Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ruins, Part 2: Building Off the Rubble

As I have walked through the first week of my kids being back in school, and wearing my routines again for the first time since June, I have been wondering if it is time to change things up a little. Not making major changes, but little ones. Tweaks that change the trajectory, or rather, realign it.

Through the radical change involved with the children being home all the time vs. going to school, I have gradually forgotten what it was trying to accomplish. It has taken me a week of being back here, alone, to remember. And I have had to put the story back together using the echoes of what I was working on. There are clues all over, my journal entries, the scraps of fabric on the floor in the dining room. The bits of this and that stacked up in the studio, waiting to be put away or used again. It's all there, but it reminds me of the ruins I saw in Beaufort. Happy ruins, echoes of fun, or goals moving forward, or dreams becoming real. 

I promised I'd show you all, so let's head back to where Rt.17 crosses 
with Rt 21, about 20 min north of  Beaufort, South Carolina 

Or more specifically Old Sheldon Church Road.

 This is what you see if you look straight down the road, back towards freeway. The view isn't much different looking forward the other direction, although I think they were doing some road construction a little further down. 

I took this shot because it reminded me so much how my life has looked lately. Path forward, with lots of stuff on either side, but nothing transparent or clear, except the road in front of me. I always expect to stop and look at something along the way, but in a forest like this, full of growth, it's hard to see anything until you are right on top of it. You have to get to "there" before you even know what or where "there' is. That has so been my year thus far. I have seen nothing coming.

So you are driving along Old Sheldon Church Rd. and you happen to see the forest lighten up a bit on the right and "Boom!" there are the Old Sheldon Church ruins. But you can't park in front of them, just off the road. You have to look around a bit, and it's only then you notice the clearing on the other side of the road. Once again, my life. 

But what a delight these ruins are! When you do see them. it makes you smile. See how the sun hits them just so, making them shine out from the grove of live oaks? It really is enchanting. 

Here's a groovy one DK shot with his neat, "fancier than mine" camera:

I so love this pic. It is super weird, but you get a feel for the happy airiness this place gives off. It was a total shock. And I LOVE the pillars! Sigh. Wait till we get inside...

The ferns growing out of the stone just kill me! It's like dreams I've had involving...well, let's not get into that here. Suffice it to say, I was smitten with the place. 

So smitten in fact, that we brought my brother and his family and my sister and my kids back to see it a couple of days later. but we'll talk about that in a minute. I want to show you guys something first.

Check this out. The color view. This is what it actually looked like that day.

Here is the exact same shot, except taken in Black & White. I shot it with the same camera on a different setting in the exact same place and position, ten seconds after shooting the color one. Isn't it so strikingly different? Not bad or good, just a totally different interpretation.

This perfectly illustrates what I am feeling, returning to my life. I have the same things in front of me, but something has shifted in the way I see things. I am looking at my "ruins" in a different way. 

So let's play another little game. let's see what happens when we add people to the scenario. There was only one other person at the ruins when we saw it the first time. And she left pretty quickly, so we had it to ourselves for a while.

Serene. Mystical. Old. 

What you'd expect from ruins in the state you always hope to find them, abandoned.

Let's see what happens when we add people:

Isn't it shocking how it changes things? The people bring a story with them. 
You get a feeling of the past colliding with the present that I find so oddly invigorating. 

I mean, just look at this pic. It fills your mind with questions. Why is the tree full of bricks? Why is that guy in sandals and a button down standing next to it? Why would he care? How could this be a favorite picture from this photo shoot? Blending the Past and the Now always creates a different story, my friends. 

(And just for the record, this is my brother, the landscape architect, who was fascinated that bricking this tree had actually kept it alive for so long, which is what the mason was trying to do. And this is one of my favorite pics from the shoot because it captures exactly what he is like. And I absolutely adore him. I always have.)

Here the same tree, taken the first visit, without him. There is still a story full of questions and answers here, it is just completely different.

I have no idea where my new story will take me, or why I feel so empowered to deviate from what was before. But maybe it will be a better story. The break has given me some much needed perspective. In some projects I need to go deeper and further than I thought. In others, I need to back off a bit. And I think I will ask for some help. I have realized that though I really can do an enormous amount of work myself, sometimes it would be wiser to allow someone who can do it quicker, with less draw down to help or take over for me. (Hear that all you friends who are better at getting rid of clutter than I am? I will be calling you soon.) Sometimes you need help to take something all the way to "done."

So we'll see what comes as I build off the echoes of what was before. I have to say though, I think this story ends "happily ever after", at least for a while. 

Are you making changes you didn't expect this fall?  Tell me about them. I'd love to hear.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Pleasure of Ruins

There is something about ruins that has always fascinated me. I was obsessed with the Pyramids and Chichen Itza and Maachu Picchu as a kid. If you had asked me where I wanted to travel when I grew up, every location would have been the site of famous ruins, Egypt, Greece, Pompeii. 

I can't quite put my finger on why these sites are so engaging for me. I am not really a history buff, although I do find history interesting. But it's walking through the remains of a history almost gone where I get that jolt of excitement. It's like a drug for me.

So when DK and I took a slight detour from the family reunion that my family was having in Hilton Head SC, to go Beaufort SC to celebrate our 22nd anniversary, I was expecting a "normal" get away of dinner out, cute B&B, a little shopping and some photo shooting. At least until our inn keeper showed us the book of local attractions. There are THREE ruin sites within 30 min of Beaufort! An abandoned fort, Fort Fremont, and two churches, the Chapel of Ease and the Old Sheldon Church. I tried to stay calm and present as we ate our lovely dinner, but it's hard for even the most delicious Fried Green Tomatoes and Dirty Rice and Flounder with fresh black bean salsa to compete with the prospect of going and mingling with abandoned buildings...

So I decided to gently bring the subject of chucking all our plans and going on a  photo safari to the ruins instead

Me: "So, you know how we asked the inn keeper to push back breakfast until 9, so we could sleep in?"

DK, suspiciously: "Yes..."

Me: "And you know how we were reading about those ruins?"

DK, now nervously tapping his foot and bouncing his knee under the table: "Yes..."

Me: "What if we just go home after this and go to bed, and then get up at 5 or 5:30 and go shoot pics at the ruins before breakfast? Doesn't that sound like so much fun?!"

This all comes out like one big long word, with no breaths in between. DK just stares at me like I have a frog climbing out of my mouth. An "early to bed early to rise" approach to celebrating his marital longevity is not what he had in mind at all. It is, in fact, quite the opposite of what he had in mind. He just keeps staring at me with his very effective poker face.

Me, trying desperately to be a reasonable human being: "Or....we could go to a movie and then sleep in. Is the new Star Trek playing?" 

Whew. that was a close one. Score one for being able to Control the Obsession. 

So we look up the local movie theaters. Nothing. Not one movie of interest. Not even at the drive in. 

DK, casually: "You know we can't get to all those sites before breakfast and still be on time. And I am not getting up at 5am."

Me, snapping to attention, hope surging: "So what if we just went to the two sites south of town before breakfast and then ate?" 

My heart is pounding at this point. I know that if I can get him to the two southern sites, he will go to the third one as well, just to have the whole set. And if he's talking logistics.....Eee hee hee! I might just have him!

DK, typing furiously on his cell: "The sun doesn't even rise until 6:50 am, so there's no point in getting up super early....But..."

Me, interuppting, and almost spitting food all over myself: "We could totally get to the fort and the church on the same road and get back by 9 if we left by 6:30!"

DK, looks up from his phone, sees how much I want this, and says: "Yeah, I think we could make that work. But we need some major bug spray."

Oh how I love that man.

So we drove around looking for an open drug store and found a Rite Aid that was open for 10 more minutes. And since it was the South, they had some pretty bullet proof bug spray options. We even snapped up our morning rations of Diet Coke and Coke Zero, so we didn't have to delay our adventure in the morning. We went back to the B&B, snuck them in the fridge, and went to sleep at some pitifully early hour.

It was a gorgeous morning as we drove over swamp and estuary, great live oaks covered in Spanish Moss waving in the breeze as we passed by. DK had picked up a CD of Ravel's "Bolero" at a thrift shop earlier that week, and we decided that was the perfect music for this little adventure. 

After the promised 20-30 minutes had elapsed, we were a good bit of the way down Land's End Road on St. Helena Island when we passed the Chapel of Ease ruins, a sign that we were very close to Fort Fremont, our ruin safari starting point. We saw the sign, pointing out that it was coming up, and then promptly drove right past the entrance. We had to go down a little bit more to turn around, but in that effort discovered this:

A tree, in a pond, in a pasture, covered with egrets, at the end of Land's End Rd., St Helena's Island. Definitely something you don't see everyday. Unless you live there.

Here's a closer pic.

Bird photos by DK.
So. Many. Birds. 

It really was so freaking cool. Now add in the Bolero music, friends. I have it playing right now, snare drums setting the measured pace for the winding sensuous music, under a sky slowly turning pink. Ooo! Gives me the a good way.

Needless to say, we made it to the ruins of Fort Fremont about 2 min later. 

Can you find DK? He's hiding, like Waldo, except in a photographic position.

Does anyone else get all geeked out about who may have walked up those stairs? Were they young? old? in love? Living with sorrow? Too inexperienced to worry about much? 

What kind of covering was on the cement? Was there a roof? Could they see the dolphins swimming by? Did they like the people they served with? Did they tell gross stories while keeping watch?

Those pits were about 8-10 feet deep. The guns for the fort were retractable, so they would load them in the pit, then hoist them up to fire. Up, down, up, down. Sink all the Spanish ships, as this fort was build for the Spanish American War. I think it said they could reload in about 1 min. It was pretty cool stuff. 

We walked all over that place, then got back in the car to our next destination, the Chapel of Ease. 

This site had a definite feeling to it, unlike the Fort, which had been surprisingly neutral. A sense of sadness, like old regret, floated in the air here. It wasn't dark, just a touch melancholy.  Some of the gravestones, especially those in the children's graveyard might explain that. That said, I also felt a beautiful sense of stillness and peace while I wandered. And a sense of lives lived hard, but lived all the same.

The Chapel of Ease was built to serve those who lived on St. Helena Island, so they didn't have to make the trek back to Beaufort to go to church on Sunday. I imagine it brought great relief to those who worshiped there. Remember, Beaufort was a 20-30 min drive at 50-60 mph. Imagine having to schlep yourself back to town on your one day off?

I need to do some more research about this mausoleum. It was so stylistically unique, almost to the point of being out of place.This piece reminds me of something Egyptian, like the Temple of Dendur at the Met in New York City. Maybe someone went there and decided it was the coolest thing ever?

And I love that so much of the architecture is tabby, a building material similar to concrete, made from the prevalent local oyster shells. Talk about up-cycling!

Can't you see the weddings here? Can't you hear the great sermons that give the congregation the hope they need to keep moving forward into another week? I could imagine the children running around the building while waiting for their parents to finish chatting with friends. This was a place that was filled with life, but the "for better or for worse" kind of the poor in the South.

Eventually, it was time to leave. 

"Bolero" was all finished an we had to get back for breakfast. 

And just in case you are wondering, we did go to the Old Sheldon Church ruins, but that's another post, for another day. You'll just have to stay tuned. And hope that school starts pretty soon, so I have time to write. 

Because I have so many great stories for you all. It has truly been a summer of wonders...

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A Somewhat Abrupt Change of Direction

"If you want to be a worshiper of God, you've got to do something with what you've been given."

“Worshiping always involves doing. It means getting your hands dirty. It means being vulnerable and open and sometimes hurt by people who break your heart or call you names. It means dancing when you don’t know how. It means telling jokes that fall flat, writing things you’ll later find embarrassing. It means making lots of mistakes. It means living the kind of life where every little thing doesn’t tie up perfectly at the end.

This is the kind of life that makes us a worshiper. It’s the kind of life where we can’t help but end each day with our hands lifted high, thanking God for the ways He graciously accepts even our worst mistakes, the way He uses every experience to teach us, the way He wiggles His way into the story we’re writing.”

I love these quotes. I have been a “doer” all my life. It is hard for me to not do. And I have grown up in a culture of worshiping God. I have looked at and learned about many ways of worship and could never put my finger on how to describe the times when worship actually felt like a meaningful experience to me. There were years when it didn’t.

But I love this approach to worship, because it is so much bigger than a church or a faith. It is a way of thinking about how you live your life. That last sentence captures it all: “It’s the kind of life where we can’t help but end each day with our hands lifted high, thanking God for the ways He graciously accepts even our worst mistakes, the way He uses every experience to teach us, the way He wiggles His way into the story we’re writing.” Being taught through experience. Being grateful for that education and that experience. Being more used to help others and to live a more vibrant life. That is a type of worship I can wrap my brain and my life around.

Which brings me to the purpose of today's post. I am changing the genre of my blog. Ever since I wrote my first “Hopeful Thoughts” post, I have been incapable of writing about design, DIY, or anything non-philosophical. (Other than the barn sale. But that is another thing somehow.) I have started so many posts, about “how to paint an apple basket a broken chevron”, about “how to build a desk out of a door and two filing cabinets”, “what to do when your stuff doesn’t sell”.  They are all started, with pictures and everything, but I can’t seem to finish them. That is not the fate of this blog. That is not what I am best at writing.

My unique competence in this world is seeing the potential in anything, bad or good. It is seeing the hand of God in all things and in making educated guesses as to where all this pain and nonsense we call life might be going. My passion is understanding how the Universe will use me for good, with all of my fears and weaknesses and blunders and power and wisdom and strength. And this is what my blog needs to be about from now on.

For those of you who read for my design advice, bless you for thinking I have any to give. If there is wisdom to be had in the projects I am working on, I will share them, but know they will no longer be the point. For those who read for my stories, hold on to your hats, because I think many stories that I have been too shy to share, may come spilling out of these pages. And for those of you who read because you think I might have something valuable to say or because I make you laugh, or simply because you know me and love me, Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

So here I go, on a journey inspired by a desire to worship through the way I live my daily life. May we all find joy and laughter and strength and gratitude along the way. If you are leaving, thank you so much for being here this long. And if you are staying, thank you for allowing me to change. It takes courage to let our friends become something other than what we thought they were. Bless you all!

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Hello friends! Happy 4th of July! 

Today I have another Hopeful Thought for you. But in all fairness, I want to warn you up front that this one deals with the coming Presidential election.

How funny! I can actually hear you all groaning! I couldn’t have organized that if I’d tried. 

Seriously though, before you all click away, I promise I am not trying to endorse a specific candidate or particular party or ideology. I would be struck by lightning instantly because the dominant mantra of my life is “Don’t tell me what to do or think.”

No, the reason I wanted to talk about the election is because 
I have already cried about it twice. 

The choice laid before me is impossible.

I am all for a woman in the Oval Office. That would be awesome. And if Hillary Clinton represents your values and the kind of government you want this country to have, you should vote for her. And be very hopeful.

I cannot.

If you are tired of being PC and having to be patient with other countries threatening us, then Trump is your guy. But he does not represent my values or hopes for this country.

I cannot make that choice either.

I feel strongly that it is my duty to vote in all elections, on all issues that concern my community. I am not super involved in politics, local or national, but I value the fact that I have a say in what the Powers That Be choose to do with my community and tax dollars. But what do you do when neither candidate represents the America I want to see? When neither seems to value the policies most important to you? And when there are only two choices. I have wondered and prayed about this for months. I am rarely this confused about what to do.

At some point, something tickled in my head, and I remembered the option of a “write in’ candidate.

My first idea was just to think of someone, anyone who would make a better President than the people I had to choose from. I thought instantly of my dear friend’s husband. (Who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent). He’s a federal judge, has a wicked good sense of humor, and is a walking encyclopedia of legal and political history, both American and foreign. He would hate being President, but he would do a good job and he certainly has the right background for it.

And then I remembered what someone said to me at the Primaries. They told me I was “throwing away my vote” by voting for someone other than the candidate most likely to beat Trump. I was furious, because I had done my homework and had my own good reasons for voting the way I did. And besides, MY vote! Hello?! 

But since then, I have thought about the heart of what he was saying. While there is power in the individual voice, in politics there is greater power in the group. So I started to rethink my write in candidate. 
Sorry, sweet judge. Maybe another time. 
(Hear his sigh of relief?)

I started thinking about who was a viable, electable candidate, with national name recognition. This person might not represent my exact personal values and political priorities, but should come much closer than the current Republican or Democrat Party candidates. Who came close to representing my hopes for the future of this country?

My answer was very clear. There is only one political candidate that I have ever identified with in my entire life. And his is a household name. I am not the only person who would think to vote for him. 

So, on Election Day, for the first time in my life, I will not be checking any boxes that state a Presidential candidate’s name. I will be writing a name in on the line marked “Other.” The Founding Fathers knew this day might come, the day that the two parties failed to reflect the values and wishes of the people they had been sent to represent. They gave us the potential to override popular voting options with a write in candidate. It has happened at a smaller level in the past. The most notable is the 1960 election where JFK won two state Presidential Primaries via write in. There is great power in my vote if I cast it wisely, with an eye to what is possible. 

There is great power in your vote too.

This is an important election, friends. Set aside some time to do your homework. Think hard about what is important to you. Then vote your conscience. Write someone in, if you need to. It’s all a part of the blessing and responsibility of being an American.

And whomever your choice, Please, Please, Please vote.

Talk to you soon,

CM Shaw



Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Asher Hill Farms Barn Sale, Day 1

Welcome to today's tour of relentless self promotion I mean the Asher Hill Farm Bran Sale! It was such a good day. It didn't rain until the very end (so thank you to those of you sending sunny vibes for us out into the Universe) and so many of you showed up. Thanks for making the drive out to our show!!! You guys are my favorite people today.

I know you all are sitting there going, "Marian, please quit talking and show us all the pretty things." OK folks, prepare yourself for pretty things:

There. See how much I like you? So. Many. Pretty. Things. And that's just Margaret's booth. 

The two armoires are huge! And lick-ably gorgeous. The brown one is a piece right out of Victoria Elizabeth Barnes' book. (In fact I may send her that pic. Pilly isn't that far from here. It would be awesome in her kitchen.) It definitely qualifies as a Giant fancy Thing. And the white/cream one is so beautifully done. You just run your hands over it and wish your house was built in this decade, so you'd have tall enough ceilings to accommodate it. So if you're in a newish house and need a gorgeous armoire to hide all your debris, then come get it! It's calling to you. Can't you hear it.....?

But I digress. Where were we? Oh yes, pretty things....

As you can see, all our vendors have tons of great stuff for you to choose from. And I just checked. It's not supposed to rain until later this afternoon. So sneak on out here this morning and take some of these goodies home. Or take a lot of them home. Yeah. do that.

Oh! I almost forgot! Margaret wanted me to tell you two things. The first is that we have decided to cancel the Sunday portion of the show due to the weather forecast. It is supposed to rain and blow and hail and do all manor of things that destroy tents and pretty things. So we decided to listen to the weatherman. 
Note #1

Sorry about the yelling, I just wanted to make sure that those just 
skimming for the pics would get the message.

BTW, there are some really gorgeous quilts here. I was admiring them yesterday. 
Some are new, some are old, most are hand quilted. Just say'n.

Oh...There was something else Margaret wanted you guys to know. Sorry, I was distracted by those crazy yummy quilts. Mmmm. So many stitches... What were we talking about? 

Oh yes, Margaret wanted to make it clear that in her booth, and possibly many booths, she would rather cut you a deal, than pack this stuff up and store it till her next show. So if you want to come and make her an offer...she might even take a crazy one. (Margaret can be a crazy lady at times.) You might as well try it. And if you were here yesterday, and saw something you loved, you might come back and ask the vendor if they can make it fit in your pocketbook. They might just say yes. You never know. All I know is that Margaret would be happy to have you take her stuff home. And wouldn't you be happy with a few new pretty things? 

Note #2 
Make us an offer. Margaret will likely say "Yes".

Here are a few more pretty things to whet your appetite: 

So are you coming? You should totally come. Margaret even has llamas. And sheep. And Raised gardens. And Jeff was giving away free produce yesterday. So come get some pretty things...and some home grown radishes. That's just how we roll out here at Asher Hill Farm.

Today Only!
Asher Hill Farm First Annual Barn Sale
4580 Sudley Road, Gainesville VA 20155

See you there!

CM Shaw