I think the ideas for our card this year might have started back in early spring when the girls and I headed out on a nice afternoon into the backyard to do some sunprints.
We had gathered items from around the house, inside and out, and we filled the back porch with beautiful papers of blue and white. I thought briefly about purchasing more paper and doing the holiday cards this way, but then I realized that December is not April, and put that idea quickly to bed.
One of the things I thought about was connecting myself back to the things that I like to do, things that I wanted to try, or – in some cases – things that I didn’t necessarily want to do, but needed to do, so that they stopped hanging over my head, manifesting as additional stress.
February rolled around and, after a three year lull, we actually had quite a bit of work, and all of it due at the exact same time. I went back to full time work, and then some, working late nights and some weekends. I certainly didn’t get 52 projects completed at home this year, but we tackled some really big ones, and I’m proud of the things that we accomplished despite our limited time to work on them.
One of the things we started to work on was finishing off the back room to give us space to work on projects outside of the main thoroughfare. We painted that back wall a dark, inky black – not chalkboard paint, but that sort of color. The white of the trim and desk, and later the shelves that we hung above, was so nice – and certainly was part of the thinking behind the card.
Chalkboards were something on my mind for sure this year, as we found ourselves fully caught up in the juggle of two sometimes over-employed parents, juggling schedules and trying to keep a zillion balls in the air. I had project ideas for finding ways to remember everything we needed just to get out the door. When May rolled around I think I was near my breaking point, and I felt like I just couldn’t store another thing to remember in my head.
I’m quite sure that chalkboard paint factored in there.
We also spent a lot of 2012 eating at new places and connecting to the ones we loved the most. In November I traveled with my mother- and sister-in laws to New York, and we had some of the most delicious meals in small spaces with menus written in chalk on the wall. Chalkboards make me think of handcrafted food and bakers twine. They aren’t perfect, but they are always changing, and that means the best things get written and re-written on that wall.
And then our family connected back to painting – watercolors in particular. You might remember this afternoon when F turned that idea in her head into something visible on the paper. If I had to choose a highlight of 2012, this moment with watercolors would certainly be a finalist.
After finalizing a design, I transferred it with pencil to twenty-five sheets of taped down watercolor paper on the drawing board. I painted the larger items in with masking fluid, and nearly lost my eyesight in the process.
Then the first of many laps around the table began, waiting between coats for the washes to dry.
The girls were fascinated with the process of removing the masking fluid. “Can we do the rubbings now?” they would ask, and the fluid would peel off like rubber cement, revealing our “chalked” message on the boards.
Then I would untape, clean the table off, and start again.
This year we had family photos (!), another one of the things I wanted to accomplish this year. E helped me assemble the insert and attach the photos with washi tape to the cards.
She also cut yards and yards of bakers twine.
2012 wasn’t really about lists. It wasn’t just about getting things done for the sake of plodding through. I wanted to consciously make a clean break from the year before, and I really and truly think that I did – I think that our whole family did. You don’t stop mourning with the snap of a finger, and stress doesn’t magically disappear because your to-do list shortens as you cross things off. Going on vacation for the first time in a couple of years doesn’t solve everything – although it surely, surely helps.
The beginning of the mission statement at our church is “Connecting people to what matters most”. That’s what I was looking to do this year – to remember what matters most. And to let the other things go. As each new challenge arose I took a step back, took a deep breath, and uttered those words. And it worked. I’m a bit of a skeptic sometimes about the power of thinking, but it honestly worked.
We connected this year – 2012 – to what mattered most. We spent time with family far away, but we carefully balanced that travel with the needs of our own family, protecting those precious weekends when the work weeks got a little out of control. We connected to our schools – maybe not as much as we wanted to time- and money-wise – but in meaningful ways, and always with the goal of supporting strong, nurturing environments for our girls to grow in. We connected with our church – not just in attendance and participation, but now in a massive renovation (designed and being built, right now, by me). We connected with our community through the vibrant art and food scene – we are so lucky to be right in the center of all the action. We connected to this beautiful place we call our planet, reveling in the power of the sea and the tides, and marveling at how escaping to different landscapes can really feed the soul. We connected to our country, voting again, this November, with joyful hearts and skipping feet. We still mourn, and we still miss. But we connect a bit more back to those we have lost – even in the simple act of turning on a sewing machine or baking that most incredible chocolate cake ever.
And in those moments we are connected to what matters most. I have come to realize, and accept, that I have so very little control in my life, despite what my personality type might argue. I can give things my very best effort, but I can also step back and let things be.
I hope this advent season – in the many forms and ways and traditions that we all celebrate – has been a gift of quiet and of reflection. I value your presence here, and our family wishes you and yours and very, very good 2013.