Getting S’more Happiness

 So, it’s been a little more than a week since I decided to apply Zappos’ core values to my own family. (see previous post here) It has been both fun and frustrating. I decided to lure the restless natives in by toasting marshmallows over the flame on my stove and making S’mores. This is, in and of itself, an act of love since I’m not a fan of S’mores (I know, it’s very un-American of me) and cleaning sticky marshmallow in the house…yay. (Sometimes it’s even hard for me to believe that I used to be a fun mom)

I talked to the kids together and separately about my crazy plan to improve our happiness. I’m not sure how much they retained since my son insisted on making strange noises and tapping his foot against the island while I was speaking. I quickly moved on to such important topics as seeing the good in others even when you want to hit them with a rubber mallet. They seemed receptive to my suggestions (or maybe they just wanted me to shut up). Not a bad start, I thought.

Then reality set in. Within the first week of our search for a culture of happiness, the kids got sick, I got food poisoning, we had days off of school both planned and snow days (not a nice thing if you are autistic and love your schedule), and there was a full moon (trust me, it matters). God really has a sense of humor!

Our team spirit has suffered a lot through the years as a result of issues related to tough life beginnings for my kids and personality conflicts. You know how they say everyone has baggage? Well, my kids were pretty much beating each other over the head with their baggage. One child’s love of all things clean clashes with the master of messiness. One’s unpredictable behaviors set off someone else’s PTSD. And so on. The end result: one boy against two girls with one peacemaker thrown in for good measure.

I decided to lean on my family’s work experience to get us started. Because I’m a single mom, my kids have had to be a part of everything that I do around the house. They’ve been with me through plumbing disasters, fixing the house, cutting and splitting wood, and a whole lot more. We usually work well together (provided my two hypoglycemic have eaten recently, it’s not “that time of the month” for anyone in the group, and it’s not a full moon) and, over the years, we’ve always ended our work by admiring our accomplishment and cheering, “Go Briars!”

So Team Briar attacked some projects together with a focus on building a better team as opposed to completing the project. Some days, trying to build a positive team and family spirit with tween/teen hormones was like swimming with piranhas. But I put on my swimmies and dove right in. I’d like to say that the effects were miraculous and immediate but they weren’t. As with all things, change takes time and dedication.

My takeaways from this first step on the journey:

  • Having sickness and schedule upset probably worked in our favor since I tend to over-analyze and over-prepare (kind of hard to do when you just want to curl up in a ball and die from food poisoning).
  • My kids’ attitudes are directly linked to my own attitude (nothing like a little pressure to bring my A-game).
  • As a family, we thrive when troubleshooting and working. Even something as simple as making our own bread or cleaning products increases our team spirit.
  • I have allowed my own exhaustion and stress to steal away my happiness and enjoyment of my kids for too long.
  • I have really great kids!

I’ll keep you posted on our journey! Have a wonderful day!

God the Father…of open sourcing?

 I am in love with the concept of open sourcing. Offering ideas, designs, and products for the public good fits well with my personal belief in philanthropy. Even further, the concept of open sourcing involves improvement upon the work of others. In this respect, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 advocated a type of open sourcing in that he said “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

The Bible is filled with incidents of generations who reaped the benefits of their parents’ blessings or, in the case of Abraham, an entire people who did. In fact, the centerpiece of Christian faith is belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He came to earth, did great works and appointed disciples to continue his work (Matthew 28: 18-20), who then encouraged all believers to continue to build upon their work.

But as humans, we are tied to the fact that there is a beginning and an end…deadlines for our work, seasons to our lives, and limited years to our time on earth. In Acts, Jesus’ followers wanted to know a time-frame for His kingdom on Earth. But Jesus cautioned them to keep their minds on the task at hand. Sharing with others what had been given to them…the gospel message. Jesus understood that the disciples’ lives were just the beginning of centuries of God stretching out His hand with His most perfect gift. It is not for us to put a time-frame on the days leading up to Christ’s coming. It is enough that we open source our lives, our blessings, our talents so that all may be reached and not one should perish. Blessings!

The same but (not) different

 I loved when USA Network came out with the slogan, “Characters Welcome.” It was refreshing in a time when everything was so very much the same. Cookie cutter houses, standardized tests, one size fits all, and matching duck face selfies abound in our culture. So, when I started seeing articles about celebrity doppelgangers and actors who were mistaken for other actors, I was not surprised. But apparently Hollywood and the media are. Gasp! Could it be that these people, who by today’s standards are perfectly beautiful, are not as unique as they think they are?

The truth is…they aren’t. The problem lies not with their facial features but with the Hollywood definition of beauty. In recent years, it has become so narrow that celebrities were bound to start looking alike. Throw in a little plastic surgery and you have a recipe for the mundane. If you look back at shows from the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, the actors and actresses came in all different shapes and sizes. Even foreign shows have more variety. It’s as if Hollywood has forgotten that “variety is the spice of life” and makes the shows more realistic and more interesting. I mean, isn’t it annoying when you can’t tell the characters apart?

I was recently watching reruns of “Rosemary and Thyme“ and loved that all of the actors looked unique and each one has, at some point in the series, inspired devotion. But of course, it was a British show. It’s like some insidious disease has infected our minds in the US where it’s not enough to aspire to be your best, but the goal has somehow changed to include someone else’s best. It’s a disease that muddles our brains into thinking that unless we look like celebrities, we are less than perfect and therefore undesirable.

This is completely contrary to the truth which is that variety really is the spice of life. I love chocolate but if I ate it all day, every day, I’d be disgusted by it. Maple trees are my favorites but if they were the only trees we had, the view from my porch would not be as magnificent. Uniformity is mundane and what is beautiful has become commonplace.

I think it’s time for homogeneous Hollywood to wake up and smell the coffee. There is such thing as too much of a good thing.

Photographic Memories

I was one of those kids who could read something once and not only remember what I read but where it was specifically on the page, as well as everything around it. A photographic memory is a beautiful thing (although I must admit that there are some things in my life I’d like to unsee). In a school system where test taking skills are the only measures of your success, I was a shoo-in. I coasted along on the wings of my fabulous gift until high school and then along came Ms. Laurie McBrinn. She seemed to think that each person should be pushed to the limits of their abilities. What a novel concept. I cried every night… absolutely certain that she harbored some secret vendetta and was hell-bent on ruining my life.

Everybody has one of those turning points. Mine was the fault of Ursula K. Le Guin and Ms. McBrinn. The latter, having assigned what I saw as fabulously short and straight forward works of literature to other students, cursed me with “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin. I may forget what I’m doing when I enter a room. I may forget my children’s names and call them everything from their siblings’ names to that of the dog, but I will never forget the name of that book or author.

When I asked Ms. McBrinn why I had to do a report on that book, she said something akin to “because you can.” I sobbed through it but survived. In fact, I even liked the book but I was not about to tell her that. I just wallowed in my self-pity, wondering what I had done to deserve such treatment. The truth was, I had done something. I had been a lazy student, not using my gift to its fullest potential.

I went to a private all-girls school where the teachers taught multiple subjects. It felt like I had Ms. McBrinn for practically every subject (really just English and Latin) but, in the midst of my teenaged angst, it felt like she was everywhere. She had us pray in Latin, conjugate way too many verbs for my taste, act out Julius Caesar (Et tu Brute?), analyze books (usually loved it), analyze music (totally sucked at it), and write until our fingers bled (not really, I just started reliving the teen drama here).

Back then, she was my worst nightmare but now, as I look back, I can see she was one of the best things to happen to me. I was lazy and needed a fire lit under me. Ms. McBrinn practically needed a blow torch to do so. Now that I’m old (as my kids remind me frequently), I can see that her goal wasn’t to crush the hopes and dreams of a teenage girl but to push me outside of my comfort zone and teach the hard work that would be required to see my dreams through to fruition.

Over the course of my high school career, Ms. McBrinn continued to provide me with the swift kick in the rear that I needed. And over time, one of the amazing things I found was that I actually liked learning. I had always loved reading but my love of learning really blossomed in high school under Ms. McBrinn’s tutelage. Don’t get me wrong, I had many fabulous teachers and appreciate them all. I just appreciate the fact that Ms. McBrinn didn’t let me coast through in high school never seeing the inevitable crash and burn later.

When I started to teach my own children, my goals were modeled after Ms. McBrinn’s teaching: challenge them to perform to their full potential, gently nudge them outside their comfort zone, and instill a love of learning because memorizing facts will only get you so far. So, here’s to all of Ms. McBrinn’s in the world. Thanks for all that you do! We, your students, may not appreciate you in the moment but we will eventually realize that you are worth your weight in gold!

P.S. Ms. McBrinn, if you’re reading this, please message me the list of typos and my grade privately. I’m already working on my excuses.

The Culture of Happiness

Sorry for the hiatus but I started a new class (Marketing Management) and due to a computer glitch, was kicked out of the class exactly 4 minutes after I was enrolled. It was resolved but the delay made me behind in my work right from the get-go. I absolutely hate starting something already feeling behind. In the meantime, I have been feverishly trying to catch up on research and reading.

One of the companies I’ve been researching is Zappos.com, well, Zappos Insights to be precise. It seems that the founders of Zappos.com had more zeal than cash for marketing at the beginning so they focused on customer service. As I understand it, this focus on making customers happy morphed into making Zappos employees happy also.

In fact, they became so good at it, that they started Zappos Insights as a way to share their success and experience with other companies. They offer free info on their website and tours of their facility. Then, they offer some paid services, including 3-Day Culture Camp, online training, speakers and a whole lot more. (Personally, I can think of quite a few big box stores’ employees who would benefit greatly from Culture Camp. Maybe I’ll send them a memo.) According to Zappos.com CEO, Tony Hsieh, “If you get the culture right, everything else will follow naturally.” They’ve obviously gotten the culture right because industry giants such as Google, Eli Lily, Intuit are seeking them out to get on the culture of happiness bandwagon. It started me thinking that the Zappos Insights model has practical applications in my own life.

Have you ever heard someone say, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy?” Twenty-five years as a mom and six kids later, I can say I am a walking testament to that very statement. When I’m feeling down or stressed or happy or cranky, the entire atmosphere in the house changes.

Actually, this statement could be applied to my job as a nurse also. It’s the reason that, no matter what was going on outside of the job, I tried to put on a smile and bring laughter to my coworkers and patients. While I didn’t always succeed, I went every day fortified with coffee and with a smile on my face. After all, who needs a nice little dose of happiness more than a critically-ill patient and their family?

Unfortunately, it’s a little harder to put on your game face once you head home. You’re trying not to burn dinner, trudging through long division with one child and quizzing another on spelling words when you trip over the dog and step on a Lego. You’re tired, stressed out, pressed for time, and spread too thin and so you crack. For those of you who aren’t quite familiar with this vein-bulging, stroke-inducing feeling, might I recommend a full moon evening meal with a hormonally-challenged preteen-teenage brood. Throw autism or other issues into the mix and you’re sunk. Times like those, survival trumps everything. But, I’ve noticed that the more I stress out, the more they freak out and the vicious cycle perpetuates.

That’s why I was thinking about Tony Hsieh and his culture of happiness. Could his magic formula profit my family? I mean, the success of my family is every bit as important as that of Zappos or Google. In truth, my life and the lives of those I love depend on it. So, what would happen if I aimed for exceptional “customer service” in my own home? I could apply the Zappos core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationship with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

Each and every one is as pertinent, if not more so, to family life as it is to the workplace. So, why not translate their success into my own? Armed with these novel yet sensible concepts, I’m heading into a new week. (Why do I feel like I’m girding myself for battle?) Pray for me but especially pray for my kids! They probably won’t recognize me without the nervous tic or steam coming out of my ears. I’ll keep you posted!

It’s All Relative

Come on Spring!

For many years, I have deliberately kept my house cold at the beginning of the winter. I’ve made it a game to see how far I can make it before I have to turn on the wood stove (the first week of November). I occasionally use a ceramic heater on the coldest of mornings.

While I’ve made this a game, I really started it for health and financial reasons. A shorter heating season equals less wood use which equals money saved. Keeping the temperature moderate is also healthier for me because:

1) I become a slug when the temperature gets too warm. No physical activity means a fatter, unhealthier me, plus a ton of undone work. I also end up with more arthritis pain if I sit around, so I’m a fan of the zippy feeling you get when you feel cold.

2) I tend to stay inside if the difference between the outside and inside temperature is too great. No sunlight = No vitamin D production = brain mush and once again the work doesn’t get done. Being outside actually rejuvenates me, even in the dead of winter. It’s like free therapy.

3) According to Harvard researchers, being exposed to moderately cold temperatures “trains the blood vessels in the skin to be responsive.” Unfortunately, that’s about as much training as my body gets. Dutch researchers theorized that, at 61o, our brown fat was activated. Bring on that heat-producing, calorie-burning goodness. I can use all of the help I can get. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Health_Letter/2010/January/out-in-the-cold

The one exception to my cool house rule is prior to a big winter storm. I will heat the house up pretty high (78O) just in case the electricity goes out. This has helped in the past to keep my house relatively comfortable while we ride out the power outage.

Over the years, I noticed that our tolerance for cold (or heat) is actually relative to the temperatures to which we have become acclimated. After basking in the glorious sunshine of summer, a sudden 50o day makes you want to wear a parka and drink hot cocoa. Then winter comes with the snow and the wind and subzero temperatures. Once in a while, you get a beautiful glimpse of Spring as temperatures heat up to a balmy 50o. I go out without a jacket and my kids run themselves ragged doing everything they couldn’t do outside during the bitter cold.

What changed? Our core body temperature is still around 98.6o so that can’t be the culprit. It’s just that our perception of the heat or cold is relative to the temperature we have become accustomed to at that moment. Our frame of reference has changed.

For example, since I have 6 kids, I’m used to chatting, arguing, drama and injuries. Throw some autism meltdowns into the mix and you have a very wild existence. I can actually see some people cringe at the general din and chaos when they walk into my house. They smile with a glazed over look as I say things like, “If you fall off of that and die, I’m going to kill you” and “You only lost one finger. Hold pressure on it and be thankful you have 9 more.”

The truth is that I used to get stressed out around a lot of kids because for the longest time I had 2 busy but relatively easy kids. In fact, I once said to a friend and I quote, “Having a big family is alright for you but I’m just not cut out for it.” I’m sure God was thinking, “Oh, ye of little faith.” Now, when I have just 2 or 3 kids in the house, it feels like a holiday.

My frame of reference changed. And that’s what I’m trying to take advantage of by waiting until our bodies have adjusted to the cooler temps. After many mornings of cozy warm feet hitting the freezing floor, putting on the heat feels akin to winning the lottery. Right now, I’m anxiously awaiting a new frame of reference. I know it’s only January but I’ve got my seed catalogs everywhere, garden planned, and outdoor projects lined up. I’m in a springtime state of mind. Bring it on!

Holiday Highs and Lows

IMG_0930Today is my birthday. I’m not tremendously fond of birthdays. Thankfully, my family knows this and keeps it pretty low key on my birthday. Today, my sister is making sandwich perfection (aka Reubens) for lunch and we’ll probably talk gardening. Definite birthday win.

I didn’t always have an aversion to celebrating my birthday and it’s not related to my age (45, today). It’s just that I really don’t see what we’re celebrating. Getting ripped from the safety and security of a mother’s womb? We really didn’t do anything except go along for the ride. Surviving another year? That’s definitely worth celebrating if you live in a third world nation with a high death rate…or with toddlers or teens…or are a toddler or teen.  None apply to me.

In fact, I’m not tremendously fond of holidays in general. I know I sound like a Grinch but let me explain. It’s not the holidays themselves that bother me but the commercial messages that have overtaken the holidays. Valentine’s Day has gone from a commemoration of the martyrdom of some Saint named Valentine (there were 3 likely candidates) to a day to give tokens of love, chocolate, and flowers. What do those things have to do with death? And what does martyrdom have to do with romantic love? Wouldn’t it be better to just let those you love know that you love them all year long?

And Christmas, that’s gotten really warped. As if a fat, pipe smoking trespasser wasn’t enough, we’ve now added the creepy elf on the shelf. Are you kidding? Have you seen the movie “Dolls?” It’s a wonder all kids aren’t in therapy.

Then there’s the added problem of disappointment and heartbreak when the much anticipated holiday falls short of expectations. Not getting the right gift (or any gift), spending money you don’t have, being unable to buy the gifts you’d like to give, not spending the holidays with your kids, or spending the holidays alone. Too much worry for one day of the year. To me, the high suicide rate around the holidays is just proof that we’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Seriously, it’s just a small fraction of your year, people.

Yet each year, we eagerly anticipate the same holidays and suffer the same post-holiday slump. Feverish pulling down decorations as if to purge ourselves of their effect.  Perhaps it’s the autism influence but, in my house, business as usual is more enjoyable than the excitement of one day (children who thrive on schedules turn into scary monsters with any change).

Maybe it is just me getting old. But if it is related to my age, then it has more to do with acquiring some small modicum of wisdom over the years, passed down from the many patients facing illness and death who told me to not wait for the golden years just enjoy life every day because the golden years don’t always turn out to be that golden.

So I chose not to wait until Christmas, or my birthday, or Valentine’s Day to find joy and happiness and fulfillment. I’ll take the sunshine, the hugs, the crisp mornings, the cotton candy skies, the first tree buds after a long winter, the smell of the earth after a rain, and the smiles on my children’s faces. All these little things are actually the big things in my life’s journey and I plan on enjoying them every second of every day.

Happy Everyday to us!!!

Of sickness, Saturdays, and soup

I spent my Saturday alternating homework and housework. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for not crawling back in bed (I really didn’t have a choice since I put my sheets and blankets in the laundry while my coffee was steeping). But, hey, I might as well pat myself on the back for something.

I then spent the morning feverishly cleaning my post-plague house. When my kids are sick, the nurse in me imagines freshly sneezed germs swarming around me and landing on every surface in the house. I try not to breathe as they snuggle their feverish bodies next to me in my bed coughing directly at me as if my nose is a giant homing beacon. Since there are many of them, they kindly take turns being sick thus extending the experience. At long last, it’s time for the purging. I always feel better despite scrubbing the paint off the walls.

Today, I decided to throw dinner in the crockpot. I know myself well enough to know that, at the end of a day of cleaning, I don’t want to cook or even get dressed to go out for dinner. So, lest we all starve, I head for the crockpot. I have a chronic disorder that makes me unable to follow a recipe fully. I usually look at some recipes for inspiration then end up cooking whatever I wanted in the first place. Today was no different. I knew I wanted to use the leftover ham in my freezer and I had been in the mood for lentils so that lovely combo became my inspiration.

Splicing a few recipes together, I tossed it all in the crockpot and hoped for the best. Julia was tasked with making bread but unfortunately, her brother decided to have a meltdown while she was putting the ingredients in the bread machine and she forgot a few. Luckily, the ham and lentil soup ended up tasting fabulous so I didn’t miss the bread too much. “Yay for the soup win,” I thought!!

But once again, along came my children to burst my bubble. “What are we having for dinner?” they always ask. Ham and lentil soup. “What in it?” someone inevitably says. Really? Flamingo gizzards and coconuts, I’m tempted to say. Instead, I talk really slowly because it is the weekend and I presume their brains only function on school days. Ham and lentils, I drawl. Just then, Danny walks in quoting the movie, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, “Did you drop your transmission? It smells like lentils and desperation in here.” My shoulders sag as I realize that my lovely soup now can never be known as anything other than Lentils and Desperation.

And so, without further ado, I give you…

 

Lentils and Desperation

 

Lentils & Desperation Soup

2 cups dried lentils
2 cups carrots
1 cup celery (because that’s all I had)
2 cups onions (I used red because that’s what I had. I know this seems like a ton of onions but it tasted great.)
4 cloves minced garlic
2 cups diced cooked ham
1 tsp dried basil
¾ tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp black pepper (This really was a generous ½ tsp because I love pepper)
½ cup tomato sauce (I used my homemade sauce that’s more like a marinara.)
64 oz chicken broth (or stock, whatever you want to call it)

Toss it all in the crockpot and cook for at least 5 hours on high (I’ll try 10 hours on low next time.)

(This fed 7 of us as a main dish with 1 bowl leftover, that I already claimed for tomorrow.)

 

I used this recipe of Slow Cooker and Ham Soup for my inspiration.

From Stressed to Blessed

I hit a wall on Wednesday. Not a literal wall. My life had just become a rollercoaster careening out of control. I was tired of holding on for dear life and wanted off the crazy ride. Wednesdays tend to be appointment days. Some of my kids require more than the average amounts of appointments and my parents, although relatively healthy, still have medical needs.

Usually once a month, I have a Wednesday appointment marathon. This month, however, every provider, counselor, and caregiver was trying to make up time from taking 2 weeks off around Christmas. So, I was having trouble getting anything done because of appointment-mania.

Wednesday dawned and I tried to psych myself up with words of inspiration. “It’ll be great to get these all out of the way.” “These things have waited long enough.” “You’ll be near medical professionals if you keel over from exhaustion.” I rubbed my French press but no genie popped out to offer my 3 wishes so I resolved to just dive in and start the day.

But alas, fate had other plans. Two of my girls awoke sick. I am fortunate to have my family all around me, so I transferred my girls to the sick ward (at my sister, Susan’s house, where she and one of her daughters were also sick). This effectively dropped the piano lesson from my to-do list and made it unlikely that I’d be able to help with the kids club at church that evening but my day was still full.

And so it was that 4 appointments, 1 meal, and many miles later (having run back and forth to drop my son at school and pick up my parents and drop them off) that I pulled in the driveway just as my son was getting off the bus from school. We high-tailed it out to the store to pick up the requisite sick bay supplies: tissues, popsicles, juice, and Oreos (those were for me, don’t judge), bought Chinese food for dinner, picked up the sick kiddos and finally arrived at home with a plan to throw wood on the fire, food at the kids, and hide in my house until Spring. Unfortunately, I arrived home to a trash explosion, compliments of Trixie, our not-quite-as-cute-as-she-was-yesterday-before-the-trash-incident border collie. Then I got 2 urgent phone calls for things that had to be handled by 9PM that night (because not everyone works in Eastern Standard Time).

She put herself in the corner

She put herself in the corner

By the time I made it to bed, I was barely functioning. I forgot about my son’s homework until right before he was going to bed. I never put away the Chinese food leftovers. I didn’t clean up the house before I went to bed. And I never put wood on the fire. The list of things I neglected was huge.

But, I had also received a huge amount of blessings to be thankful for that day. I’m incredibly thankful that this was not one of my son’s more difficult days. I am thankful that I have an awesome sister who’s always got my back (and would have taken my sick kids even if she and her family were healthy). I feel tremendously blessed that I can live next door to my parents and be there to help them. My heart sings because my kids want the privilege of helping their grandparents or delivering dinner to them.  I’m thankful for the patience and kindness of mental health professionals who are willing to help kids who have had rough starts overcome them. I’m thankful for medical professionals who respect the right of the elderly to retain control over their care and treatment. I’m grateful that we were safe on the roads.

But most of all, I am thankful for a God who keeps me going through all of the craziness and who has provided for me physically and financially so that I can be there to take care of my family’s needs.

The Canvas of my Life

I’m a mom. That means I do things that I don’t like to do because I love my children. Take crafting for instance. I rate it right up there with root canals, plumber’s cracks and reality TV. I wouldn’t be surprised if hell was actually an eternity spent making crafts with egg cartons, pipe cleaners, and glitter. In fact, I just saw an article about a company that mails glitter to your enemies. I am thinking about moving.   Immediately. With no forwarding address.

Actually, when my kids were younger, I suffered silently through the crafts hoping they wouldn’t notice my innate disgust for all things sequined. When they could finally create cool stuff independently and I just had to cheer them on, I’m pretty sure the heavens opened and I heard the angels sing. God knows what we can handle and, as only He can, He has blessed me with a youngest child who likes science experiments more than crafts. When the others are grown and have moved out, our will be a science-experimenting, board-game playing, craft-free existence. Ah, bliss!

In the meantime, my 3 youngest daughters and I took a daylong oil painting class. I went with the intention of muddling through while enjoying their happiness. But, it turns out that I love oil painting more than my craftaholics do! It was like messy color-filled therapy. I was trying to follow the instructions of the teacher but got lost in the pure joy of manipulating the paint on the canvas. I came out of my trance to find the teacher talking to me and my hands covered with paint. Good thing there wasn’t a principal’s office to send me to.

I had so much fun that I promised to buy myself oil painting supplies as a graduation present. With the gift card my son and his family gave me for Christmas, I even splurged and got my dream easel, a full-sized wooden French field easel. After about a million years (really, less than a week), my easel arrived and it was everything I ever dreamed it would be.

And so it came to be that I sat there, my supplies arranged around me, facing a blank canvas, trying to decide what I would like to paint. I knew I wanted to paint a landscape but with God’s glorious creation all around me, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. The decision was exciting but overwhelming. I finally settled on painting a photo I had taken at Mount Pisgah State Park after a sudden rain. I started painting and realized that mixing the colors is an art in and of itself. I’ve begun the painting but am unsatisfied with my color choices.

In progress...

In progress…

The beautiful thing about oil is that you can come back to it later and keep tweaking it until you’ve gotten the result you wanted. It’s the perfect reflection of my own feelings on life. Each year, actually each day, is like a blank canvas. I face it with the hope and expectation of a child on Christmas morning (I am an eternal optimist).

But then I make mistakes or someone splatters yuck in my life. I get upset, usually yell and cry over the phone to my family therapists (read sisters), then shrug it off and come back to the canvas to try again. I can do this because the artist of all creation is still in control of my life.

Knowing God has my back allows me the privilege of splashing the colors on the canvas on my life with reckless abandon knowing that the end result will be something He has made beautiful.