🎁 When a gift changes things

A Jots & Doodles Update

As a teacher, I often receive gifts from students: Starbucks cards and chocolates and homemade cookies and tea (they know better than to buy me coffee!). I appreciate these thoughtful expressions of their appreciation. This year I received some book gifts β€” one was a novel a student enjoyed so much that she gave me her copy with all her favourite passages marked. What a treat! Another student gave me a book full of empty pages designed for me to fill. It is called The Daily Sketch Journal and I have been enjoying it immensely. So far I haven’t missed a day, which can be a challenge when school planning and marking duties lurk throughout each evening. Sketching slows my mind. Writing stimulates it. And that is why I incorporated the two of them together in my zine Jots & Doodles.

The Daily Sketch Journal has changed some things for me. One of them is having time to compile issues of Jots & Doodles. So I have decided to set that aside for this year. I’m hoping that a year of daily sketching will provide ample material for future issues, although I do need to find a more effective way to replicate the images so that they are better quality for printing. I’m working on a solution to that problem.

So, for this year I will be sketching every day and writing weekly here, usually in the form of Saturday Caesura musings but certainly not limited to that format. I’ll try to give a peek into the sketch book from time-to-time, just so you know I’m keeping up with it (and to hold myself accountable!) I am grateful for all who have wandered to this space and expressed appreciation for what you have found here.

Thank you.

πŸ“ Mid-winter Musings

And the final issue of Jots & Doodles for the year!

December has been exhausting. The reasons why are varied and don’t need to be itemized here. But now it is Christmas Eve and I’m thinking of how exhausted Mary must have been — young, very pregnant, travel-weary, away from family and the familiarity of home. Sometimes I forget the reality of her situation when I read the too-familiar Christmas story and look at pristine nativity scenes. But really — could God have chosen a less glamorous, less noble, less god-like way to enter into the human story? What divine thinking process ended with this particular girl, in this particular town, in this particular stable, on this particular night?

I’ve been pondering the idea that God has ideas. He is a thinker. The psalmist speaks of God’s thoughts as being vast and profound (Ps. 139:17; 92:5). Sometimes I forget this aspect of God when I’m asking him to “do things,” but his do-ing is never separate from his thinking. I explore these ideas a bit in the poem, “Divine Ideas,” found in the center of this month’s Jots & Doodles. I’m still exploring the profound implications of a God who is full of ideas…

The first piece in Jots & Doodles is a list rather than a poem. Over the past few months I’m been trying to notice and name goodness, and this piece gleans from a daily practice of paying attention. It is an incomplete list and always will be, but I won’t stop adding to it.

One of my favourite Christmas carols is “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” in part because of its haunting melody. The plea that resonates throughout the lyrics is one of Israel longing for the Messiah, but the call for us to rejoice because Immanuel will yet come seems to miss the point of calling him Immanuel. I find it interesting that a song we typically sing at Christmas doesn’t actually mention the significant moment where Immanuel did in fact come. So of course, I pondered this for a while…and wrote a poem about it.

Even though the month has left me weary, I am also filled with gratitude for God’s presence with us, for his thoughts beyond my understanding, and for his goodness so evident in every day. Grace upon grace.

You can find Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 12 here, or by clicking on the Jots & Doodles page in the main menu.

πŸ“ Rhythms of Place

It’s Jots & Doodles drop day! Issue 11, with a focus on some of the nuances of place is now available on the Jots & Doodles page.

In many ways this issue is an extension of my last blog post. I’ve been trying to write a poem every day this month (with moderate success), and as is often the case, my poetry is anchored in the realities of the place where I live. One of the realities right now is truncated daylight; I drive to work in darkness, and I have to bring a headlamp for my after-supper run/walk outings. The first two poems come from thoughts and noticings while I’ve been out-and-about in these darker times of winter. They speak to place because even in the global experience of the moon’s presence, there is a particularity to how moonlight shapes the mood of night in any given place. Even though people around the world walk paths and roadways, my feet know the paths of this place best. When I notice the moon or a leaf or an animal track or a sound, I am never bored while walking the same routes time and time again. To know a place is to go on daily noticing walks. Running, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, biking, or driving are good, too. It’s the noticing, the paying attention, that makes the difference.

Living in a particular place comes with its routines, whether they are of our own making as is reflected in “Saturday,” or those associated with the rhythms of life around us. As a child, I remember waking up most mornings to the sound of graders grumbling to life in the highway maintenance yard just up the road from our house. We’ve lived where those rhythms have included loons and boats and dogs and traffic, but here, it is trains. Whether they bring delight or displeasure, these rhythms cannot be separated from the places where we live. I choose to let them be reminders of where I belong.

So, I’m grateful to be here in this house by the marsh, in this small town on the prairies, in this region that leans more north than south, with winds that come from the west more than the east, and with more dark in winter when I am more likely to notice the glow of the moon. I’m grateful for the things God has taught me here.

πŸ“ Living in the Mist

October is coming to a close. The leaves are rarely in the trees, mostly on the ground. Mornings and evenings are chilly and often frosty. Some days the chill stays even when the frost doesn’t — yet. Some snow has come and gone. Soon it’ll come and stay. Most mornings are shrouded in heavy fog, which makes the already dark drive to school in the morning even darker. They’ve been re-paving a section of the route I drive and haven’t repainted the lines yet, just some dots to show where the center line should be. Dark, fog, no guiding lines to reflect the boundaries of the road…feels a bit like life sometimes. We do indeed live by a kind of faith, whether we want to admit it or not, I think.

There has been much to be thankful for in this past month, but not necessarily any more or less than other months. We just are more open to a collective sort of thanks-giving when we’re given a day off work to reflect on all the things we should be grateful for and probably are, but maybe those things aren’t always the truly important things and maybe we still mostly take everything for granted. Maybe. And maybe stress and Hard Things grind the shine off our thanksgiving and we feel ashamed to be offering something so worn and bedraggled when really this sort of thanks-giving is probably the most authentic and honest of them all.

Yes, I do have much to be thankful for, and yes, my gratitude has some worn edges and stretch marks and too much of the month felt like driving through the dark in the fog on a road that still needs lines painted on. You’ll likely hear echoes of this in this month’s Jots & Doodles. I struggled to come up with an overarching theme for this issue, partly because I didn’t want to just default to thanksgiving because Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in October. I want to encourage thanksgiving as an attitude of the heart beyond a certain day of a certain month. So the Jots are not connected to a theme and neither are the Doodles, for that matter, but they do reflect some of my thinking and observations over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged…and I’m still processing (and probably always will) what it means and what it looks like when I say that I live a life of faith in God, the only truly Faithful One.

Jots & Doodles Volume 1 Issue 10 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. Maybe you’ll find some words that resonate with you and encourage you. I hope so.

πŸ“ Leaves

The season of gold has arrived here on the prairies and I treasure it. Yesterday, I stood on the top of a mountain and marvelled at the valleys aglow with yellow and orange. Today, I view gold and red and russet trees framed in my living room windows, a life-sized art gallery. I love autumn.

This month’s Jots & Doodles is a tribute to leaves in all their seasons. I can’t imagine a world without leaves, yet we tend to only really notice them when they first arrive in spring and when they flare their fall farewell. The title poem, “Leaves” came out of an attempt to listen to the leaves, to pay attention to the aural ambience they bring to each day. Doing so made me realize that leaves bring a unique music to our world. I’ll miss them and their song throughout the winter months.

When I was taking biology in high school my teacher-who-was-also-my-uncle taught us how to identify trees by their leaves, bark, seeds or cones. The school was in Oklahoma and the variety of trees there far surpassed the popular, fir, spruce, pine, aspen regulars back home. The prairies where I now live are not exactly known for their trees, but they are everywhere, interspersed between fields and linking us to the mountains not far away. I love knowing the names of things, so I’ve learned to pay attention to all the unique characteristics that enable me to correctly identify a tree. “Family Identity” brings together what I’ve learned through people like my teacher-uncle, and what I continue to learn from Jesus about how my actions and attitudes identify me.

The final Jot in this issue, “The Fall” is a reflection on the deeper realities of autumn and the symbolism and metaphors of death that accompany this season. The closing question of the poem is one I continue to wrestle with as more and more of what I see and hear around me feels and looks like death-in-progress. Yet Jesus calls me to an abundant life with eternal promises. Living in that dichotomy is what keeps me returning to his words of hope and salvation and strength.

I’m grateful for autumn, for the blaze of colour that spreads across the land for a brief period each year. I’m still treasuring the mountain top views from yesterday’s hike. I will never not love autumn, but I will also never not continue to learn from this transitional season of death and decay.

Jots & Doodles Vol. 1 Issue 9 can be found here, or by going to the Jots & Doodles page in the menu.

πŸ“ Abundance

And just like that I’ve shifted from sitting in the quiet abundance of sky and clouds and mountains and trees to a proliferation of lesson plans and an overabundance of teenager-ness. I know that’s not a real word, but for now it seems to capture the broad array of behaviours, perspectives, and attitudes that bubbled and bumped into my classroom yesterday. It was an exhausting first day of school.

It is evening now and I sit again watching an endless river of clouds slowly ripple past the bedroom window. The sun spreads a warm blush across the horizon. The colour will fade to grey and eventually to night-black, but there is goodness here and it settles me, slows my mind, reminds me that I am surrounded by a grand generosity.

This month’s (one-day-late) issue of Jots & Doodles is a reflection on abundance and generosity. I choose doodles that emphasized clouds and sky because the prairie sky feels like a generous gift to me. Even when it is full of angry storm clouds or is an expressionless grey or a texture-less blue, I am drawn to its vastness and variableness.

I’m still processing many thoughts about generosity, particularly as it relates to God’s generous creation and character, but I’ve tried to capture snippets of my reflections on this topic through the brief “jots” included in this issue. Thinking about God’s generosity forces me to look at the world around me differently, to consider how I should live in response to it, and it definitely leaves me with questions that I need to keep pondering. Because sometimes life seems to fall short of the abundance that Jesus said he came to give. Sometimes I need to be reminded that I may be determining abundance and generosity by the wrong criteria.

And sometimes (all the time!) I just need to rest in the knowledge that God is enough and in his generous grace, I lack nothing. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. Psalm 23:1-2

You can view and print Issue 8 here, or go to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu.

πŸ“ Joy

It’s midsummer and we’re on Heat Warning #110, or something like that. Our heat warning parameters are normal summer temperatures for some folk further south, but ‘normal’ has become a concept fraught with relativity and ambiguity and sweat. Apparently. So here we are, grateful that at least we have air conditioning in the truck if no where else.

It is also time for a midsummer issue of Jots & Doodles, a ‘bonus’ issue I’m squeezing in so I can meet my goal of 12 issues this year. As always, there is a bit of back story to both the jots and the doodles.

First, this issue includes actual doodles on the front cover, because what better way to introduce the theme of JOY! It includes doodles of enjoyable things (to me!) like fields and mountains, pebbles and flowers (of course!), and things that just are: sun, rain, wind. I find joy in these sometimes, but not always. I’m wondering if this wrestling with what gives us joy one day and not another, and what not only doesn’t give joy but actually snatches it away is part of what it means to be human.

A secondary theme (unintended) in this issue is daughters. The drawings within the zine are of three daughters — two are daughters of dear friends, one is my own daughter as a baby. I chose these drawings because I was thinking about how we express joy, and their facial expressions helped me explore some its nuances. Sometimes joy radiates from our faces, lights up our eyes, explodes into song or laughter or worship. But there are also times when joy is less about how we look or feel, but how we live. It is contentment and gladness and gratitude and wonder. It is also faith, comfort, and strength. It promotes peace and serves others. It is a fruit of the Spirit, evidence that he is at work in us regardless of circumstances. We are so easily derailed by circumstances, aren’t we? And then we choke on the words of the apostle James who tells us that we should “consider it pure joy” whenever life gets really bumpy and hard. Which, of course, is precisely why joy is a fruit of the Spirit. We may know what it is like to feel happy and glad, but the deep cultivating work of joy comes from surrender to what God is doing, not what we can manufacture from the bits and pieces of our lives.

The three little pieces I have written only scratch the surface of joy. So much more comes to mind even now as I write this. The first explores joy as wonder, the second, joy as contentment, and the third, joy as Jesus’ desire for us. God actually desires us to have his joy. I’m still letting that wrap itself around me because trying to wrap my head around it just leaves me in tears — it is a truth so profound and beautiful and … just… wow.

You can find the Joy issue here or by going to the Jots & Doodles page from the main menu. May it spark some joy in your life!

πŸ“ Generations

For a portion of the semester with one of my grade 12 classes, we focus on how values and beliefs influence our decisions. We examine how this plays out for characters, relationships, and societies in literature, as well as evaluate our own beliefs and decisions. We also compare the differing values of various generations and the choices that have resulted. The Internet is full of data, much of it conflicting, about the core values of Traditionalists vs Boomers, Millennials vs Gen X or Y or Z, or whatever title is being attached to the most recent demographic; however, the data is less important to me than the conversations and questions that students have as they explore the generational profiles. One surprising thing always comes up: students are harshest in their judgement of the values and beliefs of their own generation. They inevitably look to their parents and grandparents as having better work ethics, morals, and empathy. They worry for their generation.

Unlike my students who are an emerging generation, I am an “inbetweener.” My parents are aging, my children are adults; I’m in between them both. This is hardly a new phenomenon; for all of human history, our roles and responsibilities change as we move through the generational cycles. My parents require more physical care than they did several years ago; my children require less physical care, but still need parental support.

I’ve taken some of my thoughts about generations and turned them into the next issue of Jots & Doodles. The art “doodles” in this issue is gleaned from some of my older work that has been tucked away in sketch books and journals but seemed to fit with this theme.

There are only two “jot” pieces this time because one of them took up more space than most “jots.” For the first one, I was thinking about generational cycles and since I was also doing laundry that day, the metaphor sort of stuck — and works to the degree that metaphors are both appropriate and limited. Maybe it will get us all thinking about the core value of love and how it can affect our ability to both give and receive from one another.

The second piece is about fences, which on first glance has nothing to do with generations. I did the pen & ink drawing years ago simply because I was drawn to the contrast between the old fence and the new one. I actually titled it, “Generations” at the time. My thinking about the two fences has evolved and shifted over time, but when I actually sat down to write about them it took me a while to understand what the key focus needed to be. Was it about aging and the need for the next generation to fill the gap? Was it about the ultimate failure of one generation and the success of the “new and better” ideas of the next? I finally realized that aging and failure and success will come for every generation even if our perspectives and purposes may differ in their focus. What will determine our impact on each other, our communities, and our world, is how our values and decisions stand the test of time. Legacies are the product of time.

You can find Issue 6 of Jots and Doodles here or on the Jots & Doodles page listed in the menu. As always, it is free to download, print, and share. Your feedback and thoughts on this topic are also welcome!

Pebbles in Pockets

I find them near rivers and streams and on mountain tops. They come in all sizes and shapes and colours and textures. Rocks are beautiful and they fascinate me. I’ve gotten better at not slipping so many of them into my pocket or backpack to bring home. I tell myself that I can pick up as many as I want, but I have to choose the best one, the most unique one, and leave the others behind. Mostly I obey this self-imposed rule.

At home, I have pebbles in jars and picture frames, trays and boxes. I treat them as the works of art that they are even though I know that their presence in the world is not purely aesthetic. Rocks can be quite problematic says the chipped windshield and the stony, unproductive field. A pebble in a shoe is an irritant; grief is a boulder lodged in a heart.

I decided some time ago that this month’s issue of Jots & Doodles would be on rocks, or stones, or pebbles – whatever word seems most appropriate. Now that the month is almost over, I finally have it ready. In metaphorical terms, it has been a rocky month and its been hard to find the time to work on the ‘doodles’ in particular.

The first written piece is a true story. I still have the rock in my classroom where it reminds me to keep myself grounded in truth — to live it, speak it, seek it always.

The second piece about rebuilding is a reflection on how I have to rebuild a small decorative wall I constructed years ago to hide the empty space under our front deck. I collected the flattest river rocks I could find, but they really aren’t very flat. Every year part of it gets knocked down. Every year, I rebuild it. As I rebuild, trying to find new ways to fit all the pieces together into a coherent whole, I think of the ways we have to work to maintain communities and families and relationships when our bumps and bulges don’t fit together like a manufactured brick or Lego wall would. We falter and fail, crumble and stumble because we are people and fitting together will always require a commitment to rebuild — to apologize, to forgive, to love.

The final piece comes from thinking about rocks and stones in the Bible. Just for the record, the Bible has much to say about rocks, both literally and figuratively. My brief poem mentions some literal ones, but the real focus is the image of Jesus as the Cornerstone, the one stone that ensures that all else is secure, stable, squared – a sure foundation upon which our faith is built.

You can find this issue of Jots & Doodles here.

β˜•οΈ There’s a daisy…

A Saturday Caesura AND Jots & Doodles

The artist Georgia O’Keefe once wrote that “in a way β€” nobody sees a flower β€” really β€” it is so small β€” we haven’t time β€” and it takes time like to have a friend takes time.” O’Keefe knew something about taking time to see a flower because many of her paintings are of flowers. The most famous one, a single white Jimson Weed blossom, sold in 2014 for $44 million. Maybe the new owner doesn’t have time to see flowers in their natural environment, and the painting provides an opportunity to “really” see. Maybe the value of a painting is that it preserves a beauty that normally fades and falls away in the cycles of seasons.

In art and in literature, flowers are often heavily imbued with imagery and symbolism. My grade 12 English class just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet where an emotionally distraught Ophelia prattles to her bewildered brother: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance… And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts….There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” In most contemporary circles, we have lost much of the folklore and symbolism associated with particular flowers, but we maintain flower traditions for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, funerals. Red poppies are synonymous with Remembrance Day. We have national flowers (Canada’s is Cornus Canadensis, the Bunchberry) and provincial or state flowers: Alberta’s is the Wild Rose, a prolific presence alongside roads and fields across the province.

Whether we pay close attention to them or not, flowers capture our collective imagination on some level.

I don’t attach particular meaning or psychoanalytic significance to flowers, any more than I care about star charts and the zodiac, but contrary to Georgia O’Keefe’s generalized conclusion, I do notice flowers. I first began paying attention to them during my childhood roaming of the forests and meadows near our home. When I found out that flowers actually had names, I wanted to know them all β€” not the confusing Latin ones, but the common ones like butter-and-eggs toadflax and bedstraw and saxifrage. I pored over wildflower identification books. When our family travelled somewhere, I watched the roadside swish by, looking for recognizable snatches of colour β€” blue chicory, yellow goldenrod and salsify, magenta fireweed. I met my first Mariposa lily from the window of a vehicle, grateful that my father understood my love of flowers enough to pull over so I could have a closer look.

I grow flowers in my yard that are not native to this area, but I’m grateful that they don’t find the cold winters so disagreeable that they refuse to grow and bloom. I extend an open invitation to indigenous ‘wild’ flowers to make themselves at home on this patch of land I claim to own, so I have hybrid lilies and irises and harebells and wild roses and false solomon’s seal and lily-of-the-valley all living together in harmony. I see them all and they fascinate me. It has taken time to make friends with them, but it has never been time wasted.

This month’s Jots & Doodles zine contains some words and images that arise out of my appreciation for flowers, and especially, my gratitude and worship of the God who saw fit to include them in his creation. May your eyes be drawn to see β€” really see β€” the flowers around you, and your heart opened to know β€” really know β€” the creator of them all.