Hal Borland, from his lovely book Sundial of the Seasons

(Image from the lovely blog Dear Lillie)

Sundial of the Seasons is a nature / natural science book I often utilized in the home education of my four children. It is out of print, but is worth tracking down for middle school nature studies. I always found Borland's writings to be factual, yet beautiful and comforting....and most importantly for educational purposes, his words encouraged wonder.

An excerpt, entitled, "The Winter Stars - December 28"

"The Great Bear is now down on the horizon at evening, come down, the legends say, to wash his paws in the deep December lakes before they are all iced in. And the Little Bear hangs by his tail from the North Star. Cassiopeia, the queen, sits high in the sky, and off toward the west, Cygnus, the swan, is in flight toward another hemisphere, the eternal migrant. The Big Dog and the Little Dog, off to the east, watch Orion, the Hunter, as he faces Taurus and the Zenith. Almost overhead are the Pleiades, those seven shy sisters who are best seen from the corner of the eye.

These are star nights, with the moon late rising, in its last quarter today, and with Winter-Brilliant skies. Walk the countryside these evenings and the whole universe accompanies you, for the earth is all open now to the starlight, leaf fall complete. The stars lean so close that if one stood tiptoe on the highest hill, he might grasp at least one star in his tingling fingers.

It is illusion, of course, but the December stars seem twice as brilliant as those of June, for the sky is doubly clear, the mist chilled out of it, and the dust of summer settled at last. An illusion, but a pleasant one on a brittle night; the sun seems so far away that the stars should come closer. We should be able to glimpse eternity through those spark holes in the blanket of the long night. And perhaps we do. Where else is such order, such eternal pattern, as in those stars that light the winter sky?"

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Faithful Friends Who Are Dear To Us...Gather Near To Us Once More...

We sincerely pray...

....that you and yours experience the value of faithful friends...

...and a loving, grace-filled family....

....as you celebrate Life in Christ, this weekend, and on into next week....

Thank you, from my heart, for the even more new art and business community friends I have met both online, and in person in 2012, and those new friends who we hope and plan to meet sometime in 2013. As our own children have grown up and become our true friends, we are struck by the wealth one has, in the form of a few faithful friends.

We love and greatly esteem our parents....and those young ones...and those middle age and aged ones, in addition to our faithful children and their spouses....we who have stuck and stayed, have built an artful, soulful, faithful continuity....in fact, a strong spiritual community...we did it, through good and bad times.

Merry Christmas to our faithful friends. Can't wait to go before The Lord with you in the morning..."dancing with our Father God in fields of grace..."

Hope You Are...

...enjoying this time of the year as much as we are.

In the Grip of His Amazing Grace,

Sheila Atchley

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T'was a "Hobbit In 3-D" Sort of Evening...

I gotta tell ya...it rocks to be young and in love. We had so much fun this evening.

Grace and Peace,
Sheila Atchley

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5 Ways To Celebrate the Simplicity of This Simple Season

(The Preacher, our Monkey-grandson, and me...riding the choo choo at the mall...)

Years back,  the holidays used to bug me. And they still can, if I don't remain vigilant to look past the trappings and into the heart of God.  The crude commercialization. The old Christmas carols, ruined by pretty-boy bands. The extra work combined with the shortened energy levels that come with less daylight. Yet - at the same time, I have always found ways to love Christmas.  Each late-November, I begin to reach down deep inside - where the presence of God dwells -  and I figure out how it is that I, Sheila Atchley, celebrate the Reason for the Season.

So.  I'm not a "bah-humbug" in any sense of the word.  Even though the song "Santa Baby" still gives me a fit of tourette syndrome.  I twitch.  I exclaim.   

In spite of it all, the last several years I've not encountered the slightest negativity inside. After a great deal of amazed pondering, I offer you a few thoughts - humble, not at all earth-shaking, and maybe not even blog-worthy, but nevertheless...I've discovered what, for me, puts the joy in this simple season. 

1. Celebrate your way

In years past, I had begun allowing others to dictate the season to me (and much of my time all year 'round, in fact), in the sense that if they invited me over, I felt obligated to accept for various reasons - to help them through a time of transition, to cheer them up, to just have fun, to assist in this or that, to prevent them from having to be alone. This translated into me always "going", and cutting way, way back on what I love - which is nesting.  Having people in my home, spending time with my family. Over the months and even years I had allowed others to dictate my time, I didn't realize how deeply it was suffocating me. Out of love, out of an honorable motive, I was allowing myself to be squeezed and molded into someone else's agenda. So, these last several years,  I have spent the Christmas season exactly how I want to spend it...doing what I love, for heaven's sake! Filling my home with people and things and activities I love. No apologies. I've had a stern talk with myself. I said, "Self, never again will you take what makes your own heart sing, and put it on a shelf in a misguided effort to help someone else's heart sing. They must find their own song, and they must learn to sing it."

2. Get outside

"....and heaven and nature sing..." remember the old carol? Creation - nature -  is God's means of soothing the human heart. Don't let the cold weather prevent you from getting outside, filling your bird feeders, taking a walk, surveying your winter landscape....just breathing in the chill air, appreciating the change in season. Embrace it.

3. Make something

Pick just one or three projects you've always wanted to try (but never had time, because you were too busy being somewhere else all the time) and block out an afternoon or two and just do it. Arts and crafts are vastly underrated for their therapeutic benefits.  Each and every year, I make a real-green wreath, all sorts of evergreen arrangements, cookies;  this year, I am making hand painted ornaments, blocks for my grandbabies, holiday aprons, sugar scrubs for my girlfriends, and  I plan to clove some oranges for a scented arrangement...and I am going to take glittered snowflakes, and hang them from bare branches in a large cachepot, as a winter arrangement I'll keep in my house until March 1st.

4. Read what inspires you. Self explanatory.

5. Selah. (in Hebrew, it means "pause and deeply consider"). 

Selah over what God is saying to your heart this season. Mull over the good news of grace. Ponder "peace on earth, and goodwill to men". Your God is in a good mood, friends, His anger was completely spent at the cross. Christ took the penalty and punishment for you, and for your children. This is crazy-good news. Reason to rejoice. Those swaddling clothes wrapped the baby Christ, He submitted to them, and then those graveclothes were removed once and for all in the tomb, as the Risen Christ came out of it victorious...for you.

Trust me, this gets dangerous when you begin to take the truth of it and apply it personally. Everyone is comfortable with the doctrine of grace, so long as it stays on the pages of the Bible...where it can't mess with their actual beliefs.  Where it can't challenge their self sufficiency.

But Christ is all about incarnation. Those who preach the gospel must be incarnational about the truth of it. Let it invade.

These thoughts have totally transformed my experience of Advent for about four years now. Oh, my soul waits for Him, and in His word I do hope!

Middle Age - A Time of Grace and Glory

So many I've known, in years past, reached the age 45 or 50 and then had some version of a mid-life crises. Always, always some effort to re-create themselves...always some sense of entitlement that made them up and leave jobs, churches, friendships, and sometimes even a marriage - thinking they had "earned" the right to do whatever they wanted to do.

I feel their pain. I miss the woman they used to be. Who they were was lovely and who they were becoming could have been even more amazing. If they had just had the courage to become who they were, not become someone they wish they were. If they had just found the courage to stick and stay until the storm passed and all was beautiful again.

Mid-life could have been such a time of harvest and fruitfulness for these ones. They began so well. It has never failed to grieve me when I see yet another dear one either silently implode....or become a caricature of themselves, in their attempt to become someone entirely different from who they have always been.

Trying new and different things is wonderful...but it is wonderful all the time. New experiences and attempting new things should be a way of life at every age, in every season.

But who a woman is, and what God requires of her, in terms of her gifts and the call of God on her life, is something God never repents of. God never takes it back....never retracts who He wired you to be. No woman, I don't care who she is, can re-make herself. Yet so many women, at precisely the point of middle age, suddenly want to trade in who they were made to be, in order to become who they were not made to be. (Men, too...)

Middle age IS a time of becoming...becoming more, and more wisely artistic, if you are artistic. More, and more wisely passionate, if you always have believed strongly. More, and more wisely a teacher, if you've taught others off and on all your life. More, and more wisely a leader, if others have tended to follow you. More and more wisely merciful, if mercy is your gift.

Not a new version of you....a more, and more beautiful, and more wise you. More and better and wiser and sweeter and more compassionate.

Middle age should be a time of quietly laying aside our own way, our own ideas, and of finding out who we truly are, beneath all the trappings of life.

To sit still, and allow this becoming to emerge....however slowly...takes courage.

It is far easier to succumb to discontentment and get the cheek implants, or the Corvette, or the McMansion, or the flock of guineas and Nubian goats...or leave your husband, your career, your church, yourself...just leave it all behind. Anything to relieve the feeling of panic or anger, anything to avoid the sameness of boredom, anything to keep from having to humble yourself and adjust. Anything but face the sadness of a hope long deferred.

Be patient, beautiful middle age friend. Don't find yourself wishing you could exchange your beautiful gifts for someone else's....don't make a rash decision. And...never leave anything offended....not a friendship or a church or even a party. Find the courage to take joy, and then cultivate creative continuity. Find the courage to hold your ground, and become more of the woman you were originally designed to be.

Written for you with love...

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...

Bits of Beauty

...just bits of beauty I've discovered...these images aren't mine, and I didn't pin them to Pinterest, so I do not remember sources....but can I share the sweetness with you?

Oh, that shade of green! So beautiful, I can't even stand it.

I desperately want to find time to make my grand babies stockings like this, only with their names embroidered at the top. And I wouldn't want to stencil "Noel" on them. I'd just leave them plain.

HOWEVER...this year I will not have the time. I will be helping my daughter Sarah and her artist-husband. With something. Something big.

That is my "I-know-something-you-don't-know" face. No, they aren't pregnant again. But I will be busy with something. Real, real busy.

Those embroidered burlap stockings will have to wait till next year.

I am really feeling this wrapping style.

And this. But without the silk flowers...bleh. Love the newspaper bags, the black ribbon, and I'd add a sprig of greenery, like the picture before.

Grace and Peace,

Sheila Atchley

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(for the record, a "legalist" is any person whose functional belief system consists of thinking they are justified...made righteous to any degree whatsoever...or even just "more blessed"...by keeping the law, whether that law be the "written in stone" version or the 600+ Jewish ceremonial and civil add-ons)

In checking my analytics tonight, I'm seeing that my copious writings on grace-theology are getting scores of views.

One person found my blog by Googling:

"legalists are unhappy"

Truer words were never Googled.

Sheila Atchley

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It's Looking a Lot Like Christmas {Here at the Cottage}

...this is the first thing you see when you walk in my bedroom. A Christmas tree, my pretend fireplace, and the rocking chair where I rock my grandbabies. Plural. I am now the proud owner of two.

Or maybe they own me.

I'm quite busy, decking these halls. This fumpty nest (both full, and empty) is getting its holiday groove going, big time.

Christmas tree in the Master Suite?

Yes. Yes, indeed.

Sheila Atchley
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New In the Shop - Little Bits of Beauty and Goodness



Available in my shop...

...and a big shout-out and a thank you to my beautiful friend Wendy Cantrell for the suggestion!

Grace and peace to you,

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...

Small Business Season Discount!

This is the season to support small businesses, and local artists, versus Wal-Mart, where much is made in China.

To celebrate my first Christmas in business, I am offering a 30% discount on EVERY item in my shop....every print, every original, every collection, all jewelry.

I will not be having a sale in my shop every other week. You might see three a YEAR, because I only paint or create what I love, so if one or three things don't sell, I am beyond content to let art hang in my home or send it to my brick-and-mortar retailer, or wear the jewelry myself. No fire sales at Sheila Atchley Designs. No need.

So this is my first sale, my first ever discount, and it is through Monday.

Please peruse My shop and see if there's anything you or a friend would love to have. Then just type in "smallbusiness30" at checkout.

One of a kind original art, and jewelry pieces. You cannot find these things at any price in any mall...and you know....I love that.

I truly love that. Made in the United States. By yours truly.

It's a good cause, people!


Written for you with love...

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...

Sold Before She Could Be In The Shop...


Another "In The Middle" girl has sold...literally, the paint wasn't dry on her.  She sold right off of Facebook.
Everyone celebrates beginnings, and they commemorate endings, but the middle gets lost in the...well, the middle.  Particularly, few celebrate the beauty of the middle age woman.  I aim to change that, both in life and in art.  Thus, the birth of my "In The Middle" art theme.  ("Mercy In The Middle" is also the title of the message I spoke, at the Master Builder's National Conference - our church's network - in Florida, back in '03.  I plan on making that message available via MP3 download soon...)
The middle is what you make of it.  If you need a little perspective, I would be privileged to help you see the beauty inherent in your middle.
Two other of my girls did make it to the shop today (they weren't featured on Facebook).  They aren't "In the Middle" girls, but I think you'll find them lovely just the same...

"Shared Secrets"...and...

"She Cut Her Own Hair"...(subtitle, "Crowning Glory)

"Shared Secrets" made me smile, but "She Cut Her Own Hair" made me laugh out loud.  I don't know where she came from, I promise.  She may or may not be autobiographical.  I may or may not have needed to reassure myself one day recently.  I so love the crown that sits on top of her "Crowning Glory".
Both these 5x5 mixed media originals are available in my shop.

Enough about me...what do you think about my hair?

(All intellectual and visual art property entitled "In The Middle", featured on this blog and in my shop, belongs to Sheila Atchley Designs. Thanks for respecting that... )

"Thanksgiving and Advent"...no wait, this should be "Sheila Atchley Is a Walking Blooper" (W.E.L.L. Being - a Video Weblog Series)

Happy, happy Thanksgiving to all my friends - new and old.  What a blessed year this has been so far - I've made so many new friends in the art world.  And in other worlds.

Um...other areas.  I've made friends in other arenas, such as business and nonprofit and ministry.  My friends are all earthly.  Let me repeat:  I have no alien friends.

Nevermind.  Another installment in my W.E.L.L. Being Video Weblog Series

Lillian Has A New Home

...the Lillian Collection has sold. She will soon be shipped out of the country. I confess, I am a bit nostalgic about it, as I named this collection after my great-grandmother, Lillian Marie McCommons.

She's the first collection I ever made...and I was so afraid to begin deconstructing all my vintage pieces (bought at an estate sale, at what for me was a dear price) and reinterpreting them into new, original designs. I created the Lillian first...before the Aidyn and the Kaitlyn Marie and the others...because I was so partial to the elements I created her with...the crystal bracelet, vintage earring, and vintage pocket watch. From the earrings to the tassel on the end of that watch-pendant, the Lillian is stunning and beautiful.

The woman who wears her must wear her with grace and must be....or become...confident of her own innate beauty....the Lillian simply comes with that sort of mojo all over her. She'll make that wearer feel so special....because Lillian knows there isn't another piece of jewelry like her, anywhere in the whole world. She was resurrected literally from the dust of a huge old box, redesigned, remixed, and given a brand new life, and she is a work of art that is completely, completely unique. You cannot buy her at any price in any department store.

She's born from the heart.

I love that. Call me imaginative, but I believe she'll impart a blessing to the wearer.

Written for you with love...

Sheila Atchley

All blog content is the property of the writer, including all "In the Middle" intellectual and visual art property...

Oatmeal-Cherry-Chocolate Cookies

Credit for this recipe must go to the sweet Kimberly Taylor of Kimberly Taylor Images. I discovered it via the online class "Creatively Made Home", the lovely Jeanne Oliver has outdone herself putting these classes together...I have been so inspired by everything I've seen there.

So here is my riff on Kimberly's awesome recipe....

First, take your own picture, because you are. that. girl. You are a goober-blogger-geek. Own it. Work it.

Gather your ingredients...unbleached flour, oats, salt, baking soda, flaxseed (grind it first)

(No grits in this cookie recipe...no lemon either...the grits sit there, and the lemon went in my water earlier...). Eggs, brown sugar, regular sugar, dried cherries, dark chocolate chips, vanilla, and walnuts...

Toast the walnuts and chop them super-fine...

Mix your dry ingredients ( salt, baking soda, flour and oats)

Cream your butter and sugar...

Toss your chocolate, walnuts, and dried cherries into your dry ingredients...then add your dry ingredients half at a time (mixing between...to avoid a flour explosion)

Hear your KitchenAid make that satisfying sound...working hard...

Get your scoop out, sistah. Go big or go home. No sissy cookies allowed.

I mean big...

Bake 'em at 350 for about 15 minutes...

Cool on wire racks, and serve these guilt free to your family. Walnuts? Superfood. Oats? Superfood. Flaxseed? Suuuupahfood, baybay. Cherries? Yeah.

Sugar? Evil in excess, a blessing in moderation. Try having one cookie, not three.

This is what happens when your preacher jacks your iPad and forces you to pose. And for the record, I am from East Tennessee...and what you have heard is true...we drink our corn from a jar.

Just kiddin'.

The recipe:

2C. Unbleached flour
2C. Oatmeal
1/4C. Ground flaxseed
1tsp. Baking soda
1/2tsp. Salt
1C. Softened butter
1C. Brown sugar
1/2C. Regular sugar
2 eggs
2tsp. Vanilla

Add dry ingredients to wet, then toss in:

1C. Chocolate chips
1/2C. Dried cherries
1/2C. Walnuts

Combine and bake.

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A Peek At the Sketchbook

So that big, beautiful leather sketchbook I have? The one with the 140 lb. cold press watercolor, hand deckled paper?

It is getting pretty full. I am more than halfway into it. The sketchbook was a gift from my daughter Sarah and her husband Jonathan, and they just couldn't have known how wonderful a gift it was...I didn't know myself when I got it. All I knew is that it was a work of art all by itself. I didn't yet know it would be the most important tool in my arsenal, and a means of discovery and self expression unlike anything I had ever encountered before.

A sketchbook is to an artist what stretching and walking are to a jogger or runner. It warms you up. It leaves you with a history of ideas and color combinations and techniques attempted, and techniques mastered. And techniques epically botched.

You do have to overcome any anxiety about "messing up". You do have to understand that paper is the safe place TO mess up. You don't want to mess up a beautiful 20 x 20 deep edged hand stretched canvas. You want to make your mistakes on paper, in that art journal...or sketchbook...whatever you want to call it.
Today's art journaling:

I am still exploring the theme of "In The Middle"....celebrating the beauty of middle age, with my art.

Above, you see a background of three colors, acrylics, rolled on with a brayer. You want spotty coverage...it is part of the overall look I like to achieve. Then, I gesso'ed the general area I knew I wanted to place my girl.

As I am doing all this, I am pondering things I've read in Scripture, thinking of other women I know, and being grateful for my own, one beautiful life. I am hearing the Lord speak over me, and I have to choose to believe what it is He says about me...and believe it enough to put it down in the form of art...for all to see...and mock...or admire...or resonate with...or not.

Tough stuff, this being an artist. Baring my own soul in this way is far harder than using words alone.

After gesso'ing, I come in with pencil and do a general outline. I choose her hairstyle at this point. I decide if she will be a red head or a blonde or short hair or curly or straight. I even did a gorgeous silver haired girl recently...my sweet friend Nancy Lyke from south Florida was my inspiration.

Then I use a mix of acrylic and oil pastel to create skin tone. Acrylics first, always. Oil lays down over acrylic but not vice versa. Look back in previous pages of my art journal to see how I found out.

Then I use acrylics to create hair color...two colors, sometimes more. Then a water soluble pencil creates details and always my trademark hair out of place. My girls always have a lock of hair out of place...askew...like me. They do not have faces because they are the face of every woman I have ever known and cared about. "She" could be you...if you want her to be.

Lastly, I use pan pastels and charcoal to create depth and another pop of color.
Then, the message. Always, always words. Words are my first love and my art form. Without words, there are no images for me.

In the above journal two page spread, I wrote, "in her life, the energy of youth and the wisdom of old age met in the middle, and caused new things to spring up from her beautiful heart continually..." Then I added the heart and the butterflies...because the girl on the page wanted it to be so.

That is a peek and a walk-through of my process. None of it is perfect. It doesn't have to be.

It just has to be.

Being is enough. Being creates the doing. Grace plus nothing. You pretty much have to have the soul of an artist to understand.

New Vintage Jewelry Design Collections!

Finally, they are ready...and available in my shop...

The Aidyn Collection!

A mix of vintage and new elements, in a necklace, ring, and earrings...

hand painted details on the pendant and ring...with a gorgeous tassel


...the Kaitlyn Marie.

She's also a mix of vintage and new elements...necklace with vintage cameo, vintage cameo ring, and vintage earrings (that used to be elements in a 1940's bracelet)...


...and my favorite...the Lillian Collection.

A vintage, non working pocket watch, with beautiful elements also on the other side of it...truly, this is gorgeous on both sides.  With a real, antique crystal bracelet incorporated into the necklace...a glass bead vintage ring (used to be an earring) and earrings that compliment the entire collection.

I would be happy never to part with this collection!

There is more...much, much more.  Visit my shop to see...

Happy Christmas shopping!

New In The Shop

...the latest in my "Mercy In The Middle" She-Art series:

(click on image, to see it slightly enlarged...)

At the bottom, it says, "In her life, youth and old age met in the middle and clothed her with strength and honor..."

All around her (who is you, my beautiful middle-age friend) the hand written script says, "Strength and honor are her clothing, and she shall rejoice in time to come..."

She is 10x20, gallery wrapped, rendered in Pan Pastels, acrylics, oil pastels, Marks-All pencils, and charcoal...in shades of lavender, cream, blue, and burnt umber...on a background of truly antique book and hymnal pages (versus digitally reproduced) and vintage wallpaper.

She is also trimmed in beautiful upholstery tacks, all around her edges.

She'll be priced at $175, shipping included to all lower 48 states. If you are out of the country (as several of my customers have been) just email me and I will see what shipping charges would be for your country.

A Little Instagram Love on My Birthday

I plan to assault you with random, unrelated Instagram shots today. I can hear what you are thinking, "Whaddya think this is? Your birthday?"

As a matter of fact...

It sure is. And look what the Lord has given me, already!

...and this...

Love that "Kelvin" effect on Instagram. It's my favorite.

I am literally sipping this, right now, hand delivered by my Pastor. He's caring like that.

Today is also my son-in-love's biggest art show of the year. There was a beautiful write up on him in the paper this week, as he is also FEATURED ARTIST in said large art show. That is an original Jonathan Howe hanging there. With my harvest wheat. And a wooden apple. And candle. And art calendar that features an artist quote and painting every day of the year. And if you've ever hurt me, real bad, you will never be able to have a J. Howe original. We're clannish like that.

Have regrets. Have deep regrets.

Actually, if you just say sorry, he'll paint one for you, too. Far be it from us to hold a grudge. We're friendly like that.

My living room walls are no longer harvest gold! They are the faintest whisper of fog/gray/blue/misty morning. I heart them. And the giant clock. And that houndstooth patterned mustard yellow throw covering my feet in the corner of this shot...

My bed, as it looks most mornings. I know, right? This keeps on getting more riveting with every wanton picture posted.

Slice of life, friends....slice of life. Why is this on my Instagram camera roll? Not entirely sure. I was probably artfully finding the beauty tucked away in the every day, and finding One Thousand Ways to give thanks.

(gratitude to Ann Voskamp for all the stupid pictures I have instagrammed all in the name of #onethousandgifts. Ann, you are my thousand-and-oneth gift. Can't wait for your DVD study!)

Speaking of gifts and gratitude...

He's already a Bible Thumper, just like his Pop Pop.

This was the little grin she saved just for Mimi, late last night. Babysitting this one is a joy...and a challenge...she literally will not let me out of her sight.

Enough about me...

What do you think about my hair?????

I love my birthday. My whole family spoils me rotten, and I am ready to head full tilt into all the festivities, which, from what I can smell, are about to include breakfast in bed.  (Post edit:  The Preacher was actually just making coffee...he took me out to breakfast, instead.  I had a breakfast panini with asiago cheese and egg and bacon.  And more coffee.  Amen.)

My pastor serves me well.