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First Snowflakes

First Snowflakes

On Tuesday the snowflakes began to fall.

At school, I watched intently out my office window, watching the ground, watching the weather reports, watching for school closings. As the ground grew white, I grew nervous. A test drive around the lot and my fears were confirmed. There was snow and ice on the ground, and I had a school full of preschoolers and teachers.

I gave up on the school systems and called it: “Come get your preschoolers!!”

But like everyone else, I was too late.

An hour later, 35 of the 70 preschoolers were still sitting, eating, playing and waiting with many teachers, with a few snowbound parents and even some wandering, freezing high school students.

Outside the ground was white, the sky was white, the cars and roofs and bushes were white. The trees stood in dark contrast to the landscape: a world of black and white.

But inside, a study in contrast where lights warmed and hot drinks and food nourished the bodies and spirits of the stranded, my decisions were anything but black and white. Outcomes changing by the minute, as more snow smothered our chances of progress, I scurried back and forth communicating and arranging what had turned into a strange sort of rescue.

Stranded, ink sketch

Stranded, ink sketch

After parents had tramped and slipped for miles through the snowy hills of Mountain Brook to their happy, carefree children; after answering calls from parents whose cars were in ditches and ten car sliding pile-ups; when only a few were left, I traipsed across a flawlessly blanketed courtyard, breathing in the icy air and looking for the next step as my soft footsteps marked my path.  Behind me lay decisions and carefully placed prints; ahead lay the next phase of this snowy adventure.

Hours have passed and evening approaches. A few remain, but most are home…one way or another. I’d long ago given up any expectation of going home. Here till the end like a captain and her ship. With a few preschoolers remaining, we buddy up and find refuge for the night.

Bundled and loaded, we embark on a snowy trek: a teacher, two three year olds, two toddlers, a young neighbor and myself. We walk uphill, around a curve, up another hill, down and up and around again. The snow crunches, the air like ice, the world shrouded in a silent muffle of white. With two deposited at their temporary home, and carrying the three year old (whose first language is Chinese), we walk and huff and puff till the end. Four weary, frozen travelers finally enter a warmer world: a glowing room, crackling fire, flowing drinks, warming meal, smiling welcome. A refuge of Southern hospitality.

After nourishment and recuperation, a long night commences… sleeping in clothes and comforting weepy, home-sick children. My baby in my bed, refusing to remain in the loaned crib, she rotates all night with glow-in-the-dark passy, feet in my face and little hands smelling of cake. Reminded of days having an infant, I hummed and sang and deliriously whispered to her of puppies and kitties and cupcakes and flowers to keep her from again waking our little friend on his pallet.

Little Sidekick, ink sketch

Little Sidekick, ink sketch

Finally morning breaks. I knew it would come.

Deep freezing temperatures give way to hot coffee and a kind breakfast, day old clothes and friendly conversation, frozen plans but warm hearts. Seeing the news that so many spent the long, cold night in cars or walking down iced interstates makes us even more grateful for our situation, and also questioning when we could make it home.

Snow, ink sketch

Snow, ink sketch

After a wintery walk back to the preschool to restock supplies (diapers are a must!), a sudden chance arrives…a window of opportunity to attempt the journey home. Again, we are rescued by the kindness of others, as a Tahoe-driving preschool dad comes to our aid. We begin the detouring, slow-sliding, wreck-passing, sidewalk-driving, careful-navigating, backtracking, long drive to Homewood.

We pass a tangle of chaos: cars upended, cars in rivers, garbage trucks and mail trucks abandoned, car pile ups blocking entire roads. People walking everywhere, people helping everywhere, people hosting in homes, pushing stalled cars, offering rides, sharing advice, giving encouragement.

Through one last snarled junction, I see my snow-covered home and my sweet little preschooler’s worried father. Relief, appreciation, joy…hard to describe the emotions that filled my soul.

At the end of this adventure, as I sit by my fire in my chair in my home, a simple thought covers my mind:

No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home

We are all neighbors…

and there is no place like home.


Special thanks to my amazing staff of preschool teachers for keeping the kids warm, happy and safe; to Bonnie Hartley, for creating a food and drink-filled refuge in the fellowship hall; to Nikki Still & Celeste Henderson who stayed till the end; to the Alex who pushed the double stroller of babies up snowy hills and took in two children; to Alex, Linda and Scott Kingsford for opening their home to “preschool refugees” and sharing their food, love and resources; to my little three-year-old sidekick for the night, for his calm and cheerful disposition and trust in me; to his parents, again for trusting me to care for their baby; to Scott Miklic for driving us home when the outcome was only a chance; to my husband and daughter for walking through the snow (twice!) while they were sick with the flu, to pick up our son and our neighbor; to my Dad for helping us get our car back days later; to Heather and Barry Brown for sheltering and comforting other stranded preschool families, that they had never met, for the night and the day; to the drivers who picked up walking parents and helped them get to their children; to teachers who slept at schools and kept children safe; to good, kind people everywhere who made an unbearable and dangerous situation for so many Southerners an experience of the greatest humanity and love.

Southern hospitality at its finest.

Intermission over, the curtains raise. The mother enters.

Scene 3: Piano & Jumper Cables

Another night passes and we find the mother once again fixing breakfast in the kitchen. Boosted by the happy ending of her suspendered adventure of the previous day, her outlook is bright.

The work day commences and comes to a well-ordered end in time to make an early carpool arrival – ensuring a timely appearance for her daughter’s second piano lesson. In line for half an hour, with snacks prepared and resting thoughtfulness underway, she sketches and thinks and waits.

Rear View Mirror Doodle, ink on napkin

Rear View Mirror Doodle, ink on napkin

Ah, the cars crank and brake lights glow. Ready for the slow crawl around the corner towards the school, she turns the key. Tick tick tick – nothing.

tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick tick – nothing.

Nothing, Nothing, NOTHING!!!!!

It’s too much. It’s the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

With wide, glazing eyes she waves the moving carpool line around her unmoving car. She calls her husband and her mother and her stamina fails.

She cries.

She sits in carpool line and cries. Pitiful.

Knowing the eagerly awaited piano lesson will be missed, she sits deflated and calls the instructor. But wait! Cancellations have been made and another lesson time is available whenever the mother can get there! Saved from the tears of her daughter on top of her own, another surprise approaches.

A kind stranger, circling back, pulls in front and signals for the mother to pop the hood. With jumper cables and an understanding smile, with his bouncing daughter watching from the back seat, he starts her car! Again, the mother cries, but this time overwhelmed by the kindness of others.

The day is saved and the mother carries on.


Scene 4: Sanitized Lungs

Night falls and the tired mother sinks into the couch, a glass of wine and a heated blanket. Surely, surely, that’s enough fun for one week. With an inner pep-talk, she tells herself that tomorrow is Friday…just plain Friday. Work and done.

Morning comes and father is ill.

With little sympathy where there should be more, the groggy mother impatiently fusses at father for not taking his medicine. Upon further discussion over medicinal locations, and the lack of discovery, she exclaims in short-tempered exasperation “You’re a MAN!!!” and stomps to the shower. Poor father, getting the brunt of a bad week at 6:00am.

With a haggard disposition and weary eyes, she puts her head down and pushes through the day. A pendulum of kindness and frustration, she tries to regain her balance and clarity. She takes father to the doctor, with three silly kids bobbing and chattering behind her.



The diagnosis seems a cruel joke: severe flu and bronchitis.

Father is settled onto the couch, as quarantined as one can get in a small home of five people. The mother takes a deep, careful breath and puts on another metaphorical hat, dosing medication and spraying lots of Lysol. A spaghetti dinner and chicken noodle soup are readily provided by friends, and the mother continues to scurry back and forth around the house, tidying and germ-killing and care-taking.

Sitting at her desk in the quiet of an afternoon family rest, the mother reflects upon the strange, yet ordinary stories of a long, long week. There always seems to be a snag, a hole, a bump, a crash that must be navigated. She knows you can’t change it, you just have to take what comes and find some humor in each adventure. It helps her carry on and find a warm spot to rest at the end of the day.

Curtain closes.

“Maybe we do the right things, maybe we do the wrong, spending each day, wending our way along. But when we want to sing, we sing. When we want to dance, we dance. You can do your betting, we’re getting some fun out of life.” -Some Fun Out of Life, Madeleine Peyroux

Tired Tiara, charcoal sketch

Tired Artist with Tiara, charcoal sketch


Check out the previous installments:

Such is Life, Act 4 part 1

Such is Life, Act 1

Such is Life, Act 2

Such is Life, Act 3

On Christmas morning, the family is gathered round the tree, sharing thoughtful gifts and making memories. We’re all there, my mom and dad, my three kids and husband, my sister, brother-in-law, my little niece and nephew. We’ve spent time and effort choosing meaningful gifts to share and enjoy.

Some of us may or may not be wearing some wonderfully horrible pajama shirts from the 80s, recently recovered from the attic. Some of us may or may not be wearing spectacularly tacky (and award-winning, I might add) Christmas sweaters. Some of us may or may not have received man-sized superman jammies, and home-made ties.

Let me pause a moment.

Yes, we are very silly. We had a jolly good time. Merry Christmas!

This year we introduced “Granny gifts.” You see, my Granny – whom I reference quiet often as passing down art and so much goodness into my life – she gave some terrible gifts. I mean it. One year, “the year of the beret,” she gave almost every girl a red fleece beret. It was a little weird (somehow I was overlooked..whew!). In her memory, we decided we would sneak in a Granny gift here and there, and you never know when it’s coming.

Switch back to the serious, sugary Christmas experience:

My sister is opening a small watercolor of her son on his tricycle. “Awwwww…” Then she opens a watercolor of her beloved Golden Retriever. “Ohhhh…Eloise!!!” Then a sketch of her baby girl. “Ooooohh, so cute!!!”

Then BAM. The Granny gift. A large, obviously framed, picture-sized gift awaits unwrapping. I can hardly contain myself. Snickering and rocking back and forth in my Christmas sweater, I watch her warily tear the paper.

What’s new pussycat?

It’s an ink and colored pencil portrait of my sister and Tom Jones – that’s right – riding a unicorn with a backdrop of rainbows. Boom.

Full Color

Full Color

I’m sure you have your share of inside jokes, and I’m sure my Facebook have been unable to avoid my sister and my “obsession” with harassing each other with Tom Jones. It all goes back to her move to Savannah, when she met her neighbor, the non-singer Tom Jones.

Upon hearing the name, I belt out in “She’s a Lady” and “What’s New Pussycat,” to her confusion and horror. She had never. heard. of. Tom. Jones. Flabbergasted, we first call mother and let her sing a few tunes, proving I am not the only weirdo around.

Then we proceed to google Tom Jones.


The wealth of questionable pictures readily available on the web sparked a flood of fun. We text and post and share awkward Tom Jones photos with our own captions like there’s no tomorrow. You should try it, it’s fun. And if you’re looking for a treat for the eyes and the ears, just take a peek at this video (give it a minute, you won’t be sorry):

Anyway, back to my story. I mean, how could I not create and give her such a treasure?! Oh, Tommy, what fun and joy you bring to our little lives.

The Sketch


Target Practice

Mary Liz Ingram —  November 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the river and through the wood, to Homestead Hollow we go…old cabins and smokehouses, bee hives and broom makers, blacksmiths and craft tents, hillbilly sandwiches and fried pies. A perfect Fall Saturday in the heart of the South, we come, we eat, we see, we walk, we explore, we buy. With the kids carrying their name-stamped horse shoes, homemade brooms and toy bows with eraser-tipped arrows, we truck it back through the field-turned-parking-lot to the car.

Arriving home and practically falling out of the car in haste, the kids bolt across the driveway into the yard, finding the perfect bullseye in a hole in the wooden fence. Target practice begins.

We practice through mornings and afternoons, through a week and into tomorrow. We are good at aiming, elbows up, strong and steady. Bullseye.

The weather turns cold, the children wear shorts: time for clothes shopping. In the midst of “the great purge of 2013,” I have to buy more. Children grow, you know.

Just minutes away from the hole in the fence, I am a walking target.

I enter the game fully aware, readily on guard. The bullseye stares at me from high above: Target. It mocks me from the carts, the bags, the signs, the door, the elevator buttons.

List clutched, I’m determined to escape with my wits and minimal, resourcefully chosen items. Silly store, you can’t distract me with your fabulous…oh, look at that dress…  Wait, wait, where was I. Target, I won’t be swayed by your…aw, look at those little shoes! Argh! Shake it off. That sweater looks so comfy. No! We’re headed THIS way.

Assaulted from every side with beautiful things I don’t need, my children are right there with me. “Mommy, can I pleeeease have these boots???” “Oh, Mommy, I just want ONE of these toys, just ONE, okay????” I try to clear the mist from my eyes and I make a firm buggy-beeline for the toddler section. Watch me focus! Watch me resist! Using my willpower, I explore the $5 mix and match display, ready to choose wisely.

But then the children start spinning. The baby – who was let out of her seat due to ear-piercing shrieks – starts ransacking the sock display and takes off in one direction with a pair of blue socks. My son dives into a clothes rack somewhere to my left. With my scary-calm, slow-speaking mom voice, I regroup my little posse and try to pick out some leggings to match this cookies & milk shirt. The baby hightails it right with her sassy walk and the son chases after. The pattern continues. I don’t even know what I’m saying, or what colors I’m choosing anymore. These look good. Sure, this is probably right. Get back over here. Stop throwing the leggings on the ground! Son, where are you! Get back over here. Don’t grab those. Where are the d@*# long-sleeved white t-shirts??

They’ve broken me. I’m a broken, easy target. Thanks store, with your beautiful objects and eye-level treasures.

The arrows start flying; I just want to make it out alive. Sure, you can have those shoes. Here are some pants, these look good. I just start grabbing.

Somehow, I held on long enough to stick (mostly) to my list, only having one rogue pair of pants that somehow made it into the buggy.

With “sucker” written all over me, I trudge my way to the car, all three kids attached to me in some form, my bags – with their red target logos all over them – hang somewhere off my body.

We survived.

Target Practice, Ink Doodle

Target Practice, Ink Doodle


Mary Liz Ingram —  October 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

In my 32 years, I’ve traveled to many countries: Jordan, Syria, Italy, France, Ireland, England, Mexico, Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize, Canada…I love it.

Since I had kids, my traveling days have been pretty nonexistent. Until recently.

I prepared myself for a new foreign experience. I don’t speak the language, and my eyes have ignored the culture as much as possible.

I loaded up in the car with my handy tour guide, an expert in the field and walking guidebook.

Dressed for cultural assimilation, we began our 40 minute journey… to Tuscaloosa. On Gameday.

If you are a Southerner, you know what I’m talking about. Football is different down here. Fans go ALL. OUT. I have never cared for nor watched football on my own initiative. In elementary school on “team colors day,” I was confused and appeared lame in my regular attire. Just recently a man bagging my groceries asked me “Do you go for Alabama or Auburn?” When I replied neither because I don’t really watch football, he was aghast and blurted out “What is wrong with you!?” For serious.

But this time, my husband won 4 tickets to the Zone, so Bama shirts on, we loaded up 2 of the 3 kids and headed to T-town.


Gameday rides

Gameday rides

Moving down the interstate with throngs of fans, caravans of crimson and white cars decked out in flags & houndstooth magnets, my husband tearing up when the kids instinctively boo the opposing team driving past in buses…This is a new experience for me.

My nature rebelled, asking me why I’m wearing this bill board of a shirt, but I’m taking one for the team…my team, i.e. my family. My trusty tour guide was openly hoping for a conversion to take place in his anti-football wife. His actual words were: “I’m hoping the tradition, the pageantry and the beauty that is Alabama football takes root and you become a diehard fan.”

Um, never.

We did have fun. I went “all in,” wore the shirt, wore a “Beat Everybody” pin. The stadium is a giant monolith, the crowd crimson and dressed to the nines. I was definitely immersed in a culture unfamiliar. But I’ve done it! I’ve been there, seen what there is to see, stood in a mass/line to take a picture of my husband and kids with a statue (still weird…). I have experienced a big part of “my South” that I had been missing. Not a convert, but I at least gave it a taste.


Sweet home Alabama 
Where the skies are so blue 
Sweet Home Alabama 
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Passing it on, ink & colored pencil

Passing it on, ink & colored pencil

I see Rosie the Riveter and Handy Manny in my mind. I hear the theme song from Rocky in the background of my thoughts… we got this.

I am a champion.

I dash back and forth a few times, 5 in 1 screwdriver in hand, and head down the front stairs. My older children watch me in confusion, eating their messy ice cream bars that I absentmindedly allowed in the flurry of sweaty chaos.

My AC is broken. My handyman Dad is out of town. My husband is at a funeral. It is h.o.t.

I’ve seen it done. I can do it. I am woman. Hear me roar.

Maybe that’s taking it too far…but still. I fixed my AC.

In my work dress and chignon, I took off the side panel of the unit, exposing the blower motor, capacitor and wires. I see that the capacitor has burned up (and YES! I even know what a capacitor DOES! Go team me!).

With my dad on the phone, we confirm the need to get a new capacitor. With the help of neighbors watching my kids, I’m able to pop off to the edges of downtown Birmingham, take my little self into the Washer & Refrigeration Supply Co., ask for and purchase a 5 microfarad capacitor for $10. Oh yeah.

I zip home in a jiffy and plug that sucker in. Voila! We have air flow.

I floated along in an internal cloud of success for quite a few hours that afternoon. I, Mary Liz Ingram, repaired my AC.

Washer & Refrigeration, 7x7 ink, colored pencil & pastel pencil on card

Washer & Refrigeration, 7×7 ink, colored pencil & pastel pencil on card

Trip Journal

Mary Liz Ingram —  July 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

We recently returned from a wonderful vacation to Savannah, Georgia. We stayed with my sweet sister, brother-in-law and my tiny niece and nephew. Here are some quick thoughts, paintings and photographs from a beautiful trip:

The Marsh, 4x4 watercolor pencil

The Marsh, 4×4 watercolor pencil

Thursday afternoon, June 27
Off on our trip, driving down I-20 packed in the jeep. Kids in a tight row behind me. Ready to throw off worries, enjoy life together, feel the free air of the coast. Listening to Cake and smiling at my husband. Enjoying the forward motion of escape.

Friday, June 28
Slow morning with kids and coffee, then off to the beach. An hour of sand pelting, hair flying, blowing wind & waves; guarding baby with a skim board, found relief in a tidal pool. Ended day around the table, warm meal with family & laughs.

Continue Reading…

Mr. Bean

Mary Liz Ingram —  May 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

toasted donuts, original photographySo I’ve had quite a few days on my own with the kids. I congratulate myself for successfully ending each day with everyone happy and whole by treating myself to a dessert or (oftentimes and) a glass of white wine. After a day of many doings, the house is always very quiet. All my little peeps are asleep, and it’s just me and the cat (my Dad might say, correcting my grammar, “The cat’s not mean.” But I think “me and the cat” sounds more fun than “the cat and I,” and on here I can write how I want. So there.).

It’s quiet. And a little boring.

So here’s a jaunty little poem to describe and illustrate the odd things that may or may not occur on such an evening:

Twas the night with just mommy, the toys put away, successfully living to the end of this day

The children were snuggled up tight in their beds, as visions of Scooby Doo danced in their heads

I on the couch in my pjs at 8:00, settled in with a blanket and dessert on a plate

I’d puttered about like a little old granny, and hummed and muttered and sat on my fanny

I had been in the kitchen preparing my snack, and was struck by a thought as sharp as a smack 

I was making odd noises in a sort of narration, excited by donuts, a cause for elation

When it hit me that in this sad humorous scene, I sounded a lot like the man Mr. Bean

Well the noises stopped there, and I went to the couch, I tried to sit up instead of assuming the slouch

“I’m a 31 year old woman,” I said in my head, and though I may not want to go paint the town red

I can hang onto my dignity and hold my head high, then I ate my three donuts without even a sigh.

Toasted Donuts, ink sketch

Toasted Donuts, ink sketch

The Siege

Mary Liz Ingram —  May 19, 2013 — Leave a comment

Once upon a time, down the hill and around the curve, there lived a small woman in a castle of painted brick and siding. As the flowers bloomed brightly and the vines curled gently up the wall, the woman prepared for her day of honor: a day when the small folk in her care brought tokens of love, thanks and devotion for her days of tireless service.

The woman, who thought herself queen over her realm, received gifts of breakfast, priceless art, blossoms and praise as she reclined on her pillowed throne. The sun lit her day, as the small ones brought smiles into her presence.

Later in this day of tribute, the tides began to turn. There was a shift in the small folk’s demeanor.

Thus began the siege.

It began with a small rebellion by a 5-year-old boy, who called strike upon his labors. No laundry would he fold, no dishes would he put away, no rooms would he clean! He attacked the firm walls of authority with persistent whining, crying and the stomping of feet.

The woman, adept at handling unruly charges, placed him calmly in the corner of reflection until he relinquished his fight. As she took on his labors and folded the clothes of the residents, the boy continued his barrage of shrill protest, chipping rhythmically against the walls of her patience.

Fighting back against the siege, the woman hummed calming melodies as she attempted to retain her stalwart composure. But the battery did not cease.

Hours later, the dinner bell announced the time to serve the feast. The woman, offering treasures of coin to the oldest small one, farmed out the undone chores to the responsible peasant. Meanwhile, a tiny villager ransacked the palace kitchens, scattering plates and bowls all over the dirty floor. The boy continued his attack with tears and the gnashing of teeth, wearing down the resolve of the barely-standing battlements. Continue Reading…

The sound of a few tiny footsteps brings me out of softly nestled dreams into the awareness of morning. It’s 6:45 on Sunday, and I open my sleepy eyes to a beaming, messy-haired and snaggle-toothed 7-year-old, who greets me with a whispered “Happy Mother’s Day Mom!”

Mother's Day breakfastShe holds a tray, taken off one of our nesting tables, set with her own well-intentioned version of breakfast:

  • a bowl of now-mushy cereal
  • a peanut butter granola bar
  • the “prettiest orange” she could choose
  • a little candy heart made out of tootsie rolls and leftover Easter candy
  • a small glass of milk
  • a rose pulled out of her dance recital bouquet
  • and a homemade card

Her Batman-footie-clad little brother comes pattering in soon after, with a handful of stickers and drawings especially for me. They also picked out all the yellow tubes of various paints from their own art kit, since yellow is my favorite color.

As I ate my – ahem – delicious breakfast, being eagerly watched by little expectant faces, I felt grateful for every too-sweet, soggy bite.

Peter Ilsted, "Girl Reading"Later in the morning, I followed a white rabbit down the Google trail, discovering art techniques and artists previously unknown. A Danish artist from the turn of the 20th century captured my interest, with his “Sunshine and Silent Rooms.” Peter Ilsted, along with several of his contemporaries, created paintings and prints of clean, sunlit rooms with calm, still figures…very beautiful, very peaceful, very quiet. The pieces were so calming, I couldn’t help but pause. It was as if the only sound to be heard was the rhythmic ticking of a clock on an unhurried day; snapshots of ordinary places, ordinary moments, yet full of beauty and grace.

Inspired by the tranquility of Ilsted’s work, I sat down in my own quiet, sunlit room and sketched my two older children, who were quietly playing with a few small toys at the coffee table. While drawing their busy little hands, my daughter’s crossed feet, my son’s little nose, I felt so grateful for the ability to absorb each detail in this every-day moment, and so happy to be a mom on this Mother’s Day.

Sunshine and Quiet Play, graphite sketch

Sunshine and Quiet Play, graphite sketch

“How wonderful life is while you’re in the world” -Elton John