First I swooned. Then I stitched.

Dear friends,

While searching the internet recently for embroidery inspiration, I stumbled across this creation . . . so charming, so lovely, so startlingly original that I swooned.

pearsample

Source: Etsy

For days, I was obsessed with the notion of a stuffed pear. In the same way I get obsessed with an elaborate dessert and plan it over and over again in my head, I was inspired by this delightful combination of crazy quilting, embroidery and fiber art. I was determined to replicate the design.

So I spent Saturday afternoon making a prototype. Because I had no idea if I my experiment would be a rousing success or a colossal failure, I kept it simple — where simple equals starting at 1:30 pm and finishing at 7:30 pm. So, yeah, even simple art takes time. But I was happy with the result.

IMG_1849[1]

I had no idea before today that six hours stitching nothing more than a pincushion (or a windowsill tchotchke) could be such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Had I adorned my pear as lavishly as the inspiration photo, I would have spent two or three afternoons stitching. Today, I just wanted to finish. To know whether or not my fading eyesight and increasingly stiff fingers could pull off such a thing. The answer, apparently, is yes, so next time I’ll take all the time I need to bling my baby up.

Speaking of next time, I recently ducked into a flea market on my way home from work and found a vintage quilt for a song. It was terribly tattered around the edges and ripped down one side. But at $17, enough of the quilt was intact that I couldn’t pass it up, especially since the top was made from a lovely shade of faded cotton the exact color of Jadite. (If you read this post last year, you know I have a kitchen full of Jadite dishes. The serene seafoam color associated with these vintage dishes is a shade I simply can’t resist.)

I envisioned cutting up my tattered quilt for a number of craft projects, including another pear pincushion. But before I cut into my vintage treasure, I had to know I could pull it off.  Today’s prototype pear made from inexpensive fat quarters purchased at Wal-Mart gave me the courage I need to stretch my sewing wings a bit more.  Now I’ve got more designs than I can keep up with swimming through my mind, all competing for my limited weekend  crafting time.

The good news is I won’t be bored for pretty much the rest of my life.

With gratitude {for my kickin’ new sewing machine, limitless inspiration, and enough spare time to pursue my textile dreams vigorously},

Joan, who thinks the internet is the coolest thing ever for crafters and is especially grateful to the lovely people who post free patterns and tutorials like this one

The teary thing.

Dear friends,

So I told you the other day I had a million things running through my mind, and this is the third thing that is falling onto the page, one I never guessed I would share.

You see, I was reading Momastery the other day and I stumbled across this post from a year ago. I was reading Glennon’s story about Anna’s story, about death and fear and courage, and I cried and cried. And all the crying prompted half of the million-bazillion thoughts racing through my mind until I pushed them away because, geeeeeez, who needs a downer first thing in the morning? And despite the teary start to that day, my week turned out pretty darn great (a hard project completed, a financial reward, a lovely surprise from my oldest child).

And so by Friday, you know, I went to bed feeling happy. I closed my eyes and one sentence, 13 words that began with “When I was nine years old . . .” popped into my head. Just popped into my head and announced that I needed to rise. And so I crawled out of bed well after midnight and found my laptop in the dark and opened a blank document and filled it with a story that spilled out fully formed in a matter of minutes, 1,226 words that were born out of Glennon’s story about Anna’s story.

My story seems heavy, but don’t take it that way. Because I feel a lightness, a peace, an unshakable confidence in the power of love. One minute I was afraid and the next I wasn’t and I just sorta thought well, huh, this is different. And two years later, Glennon inspired me to dig deep and write it down.

With gratitude {for all the real Superheroes of the world, also known as Mothers},

Joan, who also has an unshakable confidence in the power of telling our stories

Witness

When I was nine years old, my maternal grandfather died in our bathroom. He had been on the toilet and something happened. I’m not sure what, something with his heart I think. I was in the living room engrossed in The Waltons when I heard my mother yelling for help.

There was no one to help. My maternal grandmother had suffered a stroke a few months earlier and was still recovering. She sat lame and mute on the sofa while I sat frozen nearby, both of us listening to my mother’s pleas.

“Please help me! Please call someone!” my mother frantically pleaded.  This was before the days of 9-1-1. I have little memory of making the call other than fumbling with the phone. I don’t even recall who I phoned – the Fire Department maybe – because soon enough they showed up. A long time later, two men in uniforms took my grandfather out on a gurney, a black drape over his body. It was late and very dark outside and I remember sitting under the harsh overhead light in our living room and staring out our front door, which had been propped open by the firemen and seemed like the portal to a darkness I would fear for a very long time.

The next day my mother sent me to stay with my widowed paternal grandmother who lived an hour away.  I loved my Gram but she was even older than my grandfather and as soon as evening rolled around, I became anxious. If something happened to Gram, I knew I would bear witness to her passing all alone. I don’t recall how I coped through the first night or two, but as the days passed on, I started inventing reasons to invite younger adults over or spend our evenings anywhere but alone together in my Gram’s house. I was terrified of being alone with old people after dark for a very long time.

Two years later, my brother died in his sleep at age 26. He was married and – for reasons I don’t to this day understand – his wife called my mother on the phone to tell her. Once again, my disabled grandmother sat mute and I sat frozen in our living room on an early Saturday morning as my mother absorbed the loss of her son over the phone amidst the din of Looney Tunes on our hulking console television.

I will never forget my mother’s wailing. She rushed to the bathroom and lost her bowels and vomited violently and screamed and retched like nothing I had ever seen. I cried and screamed, too, begging her to stop. She couldn’t stop.  I left the bathroom and went to my bedroom and shut the door. I have no memory of who tended to my mother – or my grandmother, for that matter — on that day.

A few years later, my grandmother, who had been failing for so many years, finally died at home, too. I was away at summer camp. My father – who I rarely saw — arrived unannounced in the middle of the night to retrieve me. All I could think of was “Thank god I got to miss this one.” My father had been drinking, and as he drove dangerously fast for more than two hours over the narrow and curving two-lane road back to my mother’s home, I recall wondering if death by automobile accident was preferable to other options.

And so, by the time I was a teenager, I had grown to fear death like no other occurrence, no matter how it arrived. I had been witness to its ravages, on the souls departed and the souls remaining, poor souls wounded and grieving, mute and wailing, young and old. I figured I might do anything to sidestep its grasp, from siding with God or bargaining with the Devil, to living healthy so as to delay its arrival as long as possible, to closing off my heart so that if it claimed another loved one, I wouldn’t feel it, wouldn’t fall into a shock, wouldn’t retch until my bones crumbled into a dust that choked me from the inside out.

***

It was Winston Churchill, I think, who said the only thing to fear is fear itself.  I got it, the very first time I heard those words in school. The fear could kill you too, he knew and I knew, more slowly, more deliberately than any real threat. Because despite the shock of losing three family members at such a young age, the rest of my adolescence and young adulthood were free of death or even hardship of most sorts, except the kind you carry around in your heart that you don’t want to hold and yet can’t release because even fear becomes an old friend after so long, a friend just waiting for you to turn your head so he can strangle you.

It’s funny to me how adult coping mechanisms are so similar to youthful ones, the bargains, the distractions, the rationalizations, easily conjured in age-appropriate expressions. I watched as family members fell prey to the kind of distractions that came in a bottle, or a needle, or a capsule and vowed to find another path. Mine became a particularly astringent kind of stoicism that bent to neither pleasure nor pain, a furious sobriety that could just as easily choke you from the inside out.

And then I had babies and the whole world changed.  I hid under my wings two beautiful and miraculous creatures, rendered so perfectly, so wholly sublime I thought my heart might burst like the Grinch’s from growing three sizes too big in an instant.  And oh my god I panicked. I remembered my mother and I panicked. Most people didn’t see it, but my husband sensed it, the way I fretted excessively over every fever, every cut, every potentially injurious speck that invaded their realm. When they lived through all their childhood illnesses and seemed to be safe and thriving, I invented nightmares to torture myself until I awoke in a fright because remember how I said fear can be an old friend and I seemed to need one in the midst of so much happiness that I worried couldn’t last.

***

Not long before my mother died, I held her hand and we cried together in a dark hospital room. We didn’t talk much, just a few words. We were staring down death together, as we had those times before, but this day calmly and quietly. She said she’d had a good life and she wasn’t afraid. Strangely, I wasn’t afraid either, for the first time. How had I blamed her all those years for frightening me so, and yet this time, she was leading me, helping me through it? Did she know, had she planned for this last gift to me of peace and courage? Her silhouette was so small, so frail, but she was a medal of bravery, burnished by life’s hard edges, glowing in the distant light from outside the door of her hospital room. We were looking from the dark into the light, a literal antonym of the portal etched in my memory on the first night I met death at age nine.  It was as if she was saying, “See, you can do it.  You can feel it and endure it.”

And I finally, wondrously came to understand that crazy retching love is not the thing to fear, not the thing that crushes you in the face of unimaginable loss, but the thing that sustains you and substantiates you and buoys your injured soul across the Sea of Healing until you are able to swim alone again.

My mother taught me that. It just took me many years to understand the lesson.

Sunrise.

Dear friends,

Source: Say it Sweet

I had a dispiriting day yesterday.

The reason isn’t important because we all experience them, don’t we? Sometimes it’s a work issue. Other times it’s a family problem. Or the dishwasher stops working. Or the dog gets sick. Whatever the reason, we sometimes have days that disappoint us, make us lose confidence, cause us to question what we believe about ourselves and our abilities.

Lately, when I have that kind of day, I go looking for words of inspiration and encouragement. Sometimes I find them as posters on Pinterest. Etsy is another good place. And my favorite Buddhist books and websites usually give me a lift, too. I’ve even been known to Google my particular disappointment and see what pops up — and like an encouragement lottery, I sometimes find a winning ticket or at least an interesting path to follow.

Yesterday, I tripped across the canvas above on an Etsy shop.  God bless Victor Hugo, because I really needed the reminder that sometimes, you just need to let the sun go down on your disappointment.

You’ve likely figured out by now I have a tendency to over-analyze. I mean, who else but a hopelessly introspective individual would publish a gratitude journal for all to see? And like most traits, my tendency toward self-analysis can be both a strength and a frailty, depending on the day.

Self-reflection has at times given me more empathy, more humility, more patience. And it has also driven those closest to me to distraction with my tendency to “talk it all out.” Really, you can’t just argue with me. Because then you have to dissect the argument. Discuss the motivations of the participants. Reflect on the outcome and opportunities for improvement. Have a meta-argument. (Did I mention my graduate degree is in Psychology? Top that with an interest in self-help techniques and an endless curiosity about spiritual beliefs of all faith traditions and . . . yeah, I’m one of those people. I suspect some folks wish I would just curse at them and storm out of the room. It’s certainly more efficient.)

Anyway, I spent the better part of yesterday obsessing about this particular setback until I decided some time around 8:00 pm that I was done with it. I turned my attention elsewhere and let the sun go down on it.

I’m not fooling myself. The matter is messy and unresolved and I have to pick it back up again at another time or it will continue to fester. But on Wednesday night, I bid it bon nuit and released myself from the responsibility of absorbing it any longer.

And Thursday morning . . . well, the sunrise looks a little brighter today.

With gratitude {for words of wisdom sprinkled throughout the universe},

Joan, who once took an aptitude test and was told she should be a writer or a psychologist and can’t figure out how in the world she ended up as neither

Joy to the me.

Dear friends,

Not me, but I aspire to feel this joyful every day.

Source: Pinterest

In case you haven’t figured this out about me by now, I’m a knuckle-down kind of gal.

I’ve been described as stoic, serious, determined, decisive, no-nonsense, persistent, and ambitious (among other less flattering adjectives).  No one has ever accused me of being fun. In fact, I’m probably known as a bit of a buzz-kill.  Best I can tell, I never get social invitations based on the bet I’ll get the par-tay started.

While in Tulsa last weekend, I had breakfast with an old friend whose good advice has been a staple in my life.  After we caught up on everything that happened in our worlds since I left town, she asked “So what are you doing to bring joy into your life?”

I nearly choked on my eggs.

“Joy?” I said, as if she had suggested I should be bringing nuclear fusion into my life.

Truth is, I still have no answer.

Okay, that’s not true. I cook and bake almost every weekend and that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I enjoy it immensely but I’m not sure I would say I’m joyful while doing it.

Fact is, I can’t really tell you what makes me joyful. I think this might be a problem. And it probably explains why Mr. Mom suggested as nicely as he knew how not long ago that I need to “lighten up.”  Have more fun. Quit taking life so seriously.

Knowing me, after he said it, I probably thought to myself something like “Oh sure, I’ll get right on that. Yes, sirree, I’ll be sure to have more fun right after I finish solving all the problems at my office and getting our new lives arranged and helping Kate navigate the rest of her life via the college search process.”

If I am honest, I will say that I have spent my life behaving as if joy is a momentary destination rather than a daily state of mind.  I tend to spend long stretches of time planning for large joyous celebrations (such as vacations, outings, holidays) rather than looking for and enjoying tiny bursts of joy in my everyday life.

I started this blog because I realized late last year that I needed to cultivate gratitude in my life – to consciously and determinedly identify blessings and take time to savor them. It has worked in many respects. I’m successfully cultivating appreciation for life’s small blessings, while reducing frustration and discontent in the process.  But I am learning that one can be simultaneously grateful and pensive. Joy is not an automatic response to gratitude.

This I did not count on. It seems to me that gratitude is more of a cognitive response (a reasoned conclusion to an analytical process), while I consider joy to be an emotional reaction. Analysis, I’m good at. Spontaneous gaiety, not so much.

But maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe joy is a fundamental condition of the heart, as much as gratitude, as much as love, as much as hope.

So what’s a girl to do when she wants to bring joy into her life? Should I start by trying to have more fun?  (I realize joy is not the exact same thing as fun, but I can’t remember the last time I had fun and yet failed to feel joyous.) I welcome any and all suggestions for how a tightly wound worrywart can get her joy on.  That child in roller skates in the photo? That’s my new standard of joy. I may not get there every single day, but I’m betting if I work at it I can beat my recent average.

With gratitude {for friends and loved ones who ask me the hard questions},

Joan, who was terribly disappointed when her three oldest friends told her she was the Miranda Hobbes in their foursome, but couldn’t really offer a solid counter-argument

Thirty days.

Dear Friends,

I was browsing Pinterest on Sunday.  (Is it my imagination, or has the internet gotten a whole lot easier and more fun to surf with Pinterest?).  And I tripped across this image, pinned by my cousin.

Source: Inchmark

Somebody suggested capturing happy memories throughout the year on pieces of paper saved in a jar. Then, on New Year’s Eve, pull out the memories and savor them, one-by-one.

“What a great idea!” I thought, before realizing that’s what I’m doing here.

This is my 30th post. The month has flown by and, so far, I’m delighted with my little gratitude project. My readership is small but devoted, though readers aren’t why I started Debt of Gratitude. I launched this blog because I wanted to deepen and enrich my appreciation for life’s small blessings and, on that count, I can say without hesitation it has worked.

It sounds too simple to be true, but it is: the discipline and routine of journaling every single day make a difference in my attitude that is distinct and profound. As I have reflected more and more on what I have to be thankful for, petty annoyances and frustrations have receded from my attention.

Every day, I find myself thinking “What will I write about tonight?” And after writing every night, I find myself thinking I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. My plan has worked like a charm, with growing contentment and balance as side benefits.

With gratitude {for each and every one of you — friend, family member or visitor — who have shared my first 30 days with me and who keep me motivated to blog on},

Joan, who wishes she could turn gratitude-discipline into fitness-discipline but needs a whole lot more than 30 days to achieve self-mastery

In contrast to my leisurely Saturday, I had a very productive Sunday. Head over to Domestic Dilettante for the evidence.

Did I really say daily?

Dear Friends,

Here’s the thing:

I started this blog on a whim. And 10 days ago when I published my first post in a fit of New Year’s euphoria, it never really occurred to me that the “daily” part of “daily meditations from a mindful mother” might be, shall we say, a tad bit ambitious. A wee bit challenging. A bleeping moronic idea.

Heck, I was chugging along nicely for more than a week.

<Insert screeching tire sound effect here>

But yesterday evening as I sat down to compose something of value to say to you, I realized my creative cupboard was bare. “I got nothing” was all I could summon.

(Random left turn: How DO professional writers with daily deadlines ever meet them? Oh, yeah, they’re pros and I’m not.)

It was a sad state of affairs until I tripped across this anonymous quote on the internet:

Yep, the daily part sure is hard.

And it sure is how you change your life, whether it’s the way you eat, the way you exercise, the way you parent, the way you love, or the way you intend to cultivate gratitude for a blessed life.

So here’s to accountability . . . from all corners of the universe!

With gratitude {for people, anonymous or well-known, who leave the world stocked with good words},

Joan, who aspires to inspire but underestimated the magnitude of the task

PS: Remember those hills I was struggling with? (Well, more like ignoring since I had taken a long holiday break from running.) Well, I ran them today and I felt pretty darn good. Sometimes a daily nudge is all we need.

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