privilege to be allowed to open it and play with these magical jewels!

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Later on buttons were part of my first sewing lessons. So many things to learn about buttons in sewing! So many things that button sewing teaches you in sewing too. Patience is one of those things. Buttons are final details on a project, but are often the most important and the most noticed. Buttons taught me to pay attention to the details, take care to make them secure, but neatly–one of Grandmother’s hallmark traits too. Sew each stitch with love.

 

While sewing buttons, one has time for inner reflections and daydreams. Sooner or later you begin to consider the history of a particular button in the box. She told me stories of where many of them came from, whose clothes and in what season. Sometimes there was a funny story about how the button came to be in the box or about the person who wore it. So now the button box was a treasure trove of family stories and history. Buttons from Grandmother’s childhood clothes and one or two from Grandaddy’s time in the army. There were some from her mother-in-law, my great Grandmother, Estelle. Her buttons were always fancy and fashionable. She was an incredibly snappy dresser and gifted seamstress too. Her button sewing taught me precision, as did her life. But those are other stories, for other days. Estelle’s buttons added to my fashion knowledge and enthusiasm.

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Among the sparkly button treasures, sorting, sewing, stories and daydreams there was wisdom gained as well. Saving extra or found buttons is an obvious one–you never know when you might need a button. Throwing them away would be wasteful. Many things are useful for more than their originally intended purpose–this was a lesson Grandmother taught me time and again, in so many more ways than the button box. Follow the trail of stories in your breadbox. Like breadcrumbs, they can lead you home. Listen to the lessons of patience and persistence and care about the details in your life as well as on your shirt. Make it secure–do the job right the first time. You may be glad you did. A job worth doing is worth doing well. All these may be cliche, but they are cliche for a reason. Listen to the stories of your grandmothers and grandfathers. And remember that even the old, shabby looking buttons are still useful, still beautiful and they carry the wisdom of the ages.

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Stories in Her Face

The last days of Grandmother’s life were hard, though at times she was herself again–you could see the familiar sparkle in her eyes. But mostly she was confused, existing, waiting, lost somewhere inside herself. We kept her as comfortable as we could, hoping to see any sign of her old self. She gave us that for a brief moment, when her brother, Buddy, came to visit. She knew him instantly and was so excited to see him. It was such a joyful surprise for all of us to see her so happy. 

She soon lapsed back into confusion, trying to tell us things but the words would no longer connect in her brain and came out all mixed up. She fought sleep like a small child would, not wanting to miss anything. Eventually rest came, if only for a little while.

 As I sat with her, watching her sleep, I noticed patterns in the fine lines and crinkles in her face. The wrinkes seemed to flow in paths and patterns all down her face and around her features. Like the glowing spirals and brush marks around the stars in Van Gogh’s most beloved painting, those lines in her sweet face told her story. I thought about the many stories she lived and told over the years. I wonder how many stories remained untold.

Although she didn’t live a life of high adventure and epic tales from far away lands, her stories, her moments of joy and sorrow were as meaningful and compelling as anything Hollywood has ever adapted to film. Grandmother’s stories were often about the little things in her life. Simple things that became building blocks of a long life filled with happiness and hardships, love and loss. She lived through decades, observing some of the most incredible moments of history.

Reflecting on the lyrical, swirling stories in her face, I find that I am not quite as dismayed by the inevitability of the lines that will, all too soon, appear on my own face. I will try to wear them with the contentment I saw in her. Now I see echoes of stories in the faces of everyone I meet. I find myself wondering more and more about all the untold little stories that built those lives so far….

Welcome To Manderley’s Soapbox

Creativity has infused all aspects of my life since birth. Through all the good and bad times, the accessibility of this wonderful tool has helped to keep me grounded and centered. I feel fortunate that creativity was fostered and nurtured in my life right from the start. It was never in some box, reserved for the “talented few”.  I was never taught to believe there even was a ‘box’ or a ‘talented few’. Without ever stating it directly, my whole family showed me that creativity takes many forms and is accessible to everyone in everything we do.  I have, at many  times in my life, suffered from bouts of low self esteem or self doubt, but I have never once doubted my innate sense of creativity. As long as I remember to seek it, creativity is there inside me, just waiting for my call. Creativity is inside everyone, including YOU.


Humanity is hard-wired to be creative. From basic survival–learning to make fire and tools and clothing–to storytelling and cave painting and then on to writing, languages, numbers, higher math and fine art– humans and creativity seem to have been born together. From the first moments of life, creativity is constant. Every parent knows this to be true. Children creatively challenge us every minute they are awake! And as parents, we meet these challenges with every ounce of creativity we have! Learning is a creative process. Creativity is a learning process.


So many people suffer under the misconception that creativity means one is skilled, gifted or talented at some kind of visual art such as drawing, painting, ceramics or the performing arts. Those are certainly all creative art forms, but they are by no means the only ways to be creative. That would be a narrow definition of creativity indeed!  While creativity is needed and fully realized in all of the arts, the arts themselves are learned skills. Some people may have a greater affinity for or dedication to a particular art. Just like athletes and sports, that dedication leads to more practice time and thus, greater skill. But given time and opportunity, anyone can learn skills necessary to participate in all of the visual and performing arts. In many cases, only basic skills are required in order to simply enjoy the process of creative self expression through arts and crafts. Classes are available in most towns and online.


“But I’m not artsy”, you say. “Crafts bore me” you say. “I’m just not creative” you sigh. It is at this point that my husband sighs and takes a giant step back as I step up onto my soap box. (he is actually afraid of getting hit by stray bits of glitter as I begin to actively help you dig in and find your inner well of creativity–he has seen this happen once or twice).  So, let’s do it–let’s look for it together. Trust me–I have experience.


First, just ask yourself a few questions (have a cup of tea and get comfy-this may take a few minutes).  What is your favorite color? Why is it your favorite color? What are some ways you bring this color (or colors) into your everyday life? How do you feel when you discover new ways to use your favorite color(s)? What is a color you DIS-like? What are some ways you avoid it?  I  know what you’re thinking – “is she for real? What does this have to do with finding my creativity? Is this some trick to get me to make a macaroni duck?” Whoa! I promise it’s no trick, although we could make a macaroni duck if you think that will help. I’ll follow your creativity wherever it leads….but I digress. Stay with me a few more minutes. ok?


The same questions I asked about color could apply to most aspects of your life. What are your favorite and least favorite activities, tasks, sounds, foods, people. The actual answers are not quite as important as how you think of them, the process of answering the questions. There, in the middle of coming up with the answers lies your creativity.


Creativity is in every choice you make. It is in how you see and interpret nearly everything you see and hear and taste. It is in your own unique experience of the world in which you live. You only need to open your mind and expand your perspective. Allow your own creative self to bubble up out of that box you set aside to contain it. Let your crayon wander outside the lines and ask yourself “What if?” a little more. Imagine the possibilities, and choose a few to explore. I promise you’ll be glad you did. Admit to yourself  that you ARE creative. Give yourself permission to wade into your creative river. Then dive  in and keep swimming! Share your experience-it will become more real. I’d love to hear about your creative journey!


And say to yourself  every day —

“There is no wrong way to be creative!”


Let’s repeat that together–

THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO BE CREATIVE! 

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I am finally alone for a day and have time to do things. My mind and to do lists are so full I don’t think I can prioritize. I feel paralyzed with all the many things I need to do, want to do. I am energized and exhausted all at once. I think I truly need a day of emptiness. A day of nothing. It’s too cold to go and sit by the lake. But sitting here at my desk or at home, I can feel all the ‘to do’s’ calling to me. It is not relaxing. Not helpful. Even the words aren’t really flowing for writing. At least the silence is restful. I can embrace the silence today, float on its soft, comforting ocean. Maybe I will just drift with its currents for a while. I wish it could last for a week. With this space to be quiet and rest I could calm my thoughts and begin to let go of the racket of day to day life for a time. I could begin to hear the song of what is most important and forget the rest. There is too much noise in the day to day. Too many lesser things crying out to be heard and drowning out vital needs, pushing aside things my heart needs. No harmony, only dissonance. I find now that I wish to hear the sweet melody of simplicity rising above the chaos. I wish to let go of the fear and worry and just be in the moment. I have long since forgotten how to do this consciously. Sometimes it happens by accident and is the sweetest surprise. I try to hold on to this fleeting experience but that is counter productive and takes me out of the present. I cannot get back to it with all my pushing and pulling. It’s like fighting the water and drowning instead of remembering to be still and simply float.

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The Colors of Easter

Mom, Grandmother and Aunt Lib

As a  little girl, fond of frilly, pretty things, I loved Easter most of all the holidays we celebrated. From the time my mother and her sister were small, a new Easter dress and shiny shoes with lace-trimmed anklets were a firm family tradition. Every year we’d get dressed up and ready for church and take pictures, usually with Grandmother’s flower beds as a backdrop. I always felt so pretty in my new dress, no matter how awkward I may have felt the rest of the week. Easter was special and filled with joy, within and without.

After breakfast and photos we’d go to church and sing all my favorite hymns. Easter hymns were all so joyful ad colorful like the flowers and the blue sky. I don’t think I ever sang as loud or with as much feeling any other time of the year. Even the sermons given at Easter seemed to always be filled with love and joy.  On those Easter mornings I always felt filled with  a sense of God’s love and a feeling of being part  of something so much greater than myself or even my small church congregation. I floated out of church and home on those Sundays, inspired to be more and to love more, happy just to be alive. Though many things in my spiritual life have evolved and changed since then, that deep sense of renewal in the Easter season remains. I remain thankful for this.

After church we’d go home to baskets filled with eggs we’d dyed a few days before, plastic eggs, jellybeans, small toys, a stuffed animal-usually a bunny or baby chick, and always a chocolate bunny to enjoy. The chocolate bunny kept coming to me for as long as my mother lived. The candy and toys were lovely but what I remember most now is how colorful everything was. From the brightly painted baskets to the soft, green, plastic grass to all the bright wrappers and ribbon. And let’s not forget Grandmothers endless array of holiday decorations throughout the house. All of Easter was saturated with vibrant, happy color.

While waiting for dinner, as family gathered, we’d hide the eggs. Not only plastic ones, sometimes candy filled, but also the real eggs would get hidden. They still smelled of vinegar and Paas egg dye tablets. As I found and held each egg I could relive the process of coloring them. From the clickety clack echoing sounds of the eggs in Grandmother’s white and red enamel pan as they were boiled and drained. White on white, soon to be gently dipped or dropped into the coffee cups full of dyes. Sometimes I wanted them to be smooth  pure pastel colors, sometimes I dipped and dipped until my eggs were as dark and saturated as they could get.  I just loved playing with the colors and the process. Just like in coloring the eggs, the joy of the egg hunt was in choosing the hiding places for them and later in the search to find the ones hidden for me. The joy was in the process.

Finally, dinner was served. There was always a ham, scored criss cross, studded with cloves, and glazed with a mixture of orange juice and brown sugar. Putting in the cloves was my job. Along with ham there were always sweet potatoes, sometimes mashed, but always covered with marshmallows and browned on top. Green beans that had been grown in her garden and canned or frozen the previous summer, corn, macaroni and cheese and brown and serve rolls were always served as well. Dessert was often a basic cake made special with white icing and colored coconut or sugar sprinkles to decorate it.  Sometimes there was pie. Pineapple or butterscotch, with lightly browned meringue peaks, Grandad’s favorites.

Life seems to move too fast for me to make it like that for my family now. It is difficult to slow down enough. But whatever I manage to do or not do to celebrate it, Easter will always be my favorite time of the year. If you are reading this, I wish you joy and a colorful springtime, filled with love and family-no matter how you celebrate the season.

My Mother, Paula, Grandmother, and Aunt Lib

Little Things

Grandmother was born premature–tiny enough to fit the palms of her daddy’s hands. Many in her family were sure she would not survive. But survive she did! Still, they treated her as a fragile thing to be protected even as she grew strong and thrived. Always the most petite of her seven siblings, she was given the kitchen and indoor chores on their busy farm instead of some of the heavier jobs farther afield. Perhaps this fostered her love for keeping and decorating her home. She was creating little tablescapes and miniature scenes in her decorating long before HGTV and DIY were trendy.

 

Every holiday was an opportunity to make or arrange a new tableau or an old one in a new way.  There was usually a Nativity scene in every room at  Christmas. There were tiny bunnies and chicks and candies among the Easter eggs and leprechauns in her shamrock plant. She kept all manner  of tiny figures and goodies with which to create ornaments for any holiday. Somehow even ordinary days were made more special with all the little touches of decorating and scenery she set up all over the house.  My dolls never wanted for places to explore. My creative needs were well filled with craft supplies and inspiration everywhere.

Her love for tiny things extended to all areas of our lives. Almost anywhere there was a full sized object, there was likely a miniature version nearby. She collected bells so there were also tiny ones with delicate fairy sounds. There was a display of miniature perfume bottles on the wall and on the backsplash in the guest bathroom. In the kitchen there were dozens of mini Tupperware gadgets and containers, hor d’hoevres utensils  and tiny tea sets and cups, little salt and pepper shakers too.  Displayed throughout the house you could find souvenir thimbles, spoons and statues from places visited like the St. Louis Arch (didn’t everyone have one of those at some point?)

If games were your thing there were little playing cards and itty bitty dice, complete with tiny pencils and notepads for keeping score. The tiny pencils were perfectly sized for drawing too. She absolutely loved tiny pencils. You could also find travel size chess and checker sets to keep you entertained for hours. (There was also a set of giant checkers with the board printed on a beach towel)-we had  great fun with that as kids.   We had plenty to do when we could not go play outside.

 

When spring flowers began to bloom each year, we’d help pick the first little wildflowers, yellow buttercups, purple and blue violets and even dandelions to bring inside to put in little bud vases and maple syrup bottles she’d saved from Cracker Barrel. We’d place them all over the house. Plants and flowers were also a vital part of her decorating. Upon closer examination you might find little houses, animals or other figures tucked in among the houseplants. She made her own fairy gardens before pinterest even existed. I also remember a terrarium in an egg shaped glass jar. I spent hours exploring it, imagining who might live there in that tiny world, complete with its own rain. I’m fairly certain this terrarium was one of many doors to Wonderland.

Little things Grandmother collected and created filled my life with magic. Little things she did and said filled my life with love. Little things lead to the biggest magic and love.

 

The Stuff of Memories…

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The memories that come while grieving can cut like knives-no matter their beauty or how deeply cherished they are. Dividing up her life, their lives, their own memories among us is both loving and painful. They live on through the stories attached to these mementos. But each new item I pick up to sort out renews the realization that she is gone, that my childhood home is going to be gone and in someone else’s hands, making some other family’s history and memories.

It’s strange to think of other people living there, repainting, remodeling, refurnishing and changing it. Loving this home that I have loved. Knowing that they cannot see or experience it through the same lens. Those daffodils by the creek, the clover and violets and strawberries. That tree whose roots made a perfect seat that placed me right in the middle of the creek but not yet in the water so I could have the perfect vantage point to watch the tiny little fish dart in and out of the shadows underneath. And there is that play of light on the rain-washed driveway at night, not to mention the particular scent of the fresh rain on new grass–it won’t smell that way anywhere else.

For now, for me, memories and stories are intertwined with objects and places. I truly believed, going into this process of sorting through and cleaning out my grandparents’ house with my family, that I wanted no more than ten or twelve special items. Now, I cannot believe how many odds and ends I have picked up and been unable to put down. None of it really would have much, if any value to anyone else. But all of it is priceless to me, at least for the time being. These simple and ordinary things hold dozens, maybe hundreds of memories and stories. Some of them I don’t remember until I touch or hold the item. Many come rushing back to me just standing in a given room or outside in the yard. I fear forgetting even one of them when I can no longer visit my childhood home. I am afraid of losing them, like losing old friends.

The joys and sorrows alike are all parts of how I became me, of how we all grew as a family. Leaving home now feels like cutting away a safety net that has always given me the courage and confidence to run across tight ropes and fly on the trapeze in my life’s strange little creative circus. It’s terrifying in many ways. A new adventure in other ways. I hope to hold each object up to the light like a little crystal ball and write down the visions I see there. Perhaps in this way, I will preserve the memories so I can let go of the ‘stuff’.  Most of the stuff. Some of the stuff.

Remembrance


I wrote this to share at Grandmother’s  memorial service.

Lillian Aldeane Beverly Stanley

Grandmother

March 11, 2017

Throughout my life she taught me so many things– as much by example as by her words. She was as much mother as grandmother.  Most people lose their parents once. I have lost mine twice, in a way.  But I am not here to talk of loss, though it is a great loss, saying this last goodbye. I am here to celebrate my grandmother and a small part of her legacy.

Grandmother believed very much in family, and in always being there for her family. So, when my parents separated, she took in my mother and her 5 year old daughter. In that moment, she became my mother as much as my Grandmother.  As Mother, she made and carried out household rules and punishments for any infractions. Mealtimes, bedtimes, homework times and chores were all handled with routine attention. There was a right way to do everything–towels folded a certain way, dishes and silverware washed, dried, and put away in assigned places, dusting from top to bottom — I even learned to fold a fitted sheet perfectly! Meals were balanced and snacking was healthy. I learned good manners and good posture, while absorbing knowledge of some important, though more abstract, guiding principles — Be kind and compassionate. Do All things with love. Do your very best – always. Make  the world around you more beautiful, and try to look your best while doing these things.

But perhaps  the most important thing I  learned from Aldeane Stanley, that has shaped my life, and given  form  to who I am today, is that creativity is part of everyone and everything. We are all meant to be creative. We ARE all creative. SHE certainly was — no child could be bored at Grandmother’s house for long. She could make the most mundane things seem magical, from the kitchen to the back yard to the craft room, there was something wonderful to make and do everywhere!  In the kitchen, you could turn plain toast into a gourmet dessert with a drizzle of chocolate syrup; in the back yard, a blade of grass or an acorn shell could make music! Clouds held a vast array of shapes — people and animals who could fill any storytime; and in the craft room, cereal boxes or old computer paper became a canvas for drawing or painting. styrofoam meat trays and egg cartons were once  transformed into a   beautiful white peacock with individual tail feathers on a black felt board, elegant enough to  decorate the most formal living room! It was like a fairy tale! Another time a stack of Reader’s Digest magazines turned into Santa and Mrs. Claus with a few folds and some cotton and red paint!

Most of you know she was a gifted quilter, doing most all of the quilts by hand, on frames that filled our living room. I played with my barbie dolls underneath, and absorbed sewing skills almost by osmosis! And her dressmaking, crochet and other needle arts were top notch too! Not to mention countless dolls and doll clothes she created for me and all of her other grandchildren.

But do you know just how many different  creative skills resided inside that modest  and humble lady? Just to name a few that I know of: she not only tried, but was accomplished in woodworking (including furniture and dulcimer making), she could play that dulcimer well too!, decoupage, oil, acrylic and watercolor painting (with or without numbers), string art, flower arranging, silk flower making, paper cutting silhouettes, paper quilling, rubber stamping, scrapbooking, drawing in pencil, charcoal, chalks and crayons (on any surface), basket weaving and chair caning, macrame, jewelry making, calligraphy and even papermaking (we did that one together). Cooking and baking included family favorites such as chocolate syrup over homemade biscuits, butterscotch and other delicious pies,  stack cakes, nut breads, perfect red apple butter and so much more…  

I am certain that’s not all, but you get the idea. She was creative. Almost magically creative. I have long suspected her of being Mary Poppins, because she was practically perfect in so many ways, though she would dispute any claims of perfection if you offered that compliment.

It has been my great  fortune to have been born into the gentle love and care of Aldeane Stanley. Grandmother’s life (the simple and elegant way she lived it) is a precious gift to me and to all  who knew her. My dearest hope is to pass along even a fraction of who she was to my children, and anyone else who comes along. If I can do that, I will have made the world a more beautiful place, just as she taught me.

Estelle Stanley (my great grandmother) & Aldeane Stanley quilting together

Spring Vignette

Home. It is the place where I went from fairy tales to first love and back again. It is still a magical place for me. If I look down the hill and across the yard too the creek at twilight, the last rays of the sun reveal fairies still dancing among the trees and flowers there.  In my mind’s eye there are forever blooming daffodils and daylillies, dandelions and tiny violets springing from a lush carpet of soft green moss. When storms blow in I feel the wind in my hair and thunder and lighting pulsing with excitement in my chest. As the stom passes on up the valley I run out to seek the inevitable rainbow touching down just where Grandmother planted her summer garden of corn and beans, tomatoes  and cucumbers with marigolds intermingled to keep bugs at bay. So much treasure there at the beginning of the rainbows and magic in my life–I was blessed with more riches there than all the kings and queens in my  beloved storybooks.  

After the rain everything sparkled and glowed in the sunlight. The birds sang and danced with bees and squirrels and the occasional bunny speeding across the lawn.  My cousins and neighbors and I would run out together to splash in the puddles and go in search of wild strawberries and sweet honeysuckle flowers along the fence. After these sweet summer treats we’d lie down in the soft clover and roll ourselves all down the hill over and over again until suppertime. Afterward we tumbled back outside to catch fireflies in jars at dusk until bedtime.  Finally drifting off to sleep to a lullaby of crickets, katydids and the soft murmuring voices of family in the next room.