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Little Things

Note: This story involving my daughter is told with her permission.


On the first of December, 2023, my youngest kid, Lu, stopped speaking. She’s never been one for words, and I joke that she has a “word quota” – when she hits quota she’s done for the day. If this is the case, I’m worried that she may have hit quota for her teenage years – she’s 17, and doesn’t appear to plan on speaking again anytime soon. Of course, it's hard to tell.


While she does communicate via text, notes, and expressive charades, I miss her voice. 


The where and why and how of my silent teen’s story are not really mine to share, but my own reactions and coping mechanisms are. I tell you, in those first few weeks of silence my ears were PERKED. Lu used to absent-mindedly hum to music in her earbuds - from my adjacent bedroom I’d hear it and smile. Now I strained to hear any hum, mutter, whimper.


There’s been one lapse in silence in the past five months. Lu and I were dog-sitting for the evening, and in addition to our own geriatric fellow we suddenly had our small home filled with a couple of jovial Doodles. Lu laid on the couch, one Doodle curled up at her feet, the other meandering over for a hug. Lu obliged, squeezing him tight, and despite herself gave a little coo of contentment.



I caught the moment on camera, as one does.


I was NOT going to make a big deal about it – but that quiet coo set off a little firework of joy in me. The next morning, with apologies to my geriatric canine companion, I started googling “Adult Aussie Mix Rescue”. It was one part whim, one part desperate measure. 


Stars and planets aligned and a retiring Aussie Doodle fairly fell into my lap. In a sad twist of fate, that same week our geriatric boy’s congestive heart failure caught up with him. Our household went from old dog to no dog to new dog in very rapid succession. So much so that I even felt a little careless, though I feel from Toby, rest his little curmudgeonly soul, that he’d be ok with this. 



My way of processing the grief of losing a pet - draw them! Here's little earnest Toby.


To have a new dog in the house once again put my senses on high alert. This five-year-old mama dog had never been in the house. Every time she sighed, paced, chewed – my ears perked as I gauged whether intervention was needed. Miraculously, she just seems to want to flop on the couch and snuggle. 


In her short month with us so far, Winnie has mastered the trust fall snuggle.


There have been many coos from me, and a whole lot of silent guffawing from my kid as we have enjoyed the antics of this goofy fluffbucket we call Winnie the Poof. Operation Dog and Human Rescue appears to be an overwhelming success.


Thus is my tale of big things and little things. A child going non-verbal, well that’s pretty damn big in my world. Five months in, it still sometimes feels insurmountable. And so, to cope, I focus in on the small things.


 

A friend of mine created a Facebook group called “Extremely Specific Gratitude”, in which one shares very pointed experiences of appreciation. It’s been an amusing way to catch glimpses of each other's idiosyncrasies, as well as a way to celebrate the small things, such as when you actually remember to bring your reusable bags into the grocery store.


Funny thing, when you’re looking for these very specific moments of gratitude, they pop up everywhere. Birdsong, anytime, anywhere. When your coworker offers you tea. The way the sun back-lights the sheep in the field so that they appear to be glowing. When you accidentally wash your clothes with a Sharpie and the cap stays on.



One of my posts from the aforementioned social media page.


The very hilarious position of the dog next to me as I type. She’s never had free rein of a couch before and now she is just So Very Comfortable. I thought I heard Lu humming again, but it turns out that it was just Winnie's nose whistling… this made my kid and me laugh and laugh.


I mean, she's practically indecent.


Well then. This is supposed to be my blog about art. The title of this post “Little Things”, is what popped in my head when I was working in the studio yesterday. And then I sat down to write and the above is what came spilling out. 


So, I’ll close with the project - I thought I’d make some felted brooches as a way to experiment with colors and compositions. Inspiration alights and the brooches take relatively little time in comparison with the larger paintings I’ve been working on. 


Living on Orcas Island, inspirational landscapes appear at every turn. With these little studies in mind, I snap photos for reminders and reference.



Obviously the goal here is not to be exact. It's just to play with color, with the medium, and with the moment.


A friend pointed out to me that Mother’s Day is coming up, so I decided to list the brooches into my online shop. Head on over there if you’d like to take a look. The handful that I’ve got in the shop will be it for awhile, as I've begun another large-scale project.







And as you can see from the following photo, Winnie the Poof is settling right in as a studio dog. Each contented sigh is it's own little expression of gratitude.


The next project appears to be fairly epic, so it'll probably be quiet on this front for a few weeks. In the meantime, may extremely specific moments of gratitude help you keep perspective and even offer respite when the big stuff gets overwhelming.



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