Seeing

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I woke this morning thinking of Christmas. Not so much an anticipation of the busyness of activities…but rather more a need for Christmas, for the festiveness of it, the music of it, the twinkle and sparkle of it.

Birds are everywhere on the feeder. They fly to and fro, jockey for position, nudge another off, tilt their heads back and forth all the while munching and crunching. The simple act of eating looks like a party complete with friends and dancing.

The kids are home this weekend. Perhaps that is what makes me think of Christmas. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking the simple things have been imbued with sparkle and festiveness. We light the candles on the table as we eat. We talk long after our plates are clean . We go for a walk in the rain. We watch a Disney movie. All ordinary simple things. But oh the twinkle of delight.

I’m sitting in my usual spot. Chair by the window in my making room , the sunroom, the studio. Cat is sitting on the arm of the chair beside me gazing out the window as I am. I marvel at the breaking clouds, like icebergs shifting apart to reveal a crystal blue sea. This is  my life. Ordinary moments strung together and woven into a whole day that somehow, in its ordinariness, will be extraordinary. No trips to France. No fancy outings, no gourmet dining out…just ordinary white clouds shifting to reveal the azure glow above.

There is a melancholy thread that runs through all this. The kids will go back to college, Christmas will come and go, candles will be put away in summer. I must remember the birds. Their daily feasting at a tin-roofed trough, harkening to the Babe’s own trough.  Cardinals, chickadees, titmice, sparrows and more gather for the festivity of daily sustenance.

This is what I look for each morning as I sit here in my chair by the window. This is why I go to church every Sunday. I need the reminder that Christmas is coming. That family and friends gathering around a table or to worship is how I hold Christmas in my heart all year. Daily and weekly rituals as ordinary as icebergs and clouds.

May I have eyes to see the beauty they reveal in their shifting seasons.

A New River

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The second day of “Mom’s Birthday Nature Tour” had us floating on tubes down the New River in West Jefferson, NC. As we plunked into the lime green mammoths, I continued sending up little pleas for sunshine, like mini flares that sputtered and nearly died out as it began to sprinkle. I settled into the River, deciding that no matter the weather, I was going to enjoy this float down a River I have tubed and canoed numerous times in the past.

The River has a mind of its own. Though the current is soft and gentle, it nevertheless guides and directs the human barges down-stream. One of our children seem to fight often against the stream’s chosen path for her. I kept encouraging her just to float, to let the water take her through the little overfalls, to not squirm and strive so much. She would enjoy it more.

I, on the other hand, in my yoga-lovin’ 50-year old self of go-with-the-flow, cease-striving mantras all around me, decided to close my eyes in a sort of crumpled corpse pose on the tube. Ahhh…bliss…

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Trust the River

It will lead you home.

The only problem with this was being rudely wakened out of my river-tubing meditation to a tangle of limbs, leaves and spider-webbed brush along the outer edge of the River. Really? Is this where I needed to go? Doesn’t the River know I don’t want to be stuck here? Obviously not.

I’ll gloss over the fact that this happened to me on more than one occasion. I also found, upon returning to my blissful corpse-pose-in-a-tube that I would open my eyes to what seemed like the same patch of sky as when I had closed them. Looking around, I saw that indeed I was in a very VERY slow moving spot of the River, while my family had floated much farther down. So much for zen. It was time to get moving.

Upon reflection, as I sat at dinner with the family feasting at Shatley Springs Inn and Restaurant, our River excursion had been a lovely blend of effort and non-effort. There are parts of the River that require my partnership with it to get where I need to go, and other sections where I can trust the river to guide me as I rest and relax.

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Of course, all this is a reflection on Life for me. A steep trail becomes a metaphor for pilgrimage. A river float is a picture of life. Even the water itself, that supports and guides my tube embodies the One who upholds and sustains me.

As I am now 50 years old and cannot ever again say that I’m 40-something, I feel that I’m on a new tributary of my life. It’s the same River, but a New branch that is wide and expansive and flows softly and gently. I have no idea what’s up ahead. That is ok. I know that I can trust the River. And with a little paddling and a great deal of awareness and listening, it will lead me home.

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Note on the sketch: I did not dare take my iphone/camera on the tube with me, nor did I venture to take pen and sketchbook. The thought of either of them on the bottom of the River prevented me from bringing them along. So this one is from memory. I often feel that drawing from memory helps weed out unnecessary details one might be tempted to draw if one was actually drawing on site. Try it sometime. You might like it!

Pilgrim

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I’m still feeling it four days later. A tightness along the back of my legs next to the calf muscle, evidence of all the climbing and descending. On Thursday of last week my family and I loaded up a picnic lunch, water bottles and swim gear for a day at Hanging Rock. My son had earlier dubbed our three day adventure- Mom’s Birthday Nature Tour. With our home as our campsite we took off to parts hither and beyond to be outdoors in God’s amazing creation. Thursday would prove to require the most effort of the three day tour.

Passing over the picturesque yet brief waterfall hikes, we decided on the grand dame of all the hikes available at Hanging Rock. Our trajectory: the top of Moore’s Knob to gain a 360 degree view of the world around us. Mind you, we did forego the 5-mile Moore’s Wall Loop which would have gotten us there, but taken longer. Opting for a one and a half mile jaunt through the campground, we found the start of the 770 steps leading up to the Knob. Straight. Up.

It is pointless, in the midst of such a climb, to label the experience with words like arduous, difficult, excruciating, back-breaking. I prefer to say more present-affirming words such as “my heart-rate is greatly accelerated”, or “I’m perspiring profusely”, or “these water bottles in my backpack seem heavier than when we first began.” (And why it is I’m STILL carrying water bottles for all my adult and near-adult children, I do not know!) But nevertheless, frequent rests were needed to sip guzzle water and allow my breathing to return to a more even canter.

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Our son was the first to reach the top. I could hear him, though I was quite a few paces behind…”Oh. My. God.” An apt expression I would soon understand as I too lifted my eyes to a view that took my breath away.

We lingered long up there. Venturing out onto rocks not too close to the edge. Clambering up the staircase of the tower. Trying to keep our bellies in balance as we slowly gazed around. Attempting to take it all in, the height and the breadth of distance, mountains, towns and farmland; sky, clouds, sunshine and shadow.

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Somewhere in all of our oohing, aahing, and picture-taking someone asked if I had any more water for them to drink. We realized we were all just a swallow or two away from being empty and a nagging peckishness pulled us to begin the descent, though each was reluctant to leave such beauty.

Going down a mountain appears to be a much easier endeavor. But I think this is what I’m still feeling in my calves…the jolt and jarring of 770 stone steps DOWN. It is one thing to go on adventures. It is quite another to return from them.

My husband knows of my love for pilgrimages, or at least the image that it invokes in our lives. He commented on the way down how much our hike was like a spiritual pilgrimage. Yes, love, I feel it too. Though my legs were now the consistency of cooked spaghetti, I was strengthened by having gone on a pilgrimage in nature. Not quite the Camino de Santiago, which I dream of walking one day, but every bit as beautiful, heart-rending, body-exerting and soul-filling as a pilgrimage should be.

One day, when I reach the end of the climb of Life, the view will truly and literally be breath-taking. And I will not have to turn around and go back down. There will be no more need for refilled water bottles or food for fuel. Legs will be stronger than ever and somehow I’ll be able to fly off into that vast 360 degree beauty forever. Until then, I’ll count the steps blessings along the way as a pilgrim here, walking my own Camino.

A Lesson in DPNS

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She held what felt like chaos in her hands. Yet to my eye, her teacher, it looked like she had been knitting with double pointed needles for years. She deftly worked the four wooden needles, three to hold the stitches, one to knit across from point to point.

“This is a bit overwhelming, keeping up with all of this. Where to go next, so much going on, I’m afraid I’ll lose some stitches.”

“Just focus on the two needles you are knitting with,” I said. “Let the rest of it just dangle there, trusting the wooden sticks to hold the stitches. When you knit to the end of a needle, just begin with the next one. It will all work out in the end.”

It occurred to me afresh, as I guided her through the puzzle of DPN knitting, what a picture of life this endeavor portrays. Surely our life feels like chaos in our hands. The multiplicity of roles and responsibilities can feel overwhelming and confusing. There are so many things going on, we don’t know where to go next and we’re afraid we might lose something along the way.

It helps so much, in any given moment, to just focus on what’s right in front of me. If I look around at the chaotic landscape, focus is blurred, I start to come unstitched, dropping stitches here and there.

As we spoke of this lesson in DPNS, we marveled at its truth. Who knew that a quartet of double pointed needles could guide us in life as well as produce a pair of socks?

New Knitted Shawl Design*

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Pas de Deux Shawl

designed by Jennifer Edwards

available for purchase on ETSY

Designing and knitting a shawl mirrors life in uncanny ways. You begin with an idea, sketched out, roughly drawn and planned. Knitting begins, slowly working out stitch counts, rows, frogging stitches (and rows!) until it takes the shape you were aiming for.

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Then you knit. Just knit. And knit…working the parts where you can nearly knit on auto-pilot. Stockinette, some garter stitch, a wee bit of counting.

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And then you hit the edge. Ahhh…the edge…that part of utmost importance to the overall look of the shawl, but one which requires your utmost attention. Lots and lots of stitches to work with. As a designer, I want this part to really sing! My original idea for the edging was slightly different. The knitting itself began to “speak to me” changes in my initial plan. So I went with it, and I’m so glad I did.

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I find all this reflected in each day, week, month, and year. So many designs (plans), small and large, that begin with a flurry of planning and excitement then giving way to the everyday living out the established design. Somewhere along the way, either subtly or not-so-subtly, we are redirected. Following where our intuition takes us will often yield a more beautiful outcome. It all sounds so neat and tidy. But we, the knitters, know all the linked stitches, the frogged passages, the weaving of ends, and the blocking. This is the “everyday” stuff of life, the more monotonous parts of being entranced by beauty.

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The title of this shawl came to me as I thought of how the two colors danced together in a way similar to the ballet between two people, each taking the stage separately and then coming together for a final, beautiful adagio.

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I also like how this shawl stays on your shoulders. Instead of a straight edged triangle, this shawl continues around your neck in a semi-circle fashion while still laying flat down the back. I hope you can see this in the photos.

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I also hope you will knit this shawl! I knitted mine with Saucon Sock, in color “Carnation”, which has a lot of cotton in it, perfect for spring and summer. The second yarn is Louisa Harding Yarns, Noema. But I can’t wait to knit it in a wool for fall and winter. If you give it a go, I’d love to see your final shawl!:)

Thank you to everyone who purchases one of my patterns!! I write into each pattern a lot of extra helps and tips along the way to help you be successful in your knit and/or crochet adventure!

Happy Knitting!

-Jennifer

And so…

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It begins like a drawing does, or a knitting project. A drawn line. A cast on stitch. And then another. And another. And another until you reach a stopping point, not an end, but a good place to finish. And then you begin again. Each day is a beginning. Each year. Every decade. I am fast approaching a new decade. In a few months my age will begin with a different digit. I’ve been thinking a good deal about this, pondering it, mulling over it in my mind and heart. Assessing the lines and yarns that have been before, looking at the present ones, and gazing into what they might be in the coming ten years.

It is an interesting, wonderful, and somewhat odd feeling to be able to look behind oneself at the years that have gone before. And as my current life is evolving, there is a great deal of comfort in holding the lines that have brought me through all the previous years. My husband and I stand amazed at our middle child (son) getting ready to graduate high school in a month or so. We marvel at our oldest daughter who will be a senior in college in the fall, and at our youngest daughter who will enter her final year of middle school. And he and I both will soon turn into this new decade of our lives. It looks like it will be a very full one indeed.

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So as these changes whirl around me, I hold onto these LIFE lines in pen and yarn.  Engaging in creativity as a way of life is stabilizing, soothing, anchoring, centering. The crazier life gets, the more I hold onto the lines, reaching for them if even for a few minutes here, an hour there, two hours on Friday mornings when I get to draw with others who love it as I do. Teaching women to knit and crochet offers me a way to sit down and connect with someone else who loves yarn, just the feel of it running through one’s fingers, stitch after stitch. I’m grateful for this artful life.

And as I turn into a new decade, I’m sensing more and more the desire to encourage you to live artfully as well! I know many of you do. But we all need encouragement to keep going, to keep putting pen to paper or yarn to needle or whatever your choice of making things. We need to hear someone say to us: Keep going! Keep on making things! It’s good for you! It’s great for those around you! Hold onto the creative lifeline and keep on living artfully!

It is my desire to continue to do this, to keep encouraging you (and in so doing I myself am encouraged) to live an artful life. Placing both blogs under this one umbrella is my way of embracing ALL that I love to create and speaking with one voice to any who might like to listen here. There is so much more to share, so much more for you in the coming weeks and months.

I’m glad you’re here!

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Jennifer

The Invisible Thread

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Just a few days prior to this last surgery in December, I re-read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. I did not realize the significance it would have until several days ago.

I won’t describe the story in detail here. You would do well to read it yourself and will enjoy doing so! The main bit is that the young princess in the story is given a beautiful ring by her Grandmother. Attached to this ring is a near invisible thread that the Grandmother has been spinning from spider webs. The Princess is to wear the ring on her finger at all times and follow where the thread leads without question. This thread is unseen by all except the Princess. And even to her, it is often invisible to her eye, unless a certain light shines on it.  Only by feel can she know it is there.

The invisible thread leads her into some dangerous situations and places where she would normally not go. But it also, always, leads her out and back to safety, back to her Grandmother who will soothe and heal her wounds.

As I walked in our neighborhood, trying to sort out the last two years of health issues, I stopped as I thought of MacDonald’s book.

And my shoulders relaxed.

There it is. Yes, there is growth afoot. Yes, it is in darkness that our roots grow. And yes, the only way to move forward is one small step at at time. But the invisible yet shimmery thread is always there, if we will trust it.

The Invisible Thread may lead us into difficult places. But it will always, always lead us home. Back to the One who will soothe and heal our wounds.

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I am currently knitting a commissioned shawl for a friend. I have chosen to add some rows here and there that have a shimmery thread. As I knit it into her shawl, I know she will love having this as a reminder of the Invisible Thread in her life…wrapped around her…going with her…wherever she goes , and whatever happens to her in life.

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“If we will but let our God and Father work His will with us, there can be no limit to His enlargement of our existence”
― George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons: Series I, II, III

“Come, then, affliction, if my Father wills, and be my frowning friend. A friend that frowns is better than a smiling enemy. ”
― George MacDonald

“Seeing is not believing – it is only seeing.”
― George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
― George MacDonald

It is amazing what you hear when you really listen.

The Only Way

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The means for getting anywhere is:

one step at a time

one foot in front of the other

three steps forward, one step back

line upon line

stitch by stitch

stroke after stroke

note by note

There is no other way. There are no shortcuts.

I’m still listening.

“Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it — made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Rhubarb

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The blogging community is a delightful place! Though you send out posts to what seems like a void, there are folks who resonate with your writings/art and take the time to let you know. They also will add their own marvelous perspectives and I am enriched by their sharing.

This happened to me yesterday as a kindred spirit in England wrote in the comment section about the rhubarb sheds in Yorkshire where rhubarb plants are forced to grow. I’d like to quote her very words, as I found them so perfect in describing what’s going on there:

“On the topic of this post, did you know that if you enter the dark sheds in Yorkshire where they grow forced rhubarb you can actually hear the rhubarb growing, pushing up in search of light with an urgency and determination that is audible? I’d love to hear that live one day. Rhubarb sheds are traditionally only lit by candles in order to avoid introducing any other source of light that would cause the rhubarb to lose its tender pink colour. I think listening in the light of a candle to the stalks growing in the dark might be quite life-changing actually. Putting one in touch somehow with the growing that so often happens unseen and unheard but which is nonetheless going on. I often think that in fact it’s often in the “fallow” periods of life that great creative forces are born and which emerge subsequently. I find that exciting and makes the fallow periods somehow easier to accommodate. Wishing you a space to hear and enjoy your own growing. It’s assuredly there.”

Thank you so much Elizabeth of the Mrs.Thomasina Tittlemouse blog! I responded to her right away and then she sent me a link to where these sounds of rhubarb growing have actually been captured in real time!

Click here to listen to rhubarb growing!!

I agree with Elizabeth that it sounds quite strange. I imagine growth of any kind (including my own) to include a kind of moaning or stretching of sounds. This popping is more how I imagined flowers blossoming…quick jolts and bursts of life.

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I have my own bit of “rhubarb” growing here in a basket next to my chair. The thing I love about having knitting and crochet going on during these “fallow” times in my life, is that I have an enduring expression of life happening even in the darkness. <sigh>

I continue to listen and will keep sharing what I’m hearing as I knit, as I draw, as I crochet and walk.

Thank you dear reader for walking along with me!

Stress & Creativity

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“Stress can be addiction and worry can be our lunge for control and we forget the answer to this moment.”

-Ann Voscamp, pg. 143 One Thousand Gifts Devotional

There they are, words on a page that leap out at me in the semi-dark, silent, not-quite morning. I had previously stumbled onto a site online where a woman was recounting the horrific problems she had had following the exact surgery I just had. That familiar grip in my belly… the room bending in and out of shape. I grabbed hold of worry, perhaps as if it were a blanket that might soothe me, only to find it was filled with nettles, prickling every inch of me. Stress, worry, even fear…surely we all face these things. Yet it doesn’t make them any less gripping, nor does it make them go away.

“…we forget the answer to this moment.”

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I’ve discovered an amazing connection between creativity and battling stress and worry. Early on, my artistic pursuits were propelled by sheer joy. I simply loved putting paint to paper and canvas. Still do. I also knitted up color as if it were paint and found that same joy bubbling up. But as the years went on, I realized those endeavors also had a way of calming my fears, lowering stress, diminishing worry.

I’ve often been asked how it is I do these things in the midst of a busy life. “They are my sanity!” I say. “And I need a lot of sanity!”

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The interesting part is that with each stroke and stitch, gratitude wells up. As I draw the everyday things, places and people of my life I see what I’ve been given and that it is beautiful. As I stitch with needles or hook, prickly worries are chased away by the swords of color and form.

For Ann Voscamp, “The answer to this moment”, is gratitude. The answer to moment’s of worry or stress is to be thankful. Her methods for connecting with and calling out this thanks lies chiefly in writing them down and photographing them. I too write them down in that list form she challenged me to begin three years ago when I read her book One Thousand Gifts. But I also draw and knit to find the gratitude I need to chase away what can so easily paralyze me.

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Therefore it is NOT a silly thing that one might make Art Before Breakfast (Danny Gregory’s latest book out soon!). It’s a rightful ordering of the day’s priorities. Nor is it crazy that another might take their knitting project bag along with them everywhere–fitting in a few stitches of gratitude around the beautiful and not-so-beautiful edges of our everyday lives.

So the next time worry threatens to choke me, I’ll continue reaching for my pens and paints, my sock knitting or in-process crochet blanket.

Won’t you join me in this battle against worry and stress? It’s lovely to have traveling companions!