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2023 Year in Review


Another year gone by: more lessons, more adventures, more things to be grateful for. Each month seemed to draw me nearer to what I feel like the Lord wanted me to learn by its end, and I hope those lessons continue into the new January and year of 2024.


January:

Januarys are sometimes difficult in that the holidays are over and there is still plenty of winter left to trudge through before the magnificence and colors of spring and summer. January of this year was sweet in that Matthew and I had our marriage blessed at St. Francis, which in some ways was very much like a vow renewal. I cried about as much as I did on our wedding day, and it was really beautiful to get to marry Matthew all over again in a sense.


This year was definitely a road trip of faith that developed more and more as time went on, and I'm so grateful for the grace and love and patience that God poured over me. He directed and guided us through a lot this year as we navigated new waters in many areas.


That month I also began working on a quilt for a friend who would be graduating high school, and square by square it began to take shape with old fabric pieces I'd had for a long time. The fabric was lots of little floral pieces and even antique newspaper print (which was a favorite!). The colors didn't match very well but it still looked cute and that's what homemade quilts are all about!


We also went to the immersive art exhibit of Van Gogh, which was really good, but honestly I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with the immersive da Vinci exhibit. The pieces they chose to highlight weren't the ones that I would have, but it was still very good. The da Vinci one had knocked my socks off, though. So if you get to go to the da Vinci one, do it!


February:

February sees us into the last month of hard winter, and there wasn't anything hugely memorable about our February of 2023 except that Matthew got me a beautiful dozen cream-colored roses, and that we also had Ash Wednesday service. There was a lot of learning about scripture. I have always known ways that the New Testament is deeply connected to the Old Testament, but this year I had my mind blown so many times about things that were deeply connected that I had never realized between the Old and New, and that was such an exciting journey to learn more about how Jesus fulfills so many prophetic roles of the Messiah, and how much He had in common with David and Solomon and Moses and the list goes on and on... so much good reading happening and taking notes in my journal.


March:

Winter finally seems to pack its bags in March, and I'm always thankful to see it go! I don't think much happened in March except the excitement of the coming spring propelled me to do a lot of baking! Haha. The scenery and the light seems to really change in March, and we have beautiful sunrises and an occasional rainbow over the valley. Matthew and I began to go on walks more, and for St. Patrick's day I made him a shepherd's pie (mashed potatoes covering meat and veggies baked in a deep dish).


April:

April may just be my favorite month in the calendar because that's when spring finally arrives in all its grandeur and beauty! I suddenly become more artistically productive and happier because the cold months are gone and the beautiful flowers are here!

Another exciting thing that happened in April was that I was confirmed as a Catholic, and what a really beautiful thing that was. The day before Easter and the morning of my confirmation, I woke up sick as a dog with cold chills and a stuffy nose. But I had been planning on this since September of 2022 and I was not going to miss out on it. So I rested all day, took a bunch of Kleenexes, and we went. I dressed in a long red skirt because my chosen confirmation saint is St. Joan of Arc, and according to historical writings, she wore a red skirt at the time of her going to become a soldier. And speaking of that, a confirmation is taken from the tradition of inducting a soldier into the army, so that seemed to fit well. My confirmation was on the Passover/Easter of my 33rd year, so I was the same age as Jesus at His last Passover, and the beginning of my journey in RCIA / Catholicism classes started on the 10th anniversary to the day of my healing at the monastery (if you want to read that story, read it here). I blowed my nose through the whole Easter Vigil and when it came time for my confirmation, when Father Joseph called me by Joan of Arc's name and I was anointed with oil, my nose cleared up and I wasn't sick anymore. So even beyond that, it was a beautiful moment that I'll never forget. What a journey through prayer and scripture to come to that moment, but the Lord was with me every step of the way, and I'm so thankful that God has helped me in all of this. I have felt called to unity between the Protestant and Catholic churches, and I feel so privileged that the Lord has provided this for me.


May:

On May 7th I turned 34. How in the world did that happen so fast?! For my birthday, Matthew took me to the Beatrix Potter exhibit in Nashville and oh how my heart just burst at it! To stand only inches away from the original drawings and paintings of hers--- it filled my eyes with tears several times. My favorite story of hers is "The Tailor of Gloucester," and I got to stand face-to-face with the original painting of the Mayor's embroidered red taffeta wedding coat being sewn by the mice as they help the poor, sick tailor meet his Christmas day deadline. Ever since I was a small child, I have dearly stared at all the paintings for that particular story, so to see this one in person felt like such a fulfillment and a full-circle experience in a way. Seeing the original painting of the embroidered coat filled my eyes with tears.

One thing that struck me was that all her paintings were so small. they were all around 3x5" or less. Of course they had to be small to fit into her children's books that she had requested to be small enough for a child to easily hold, but one doesn't realize the amount of detail that she had to pour into such small spaces with her watercolor. Nowadays we can digitally resize anything, but back then, the originals had to fit the print size perfectly. So anyway, it was amazing.


Upon coming home from Nashville on my birthday, there was a little thunderstorm, and then it cleared and we had a rainbow over the valley. What a sweet birthday present from God!

Another thing we did in May was going to the Smoky Mountains to do the hiking that we so enjoy! The weather threatened rain the whole time we were there, but on the few days of our trip, we enjoyed great weather sandwiched by huge amounts of rain. We saw several bears in the Cades Cove circle, so that was really cool! We went to Abram's Falls again as it's a favorite trail.

We stayed at the Buckhorn Inn as we always do (we're always the youngest people there and we like it that way!), and we went for a walk and hung out with the swans of the Inn, named Bubble and Squeak. We also sang some hymns in the old Methodist church on the Cades Cove circle, and one year I hope to take my fiddle.


June:

June was quiet, but sweet. We went canoeing and ate tacos (just about the perfect combo) on an adventure day. I spent time working in my art journal, and that has been a source of a lot of joy and learning, and many surprises.

Sometimes learning isn't necessarily coming to know something you didn't know before, but more of a deepening of how much you understand something. I have come to realize this year that nature, living in the country, and spending time in a quiet and beautiful place is really more important to me than I realized before. I've always known that I love living in the country, but I've come to the place where I don't ever want to leave it -- not even for a little while.

June was sweet with picking blackberries by the pond, and making blackberry cobbler. It was a good year for blackberries.

I also moved a little bookshelf into the art area, along with my little rocking chair my Papa gave me for my 18th birthday that is from around 1800. Gotta choose what art will go on that wall!


July:

In early July we had our niece Clara come and stay with us again, and Maddy came so they could have a bit of a Renaissance Camp reunion since they had stayed with us for Renaissance Camp the summer before. We had another afternoon tea and it was so delightful!

I also went with my mom and dad to Camp Overton to the family camp, and it was so good to be back again and make new memories there and embrace the Christian heritage of my family. It's nice to go back and see the ways that things have changed for the better and then to see that some things never change, like the way the door creaks and how it smells in the dining hall. It was a blessed time.

The top of the quilt was finished in July! Next was getting it quilted. It felt good to see the months of work of one block after another finally come together to get done!


August:

During the summer, I had struggled with some spiritual warfare issues pretty consistently. I also spent more and more time talking to Matthew's (and now my) cousin Naomi, who lives in Texas. She has a prayer closet and encouraged me to put one together. So, in August I did! I put up quotes and scriptures and have prayer request cards that I list initials on of those who I pray for. If I have ever been close to anyone in any way at a certain point in my life, their initials are in there. I found a lot of solace and goodness in the prayer closet.

Beginning in June, another thing I have done is set out to write out the entire New Testament by hand. I started in Matthew (obviously!), and as I write this in late December I am about to start the 9th chapter of John. It's been slow, but such a wonderful learning experience.

In August we also got to meet our new priest for St. Francis, Father Vimal. This is his first time as a parish priest, so in settling in we all really wanted to make him feel welcome. One experience that I'll never forget was in his first week here, he had another priest visiting with him to see him settled in, Father Pascal.


Fr. Pascal, standing (wearing hat), Fr. Vimal, kneeling

After one of the little Friday morning Masses, we were all saying goodbye, as Father Pascal would be going back to India soon. At one point, Father Pascal took my face in his hands and said, "Keep smiling, dear one." At the moment it was really sweet and special, but when I got in the car to drive home, it hit me how badly I needed that and I sobbed and cried the whole way home. Sometimes the way God works, you can only express gratitude through tears. It was encouraging as I was dealing with the struggle of spiritual warfare and feeling so utterly defeated, and trying not to lose heart in this one area of my life that I was trying to work through. I don't know if he'll ever know how much of a blessing that was to me. So thank you, Fr. Pascal. :)


Later that month, the quilt was finally finished and quilted! I'm so thankful for the dear friends who helped me get it finished by the deadline. It went with my friend to her college dorm room, and I'm so glad that it came together as well as it did! It definitely wasn't perfect, but it is a quilt and that's that! Haha.


I don't know when the next time is that I will try to tackle another quilt, but I have one that I've worked on here and there / on and off for the past few years, and it is getting closer to being done! Just needs ten more inches around the edge and it should be good to go. That one is a Christmas quilt, so hopefully it'll be on the bed by next Christmas!




September:

As of September, we celebrated six years of marriage! It feels strange that it's gone by that fast and also that that's only how long we've been married. I've said many times that life before I married Matthew seems like a distant and strange version of reality that I don't feel like I remember very well. But it has been six years, and oh how much I have learned in that time. Matthew has been patient and kind and it seems like he becomes more patient and kind to me every day. There is so much to be grateful for.

For our anniversary, we didn't really go on a special trip, but we did have lunch at Yellow Tail, which is a favorite! But the big gift to ourselves for our anniversary was getting the carpet up and out of the bedroom! Many thanks to Michelle and Billy Wright for helping us get it done all in one fell swoop!

So that was exciting!


Another fun day in September was having 3 Passionist priests in our home for dinner! We had invited Father Vimal to dinner to give him a welcome to our community, and he shyly asked if he could bring his two guests that had come to visit him. The more, the merrier! So we had a blessed and super fun evening with Father Vimal, Father Sebastian, and Father Giltus. Father Sebastian was the first Passionist priest in India, and we were honored to have him bless our home before they left. And Father Giltus was wonderful, too.

Father Vimal also gave us a shawl and wrapped us both in it as a blessing. What a sweet night!


September saw me through some more art, as well. It's funny how some months, there is more or less creative work done than in others. But I hadn't done as much art during the summer simply because I had worked a lot on the quilt and trying to get that done by the deadline, so I was ready to get back to my desk and sharpen my pencils.

September saw the completion of a chickadee, a wood thrush, and a bluebird on apple blossoms. I've come to realize that drawing and painting songbirds has become so relaxing, and they are a comfort. I've become more and more comfortable with doing songbirds, and so it is a happy thing to start one now as it is to see one completed.


October:

October brings Matthew's birthday. For his birthday he wanted us to go to his favorite place for breakfast: the Keenland racetrack (and kitchen!). We got up super early and went to the early morning workouts, where before dawn the racehorses have a gallop to check their shape. We ate breakfast at the track kitchen, and then later that day returned to Keenland to watch the races. We got there early so we could get a spot at the rail near the winner's circle, and it was perfect!



October was a beautiful month for front porch sitting. We got out our table and chairs on many evenings and had supper on the porch, and sometimes I'd bring out my fiddle and play the sun down. This year has repeatedly been a reminder of being thankful for living in a quiet, peaceful, and agricultural area. As Wendell Berry said in (I believe) one of his farming essays, "I stand for what I stand on."

The hydrangeas here always seem to sparkle best in September and October, right into November until the lightest frost dramatically ends them at almost the height of their glory, like a Shakespearian play. But this year, the night before the frost, I cut almost all the blooms off and brought them in and had them in vases in almost every room, and they lasted a good long while like that.


A tradition not to be forgotten is the Annual Hogue Fall Festival! This is usually one of the last Saturdays of October where Matthew and I basically make a holiday of it, and we have a fun day full of good autumn-themed food, and we carve pumpkins. The day started out with banana walnut pancakes, and we had apple cider throughout the day. There was one moment where we were carving pumpkins and I got a whiff of Matthew's apple cider that he had heating up on the stove inside. It was pretty magical. The evenings of the Fall Festival, we usually have hotdogs and s'mores over a campfire, but after sunset it began to rain, so we had white chicken chili instead, and then watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!


November:

November was fairly quiet, and I honestly don't have many pictures from that month! We spent Thanksgiving in West Virginia with Matthew's family. I took zero pictures, but when you're amongst a fairly large gathering with good food and lots of talking and simply being together, you don't think much about pulling your phone out to take pictures, and I guess that can be a good thing.

The weekend before Thanksgiving was the Holiday Market at the Wright's house, and I quickly sold out of the assorted cards of songbird paintings. During the time there, I worked on a hermit thrush on a snowy pine branch, and that was really fun.



December:

December has been a time of remembrance and reflection and gratitude. Matthew and I went for a walk one evening close to Christmas, and looked at the area where the ecological company had re-routed the creek in the Swift's old pasture. We took pictures at the spot where I would ride my bike and go to pray and think when I was a kid. All the trees are gone, but you know, they were dying out anyway, and they did a beautiful job of cleaning the place up. The creek has a different route now, but it still sings like it always did. There is a lot to be grateful for.

Sometimes things change, and at the beginning of the change, you're not sure how it will turn out. But I try to remember in moments when I'm unsure or scared or sad, "It is the impeded stream that sings" (Wendell Berry).


We spent Christmas here at home, and it was a beautiful day. I got Matthew some new sweaters and books, and he got me new slippers and some books (books are always a go-to for us!). And I have some used books on order since Christmas, so there will be some random boxes straggling in that will make Christmas seem to be not quite over yet. :)


We don't have tons of decorations for Christmas, but I do enjoy going out and taking cuttings from the cedar trees and evergreens around us to add to our table or our back door. We do have a fake Christmas tree, but we had decided on that when we first got married to invest in one that we really liked, and we haven't regretted it.


This year, Matthew took me on an Eve of Christmas Eve breakfast date to Cracker Barrel (which I hope for us to make an annual tradition!). I love breakfast dates because they're usually less crowded, and the people who go out to eat for breakfast are usually elderly and therefore more cheerful. We had an old farmer in overalls with some friends sit at the table beside ours, and just hearing him talk and listening to how he talked made me smile. That's the kind of men I grew up around; the kind of men who would play guitar or banjo and wink at me with a funny joke or nod at me when it was my turn to play. How I miss all of them - whether they have passed away or moved away or grown too old to play anymore. They left a beautiful mark on my life-- like the smell of tobacco in a barn that no longer is used for curing or smoking tobacco, but will never be rid of the scent of it.


Baking and cooking for Christmas is one of my favorite things, and this Christmas we had a family brunch: I made sausage muffins, homemade cinnamon rolls (because canned rolls simply cannot compare), and fruit salad. Later we had red velvet cake as Jesus' birthday cake. A lot of sugar, but Christmas is the time for goodies that are unusual to enjoy all at once.


So that is a skimmed-over view of this year.


What next?


Well, I'm not altogether sure. But one thing I do know is that God is faithful, and He has been patient as I've grown in prayer and in seeking Him. I pray that this next year will also be a year of growth... and growth... and growth some more. Learning, reaching, praying, and listening.


As far as New Year's resolutions go, I don't want to overburden myself with goals and things I want to do or create (because that would be way too easy with everything that is so interesting!). I do know that I want to do more reading and even less social media, and spend more time doing art and music. Life happens more in reality than on a screen, and I want to spend it where it is real.


Looking back on all these pictures makes me smile, and reminds me how blessed we are. But that is a blessed reminder because there are ways that this year has been a deep struggle. And there are areas that have been raw and not pretty. There were days of lots of tears. There were days where I wasn't really sure what to think. But God's hand is trustworthy.


One prayer that I have tried to pray over and over again is the Litany of Humility. When the enemy is waging war against you, one thing that he will use as a weapon is your own pride, and whatever shape or form that it is in that particular moment. In being humble, we disarm the enemy in many ways. One thing he cannot counterfeit is humility. And so that prayer has been a prayer of deep surrender and trust and also a reminder to me to let go and drop my weapons that the enemy inevitably uses against me: my pride, my want of special attention, my "need" to be successful or liked, my desire for everything to go my way.


So there is that.


I hope that New Year's Eve ends in my favorite way: reading a book, drinking a cup of tea, listening to the fire crackle, and being wrapped in my heated blanket. Matthew next to me. Hawkeye snoring nearby.


Stuff I'm reading these days: Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, and Mary Oliver.


Stuff I'm listening to these days:

Playlist "Quiet Evenings":


Peace to you all.





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