Author Archives: jennifer

Extraordinary Ordinary

A pile of ordinary seashells.  I’ve been collecting them for almost 40 years.  Southern California beaches aren’t known for beautiful seashells, but as a young girl it didn’t matter how ordinary they were – to a child from Colorado they were treasures, beautiful little miracles totally unlike anything I’d seen at home.

Extraordinary ordinary shells.  The experience of walking, looking, bending, holding, examining, wondering about these shells became my greatest pleasure on our annual trips to the ocean, and it never lost its charm.  I still find myself examining these ordinary shells with a wonder that makes them extraordinary to me.

Yes, they are similar and there may be hundreds of them strewn across the sand.  But if you really look closely no two are the same.  Each has slightly different markings, color, chips, scuffs, symmetry and irregularity.  The more you look the more you find as each shell becomes something to marvel at.

People are like this.  We come in different shapes, sizes and colors, yet we are so like one another.  Most of us are simply ordinary people living ordinary lives, spending much of our time doing ordinary things.  And yet we’re not.  If time is taken to examine any one of us we will find an extraordinary story just waiting to be heard, an extraordinary person hoping to be loved.  We find that we are unique and of infinite worth.   We are extraordinary ordinary people.

My shell collection over the years has expanded to include larger, more exotic shells I purchased and enjoy displaying during summer months.  They are beautiful and unique as well, but somehow it’s the common shells that really capture my heart.

I’ve kept them on my kitchen table all summer, a reminder that people matter, that everyday moments matter, that the ordinary is extraordinary, that I’ve got to keep my eyes open so I don’t miss the simple beauties of family life, so I can see people for who they really are.

Our world feels so torn up right now:  natural disasters, sickening reports in the news, so much suffering and death and loneliness, disagreement among decent people about how to fix it all.  I worry that in the tension and stress of everything we may forget that the ordinary person on the other end of the interaction is more like us than different, someone worth getting to know, someone whose story and perspective matters.  My shells are all just that:  simple shells, but each made their own journey to the beach.  We are simple people, each on our own journey through life.  The journey matters.  We matter.

My family and I received a gift of mercy recently at the hands of two ordinary people who began as strangers, but a few hours later were people I’ll never forget.  The string of very simple things they did, motivated by a sincere desire to understand and do the right thing – to be good – became a powerful act of kindness and mercy.  I’ll never forget it.  We all have power to do this in our individual sphere of influence.

We are extraordinary ordinary people.

Today I re-dedicate myself to living in a way that honors this truth.  I commit to love my family, to love and serve my neighbor, to see the good in others, to be kind to a stranger.  My prayer is that my simple efforts can help infuse the world with a little more goodness and love.  Will you join me?


Coastal Quilt

I saved my Coastal Quilt for our beach trip so I could photograph it in the setting that inspired it.  My husband, who uses a drone to film his mountain biking, thought it would be fun to lay the quilt on the jetty and fly the drone over, so here’s a quick video of a coastal quilt in it’s natural habitat!

Now for some photos!

When I decided to make a quilt that reminded me of the beach I pulled fabrics largely from two collections:  Sharon Holland’s Coastline collection, and a collection by Lewis & Irene for Makower called Coastal.  Both of these collections have some prints that I just love and I enjoyed putting them together with a few other prints from my stash.

I started making half square triangles and soon a layout materialized, one that makes me feel like I’m looking out to sea.  I keep thinking there’s probably a name for this layout, but the closest I’ve seen is the ocean waves design which uses more rows of small half square triangles between blocks.  Perhaps this is a variation on it?  (If you know, help me out and tell!)

Setting everything on point was fun and the Joel Dewberry print – from his Atrium collection – turned out to be the perfect background.  It continues the geometric design of the quilt without competing with the center design, and I really didn’t want so much negative space in just a solid.  When I pulled out the fabric my heart said YES!

I pieced the backing from fabrics in my stash, which always makes me happy.  Those little beach huts make me smile.  I’ve saved them for a long time and am glad to have included them in this project.

I quilted it very simply and used my favorite Lewis & Irene wavy print for the binding.  I think I bought that fabric three or four times while there was a bolt at my local quilt shop!

These pictures make me ache to go back to the beach!  I love how perfectly matched it is to it’s surroundings, which is precisely why I made a coastal quilt.  A little reminder of my favorite place to curl up in on days when I’m trying to remember.

I have a few scraps and a few more beachy prints I didn’t use in this quilt, and I’m thinking it would be fun to make another coastal-inspired quilt to take with me next summer….

For now, I’m enjoying this one as the days get cooler at home.

Have a great day!


Lessons from the Beach

No summer is complete for our family without a trip to Newport Beach, California.  I love it because it’s a calming week for me.  We slow down, I get to park my car for several days without touching it, and as we all relax into vacation life I learn lessons from the beach.

My favorite activity is my long early morning walks along the water’s edge.  I love waking up early to enjoy the low tide and this summer a few of my children requested that I wake them so they could join me.  We had some wonderful early mornings discovering sea life, exploring holes in the sand, and hunting for seashells.

During low tide we explore the landscape that remains when the water recedes.  We see how the beach has changed, hunt for sea life that is usually submerged in water, and best of all – we learn what gifts the sea has to offer that day.

Visiting the beach is “low tide” in my life, and these walks at literal low tide remind me how wonderful it is to have a small break and reflect on the changed landscape of my heart.  As my hungry eyes take in the tranquil setting, I begin to sift and learn from the pounding we take during everyday life in Utah.  This is where I learn lessons from the beach.

This summer I learned four lessons:

First:  The waves keep coming.  Sand shifts, dips appear in new places on the ground, shells are washed up and swept back away.  The beach is a new place every day, and by day’s end it is not as it began.  It’s always changing, renewing, and yet it stays the same.  Some waves are gentle, some powerful, and occasionally they’re overpowering.  Some days the water is like glass, other days it’s choppy.  But the waves keep coming.  This lesson reminds me that every day is a new adventure – I can expect to get slammed sometimes and to struggle to keep up with how swiftly things are changing.  Change keeps life fresh and new, yet the basic patterns of life are predictable and comforting – the sun will set and in the morning it will rise to bring a new day.  I get to keep trying!  We as people change so much and yet we also stay the same.  Life will keep happening and things will work out.

Second:  Notice and appreciate the gift.  We don’t get to choose what the ocean leaves for us to explore and discover each morning.  It changes.  I’ve been visiting this beach all my life and every year seems to have a different theme.  Sometimes it’s jellyfish, or stingrays, or dolphins everywhere.  This year we saw a beautiful white heron and watched it as it walked around near us.  What beauty!  For the first time, we also found living sand dollars, and more dead sand dollars than I’ve ever seen in Newport Beach.  But we had to go look for them, to get out of bed at 5:30 a.m. while on vacation, spend a couple of hours walking, and slow down enough to really look around us.  It was so worth it!  This experience makes me wonder what gifts await me at home in my everyday surroundings.  How can I really look around and notice them?

Third:  Once we have eyes to see, with patience we will find treasures.  Once we spotted these living sand dollars, we discovered they were everywhere!  I loved watching the excitement of my children as they spotted dozens of them, scattered across the beach waiting for a wave to sweep them away again.  We also discovered dozens of dead sand dollars on the beaches, sitting in plain view, but we didn’t recognize them until we knew what we were looking for.  One of my daughters developed a system for spotting them.  Her system kept her far behind the rest of the children, but her patience paid off and she joined us carrying treasures the rest of us had walked right by without seeing.

I want eyes to see, not just the physical beauties around me each day, but the spiritual gifts and lessons just waiting to be noticed.  Discoveries waiting to be made about ourselves, about those we love, about living life wholeheartedly.  We had to train our eyes to pick the sand dollars out amidst other shells.  In life we must train more than our eyes – our hearts, minds, and spirits can be trained to carefully choose the right treasures.  Treasures of knowledge and understanding, precious memories, eternal relationships, all of these can be ours if we have eyes to see and patience to work at it.

Fourth:  Make room in the day for beauty.  My grandpa never missed a sunset.  Every night he walked out to the beach to watch the sun set up the coast.  Sunsets at the beach are glorious, as they are in most places.  At the beach we made time to go out and watch the sun set every night, but so often at home I only notice it if I happen to be outside at just the right moment, or if it catches the attention of one of my kids and they come running in to get me.  Being at the beach reminds me to make room for everyday beauty in my life.  Yesterday’s solitary drive reminded me again, and I like the gratitude and inner wholeness that comes with it.

Because beach life is so different from daily life at home, it is a place of learning and pondering for me.  The trick, I suppose, is to be as happy a student of everyday life as I am when visiting the sea.  As I watch the season change from summer to fall, I find myself pausing for a backward look at summer, and motivated to move into a new season with an open heart.  I want to take my lessons from the beach and live better by applying them here where God has planted me.

Is there a season or a place that you learn from?  What lessons are you carrying forward as the season changes?  How do you remind yourself?

Have a lovely day,


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