Abbigail Kriebs

About Abbigail Kriebs

http://www.inkwellsandimages.com/

Abbigail Kriebs calls Inkwells & Images her online home, where she writes about and photographs her everyday life as a word-lover, book-reader, and new mom. She and her husband, Scott, and son, Arthur, live in the middle of the woods on a road that goes nowhere, but it’s not too far from Madison, Wisconsin. Abbie is one half of the Chasing Creative podcast, eats waffles in quantities that would make Leslie Knope proud, and has a serious crush on Midwestern autumns.

Posts by Abbigail Kriebs:

Tending the Fire

The house is chilly when I walk out to the living room, pulling my gray bathrobe over my pajamas and stuffing my hands into its thin pockets. It’s the kind of cold that needs a fire.

I shuffle out onto our deck, still in my slippers, to grab the two buckets I need — one to fill with ash, one already full of kindling. I pull a small stack of newspaper from the closet and grab the lighter from up on the mantle. It’s high enough I have to rise up on tiptoes, the first stretch of the day.

Easing open the glass door to the fireplace (quietly, the baby is still sleeping), I pick up the small metal shovel and begin to lift piles of fluffy ashes out of the firebox and into the waiting bucket. The spent pieces of fuel fall apart at the slightest jarring, sending puffs of white dust into the air and across the hearth. Scrape, scrape, thud. Scoop after scoop goes into the bucket to make way for today’s fire.  

Carefully, I stack kindling, crumpled newspaper, and a couple of thin logs in the center of the firebox, making sure to leave space around and between for the air to circulate and give the fire it’s fuel. Brushing the bark residue off the arm of my robe and into the box, I straighten up to admire my handiwork. Click, the lighter starts and a tiny flame leaps from the end of it onto the newspaper. I move quick to light another spot, and then close the door and throw the vent wide open for air to carry those flames through the box.

Yellow-orange wisps erupt from the pile of newspaper and wood, circling and consuming what I’ve placed there. It’s sudden and big and surprising to me, even though I’m the one who made it. In a few minutes when I look up from pouring my coffee, I do a victory dance, thrilled from the deepest parts of me that I have triumphed.

I have made a fire.

And just below the surface of my triumph is the knowledge that it might not stay lit.

Sometimes the fire takes off on the first try, but other times, it sizzles out, out of fuel too soon, not enough long-burning embers to keep the flames rolling forward. It might need a little more help to consume the near-frozen logs that have been sitting dormant since Scott stacked them on the deck in September. So I’ll try again. I’ll add more newspaper and shift a log forward or backward so the fire can breathe a bit better. I’ll crumple more newspaper and watch the fire again take off.

For now my job is to tend — to add more fuel when it starts to look low, to let it rest if the house gets too toasty. There’s a sacredness to heating your home with a fire, to doing something so elemental with your hands. It takes effort and intent.

I’ll get called away to tuck a baby into bed and stir a pot of soup on the stove. I’ll need to step out of the house and head to the mailbox, making sure to add a log or two before I go so that I don’t come back to a too-cool home. This preparation for time away takes a little practice: a few too many times I’ve gotten absorbed in daily life or online life and let the fire die without ceremony. Coaxing it back to life takes a bit more effort than tossing on another log in plenty of time for it to catch and carry the fire onward. It takes a bit more intention and certainly more time to build it back up to what it was.

This particular morning, I sit in that gray bathrobe on my red couch, a cup of warm coffee in hand, willing my small child to stay asleep just a few more minutes so that I can sit in this silence in front of my fire. And I think: what if I treated myself this way this year? Like a fire that only needs a little tending?

I sit down later that same day to write, crossing my ankles on the edge of our fading coffee table. The beginnings of eight different essays are scratched out in shorthand on paper, snippets of things tucked away as notes on my computer, each of them going somewhere, destinations undetermined. I stare at a mostly blank screen, the cursor blinking at me and my inability to move forward.

I’d been agonizing over what to write about for a week, a total lack of inspiration keeping me from writing at all, a deadline taunting me from the weekly spread of my planner. I have pages to fill, a deadline to meet, and no fire in my soul. I’m out of words, and it’s not even halfway through the first week of January. I glance up at the fire, at the wood stacked neatly out the window on the deck.

My husband likes to work with his hands. He’s good at it, making things. He doesn’t question his ability or ask if it’s the thing he should be doing; he just identifies an idea, a need, a gap, and starts filling it. When something breaks, he fixes it. When the fire dies down, he adds another log.

I wish I had that discipline, the ability to not overthink things.

To my still lifeless essay, I add sentences, delete others. I rearrange and restart, realizing that this phrase will work better here, that this sentence should move up to introduce that one. I coax words across the page like I do flames every morning, willing them to stay lit and keep burning onward. It’s harder to do this when I’ve let that fire die completely, when I’ve ignored it for too long and the entire firebox has grown cold. Then I have to sift through ash again, to build a new foundation rather than just toss on a little more fuel.

As I tend my small fire, I’ll be called away by things that can’t wait and have to work a little harder when our woodpile gets soaked by the rain, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying to keep our house warm.

 

Words by Abbigail Kriebs.

A New Kind of Advent

I read once that you are happiest about two weeks before any vacation you take, anticipation at its peak, none of the stress of getting to the airport on time or delayed flights or the exhaustion of being away from home taking its toll. I think this is true with almost all of life: excitement is almost always at its peak when we are anticipating something yet to come. I love envisioning a thing, whether it’s a vacation or an event or a feeling. But when you are living life where Busy is your default answer to How are you?, there isn’t much time to look forward.

The Christmas season is supposed to be about waiting with expectation, but how can we have open and waiting hearts when we are bustling to check off holiday-related tasks, to make it to every mandatory event on time? Rushing through the season leaves me aching for a new pace each year, for moments that slow time down and make days feel full, not stuffed.

For years, I’ve found myself racing from one event to another, with no time to decompress or reflect back on what just happened. There was never a chance to look forward to what was coming next, to give myself enough space to feel wonder. There was no time to play in the snow, just enough to slosh through it on my way into work or the next store. Wrapping presents was an item to check off a list, not something that I could settle into and enjoy, a cup of coffee at hand and carols playing in the background.

A hectic holiday leaves me a little more broken each time the calendar turns over to January, when I realize again that I survived but did not celebrate.

***

Growing up, my Christmases looked a little different each year. When your parents are divorced, holiday traditions don’t always mean what they ought. Some years we’d have Christmas on Christmas day, and other years it would be three days before, depending on which kids were with which parents at which time.

For someone who thrives on anticipation, this can be a hard thing.

I remember asking friends what they were doing for Christmas, and I remember their sure replies: We always go to my grandma’s house. We do Christmas Eve at Aunt Judy’s. We stay up late and carol around the neighborhood. We always…

A childhood without traditions can leave you feeling untethered. My heart wants tradition.

***

When my husband and I married, we brought very few traditions with us. The middle of three boys, he seemed impartial to what happened and when, unphased if things happened differently each year. A middle child myself, I understood the going with the flow, the making room for other’s wants and needs ahead of my own.

Twelve years later, we still don’t have many traditions. As we’ve moved houses, changed jobs, and watched our family dynamics shift, we’ve adjusted. When two people-pleasers marry each other, it can be hard for them to stake their own claim on their time, especially at the holidays. As things changed from year to year, we  adjusted, never quite landing on any tradition that really suited us.

This has its advantages, this adaptability. It means we can move and change and adjust to whatever comes along. It also means that there’s less chance to look forward to something that we know is coming, since it’s almost never the same. It’s less like an advent and more like a scramble.

***

A few weeks ago, we found ourselves once again uncertain as to how we would celebrate this season with all its expectations. We’ve tried a few traditions on for size, but they’ve never stuck. Cross country skiing on Christmas Day? Only if there’s enough snow. Movie theater popcorn and a double feature? Only if there’s something good playing. And now with an eight month-old, there will be no skiing and no movies for Christmas.

We found ourselves with a clean slate. And this year, we were faced with the pressure of all the “firsts”: Arthur’s first Christmas, his first presents, his first everything. How can we craft traditions that made the firsts memorable, but repeatable? Traditions we wouldn’t have to rethink every year as Arthur grows up?

We spent some time thinking about what we loved most about the season, about how to take what was broken and make it whole again. Our answers didn’t surprise us.

We want rest and quiet, to enjoy our family and our home, and for our days to be filled with moments that make us smile in their fullness, not sigh in frustration. We want to be in nature as much as possible, to introduce our son to wonder. And we want to gift him equally with the weight of the past and hope for the future.

We set aside a few specific times and days in December that would be ours, no matter what. Loosely, we made a plan for our family to spend them in ways that create space for true celebration. And in doing so, my heart exhaled all its anxiety about the season and filled itself up with warm anticipation. This is how I am supposed to feel about Christmas, I thought.

We don’t have anything elaborate planned for the season — nothing earth shattering or new. Just simple ways of celebrating that mean the most to us, allowing us to mark time in ways we can anticipate again and again.

We’ll cut our Christmas tree the first Saturday of every December and make it a celebration. We’ll have pancakes for breakfast, sip eggnog while we trim the tree with “Silver Bells” in Dean Martin’s timeless voice washing over our afternoon. The day will end with Christmas stories at bedtime — the first of the season, cups of hot cocoa in front of the fireplace. On a cloudless night, we will all bundle up and go for a hike after dark, letting a (hopefully) snowy landscape be our light. We’ll gift each other books on Christmas Eve, stay up too late reading, and wake to mornings spent in our pajamas, plump stockings hung on the mantel where thin ones used to be.

Intentionally creating tradition for ourselves has given me a chance to see the magic this December, each day pointing toward the next. It’s a new kind of advent, one that looks forward to the everydayness of the season alongside the coming of Christ.

I hope that tradition sticks.

 

Words by Abbigail Kriebs.

All Things, All at Once

hello there, friend

When my husband and I planted that “For Sale” sign, we had no idea we would spend the next seven years waiting. We packed up knick knacks, freshened the paint, and kept our little yellow house as spotless as possible, certain that by this time next year, we would be building our forever home.

Four years later, after offers that fell through, months of hearing nothing at all, and years of making harder and harder decisions, we finally changed the sign to “Sold”. One last time, I washed dishes in our sink. Countless hours I had spent standing there, scouring glass after glass while watching my husband mow the backyard. Our actions said more about us than almost anything else: him, mowing back the grass each time it grew, predictable, unswerving, and me washing clean what would become dirty again, always planning for the next meal, the next step.

All things, all at once

It’s a song I listen to, often on repeat. The mood, the melody, the lyrics: they all remind me of the years of waiting. The years where I lived for the next day and the one after that, not the one I was in. I have spent years waiting for the next big thing to pass and for life to settle into normal.

In all of those years, I wished for so many things: to sell a house, to get that job, to have money enough for our dreams. But what I was really, really wishing for was to stop waiting. I wanted to stop all the doing, put aside the hustle, and to live in the moment.

The time we spent in an apartment between houses felt like an interlude — the “oooh’s” of a song between the verses, a long pause before pressing forward. My husband and I lived skeleton lives while we found ourselves waiting, again, for the next big thing. We hung photos to get them out of the way, not to make the place feel like home. I washed dishes in a sink that was too shallow, listening to neighbors marching above us.

We sat at our dining room table in that in-between apartment, scratching plans onto paper and erasing them again, sifting through possibilities. We were going to build our forever home. What size should this room be? If we move this here, where will that put the stairs? We spent many Friday nights with glasses of wine and a stack of design books nearby, inching ever closer to the future we had mapped out in our head, forgetting the present right in front of us.

It’s not one thing or the other
It’s all things all at once

Our lease was up and we couldn’t commit to another year, but needed a place to stay while we built that house we had planned out on paper. Friends of a friend, more generous than we could imagine, offered an apartment in one of their outbuildings. It had four walls, a bathroom, and not much else. But it would do for three months, maybe five. We could cram one marriage, two people, and three jobs into six hundred square feet, no problem. Another temporary stop on our journey to end the waiting.

One lengthy fight over a driveway permit later, we broke ground on our new house. We could see the end of our wait in the distance, but it was a distance measured in construction timelines that shifted almost daily. In the outbuilding, I washed dishes in a sink not meant for a kitchen, all the while repeating “this is temporary.” I was ready for the wait to be over.

It’s not one thing or the other
It’s all things all at once

August came, and with it two pink lines. Two very surprising pink lines. We lived in a shed that had no address and now we were expecting a baby. Our soon-to-be-house was raw, see-through walls that ended in sky, and I had a tiny person taking shape inside of me, growing day by day alongside that house.

There’s one inevitable truth to building a house: estimated completion dates are wholly and completely estimated. There’s one inevitable truth to having a baby: estimated due dates are wholly and completely estimated.

September, October, before the first snow — all of these were dates where we might have moved in, but didn’t. We waited for subcontractor estimates to come in, for materials to arrive, for paint to literally dry. That summer and fall were one collective inhale and pause, the part of yoga that hurts the most. The part I always cut short — but this time, I couldn’t.

In the studio, when you are facing your mat with hips in the air, pushing your heels down and adding length to your spine, you have permission to take a knee, to pull up and rest if your body needs it. In yoga, you listen to your body, to what it needs. When you are growing a baby and building a house, there is no time to listen.

And these wings aren’t for flying
These wings are just for show
It’s years since I’ve been flying
I’m down to the earth

A week before Christmas we moved into our new house, elated to be home after so many years of limbo. We unpacked our things and hung our photos with great care, content to dwell in this new normal while we waited for a baby to make us three. Our normal didn’t last long. The day that began my thirty-seventh week of pregnancy, rather than settle into the relief of a baby grown enough to deliver safely, I lost my job. It was out of the blue, and I was devastated. It’s not one thing or the other

It’s all things all at once

I wash baby bottles in a sink that looks toward our dining room table, the one where we once planned to build our home when it was just the two of us. That table now holds onesies and tiny socks, folded and ready to be worn and dirtied again. It’s the place where I do my work, an accidental freelance career filling naptimes.

I see the me that once sat at that table, so ready to be done waiting, so hesitant to have a baby and lose who she was and what she wanted. She was used to the waiting, constantly looking toward the next, unsure of what it meant to be settled — unsure if she’d be happy when she was. Now, I still sit at that table, no more sure of what it means to be settled, but a little more sure of what next looks like. Next is a bath for a smiling six-month old, another bedtime story, a sigh of relief when little eyes blink heavy and close into sleep. And next is also emails and invoices, stealing moments out of the day to set words down on paper.

As I sit at this table, I realize that I am both of these versions of myself at once. Part of me still waits for what is around the corner, for the day when life no longer revolves around naptimes, for when we trade out this table for a larger one to fit a growing family. The waiting never goes away, but more and more I learn that there’s magic to be found right here.

This table is where I work and write and take photos, just like I always have. And now, I mother here, too. It’s all things, all at once: past, present, and future.

 

Words by Abbigail Kriebs. Lyrics to All Things, All at Once by Tired Pony via Google Play.