Moving Forward on the Train Depot

Working on so many different projects at once right now that it feels like a bit of a whirlwind at the House on Hospital Hill…a few are train-depot-related and the other you’ll see first thing Monday morning as part of this year’s Michael’s Pumpkin Challenge. Max has been supervising it all:

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A sneak peek at what we are working on behind the scenes to restore the old train depot. I’m so excited to see it all finally come together.

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picketfence4

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picketfence2

 

It’s morphing as we go. I’ve gone from envisioning it as a potting shed to now more of a creative space….a “she-shed” for Boo and I to share! Maybe one day it could even become a little guest cottage.

Frida K-Owl-O Pumpkins

I was so excited when Better Homes and Gardens asked me to ship my Sharpie Pumpkins to them a few months ago for a photo shoot. But then a lot of time went by and I completely forgot about it…until last Sunday when I was at the grocery store getting ready to check out there was my little “sugar skull” owl pumpkin right on the front cover:

bhgcover

Of course I bought it. The girl at the checkout line must have thought I was crazy…or that I LIVE for pumpkin decorating. I’ll never get used to seeing things I’ve made featured somewhere…it’s like a Christmas morning feeling when someone likes something you made and wants to share it with the world.

P.S. The owl might look familiar to some of you…it was inspired by a screen print I drew for a limited edition dress a few years ago (back when I had the clothing line.) I called her Frida K-owl-o:

Beautiful photography by Linda Pelk.

I made a handful of the pumpkins, a whole parliament of owls (full tutorial here):

owlpumpkins15

The owl pumpkin on the cover:

Decorating a chalkboard paint pumpkin with sharpie

The word for a gathering of owls is “parliament”…where did that come from? You can also say a “wisdom of owls”…did that come before or after the saying “wise as an owl”?

creative pumpkin decorating ideas - owl pumpkin

I’m finishing up this year’s pumpkins that I do each year in collaboration with Michaels Stores. Soon to be revealed. I love the challenge of having to come up with something unique each year.

Here is some awesome owl footage for you:

 

A Week of Writing Prompts – Week 7

(Daily writing prompts are posted Monday through Friday at 7am on Facebook. This is the weekly roundup with a few excerpts from my personal journal. The goal is to write for at least 10 minutes without stopping, regardless of what ends up on the paper. Feel free to share writing in the comment section. Write on!)

Prompt 31: Pick one word from the list and write to wherever it takes you:

TELEPHONE BOOTH
SODA FOUNTAIN
WILDERNESS
CAMEL

From my journal: I feel like I’m in the wilderness, this wild untouched part of the universe, trying to understand the earth, the weather, and all the signs given to us to figure it all out on our own, to learn how things grow. There are signs in nature that the winter is going to be a doozy. And then there’s what I learned about asparagus recently…it takes 2 years to grow, and yet I’ve been picking it up in the grocery store all these years like it’s no big deal. Asparagus should cost like $50 a pound. 

corn

 

Prompt 32: A dream you remember.

From my journal: I woke up from a dream last night and thought: I should remember this and write it down. But now just a few hours later I can’t remember one single detail. So much genius in my sleep only to be lost when I wake up. I can also fly in my dreams and jump in this great slow motion manner so I’m not going to put much stock in my elusive genius. 

 

Prompt 33: A prompt from the book Writing For Your Life by Deena Metzger: Write anything for five minutes, it doesn’t matter what. Write as if you are walking in an unknown woods, attentive to anything you might see, or poking at an indistinct mass wondering what it is, whether it is alive or dead, whether it will snarl suddenly, turn and bite. Keep writing.

From my journal: A man came in the shop today and told me that he was a pilot. I asked him about the helicopter I’d seen on the side of the road for sale. He said he’d seen it and then said “don’t buy it.” I laughed and told him I was going to tell him the same thing. I don’t think anyone should buy a DIY homemade helicopter. His wife said it might make an interesting flower planter. 

 

Prompt 34: An obituary for a childhood pet.

From my journal: Magnolia was destined to turn into a snapping turtle based on her coloring. She (or he?) lived in a plastic wash basin for exactly one day and spent 24 hours trying to figure out how to climb those white plastic walls. She disappeared the second night, perhaps eaten by an egret or heron. RIP Magnolia. 

 

Prompt 35: Read this quote and then write about it:

“What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us. –Gaston Bachelard

From my journal: My teacher lacked any outward sympathy or understanding. I had a gag reflex to the V-8 tomato juice but she would still punish me for not drinking it by banning me from story time. Maybe “I don’t like it” wasn’t a strong enough argument coming from a child to a kindergarten teacher. I still refused to drink it until one day I was tired of sitting at the back table by myself. I drank the juice down and it came right back up onto the linoleum floor.  The act of vomiting must have been a little more persuasive because I was able to join the circle that day with the other kids. 

 

More posts on writing here:

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A Small Town Listener

Jodi is a dear friend of mine who also lives in this small town we call home. She’s a closet writer and I’m always ecstatic when she agrees to let me share some of her goodness here. Thanks Jodi for sharing. Thanks to all of you for reading! -Ashley

My heart is that of a Pastor’s Wife and it has exploded a million times over with the life stories I’ve absorbed.  When I hear, “Can we talk?” my chest begins to tighten and my emotions are right there raw and exposed all over again.  “Yes, of course,” I’ll respond, but the internal struggle of, “Can I possible handle one more painful, heart wrenching tragedy?  Can I be the ear to listen and the comforter to empathize one more time?

You guys, these stories, the life stories of people on this Earth, in our lives–no one deserves some of the stories I’ve heard, no one.  And yet, just when you think you’ve heard it all, another story comes in search of comfort and direction, hope and answers.  I listen and try to take it all in and in my response, no part of the words that leave my lips feel any bit of my own.  The brokenness of people can just take my breath away.

I once sat with a woman, her voice shaking as she spoke, tears building in her eyes, just waiting to fall.  With whatever courage I could find, I locked eyes with hers, gripping her hand in mine and told her how amazing and strong she was and that God was drawing near to her brokenness.  I wanted to believe that would relieve her.  I wanted to believe I could take it all away and just break for her.  As tears covered her cheeks, she embraced me with determination to hang on.  Darkness and despair had swept in and at her breaking point, she was desperate to find freedom.  My heart exploded in that very moment.  My words would never suffice.  They would never negate her pain.

Then to pile on top of these painful life stories, with a force that is neither welcomed nor chosen, we, in our small mountain town, have the demographics of the up close and personal Small Town Life.  

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In Small Town Life, a story unfolds with greater power than it began, and it can return to the individual’s heart in the most painful of ways.  It feels safer to lose the transparency and simply try to grin and bear it, rather than be exposed and judged by the murmurs of the well-intended-information-receivers.  There may be no greater heartache than to hear the pearls of your heart being repeated through the rumor mill with inaccuracies and trite concern.  So we remain silent, holding our broken hearts intact, longing to say to someone, “I am not okay.”

I hear these stories and I hold onto these broken hearts.  Every heart matters and every story is valuable to God; every last one.

Every single human longs to be seen, deeply seen, and when they are, this sparks value and value sparks action.  Shame and fear steal our courage, and the mistreatment of our pearls, our life stories, can paralyze our progress in whole-hearted living. Small Town Life should not be permitted to paralyze our brothers and sisters into a corner with their shame, but in fact, it should be the very caretaking catalyst that ignites a heart to soar.  We have the gift of learning to lean deeply on one another because our closeness in this life cannot be avoided.  WE are neighbors, WE are co-workers, WE are faith seekers, WE are image bearers of God, and WE should be quick to extend mercy to our community because WE belong to one another.  

Perhaps the very nature of Small Town Life reveals the truest part of who we really are. Perhaps the lesson in this demographic setting is that we are responsible to absorb secrets, heartache, and life stories, to participate in the discovery of freedom for all.

 

The Enormous Gap Between Us

henrinouwen

Our family sponsors a young girl, the same age as Boo, across the world in Ethiopia. We are encouraged to write her letters but so many thoughts go through my head when I start letters to this child. I tell her how much we love the outdoors, animals, and reading. I tell her what subjects Boo likes in school and I answer the questions she’s asked of us. I find myself carefully editing our life, because I find myself embarrassed at what we have. When I send photos of our family I find myself consciously pulling out the ones that show the interior of our house, because I don’t want her to compare our white walls and wood floors to her mud walls and dirt floors. I started a letter in my journal for myself as an exercise to highlight the obnoxious, enormous gap I feel between her world and the one I live in. It’s a compilation of time, and filled with sarcasm, so take with a grain of salt*:

Dear L,

Thank you for your recent letter! I was excited to learn that your favorite food is meat. What kind of meat? Organic? Grass fed? Hormone free? We like meat too, our freezer is full of pre-made meals that I can heat up in seconds. We have been talking about going vegan, except maybe we’ll allow ourselves to eat eggs because I think it would be so great to have chickens. They’d be mostly pet chickens though, an exotic fluffy breed that are friendlier to children. And we’ll have to have a “chunnel” around the yard so that the dogs and hawks won’t bother them. I love that word: chunnel. It’s a yard tunnel for a chicken. Genius. I hope to one day build a chicken coop that matches our 1950’s ranch house. Wouldn’t that be adorable?

My car is in the shop which means we are down to only one car this week. This is a huge inconvenience, mostly because my daughter has so many after school activities and shuttling her around is going to take a lot of careful coordination. And getting to the grocery store? Ugh. More coordination and headache. I have seriously considered looking into this new mail order service that delivers all the ingredients to my doorstep so I never have to set foot in a grocery store again. There are just too many choices there anyways. The average grocery store here carries over 42,000 items. I purchase at least 100 of those items on any one trip.

Well, it’s official…the worst has happened: We have crabgrass. It’s basically a death sentence for your lawn here. But rest assured, there is an entire aisle of toxic chemicals at the hardware store that we can choose from to eradicate it…for a few months. If we decide to go that route then we’ll have to start the process all over again, yearly. Maybe people are probably already talking about our yard because we didn’t cut it last week and it’s already about 8 inches high. We had a ton of rain over the weekend, probably washing all the toxic chemicals from the neighborhood down into the intricate drainage systems America has which eventually head toward the river.

Our water filter on the refrigerator has been on RED for the last week. This is basically the worst thing that can happen to your water.  I know you don’t have running water in your home, but just for a moment imagine if you did…and then imagine that the filter was FIVE days over its expiration date. I promise I was being responsible and ordered new filters through Amazon Prime when my refrigerator’s filter indicator turned YELLOW so they’d be here on time. But then my Amazon Prime took THREE days to get here and then the filters weren’t even the right size. It took me at least 20 minutes to print off a return slip so the UPS guy could pick the box back up right at my back door because the wireless printer wasn’t talking to my laptop or the iPad. When I finally had a chance to order another box of them, making certain the SKU numbers matched up, I decided to order a year’s supply to try and avert another water crisis. We get treated water from the city (delivered via pipes straight to FIVE different access points within our house) but still…imagine all the toxins we’ve been ingesting over the last 5 days. I know you have to lug your water across town in big water jugs but please: make sure the filter hasn’t expired.

We ran out of GoGoSqueezes yesterday and for a few moments I thought my kid might not have enough food to get her through until 3pm when school lets out. In case you don’t know what GoGoSqueezes are they are little packets of pre-portioned pureed apples that you can suck down in about 14 seconds. They rarely get recycled so then they probably sit in the landfill for approximately 235 years, but they are just so darn convenient because you don’t have to use a spoon or bite straight into an actual apple.

The trash truck forgot to pick up our trash again which means the trash cans will be overflowing by next week. We have a truck that comes by once a week to pick up all the trash we accumulate but they should really come twice a week because I swear they reduced the size of our trash bin this year.** Prices go up, service goes down. Seems to be a common theme these days. We know that most of the trash should actually be going in the recycle bin but it’s easier just to chuck it in the trash can because we are just so darn busy: ain’t nobody got time for that.   <—omg YouTube is so funny. 

My phone has been so slow lately! Probably because I have 2,642 photos on it. 1,245 of the photos are of our dogs. How many photos has your family taken of you lately? I can share photos instantly to my relatives across the U.S. within seconds, as long as my Wi-Fi is cooperating, which is never. It goes down at least once a month. The cell service is horrendous in the nearby national park too…I get really frustrated when I have to delay sharing my photos of my family enjoying the outdoors.

I can’t stand the ceramic tile in our kitchen right now. It’s fully functional but it doesn’t look anything like the dream kitchens I see on Pinterest. Are you on Pinterest? I’ve got a few Pinterest boards started with ideas for that chicken house I mentioned earlier. I’ve even got a secret board with project ideas no one will ever know about. 

Our laundry has been piling up. My expensive yoga pants are NEVER supposed to be washed with cotton clothing and now they are embarrassingly pilled. They’ll never be the same. Thank goodness Gap’s Friends and Family was extended a day so I could restock.

Does your school do the Scholastic book orders? We were going to pre-order the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book but they only offer it in paperback. I couldn’t bring myself to order it, because it wouldn’t match the other hardback copies we have. It’s my OCD. (Note: Sometimes I use the words “OCD” as a substitute for “anal.”)

So there’s supposedly a new strain of lice this year. Nightmare. But no worries, I have all these essential oils. Does your family use Young Living oils or DoTerra oils? Just wondering. Anyway, after my daughter washes her hair each night we braid it tightly and then I mist her with the “Purification” scent. Then I mist myself in it. Then I mist the dogs in it, even though dogs can’t get lice but at least they smell good. Then I mist the entire house in it. It’s only like $20 a bottle.

Hey, what an amazing job your community’s church is doing to help the needs of the local children. I think we have about 300 churches within in a 25 mile radius. You could visit a new one almost every day of the year if you wanted to.

Promise me you’ll keep this a secret but I told my daughter that Disneyland was closed this year. And that the American Girl store was closed too. You’d never believe it if I told you that one-day of tickets for my family costs more than your family’s yearly income.

*****

My dear L,

This list could of on forever and most of it you will never understand. Maybe that will save me some of the guilt I feel about all the excess and waste I see and contribute to each day. There’s no excuse for it to ever come from myself or my family. We know better. 

You asked me to pray that you will have peace. You are eight years old and that is all you have asked of me. That simple request breaks my heart in two but also heals it right back up again with hope.

I see you. Your photo is my daily reminder to continue to give away all of this privilege and to pursue a life of less convenience. 

You are a blessing to our family. I hope we will be a blessing to yours. 

Love,

me

*I would never in a million years send this letter to an 8-year-old living in poverty in Ethiopia. I know from experience that I actually have to write that out.
**I am not referring to Bryson City trash pickup. 

We’ve made a lot of changes around here in the last two years, but we still have a long way to go. We learn, we change, we get sucked back in and start all over again. For example, last week I watched the horrific video of a sea turtle having a straw extracted from its nose. I couldn’t sleep that night. I can’t get the image out of my head. 500 million straws are consumed each day in the U.S.?! I can’t even wrap my head around 500 million, and all it takes is me saying: I don’t need a straw, but thank you. A few months ago we bought stainless steel straws, just one small step in this huge cycle of single-use madness. You know, I never do this, but here’s my soapbox for one second: If that turtle broke your heart, do something. I love how fast injustice gets out on social media these days but my biggest hope is that all the passionate, fiery voices on social media actually go out and do something about what is breaking their heart. It’s too easy to click “like” to show support and then never do anything beyond that. There’s even a term for it now: slacktivism. I’m guilty of it as well.  Other small-big steps: switching all our cleaning products and pest control to eco-friendly. Another step: this week we are working on getting our fall garden in place and a better composting system figured out among other things.  None of it adds convenience or security, but it sure feels right and good and exciting. But the gaps are still enormous: between countries, neighborhoods, humans and animals.

 

Thus it was.

I am being driven forward
Into an unknown land.
The pass grows steeper,
The air colder and sharper.
A wind from my unknown goal
Stirs the strings
Of expectation.

Still the question:
Shall I ever get there?
There where life resounds,
A clear pure note
In the silence.

 –Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings

 

It helps that we’ve surrounded ourselves with so many like-minded friends, like my friend Harper who recently wrote this post for BCO on her life of simplicity (and outdoor adventures) with her husband Ben:

harperdavison

@harperdavison on Instagram

 

Or our friend Dwayne who has been living out of his truck for the last month and traveling cross country with his dog Bobby. He also does all my web work which can get a little tricky based on how far he has ventured into the wilderness:

dwayneparton

@dwayneparton on Instagram

Many more that I’ll share another time…. 

Reduce the gaps.

 

Learning Calligraphy

I worked on learning the alphabet today. My little calligraphy station:

set

This was the result of watching the first of four calligraphy classes by Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls:

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My hands are so shaky that I don’t think I’ll be helping any friends with their wedding invitations anytime soon, but I do love being able to create some beautiful lettering:

calligraphy

 

Disclaimer that the law requires me to add: I am an affiliate of Creativebug, but all opinions, suggestions, lack of skill and results are my own. 

 

Finding Water

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

-Eleonora Duse

We drive along side and over the Tuckasegee River multiple times a day. We spend a lot of time at nearby Deep Creek:

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What I love about water: it always follows its own course, twisting and turning and carving out its own way. Follow a stream to the end and you see that it continues to find the lowest point, the most humble path. It doesn’t see obstacles, or at least it doesn’t make a big deal out of them. A river or stream will just reroute itself, seemingly with little effort, cutting a new path. River beds move all the time, over the years they carve out new paths. Drop a rock into a lake or river and you can see the endless ripples of one single act. A river, a stream, I think, are a great teachers. Nature is a very good teacher.

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

-Heraclitus

A Week of Writing Prompts – Week 6

(Daily writing prompts are posted Monday through Friday at 7am on Facebook. This is the weekly roundup with a few excerpts from my personal journal. The goal is to write for at least 10 minutes without stopping, regardless of what ends up on the paper. Feel free to share writing in the comment section. Write on!)

Prompt 26: One thing you would have saved from your childhood.

From my journal: My little blue wagon my grandmother pulled me in, and the plastic grapes I pulled off of their stems and could attach to my tongue with their suction. The braided rainbow headband my babysitter gave me for my birthday, our seashell collection, and maybe my fort in the woods.

 

Prompt 27: Pick one word from the list and write to wherever it takes you: flood, skating rink, urban legend, tadpole.

From my journal: The shell was a burnt orange color from the red clay soup that had splashed up onto its perch after the last rain. The red stream would have been a torrential flood to such a small insect. At first I thought it was a cicada but it was more of a large prehistoric beetle, the body split in two where it had climbed out of itself. Last year I saw a Great Luna moth. I thought it was dead but when I came back for it a few moments later it had vanished. It must have known about my collection of the dead.

 

Prompt 28: This is a favorite prompt from Barbara Abercrombie’s book Courage & Craft: Where was the first place you remember living? Look through a window into the first kitchen you had. Try to find at least one concrete detail. A kitchen table? The stove? Who else is in the kitchen? Write a paragraph or two about this.

From my journal: Paradise Point and the door in the floor. The room was unfinished with only rough plywood on the floor, used only for storage, which made it even more mysterious. The trap door was in the small closet on the second floor. When opened there was a hole in the floor that opened up into the laundry room below. The square hole was located right above the metal tub of the washing machine, a silver perforated doughnut when viewed from above.

 

Prompt 29: Pick one word from the list and write to wherever it takes you:

DAIRY
MARBLES
DRIPPING
SITCOM

From my journal: Marbles from the seawall. The wall had crumbled into nothing leaving only cement and marbles by the time we came to live there but the marbles that the man had painstakingly placed into the wet cement as he built it could be found when the lake’s water level was low.

marbles

 

Prompt 30: Describe yourself (or someone else) using different types of animals.

From my journal: A giraffe by height, awkward and slow unless running from panic. Skin speckled as an unborn robin’s egg, hair abrasive as the quills from a porcupine when styled. A crowy-scout but sluggishly, sloth-like when unmotivated. Fingernails ridged like a pony’s hoof, feet dry and rough like pads on a dog’s paw from going barefoot.

 

More posts on writing here:


More on the Lil Journal Project here:

The Lil Journal Project via lilblueboo.com

Summer Dog Days

Working on a few projects this weekend. I love this photo taken last night:

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Somehow Max manages to make it into almost every photo I take.  He’s such a character. Our friends were staying here last week and every time I turned around he was sleeping in their suitcase. He looks a little guilty here:

suitcase

 

While Brett worked on some rocking chairs I worked on a project I’m just starting with Lowe’s…transforming the old train depot over the next few weeks:

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Funny, I went for a 2 mile run in Deep Creek. When I got back Brett had finished mowing the lawn and showed me his Suunto GPS watch:

suunto

He walked 4.16 miles pushing that mower. I didn’t check the elevation change…but I’m sure it was more than my workout all together.  Maybe I should mow the lawn sometime!