That is one good thing about this world… there are always sure to be more springs.
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
I really struggled coming up with an idea for my card this year. In past years I usually land on an idea mid-year or by fall at the latest, and I spend October and early November firming up a plan and picking up materials. I dive into the card over Thanksgiving, and fill the long weekend (and long car drives) with card making hours. But 2020 was not a typical year at all, and even though I would occasionally land on a fleeting idea (like photographing our actual construction dumpster and then adding elaborate paper flames to it pop-up book style), none of them really resonated with me. I just couldn’t settle on anything until the election was over and decided, and that process was fraught and continued for weeks and weeks in November. Thanksgiving was a quiet holiday at home this year, and we cooked a big feast and worked on getting holiday lights up and the house decorated, and I was still floundering around for an idea. I couldn’t spend a lot of time in paper stores planning and scheming – I had to just jump in and order supplies online and hope that inspiration would finally strike. I started with an envelope and took it from there.
Although we celebrate Christmas in our family, our holiday cards are not always Christmas-centered. They go out to many friends and family of various faith and secular traditions. And while this year has certainly heightened the desire to be immersed in traditions of years past, I really felt like a year end / new year card was where this one would land. I looked back on my new year’s resolutions and found them sort of painful to read (as I’m sure many people did this year). They were full of excitement for adventures and goals ahead – college visits, grade school graduations, big races, an enormous construction and renovation project, new career partnerships, our biggest summer vacation plan yet, a landmark anniversary, and more. The first twelve weeks of the year were packed – with training runs and drawings out to bid and materials selections in process and travel itineraries and reservations made and campuses selected… and then it all. just. stopped.
So how do you sum that up in a card? Focus on what was lost? Poke fun at the absurdities of the year? My kids lobbied hard from some toilet paper or masks or Zoom to make an appearance.
I had trouble focusing and moving forward (perhaps that is a 2020 theme unto itself), and then I had a little Hamilton moment – Raise a glass to freedom! – and wondered how I might toast the end of the year, what I would raise a glass to in the new year. And then the words just came out.
Cheers! To celebrations, to connections, to capacity and courage.
They speak to the year we just had, and even better, they speak to the year ahead. They speak to what we missed, but also to what we found. They speak to what we long for, and what we can collectively be. I could look back at my photos from the year and see evidence of all of those things in them. I could think back to all the times I nearly thought this year would break me and see all those things in the tears. I could think ahead to this next year and feel them in the wishes I whisper into the air while I run or cook or shovel or cut paper in the quiet hours of the night.
The idea was still a loose one, but it was starting to take shape. I’ve incorporated our house into a lot of card ideas, so I was resistant at first to do it again. But how do you make a card about this year without home at the center of it? I thought about the various ways our house has sheltered us, but also how we’ve decorated it to demonstrate celebrations throughout the year. I thought about the daily walks we took at lunch in the spring, and how every house in the neighborhood was decorated – hearts in the windows, graduation signs in the yard, birthday banners and buntings and balloons – our celebrations became collective parades of old friends and new neighbors.
Our houses became connection points for others. We chalked our sidewalks to spread hope, to advocate for change, to cheer on the weary, to connect with those around us. I thought about the countless hours spent connecting with others over our screens inside, and how important it was to allow those connections to spill out onto the sidewalk to our neighbors. So I decided to create our house and our front yard out to the street, and to somehow represent the act of celebration and connection within that space.
Another thing on my mind was capacity – a word that I’ve repeated to myself more than a few times this year. The ability or fitness to do something, whatever that something might be. To be capable, even when stretched and uncertain. I reached into that well so many times this year, and the physical manifestation of that was first in the training for running a half marathon to celebrate my 45th birthday. I knew that would require a lot of miles in the cold mornings of January and February to pull it off in March, and I also knew that I could do it. The cancellation of that race was so hard to swallow, but despite my disappointment, I got up on race day and crushed it on my own before the weight of what was about to be lost crushed me.
I dug deep into that well for work, for school, for parenting and partnering. To ease the blow from the cancellation of our construction project, we focused on other projects around the house, finally deep diving into a front garden project that would physically push us to our limits for the majority of the fall. I started to picture the garden design as a central theme of the card, and realized that it served as a connection point to so many of you as you cheered us along, and allowed me to reach out and share the adventures in a way that was really fun for me. Despite being so busy with work and school inside our house, the garden project forced us outside in every daylight hour, and gave us an outlet for all the pent up energy and disappointment. It was a bit of a return to the way we first started this partnership as well – hard, physical labor on nights and weekends twenty years ago when we first bought this house and spoke our vows to it (and each other). We did sneak away for some anniversary hiking, but the dirty work of construction over the course of the fall was probably the most fitting celebration and connection point for a twentieth anniversary celebration.
Those glorious fall weekends are behind us now, and the weight of a quiet winter looms in front of us. Beyond the missing of celebrations and connections are the very real losses we’ve endured this year. The loss of health and life has touched us all in some way, although it’s shared disproportionately among us. The damage to our democracy, to the moral compass of our communities and nation, is significant. The curtain has been pulled back, revealing broken system after broken system, and the work of dismantling and starting new will take collective capacity and courage. It will require us to both acknowledge the efforts and courage of those curtain pullers throughout our history, and the complacency of our own inaction and dismissal when power and privilege encourage us to remain silent. 2020 laid bare the inequities, and this next year will require more courage and conviction to continue to make change.
I thought about the protests and demonstrations, the election, and those curtain-shifting changemakers lost to us this year. I thought about specific acts of courage – in a courtroom or at a lunch counter, in a pulpit or on a bridge – I thought of them as seeds planted by others along the way, and the collective change that eventually blooms and spreads, a visual demonstration of growth and change and action to others. I began to see it as a garden, and started to think about the structure and planning and work involved in creating something that can then bloom and take on a life of its own. I thought about the promise of the seasons. I thought about spring lettuces and the return of Italian plums in September, I thought about the solstice, and the longest night of the year, of the symbolism of evergreens, of the previous years of collective celebration or grieving we’ve done in community, of the marking of time or names in the sand or in chalk or in the snow, and the way that our hopes and wishes wash away and melt into the next season of growth and change and wonder and release… and then I was there.
I knew what I was making.
A fence and a promise. If winter comes, can spring be far behind? – Shelley
The card opens to form a front yard and house, and is held together and closed again with the silhouette of our front fence, symbolizing both the conversations and community of neighbors this year, and the new fences we added this fall.
A simple house as a shelter and a background for celebrations. Everything brick (house and walk) are the same color as the card, and everything limestone (foundation and new garden walls) are a lighter pink. A few symbols were added in white ink to represent chalk. I added a few layers for depth, but kept the adornment simple, and “carved” in a few of the details with a light touch of the knife. To eliminate as much waste as possible meant that some houses were one piece, and others were two – the joint hidden behind the built up cornice.
A connection to others in the form of hope and challenge and encouragement. The temporary becomes permanent, and the melting away of what no longer serves us. I used sheets of acetate, and sprayed two thin coats of “snow” (matte white paint) on them. I then drew in the snow with a toothpick, etching the date and some footprints and a few objects to represent the numerous drawings on sidewalks and buildings this year. I thought the etching part would be the most fun, but it turned out to be the most challenging and physical. I finally got smart about halfway through and added an eraser tip to the back side of the toothpick to prevent permanent damage to my hand. There are four sets of footprints for the four of us, but I also wanted to represent the return of friends to our house one day, and the meeting up in the new garden. A top layer of carved frost and the icing outlines of a sleeping garden were cut out of thick white paper. No two are alike, and each one takes about 30-40 minutes to complete – from drawing out the guidelines to cutting and punching out all the pieces, erasing the lines and adding a cardinal to the branches of the winter tree. I did these last, and added them to the completed card and envelope as they finished, so I thought about each recipient as I was doing them.
The capacity to rise up and meet a goal or challenge, and to carry through on that promise to others. This final layer required a bit of resolve and rising to the challenge. I loved the first one that I completed, and scaled it back just slightly to try and make it a more reasonable task, but in the end I just had to sit down and do the work. I watched a lot of wonderful shows while I worked, or just worked in silence with my thoughts when it got really late. It snowed over Christmas this year, and I saw a real cardinal perched on a snowy branch which delighted me to no end. The cardinal represents many things to me, but especially the birds that I often see when I’m out for a run in the park – a ritual that most certainly saved me this year. Sometimes I’d do five or six and pile them up to see how beautiful they layered upon each other with the light behind them. This layer helps you see the structure of the garden before it comes to life with flowers and shrubs in the new season.
The courage to plant seeds and make changes for a new year that is not a guarantee for one, but is a hope for us all. I spent a lot of time working out the geometry of the actual garden walls this year, and spent an equal amount of time working it out on paper to minimize waste. I spent a few nights creating a massive Tetris-like sheet that I then cut into 220 ‘L’ and ‘U’ shaped limestone walls. Then I started in on the green layers, the base, the plants and then finally, some color. My favorite task was cutting out the dogwood tree – in summer green and winter white – both trees have branches carved into them with my knife. The flowers were punched from leftover paper scraps from former cards and projects. Then gluing began.
And there it is – a story of a year, if you could capture a piece of it in paper and glue. I thought of you as I made them, and I’m glad they finally came together. Hoping for more togetherness in the coming year – in this space and in others.
Cheers! To celebrations, to connections, to capacity and courage!
Happy New Year, from our family to yours.